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Health Benefits


While diet can contribute to illness and inflammation, some foods can also nourish and support your body. Near the top of that list are a group of powerhouse fungi called functional mushrooms. These mushroom species possess many bioactive compounds that may provide surprising benefits for human health.

One of the strongest and most well-known components of these mushrooms is their polysaccharide content. In fact, mushroom polysaccharides are one of the powerful bioactive substances that have prompted health and wellness experts to focus on mushrooms as a nutraceutical—a food that has medicinal benefits. A look at some key facts may help you to decide whether functional mushrooms hold potential benefits for you.


What Are Polysaccharides?

Before you can undertake serious consideration of what polysaccharides do, it is essential to understand what they are. Saccharides are carbohydrates, chains of sugars made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. The prefix placed in front of ‘saccharides’ indicates how many sugar molecules are linked together: mono=one, di=two, and poly means many.

Monosaccharides are simple sugars, and they are sweet. Glucose (the most common natural monosaccharide) and fructose (the fruit sugar) are examples. When two monosaccharides join to form a glycosidic bond, a disaccharide is created and a molecule of water is released. Lactose (milk sugar) and sucrose (table sugar) are common disaccharides.

Polysaccharides, also known as glycans, are chains of many sugars. Some have a storage function; others are structural. Three common polysaccharides include:

  • Starch: the primary energy-storage molecule in plants

  • Glycogen: the primary energy-storage molecule in animals

  • Cellulose: a component of the cell walls of plants, algae, and some bacteria

Digestible polysaccharides provide an energy source when they are consumed. Indigestible polysaccharides provide dietary fiber that helps food pass through the digestive system and supports healthy gut flora.


Potential Health Benefits of Mushroom Polysaccharides

Mushrooms contain a variety of polysaccharides, including alpha- and beta-glucans. It is the beta-glucans that get much of the attention when considering the benefits of mushrooms. They contain many other bioactive ingredients, however, that also contribute to the potential health benefits. The benefits include:

Digestive/Gut Flora Support

Digestive enzymes are unable to break down many of the bonds holding polysaccharides together, which means that indigestible mushroom carbohydrates may act as prebiotics in the digestive tract. This fiber keeps food moving through the digestive system, but it also feeds the desirable microorganisms that contribute to a healthy gut microbiome.

Researchers investigated the effects of supplementing older adults with freeze-dried whole mushroom powder. They found benefits from the use of reishi, lion’s mane, shiitake, and maitake. These benefits to the gut microbiome included:

  • Support for the growth of beneficial bacteria

  • A decrease in harmful bacteria

  • Promotion of microbiotic diversity

  • An increase in the number of bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids

The presence of beneficial bacteria in the intestines also contributes to a healthy immune system, healthy body weight, and metabolic health.

Metabolic and Heart Health Support

While mushroom polysaccharides may be the most well-known and well-researched compounds, research suggests that functional mushrooms contain additional bioactive substances that help to support metabolic health, including lectins, eritadenine, triterpenes, sterols, and phenolic compounds. With the potential to support lower blood pressure, and healthy cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels, mushrooms can contribute to metabolic and heart health.

Immune Function Support

It has been proposed that mushroom beta-glucans serve as biological response modifiers that support and activate the body’s own immune response to fight off viral, bacterial, fungal, and

parasitic infections by stimulating both the innate and adaptive immune systems. With hundreds of studies completed and more research underway, beta-glucan polysaccharides have been proposed as a “nutritional fuel” for the immune system.

Energy and Mood Support

Polysaccharides from functional mushroom species, including lion’s mane and cordyceps, can help to combat fatigue. Lion’s mane has also demonstrated the capacity to reduce anxiousness and improve mood when used regularly.

Support for the Body’s Natural Response to Inflammation and Aging

Functional mushroom polysaccharides, as well as phenolic and indolic compounds, mycosteroids, fatty acids, carotenoids, vitamins, and biometals, support the body’s ability to resolve inflammation. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities of mushrooms have the potential to help the body combat disease and premature aging.


