The Six Main Functional Mushroom Types: Opportunities and Ongoing Research
By Charles Alovisetti, Sahar Ayinehsazian
Jun 5, 2023
With the exception of a few companies that have been authorized by the FDA to develop psilocybin therapies such as Compass, the majority of sales of psychedelic mushrooms in the United States violate both state and federal law, as psilocybin is a Schedule I substance and state licensure in Colorado and Oregon are still in process (Oregon licensed the first Psilocybin Service Center on May 5, 2023). While waiting for the emergence of state-regulated psilocybin markets or federal legalization, entrepreneurs interested in mycelium have other options to pursue.
One such option is functional mushrooms, which are non-psychoactive mycelium promoted for their energy and general health benefits. The functional mushroom industry focuses on selling non-psychoactive mushrooms as dietary supplements, food, or as an ingredient in conventional foods. Some common functional mushroom species include chaga, reishi, shiitake, lion's mane, cordyceps, and turkey tail. This industry is quite large, with one firm estimating the global market for functional mushrooms at $25 billion in 2020.
Although there is a long history of cultural medical use of functional mushrooms, the evidence supporting their use varies between the species, and much of the research is from in vitro or animal studies. However, each major type of functional mushroom has had some randomized controlled trials with positive results. The below list provides an overview of the main types of functional mushrooms and two examples of randomized controlled studies showing the promise of medicinal benefits for each species. While the current state of research is very interesting, each type of mushroom requires further research to fully understand the potential health benefits and to determine optimal dosages and safety profiles.It should also go without saying that nothing herein constitutes medical advice and, even if it were, taking medical advice from a lawyer is very bad idea. Additionally, more research is needed to determine the optimal dosages, formulations, and potential side effects of functional mushroom supplementation in general.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi, also known as the mushroom of immortality, has a long history of use in Korea, China, and Japan. There is evidence it can have immunomodulatory (regulation of immune system) effects. Some countries, like China, will give cancer patients supplements containing Reishi. This functional mushroom has the strongest research behind it.
Randomized Controlled Trials:
A trial published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2012 found that Reishi supplementation improved the quality of life in people with advanced-stage colorectal cancer who were undergoing chemotherapy.
A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2008 found that Reishi extract improved immune function in people with type 2 diabetes.
Lions Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion's Mane is a type of functional mushroom that has been used in traditional medicine and studied for its potential health benefits, particularly in the areas of cognitive function and nerve regeneration. There is some very exciting research around Lions’s Mane, including this study from researchers at The University of Queenslandbut the studies tend toward in vitro or animal and more work is urgently needed. Lion’s mane is also prized for its culinary value.
For example, a randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease in 2019 found that Lion's Mane supplementation improved cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment compared to a placebo.
Another randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in 2020 found that Lion's Mane extract improved sleep quality in people with sleep disorders.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)
This type of mushroom is believed to improve cardiovascular athletic performance. It has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine and has been studied for potential medical benefits, such as immune system modulation and antioxidant properties. The overall strength of the research is still limited.
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2010 found that Cordyceps supplementation improved exercise performance in healthy older adults compared to a placebo.
Another randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2007 found that Cordyceps sinensis improved the quality of life in people with lung cancer who were undergoing chemotherapy.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
Common in traditional Chinese medicine, these mushrooms get their name from their shape and varied colors that resemble the tail of a turkey.
A randomized controlled trial published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules in 2018 found that turkey tail extract improved gut microbiota composition and immune function in healthy adults compared to a placebo.
Another randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2012 found that turkey tail extract improved immune function in people with breast cancer who were undergoing chemotherapy.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga is a parasitic fungus that feeds off trees and develops into a chonk (a protruding formation). High in antioxidants, chaga mushrooms may help reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar and cholesterol.
A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine in 2016 found that chaga mushroom extract improved immune function in healthy adults compared to a placebo.
Another randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2010 found that chaga mushroom extract improved antioxidant status in people with chronic hepatitis C. Additionally, there have been studies suggesting that chaga mushrooms may have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential health benefits of chaga mushrooms and to determine optimal dosages and safety profiles.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
Another edible mushroom that is also used in traditional medicine, shiitake mushrooms have been found to have a variety of potential health benefits, such as boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation, and even having anticancer properties. There have been several randomized controlled studies on shiitake mushrooms.
For example, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2015 found that consuming dried shiitake mushrooms improved several markers of immune function in healthy adults compared to a placebo.
Another randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2014 found that shiitake mushroom consumption improved cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol.
While the full potential of these mushrooms has yet to be realized, the functional mushroom industry is clearly poised for massive growth. Companies hoping to capitalize on this growth should ensure that they are structured properly, take in all investments with the proper documentation, and label and market their products in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.
Stay tuned for a Vicente LLP-hosted webinar focused on functional and adaptogenic mushrooms. Registration coming soon!
Supported by Vicente LLP’s corporate, regulatory, and compliance teams, functional mushroom and consumer goods companies of all stages can rely on Vicente. We can help you set up your company, raise capital, get licensed, set up contracts and agreements, maintain compliance with the FDA and other regulatory bodies, and engage in M&A transactions. Contact our CPG team today.