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A look into the rising wellness trend of functional mushrooms

Functional mushrooms are having a moment. These non-toxic, nonpsychoactive fungi are heralded for their nutritional, medicinal and brainboosting properties, and have exploded in the wellness world as the next biggest superfood supplement. With so much information freely available and over-the-counter supplements becoming more widespread, we tapped the experts at wellness company Goodleaf to give us the low-down on this centuriesold phenomenon.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What are they?

Functional mushrooms are adaptogens favoured for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, non-toxic, nonpsychoactive fungi known for their abilities to combat stress and aid in the body’s natural ability to heal itself. We like to think of adaptogens as nature’s miracle workers. They operate on a cellular level, ‘adapting’ their functions to our needs at any given time. In moments of stress, they train the brain to use oxygen more efficiently, energising the body and soothing the mind. They can also balance hormones, boost the immune system, improve cognitive function and reduce anxiety.

How do they differ from mushrooms used for recreational purposes?

Mushrooms used for recreational purposes are generally known as magic mushrooms, which are hallucinogenic and contain the psychoactive component psilocybin. These mushrooms induce hallucinations or euphoria. Whereas functional mushrooms don’t contain psilocybin, meaning they can’t produce hallucinations or a sense of being ‘high’.

Which functional mushrooms are the most effective?

The functional mushrooms we believe to be the most effective we’ve included in our formulations, namely, reishi, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, chaga, shiitake and Turkeytail.

What are the benefits of taking them?

Reishi is a powerful, antioxidant-rich super-mushroom that helps support the immune system and improve the body’s natural response to managing stress. Celebrated for its ability to stabilise and calm the body, it also promotes better sleep and slows the ageing process. Lion’s Mane is a powerful, moodboosting, nootropic that helps protect and regenerate brain tissue, alleviating the feeling of brain fog and promoting overall cognitive health and sustained focus. It also promotes better sleep and slows the ageing process. Cordyceps is an anti-infl ammatory fungus praised for its natural support in athletic performance. Due to its ability to increase blood flow and lower blood sugar it helps the body reduce fatigue, optimise energy and speed up muscle recovery. Chaga is an anti-infl ammatory, antioxidant-rich fungus that helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels and is a powerful antiageing super-mushroom.

Mushrooms are also nutrient dense. What type of nutrients do they contain?

Mushrooms have loads of polyphenols, polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and antioxidant properties. All of these compounds, together and separately, help support your immune system. Mushrooms also deliver a slew of dietary fibre, aiding healthy digestion and increasing beneficial gut bacteria in your digestive system.

How can functional mushrooms be used for beauty or hair?

Functional mushrooms contain antioxidants in abundance! Healthy skin is the result of overall body health. Any imbalance in your immune system or digestion will show up in your skin. Supporting your overall body wellbeing with functional mushrooms will often result in a healthy complexion.

Aside from taking functional mushrooms as an ingestible, what other uses do they have?

Mushrooms are starting to pop up everywhere, but using mushrooms in skincare isn’t that new – they’ve been used in Eastern cultures for centuries. But they are on the rise, especially across the pond.

Are there side effects?

Everyone’s biochemistry is unique, so the effect of functional mushrooms depends on the individual. Side effects that have been most commonly noted include dizziness, dry mouth, itching, nausea, upset stomach, and rash. If you’re pregnant, nursing, taking any medications or have any medical condition, we always recommend you consult your healthcare practitioner before introducing any new products into your wellness regime.

Are there laws or regulations around the sale of functional mushroom products in South Africa? Functional mushrooms are legal in South Africa and aren’t subject to any laws or regulation

This article was originally published in Glamour’s July 2022 Beauty Issue, here or pick up a physical copy now available in-stores nationwide.

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