Are Mushrooms a Healthy Food Choice?

image of a variety of mushrooms in a basket

Mushrooms don’t just help you live longer. They can also help you live better — and stronger. Especially Cordyceps. These extracts have been shown to dilate the aorta — the main artery in your body that supplies oxygenated blood to your entire circulatory system — by up to 40%, thereby increasing blood flow and greatly enhancing endurance.

What’s more, Cordyceps contains adenosine and can stimulate the production of ATP — one of the main sources of energy in your body’s cells. This may be one of the reasons why it has been found to improve stamina in athletic performance.

In one Japanese study, supplementation with Cordyceps improved the performance of over 70% of long-distance runners.

Another great health benefit of mushrooms is how they improve brain health. This is especially true of the variety known as Lion’s Maine. The ball-shaped mushroom with cascading icicle-like spines known as Lion’s Mane has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. Once reserved for royal families, Lion’s Mane contains up to 20% protein and is considered to be a gourmet dish by many.

Potent compounds in Lion’s Mane have been shown to activate a very important peptide (a small protein) known as “nerve growth factor” or NGF. NGF is necessary for the growth, maintenance, and survival of the neurons in your brain.

These Lion’s Mane compounds stimulate your neurons to re-grow and trigger a process known as re-myelination, which helps to keep your neurons healthy and maintains their ability to conduct electrical signals efficiently.

In one small Japanese clinical study, elderly men and women with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) were given Lion’s Mane for 16 weeks. Throughout the study period, the mushroom-eating group showed significantly increased scores on a cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group. But if they stopped consuming the mushroom, their advantage disappeared.

Short-term memory refers to your ability to hold a small amount of information in your mind in a readily available state for a short period. Visual recognition memory is a measurement of your ability to recognize previously encountered events, objects, or people, and to “remember” them.

Both of these types of memory are often lost in people with age-related health conditions. And both of them appear to be supported by eating Lion’s Mane, which has been shown to help prevent the breakdown of spatial short-term and visual recognition memory and delay the onset of cognitive dysfunction.

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Mushrooms may also be useful in managing safe levels of blood sugar. Compounds from the parasitic fungus Cordyceps have been shown to help support balanced blood sugar levels. For example, a study published in the journal Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin found that a Cordyceps polysaccharide showed “potent hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) activity in genetic diabetic mice,” while “plasma glucose level was quickly reduced in normal and streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice.”

The study also found that this same Cordyceps-sourced polysaccharide contributed to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. One of the most common and devastating complications that can be caused by diabetes is diabetic nephropathy. Over time, the condition can cause the kidneys to malfunction and, eventually, to fail. In one promising study, Cordyceps was shown to significantly reduce blood glucose levels, lower kidney breakdown markers, and preserve renal function in mice.

Fungi are more closely related to humans than plants. This fact may be why many of the components that help mushrooms defend themselves against their enemies also support your body’s defense mechanisms and are increasingly being seen as a legitimate means to enhance your health and well-being. Add some to your diet!

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