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The Power of Functional Mushrooms

Mushrooms are Nature’s original superfood and the most studied. Today, roughly 40% of Western medicines, including penicillin, are derived from mushrooms.

If the thought of medicinal mushrooms is a bit frightening, keep reading.  There is amazing healing power in this adaptogen backed by some impressive research. But first, to clarify, no, functional mushrooms  are not magic mushrooms — they are not psilocybin mushrooms.  Functional mushrooms are not hallucinogenic. 

Functional Foods

In general, functional foods and/or adaptogens are ingredients that offer health benefits that extend beyond their nutritional value. Nutrient-rich ingredients like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and mushrooms are considered functional foods. 

In addition to nutrient-rich foods like fruits and veggies, the category also includes foods fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics and fiber. Adaptogens are a category of non-toxic plants that help the body resist all kinds of stressors, whether physical, chemical or biological. These herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions and they’re having a revival today as scientific evidence points to their efficacy.

Adaptogens literally ‘adapt’ to the body’s requirements by providing maintenance support when external stressors take aim. In doing so, they help to modify and regulate hormonal production and flow.

This is an intrinsic feature of adaptogens. It sets them apart from artificial stimulants and other quick fixes – think caffeine or processed sugars.

Filling your diet with a variety of functional foods and/or adaptogenic herbs ⁠from either conventional or fortified foods⁠ helps your body get the nutritive support it needs to function effectively.

Adaptogens can be herbs, minerals or mushrooms

Functional Mushrooms

In biology, all species on Earth are categorized into kingdoms. Humans are part of the Animal Kingdom. Then there is the Plant Kingdom which includes all the fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds, grains, grasses and trees you can think of, then add many, many, more. Then there is the Fungi Kingdom and it’s six times the size of the entire Plant Kingdom.

The fungi kingdom, encompasses a wide variety of living organisms. Scientists estimate there anywhere from 2.2 to 3.8 million species on Earth, including some incredibly powerful mushrooms that have been used as medicines for thousands of years because  when ingested, they work in the most interesting ways.

There are more than 100 trillion cells in the human body and their inner workings are extremely complex as demonstrated by the image taken by Harvard University.  

Functional mushrooms are considered intelligent compounds  that work on a cellular level.

It’s important to note they are not a cure-all.  Rather they increase the cells’ ability to respond  to different stressors – anything from high level physical activities – think athletes, to inflammation, chronic disease and even some cancers. And that assists the  body’s self healing mechanisms to kick in when necessary.

But before we dive into how functional mushrooms work,  it’s important to understand homeostasis which is critical to the survival of every species on Earth.  

The most detailed photographic image of inner cellular life ever taken. Source: Harvard University


When talking survival, maintaining homeostasis  is one of the most important evolutionary advantages we possess because we all live in conditions that are in constant flux.

Basically homeostasis means balance and every species on Earth constantly battles to maintain this balance in their body.

For example, homeostasis is how we maintain our internal body temperature.  As warm-blooded creatures, humans need to increase or decrease temperature internally depending on what activities we are experiencing in our external environment.

Think  taking a walk on a hot summer’s day or an icy-cold winter’s day for that matter. If our internal systems fail to adapt to these different environments our body would not be able to function.

Another example is how our bodies process glucose. It’s the only element of sugar the body uses directly and it’s  essential for the  brain to function.  Too much glucose, you get sick; too little you get sick.  Homeostasis keeps it in check. Another example is maintaining the correct balance of water in our body. Cells that have too much water bloat; those with too little shrink. Either way, bad news.   Even the nervous system requires this balancing  act. It relies on homeostasis for breathing patterns to ensure the body is getting  the appropriate amount of oxygen. When working within this very complex internal system, in an environment that is constantly changing, it’s not surprising that homeostasis can get out of whack easily.  And that’s where adaptogens and functional mushrooms enter the picture –- they help our internal systems find the ‘middle way’.


In the case of functional mushrooms specifically, the health benefits are lengthy and varied.  And,  because some adaptogens possess dual properties, the benefits overlap.  It’s their ‘adaptive’ nature that enable them to assist the body in multiple ways like  promoting both energy and sleep which help maintain homeostasis. 

