Miraculous Mushrooms: Maitake, Reishi, Shiitake, Cordyceps!

Learn how you can benefit from the use of mushroom products. Mushrooms have been consumed for thousands of years for their taste, nutrient content, and most importantly their numerous unique compounds and medicinal properties!


I have heard that any athlete wishing to support their training programs and allow their body the handle larger amounts of stress and training volumes would benefit from the use of mushroom products. Mushrooms have been consumed for thousands of years for their taste, nutrient content, and most importantly their numerous unique compounds and medicinal properties. A mushroom is the reproductive structure and fruiting body of a fungus as well as the small hair-like strands that grow into the host, called mycelia.

For maximum potency, a mushroom should be harvested just before it reaches maturity. Commercially, mushrooms are grown in large vats in a medium of sugars and starches. So far, the useful compounds found in mushrooms include myriad polysaccharides, sterols, lipids, proteins, and triterpenes. Polysaccharides-long-chain sugars-have gotten the most scientific attention because of their ability to enhance a healthy cell's ability to fight off viruses, cancer cells, and other foreign substances.

The Mushrooms

Maitake: (Grifola fondosa)

This mushroom has been known for quite some time for its ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as reducing blood and liver fats, resulting in a loss of body fat; top all that off with known anti-viral properties. Maitake also contains Beta-1,6 glucan, a potent immune stimulant. It is one of the more delicious mushrooms and is used quite often in gourmet cooking.

Maitake stimulates the production of T-cells, which defend the body against viruses and cancer. It grows wild in Japan and in a few parts of the United States. Japanese studies have shown maitake to be able to inhibit the growth of breast tumors and skin cancers in mice and it is used in Japan and the U.S. along with other therapies to treat cancer and infectious diseases such as HIV.

Animal studies suggest that maitake can reduce blood-glucose levels in diabetics thereby helping to prevent the associated long-term consequences of diabetes. To reap the benefits, eat fresh dried maitake-which can be found in many health food stores-two to three times a week or you can find it in liquid or capsule form. If taken in liquid form, be sure to get what's called "d-fraction" and take five drops three times a day or take it in capsule form at 100 milligrams of standardized extract daily.

Reishi: (Ganderma lucidum)

It is one of the most popular mushrooms in the East and West for enhancing a compromised immune system and like cordyceps, maitake, and shiitake mushrooms, the reishi mushroom's immunologically active constituents are polysaccharides, primarily beta-D-glucan. Beta-D-glucan has immune-stimulating qualities as well as liver protecting and antioxidant qualities.

It could be said that reishi, along with other mushrooms, is essential for the optimum health of the liver since the multitude of metabolic reactions it is responsible for are increased dramatically during intensive training.

Reishi has also been examined by herbalists in China for anti-fatigue properties. A study involving 196 "medal-winning" athletes found that during competitions in cold conditions at high altitudes, taking an extract of 80% reishi and 20% ginseng caused an improvement in sleep and less fatigue in comparison to the control group. To use, take 1 capsule of Reishi up to 3 times daily.

Shiitake: (Lentinus edodes)

Shiitake is probably the best known mushroom that holds abilities to heal the body and provide a delicious meal. It is a known source of a certain nontoxic polysaccharide drug called lentinan, which is used in Japan as an immune system enhancer and is also used by individuals suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Shiitake has known liver protecting compounds, like the maitake mushroom, and has also been shown to be effective at lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Studies have shown that through this immune-enhancing action, lentinan can slow the growth of cancerous tumors. The general belief among herbalists is that a small amount of medicinal mushroom extract goes quite a ways toward improving recovery and increasing energy. Make sure that the shiitake product you choose to get is a standardized extract. A common dosage would be up to 3 standard capsules daily.

Cordyceps: (Cordyceps sinensis) - Get Some

Known also as the caterpillar fungus, cordyceps received a lot of bad press back in 1993 when it was attributed to world record breaking runs performed by the women of China's national track-and-field team. Word spread as to the mushrooms tonic effects and positive impact on sports performance and soon people were calling it an illegal drug.

Little did those people know that cordyceps has been used for thousands of years by millions of people as a safe medicinal. Cordyceps grows on the living bodies of certain types of moth larvae and eventually it penetrates the larva in the form of fine threads, killing and mummifying it.

After that, the mushroom sends up a skinny stalk with a swollen that releases spores. Cordyceps is in great demand as a supertonic that builds physical stamina, sexual power, and mental acuity and is therefore cultivated. According to Chinese doctors, it is invigorating and calming, as well as life prolonging. Cordyceps extract can be found as a component of many different tonic formulas. Usually Chinese people will buy it in its whole dried form which consists of the mummified larva and the attached fruiting body of the mushroom. Cordyceps can be used in cooking-with a taste similar to that of licorice-and is considered safe and gentle for both men and women of any age.

In traditional Chinese medicine, cordyceps is held as a potent tonic with properties similar in action to ginseng, one of the few medicinal plants with obvious performance-enhancing effects in athletes. It is also recommended to increase energy and improve lung capacity. Studies in animals show that when they have been given cordyceps the herb causes them perform longer before giving in to exhaustion. Athletes claim that it enables them to workout harder and recover faster. Cordyceps appears to aid the body in coping with stress which would explain why it works for competitive athletes. Some of the oldest prescriptions call for 8.5 grams of the fungus to be cooked within a duck. When consumed, the effects are said to be equal to those of over 28 grams of the best quality ginseng. For those of you looking for a quicker fix, cordyceps can be found in capsule and extract form. Take 1 to 3 capsules or 1 to 2 drops of extract in liquid before a workout.

Final Words

I think it is hard for most westerners to think of mushrooms as a general health promoting agent. Our culture seems emerged in the idea of the body being made up of a system of separate mechanisms that have their own isolated weaknesses. Usually an effect experienced gives way to the search for symptomatic relief. Such relief inevitably leads to a state of worse degradation. Mushrooms are just one of the things that benefits, improves, and heals the body as a whole, as it should be.

The general belief among herbalists is that a small amount of medicinal mushroom extract goes quite a ways toward improving recovery and increasing energy. A daily formulation that can be used during periods of intensive training or when you feel fatigued should include 40 to 50 milligrams of shiitake, 50 to 60 milligrams of maitake, 50 to 60 milligrams of reishi, and 100 milligrams of cordyceps.