Are functional mushrooms adaptogens?

Are functional mushrooms adaptogens?

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Functional mushrooms are becoming increasingly popular for their potential health benefits, especially among those looking to boost their immunity and overall wellbeing. Adaptogens are gaining popularity for the same reason. They are known to help balance hormones, reduce inflammation, improve mental clarity and focus, as well as increase energy levels – all things which can be beneficial in today’s hectic world. But with the buzzy wellness items seeming to have similar properties, it can be hard to differentiate the two. Is there a difference? Are functional mushrooms adaptogens? Read on to find out.

1. What are Adaptogens and How Do They Work

Adaptogens are substances that are meant to help the body cope with physical, emotional and environmental stressors. They are known to increase energy levels and balance hormones in the body, as well as improve mental focus and clarity. Some adaptogenic herbs are ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, maca root, ginseng, holy basil and schisandra berry.

Adaptogens are believed to work by supporting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which helps regulate stress hormones such as cortisol. The HPA axis is responsible for activating the “fight or flight” response when we are exposed to stressors; this is where adaptogens come into play as they are thought to reduce the stress response.


For example, ashwagandha has been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and is known to be one of the most powerful adaptogens. It is believed to balance hormones, reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system. In clinical studies, it has been found to reduce stress levels by decreasing cortisol levels, help with anxiety symptoms in adults, improve sleep patterns and even reduce symptoms of depression.

Rhodiola Rosea is native to cold regions such as Russia and Scandinavia, where it has also been used medicinally for centuries. It helps protect the body from physical and emotional stressors by reducing fatigue and improving cognitive function. Studies have also shown that it may be beneficial in fighting depression due to its ability to increase serotonin production in the brain.


Maca, a root vegetable grows in the Andes Mountains of Peru, is believed to help the body balance hormones naturally. It is also thought to improve energy levels while controlling stress hormones such as cortisol, creating a calming effect on the body. Maca root also contains numerous vitamins like Vitamin B6 and calcium which are essential for healthy bones, skin, teeth and hair growth.

RECAP: Adaptogens are substances that are meant to help the body cope with physical, emotional and environmental stressors. They work by supporting the HPA axis.

2. What are Functional Mushrooms and How Do They Work

Functional mushrooms are mushrooms that are said to have health benefits such as supporting the immune system, increasing energy levels, and improving mental clarity and focus. Some of the most popular functional mushrooms are reishi, chaga, cordyceps, and lion’s mane (all of which you can find as add-ons in our cafe).

Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Functional mushrooms are believed to work by providing a variety of nutrients including beta-glucans which are known to support immunity by helping to modulate an overactive immune response. Many are naturally rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and amino acids, as well as bioactive compounds such as polysaccharides, polyphenols and triterpenoids. Each of these components are believed to have their own beneficial properties such as reducing inflammation, providing energy, and improving mental clarity.

Reishi, one of the most popular functional mushrooms, is known to be energizing and immune-supporting with anti-inflammatory effects. It contains the active component ganoderic acid which has been associated with improved blood circulation and better sleep quality. Another popular functional mushroom is chaga, which is packed with antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Cordyceps are also gaining in popularity for their ability to increase energy levels and support athletic performance. This mushroom contains cordycepin which helps increase oxygen uptake thereby increasing endurance during exercise. Lion’s mane is another powerful variety that has neuroprotective properties due to its ability to stimulate the synthesis of nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF helps promote brain health by stimulating nerve growth and may even help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

RECAP: Functional mushrooms contain beneficial compounds that have positive effects on many areas of the body, from cognition to the immune system.

3. Are Functional Mushrooms Adaptogens?

So, are functional mushrooms adaptogens? Yes and no. As described above, the term adaptogen is typically used to describe plants and herbs that help the body respond to stress.

Meanwhile, functional mushrooms are, well, mushrooms. And while some do seem to have effects on the body’s stress response, their benefits are certainly not limited to that bodily system. So while they are not necessarily adaptogenic in the traditional sense of the word, some can still have a positive effect on the body’s response to stress. In short – functional mushrooms have adaptogenic effects, but mushrooms are not necessarily a type of adaptogen.

So while they are not necessarily a type of adaptogen, these functional mushrooms are certainly worth considering as part of an overall healthful lifestyle. From reishi to chaga and lion’s mane, there are myriad mushroom varieties that can provide numerous health benefits and support the body.

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