Little confusing?  Think thermostat. Once a thermostat  reaches the optimal temperature, it turns off.  Should the temperature lower, the thermostat activates. Adaptogens are similar. They give the body what is needed, when it’s needed, to bring it back into balance thereby avoiding the inevitable ‘crash’ that can follow particularly when ingesting quick fixes. 

As for the immune system, functional mushrooms not only support immunity, they act as immuno-regulators, meaning  they help calm an overactive immune system when stressed or increase its activity when sluggish. That’s because they have beta glucans. 

Found in the cells of functional mushrooms, beta glucans help the immune system work at peak performance by  boosting and regulating it. Different beta glucans are specific to individual functional mushrooms, each enhancing the immune system in a slightly different way. Some have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory benefits, others anti-viral or anti-cancer properties and others cardio-protective properties. 

Functional Mushrooms at a Glance

While some functional mushrooms can be eaten, others cannot because they are too ‘woody’ or the flavour is just plain nasty. To take out the guess work on dosage and flavour,  functional mushrooms are sold as powdered extract, acting much like a food supplement so that our bodies can benefit from their amazing properties without worry.  All mushroom extracts used in ProActive products are processed in Canada. Organically grown, no  starch, mycelium or grains are used in processing and are scientifically verified by independent labs.


Found growing on birch trees in colder climate like Siberia, Northern Canada and Alaska, Chaga is loaded with impressive health benefits. Chaga  has the highest ORAC scores of any food. ORAC stands for “oxygen radical absorbent capacity.” The higher the ORAC value,  the better a food’s ability to protect the body from disease-causing free radicals. It also means that chaga mushrooms are one of the best sources of antioxidants with an ORAC value of 146,700. Chaga is rich with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals including B-complex, Vitamin D, Potassium, Rubidium, Cesium, Amino Acid, copper, zinc, selenium, iron, manganese, magnesium and calcium. As an antioxidant powerhouse, they are excellent contenders for fighting free radicals and inflammation

Researchers have also  investigated Chaga  in combating cancer for a long time .

Testing is still ongoing, but of particular interest are the ethanol-soluble lanostanic triterpenoid antioxidants. These are antioxidants that mitigate the damaging effects of free radicals that harm tissue and interfere with DNA replication. That’s important because a breakdown in the antioxidant capacity of cells is suspected to underlie various health challenges, such as inflammation, premature aging, and some cancers.


Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms in the world. Not only do they taste great, they are a natural source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. In addition, shiitake contain many of the same amino acids as meat. Shiitakes contain many chemical compounds that protect your DNA from oxidative damage. Lentinan heals chromosome damage caused by anticancer treatments. Eritadenine  helps reduce cholesterol levels and supports cardiovascular health. They contain compounds that inhibit the absorption and production of cholesterol in the liver. Shiitakes contain all eight essential amino acids, long with an  essential fatty acid called Linoleic which helps with weight loss and building muscle. It also has bone-building benefits, improves digestion, and reduces food allergies and sensitivities. A 2015 study  suggests that consuming shiitake mushrooms improved cell effector function (active response to a stimulus to effect change) and improved gut immunity. The study also demonstrated a reduction of inflammation.

Research in 2016  suggests that shiitake mushrooms help fight cancer cells and the lentinan in shiitakes help heal chromosome damage caused by anticancer treatments.

Shiitake mushrooms are a great source of B vitamins, which help support adrenal function and turn nutrients from food into useable energy. They also help balance hormones naturally and even improve cognitive performance  by breaking through brain fog to maintain focus all day long.


Lions Mane

A large body of research has focused around this brain-boosting mushroom in the last few years and the results are astounding. One method by which lion’s mane affects brain function is by enhancing “neurite outgrowth” in the brain and related organs, according to research published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. Neurite outgrowth refers to the growth of axons and dendrites from neurons. That’s a big deal in brain health research. By increasing this growth, it could potentially slow or reverse cell degeneration in the brain, the main characteristic of diseases like Alzheimer and Parkinson.

In varying degrees, compounds from or supplementation with lion’s mane mushroom, has been found to potentially slow the progression or reverse the spread of leukemia, gastric cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer,  liver cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry lists the benefits of  lion’s mane mushroom as “antibiotic, anticarcinogenic, antidiabetic, anti-fatigue, antihypertensive, anti-hyperlipodemic, anti-senescence [anti-aging], cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, nephroprotective, and neuroprotective, and improves anxiety, cognitive function, and depression

A 2012 study conducted in Malaysia found that consuming lion’s mane mushroom could actually regenerate damaged cells from peripheral nerve injury, an injury affecting the delicate tissue between your brain and spinal cord.

