6 Powerful Ways Fungi Can Positively Impact Human Health and Well-Being

It's beginning to look more and more like mushrooms are a superfood. Of course, we've known they are a healthy addition to a balanced diet for years, but science is starting to explore the effects of their lesser-known compounds on human health. In addition to being low-calorie providers of protein, zinc, copper, selenium, and B vitamins, fungi bring much more to the table. This roundup will introduce you to some of the most critical health effects we can get from adding a couple of mushrooms every day.

Blood Pressure and Triglyceride Levels

Several popular mushrooms are high in potassium, the electrolyte that counteracts sodium's action within the body. For example, portobellos have over 300 milligrams. Maintaining a healthy sodium-potassium balance is one of the keys to controlling blood pressure, but it can also reduce the chances of kidney stones and stroke. A recent study also suggests that mushrooms may help people regulate blood triglycerides.

Healthy Gut Flora

Over the past decade or so, people have become much more concerned with the health of their gut "microbiome" – the ecosystem of microorganisms called prebiotics living in their digestive track. Many scientists suggest that these bacteria can have positive effects on our health and immune system, although they still have only a rudimentary understanding of the role they play. Nevertheless, a recent study showed that mushrooms have many prebiotics, the precursors to healthy probiotics. Therefore, people concerned with helping immune function with a healthy microbiome should include mushrooms in their diet.   

A Supercharged Immune System

Bolstering bacteria is not the only way fungi can help support a functioning immune system. It turns out mushrooms can produce vitamin D, which may be the most critical vitamin for human immune function. Unfortunately, there are few reliable food sources for it, and many people suffer from a chronic deficiency. But some mushrooms turn UV light into vitamin D, so if you want to eat mushrooms for their vitamin

Brain Health

According to the Alzheimer's Association, 12%-18% of people 60 and over live with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Unfortunately, over 10% of people with MCI develop dementia every year. However, scientists have known for years that diet and exercise habits can promote better brain health in everyone, regardless of age. For example, a study out of Singapore showed that people over 60 eating above two servings of mushrooms per week had a 57% less chance of demonstrating MCI. The reason? Ergothioneine – a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory qualities.

Cancer Prevention

Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories protect our cells from damage. Of course, the worst cell damage disorder is cancer. Fortunately, the ergothioneine and glutathione in mushrooms may be linked to a 34% reduction in breast cancer rates. As is often the case, the science is not conclusive, and some studies show no measurable benefit. Nevertheless, we should not discount the benefits we can get from the antioxidant properties of mushrooms.

Treatment for Mental Health Issues

Nutrition does not govern all aspects of human health, and sometimes other mechanisms are needed to prevent or treat illness. As strange as it may sound, "magic mushrooms" may be a promising treatment for PTSD and severe depression. Of course, psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in 'shrooms, is illegal in the US and only studied in a small number of sanctioned labs. However, the compound's ability to forge new neural connections may partially explain its possible efficacy for treatment-resistant depression.

Key Takeaways
  • Don't Stop with Fungi – Mushrooms and mycelium-based foods may be super healthy, but there's more to your diet than fungi. Try to take responsibility for what you put in your body. Avoid saturated fats, sodium, and unnecessary chemicals—more room for mushrooms.
  • Join In – Growing mushrooms is like having a small veggie garden – you can even do it inside, and they're great for vertical agriculture. Better yet, use mushroom cultivation as a team-building exercise at the office.
  • Get Active – While we don't recommend you go foraging for wild mushrooms, you should nevertheless be active. All the health benefits outlined above are magnified with physical activity. So whether it's the gym, the pool, or a hike, exercise will make your healthy diet even better.