This medicinal mushroom has been a staple in holistic medicine for centuries and has long been revered for its potent anti-aging, health-promoting properties. In recent years, research on the cordyceps mushroom has turned up even more impressive findings, reporting that this superstar supplement can also enhance athletic performance, promote heart health and decrease inflammation to keep you feeling your best.

Best of all, there’s no need to go mushroom foraging to take advantage of the powerful benefits that the cordyceps mushroom has to offer. Widely available in powder, capsule and tablet form, it’s quick and convenient to reap the rewards of this medicinal mushroom.

Ready to learn more? Keep reading to find out how the cordyceps mushroom can impact your health and why you may want to consider adding it to your daily routine.

What Are Cordyceps?

Prized for their natural ability to fight free radicals, infections and inflammation, these are impressive disease-fighting mushrooms that have been used for centuries to reduce symptoms of respiratory disorders, coughs, colds, liver damage and much more. As a true “superfood,” the cordyceps mushroom can slow the effects of aging and stress, help keep the body free from disease and boost energy levels to keep you going all day long.

Cordyceps fungus is sometimes called the caterpillar fungus. It’s parasitic in nature because it grows on a type of caterpillar and then winds up eating its own host!

The base of the mushroom forms from the insect’s larva and is dark brown to black, attaching itself to the organism and growing about six inches long. Once it fully matures, it actually consumes more than 90 percent of the infected insect.

These shrooms then swell up and enlarge to become about 300–500 milligrams in weight.

The first people to discover the many benefits of cordyceps initially observed animals eating the wild fungus and growing strong in the process. Farmers and herders began to use the fungus in powder form to make tonics and teas.

Some of the first uses for these tonics were increasing milk production and improving reproductive capacity of livestock. Later on, people began drying cordyceps in sunlight to preserve their potent benefits.

It’s believed that the many anti-inflammatory benefits of cordyceps stem from their ability to positively affect the immune system, fighting oxidative stress and stimulating protective cells that keep the body free from mutations and infections. In vitro studies have found that cordyceps can act like natural cancer treatments in some cases, preventing the growth of tumors and cancer cells.

Considered a type of natural “immuno-potentiating drug,” coryceps supplements are often used to enhance immunity and optimize health. They can also help control autoimmune disorders, minimize excessive inflammation and prevent tissue damage while speeding up healing time.

Additionally, research shows that cordyceps can act as mild stimulants or “adaptogen herbs,” fighting stress and fatigue while also naturally increasing energy levels.


1. Increases Immune Function

Some studies suggest that consuming cordyceps benefits immune function and can help optimize the health of the cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and reproductive systems. This is because they contain anti-inflammatory compounds like polysaccharides, modified nucleosides and cyclosporines.

Taking cordyceps may be especially beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory-related conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, arthritis, leaky gut and asthma. In fact, one animal model conducted by the Chung Shan Medical University Hospital showed that they were effective at reducing inflammation in the airways of mice, potentially aiding in the treatment of asthma.

2. Slows Aging and Promotes Mental Clarity

Cordyceps are jam-packed with antioxidants that can help fight free radical damage, prevent oxidative stress and help slow the signs of aging to optimize your health. Although research on the anti-aging effects of this medicinal mushroom is primarily limited to animal studies, research shows that it can boost brain function, enhance memory and even extend longevity.

For example, one animal model in the journal Phytotherapy Research showed that taking cordyceps extract increased the activity of antioxidants like superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase in the blood. Not only that, but it also helped boost brain power and enhance sexual function in aging rats.

Similarly, another animal study out of China found that administering cordyceps extract to fruit flies significantly prolonged their life spans by blocking oxidative stress to the cells, confirming their potent anti-aging properties.

3. Improves Athletic Performance

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine demonstrated that supplementation with Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) improved exercise performance and contributed to overall markers of wellness in older adults. Considered an energizing adaptogen like other superfood herbs such as maca or cacao, cordyceps are often used to help fight fatigue, treat muscle aches and prevent weakness.

Several studies suggest that they can boost athletic performance — improving physical abilities, endurance and stamina — partially because they boost the body’s supply of ATP, one of the primary sources of energy during exercise. Cordyceps contain adenosine, a type of nucleic acid that is needed to make ATP, an “energy carrier” that is depleted in the muscles during physical activity.

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