Mushrooms are having a moment. One reason is that certain types, like portobello mushrooms, perfectly mimic the texture and taste of meat, while other mushrooms, such as lion's mane, are known for their medicinal qualities. Not only are mushrooms full of vital minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and powerful, immune-boosting compounds but they can actually help fight off infection, help your body neutralize cancer cells and help you fall, and stay, asleep when it evades you.

These types of mushrooms have been used for centuries to help treat illnesses, fight off diseases, regulate mood disorders, and improve sleep while boosting energy. It turns out the recent research backs this up. Mushrooms are practically miracle food. As more and more people look for natural remedies and understand that "food is medicine," mushrooms appear to be a powerful addition to any healthy diet.

The most popular immune-boosting mushrooms commonly found in health-food products and natural medicines are turkey tail, reishi, zhu ling, and lion's mane, which all contain powerful compounds, like one that is used to help patients undergoing radiology or chemotherapy called "protein-bound polysaccharopeptide" that helps them build up their immunity to allow the drugs to kill the cancer cells, but not their healthy cells, according to research. In addition to being able to treat or help prevent diseases, each mushroom has its own special benefits; for instance, the reishi mushroom is known for its calming effects and is often used to help people fall asleep and get the beneficial REM sleep they need.

Before you look for these types of mushrooms on the menu, note they are not popular for culinary usage but rather can be found as active ingredients in supplements,  medicinal chocolate, protein shakes, special teas, and coffee replacements. Here are the four most popular immune-boosting mushrooms to eat when you're sick or want to stave off infection.

Blue Turkey Tail Fungus
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1. Turkey Tail Mushrooms

This multicolored mushroom is found in forests of China and Europe and the oak woods of the Pacific Coast of the United States. The fungus grows in bunches or clusters on trees and branches and can either be a mixture of brown, black, white, grey, blue, and red. They look like a wide fan – almost like when a turkey spreads its tail – hence the name. They're known for their anti-cancer properties and are sold worldwide as supplements, tea, or liquid extracts.

Turkey tail contains high levels of antioxidants including phenols and flavonoids which stimulate the immune cells that mobilize throughout the body (in the bloodstream) and kill off invaders, offering protection from bacteria, certain diseases, certain cancers, and more, according to a study. Researchers also noted that the antioxidants in the mushroom contributed to "enhanced immune function, toxin removal, and strengthening."

Turkey tail extract contains a protein-bound called polysaccharopeptides that are "used to supplement chemotherapy and radiotherapy" and help fight various infectious diseases, according to a study. In addition, researchers found that polysaccharopeptides appear to promote antitumor activity.

Frosted Lingzhi Mushroom
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2. Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms appear shiny with shades of brown and primarily grow on oak and plum trees around the world. They have been studied and used for decades in Chinese and Japanese culture for their therapeutic benefits such as reducing anxiety, promoting better sleep, and treating diseases.

The antioxidants found in reishi contain immune-boosting properties that promote healthy cellular function and boost antibody-mediated immunity which is how your helper T cells, B cells will differentiate into plasma B cells that can produce antibodies against a specific antigen. according to the study. This is particularly helpful now as we all fight off viruses.

Reishi is also used to reduce anxiety and calm our nerves, which is why people mix it in their tea, consume it before yoga, meditation, or use it to help fall asleep.

In a three-day study, consumption of reishi significantly increased total sleep time and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep –which is the short period that occurs right after you fall asleep – without influencing slow-wave sleep or REM sleep, which is the deeper sleep state that lasts for longer and when most of your dreaming occurs.

Polyporus umbellatus fungus
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3. Zhu Ling

This kind of mushroom grows of beech trees in forests throughout North America, Europe, and Asia has been used for centuries as herbal medicine to help boost immunity.

Zhu Ling contains compounds that improve and enhance the action of your immune system's natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that protects the body from viruses and bacteria, according to a review in Indigo Herbs.

Like most mushrooms, Zhu Ling is rich in polysaccharides which help strengthen and protect the immune system from bacteria and germs.

Lion's Mane Mushroom
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4. Lion's Mane

Lion's mane is native to North American, Europe, and Asia and looks like long spines of white, thick hair dangling on the side of trees or at the bottom of stumps.

This kind of fungus is the best of both worlds, culinary and medicinal. Lion's mane is often used as a steak alternative in dishes, because of its thick, meat-like texture and its ability to absorb spices and seasonings. However, it's also known for its immune-boosting benefits.

Lion's mane is most known for its two unique compounds that may reduce the long-term risk of getting dementia. One way it appears to do this, according to a study., is to promote the synthesis and connection between brain cells, and stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF). It also appears to protect brain cells against oxidative stress. The study concluded that Lion's mane "contained neuroactive compounds which induced NGF-synthesis and promoted neurite outgrowth."

In addition to improving brain function, the lion's mane mushroom is also an anti-inflammatory and treated mild symptoms of depression and anxiety in a study conducted in a lab. This is particularly important since shen a body is under stress, the immune system becomes weak so consuming mushrooms like lion's mane and reishi is smart to do when you're sick or stressed.

Bottom Line: When feeling sick, stressed, or sleepless, mushrooms can help

Medicinal mushrooms are a way to treat what is ailing you naturally, with the powerful compounds harnessed in the specific type of mushroom that delivers what you need. Eat mushrooms for health, but also look for extracts or supplements in the health food store.

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