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The word "fungi" may conjure up some unpleasant images, but don't be put off – mushrooms are vital for our health. They are packed with disease-fighting properties, antioxidants and many other important nutrients.
What's more, with prescriptions for antidepressants sharply rising since the pandemic, some scientists are claiming the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms (currently illegal in the UK) could offer a promising treatment for depression in the future.
Quite simply, the many impressive medicinal benefits of the humble shroom should not be overlooked.
The Ancient Egyptians called them the "plant of immortality". Back then, the vegetable was so respected by royalty that commoners were forbidden from touching them.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the antioxidant substance in mushrooms may help prevent a host of cancers including lung, prostate and breast. And the folic acid they are loaded with can also help boost foetal health in pregnant women.
"They're a powerhouse of nutrition," explains nutritionist Penny Weston. "Mushrooms are low in calories and a good source of fibre, protein and antioxidants."
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Some believe they could even help ward off Alzheimer's disease as they contain an antioxidant, called ergothioneine, which helps fight cognitive impairment and dementia. Penny adds, "One study even found women who ate 10g (about one mushroom) a day were 64% less likely to develop breast cancer.
"All of us could benefit from adding mushrooms to our diet several times a week. Most you can find in the supermarket, or rarer types come in the form of ground powder and supplements."
Here's what to look out for…
Kim Kardashian claims that smearing on anti-ageing Japanese red reishi mushrooms helps keep her skin looking taut, smooth and glowing. The reality TV star said she “loves using Japanese mushroom facial peels reishi mushrooms for making her skin more elastic."
Bur experts say there are benefits for health reasons too. Reishi mushrooms have immunity-boosting qualities and are largely found growing on wood in Asia, southern Europe, and south-eastern USA. They are also useful for reducing stress levels and improving quality of sleep," says wellness expert and adaptogen specialist Kiran Bhondi, founder of Osena London.
"A study tested 132 patients with neurasthenia – an illness relating to aches, pains, dizziness, headaches and irritability. Research found after eight weeks of taking reishi mushrooms, excessive tiredness was reduced and mental wellbeing was enhanced."
PSILOCYBIN – MAGIC MUSHROOMS
Shrooms containing psilocybin – a hallucinogenic substance – are widely known as "magic mushrooms" and can be found in the wild. But in 1958, psilocybin was banned in the UK, so it's a criminal offence to buy, grow or ingest these mushrooms.
That didn't stop pop star Harry Styles however, who admitted taking the hallucinogenic drug in LA while making his upcoming album.
“We’d do mushrooms, lie down on the grass, and listen to Paul McCartney’s Ram in the sunshine," he told Rolling Stone magazine. "Then we were doing mushrooms and I bit off the tip of my tongue."
A qualified psychologist Rosie Peacock, who is penning a book on psychedelics, told new magazine: "The potential dangers of this substance mainly come from it being used recreationally instead of strictly for therapy.
"But while it is illegal, psilocybin is a non-toxic, non-addictive substance that is largely not harmful for the body.
"Psilocybin is the active compound that has psychoactive properties. The compound affects the serotonin receptors, which creates mood stability," adds Rosie.
Recent trials have shown psilocybin to be powerful in healing depression and anxiety, and Rosie says, "I believe magic mushrooms need to be at the very least reclassified to allow for more research to be done."
CHAGA – CANCER KILLER
"A study in 2010 found chaga could slow the growth of lung, breast and cervical cancer cells in a petri dish, as well as the growth of tumours in mice," says Penny.
"Chaga mushrooms contain vitamin D, potassium, zinc, iron and magnesium to name but a few. They also contain antioxidants that are thought to reduce bad cholesterol, and thus help fight cardiovascular disease.
"However, you can't eat chaga – they're too hard and dense. Usually it's ground into powder and used in tea or supplements."
MESHIMA – WOMEN'S HEALTH
"Meshima mushrooms – also called Phellinus linteus – have been used medicinally for generations in countries such as China and Japan," says Penny.
"Usually taken as supplements." or powder, Meshima translates to 'women's island' because they're believed to benefit healthy breast cells and tissue.
"They also contain selenium which is important for reproduction and thyroid gland function."
MAITAKE – IMMUNITY
"Maitake mushrooms, often used in pasta dishes and pilafs, are packed with vitamin D which helps everything from cancer support to bone health," says Penny.
"Rich in antioxidants, vitamins B and C, and amino acids, they may also be useful in treating cold and flu viruses and are believed to help lower blood pressure."
Just like a lion's mane, the appearance of this mushroom is pale and shaggy. "They contain two crucial compounds – the nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)," Kiran explains .
"These properties help to trigger the growth of brain cells, thereby improving cognitive function.
"A study tested on older adults with mild cognitive impairment found their mental functioning improved after consuming three grams of lion's mane daily for four months."
SUPPLEMENTS WE'RE LOVING RIGHT NOW…
The mushrooms included in the SHROOMS adaptogen drops are also amphoteric, meaning they harmonise whatever needs bringing into balance in your body's system. Buy online at osenalondon.com. Bottles cost £19.99, with 15% off for recurring orders.
Known as the queen of mushrooms, reishi mushrooms are antibacterial, immune boosting and even have cancer-fighting properties. Try Reishi Powder, £8.72, buywholefoodsonline.co.uk.
Herbal specialists Natur Boutique have created an organic reishi tea, without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilisers, to give this drink an unparalleled level or purity – and a nice taste too! At £3.59 for 20 sachets, you can buy online at healthpharm.co.uk.
WARNING! Penny says, "Never eat wild mushrooms, or powders/ supplements." sourced online without verifying that they are safe to consume and bought from reliable, trusted sources. It's better to be safe than sorry."
For more info about Penny's work see welcometomade.com Rosie's website is rosiepeacock.com and she's on Instagram as @iamrosie Peacock
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