UPDATE:  01/2021

A new report on the benefits of Lions Mane and Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has just arrived on my desk from  Dr Rhonda Patrick, one of my favourite go to sources when researching functional nutrition. It makes compelling reading.


Turkey Tail

When it comes to functional foods, the turkey tail mushroom, may top the list. It’s the most researched functional mushroom of the bunch, proven to promote immune function.

Turkey Tail is  prized for its beta glucan polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are “essential sugars” in the body that aid in activating immunity. Clinical trials suggest that  bacterial infections can be reduced using polysaccharides. The polysaccharides have strong communication with all T cells that are an essential part of white blood cells when fighting infection.

Known to stave off any infection, including those associated with the common cold or flu, it   helps the immune system become more resilient against ill-causing germs. So when flu season approaches, you may want to include turkey tail  in your dietary routine.

Studies are also focussing on how turkey tail mushrooms may help cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy. 

As chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, the hope is that turkey tail mushroom builds the immune system up to better handle the weakness that chemo all too often causes.




Used for its healing abilities for thousands of years, this edible fungus fits the definition of a true superfood. Often referenced as the king of the mushrooms, research in Japan, China, the U.S. and the U.K.  demonstrate that reishi mushrooms are capable of offering protection against numerous diseases or illnesses. Working as an “immune modulator,” reishi mushrooms help restore hormonal balance, bringing the body back to homeostasis while regulating activity of the immune system. This helps in the good  fight against tumours and cancerous cells. Reishi mushrooms act as a normalizing substance, regulating various cellular functions and systems, including the endocrine (hormonal), immune, cardiovascular, central nervous and digestive system.

Studies repeatedly show that reishi mushrooms have antioxidant abilities that allow them to strengthen the body’s defences against cancer, autoimmune conditions, heart disease, allergies, infections and more.

What makes this mushroom unique, is its calming properties — all of which are thanks to the compound triterpene, which reishi has in abundance.

The positive effects of triterpenes  is thought to also help with hypertension, high blood pressure and high cholesterol; sleep disorders and insomnia; anxiety and depression and sharpen focus.



Often referred to as Hen of the Woods, Maitake Mushrooms are not only delicious, they also boast of some amazing health benefits. From regulating blood sugar to dropping cholesterol levels, Maitake work as adaptogens. Their powerful properties naturally restore and balance the body to promote better health. Animal studies show maitake mushrooms are thought to boost immune function, reduce cholesterol, fight viruses and cancer and modulate blood pressure and sugar levels.

Recently, several promising studies have researched the potential connection between the maitake mushroom and cancer. Although research is still limited to animal models and in vitro studies, maitake mushrooms may contain powerful cancer-fighting properties .

Other research suggests maitake mushrooms may be therapeutic against PCOS (Polycystic ovarian syndrome) and could help combat common issues like infertility.

And animal studies indicates  ingesting maitake mushroom for eight weeks lowers blood pressure as well as levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.



Of the more than 400 species of Cordyceps discovered, two have become the focus of health research: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.

While research is ongoing, the  potential health benefits are promising.

Cordyceps can help the body utilize oxygen more efficiently and enhance blood flow. This can be helpful for athletes or those who regularly work out.

This mushroom has been shown to not only improve exercise and athletic performance, but also speed up post-workout muscle recovery.

Interestingly, This mushroom is also known for stimulating both energy and the libido.

The elderly have traditionally used Cordyceps to reduce fatigue and boost strength and improve sex drive.  

Researchers believe their antioxidant content may explain their anti-aging potential.


ProActive Nutraceutical Immunity Booster uses a blend of functional mushroom extract specifically for immune support. ProActive Workout Tonic uses  Cordyceps Functional  Mushroom Extract for Endurance. And no, It does not affect the great taste.  All mushroom extracts are processed in Canada. They are organically grown and no  starch, mycelium or grains are used in processing.  They are  also scientifically verified by independent labs ensuring purity, consistency and high bio-availability.