If I told you the elixir of life could be growing in your backyard, would you believe me?
Networks of mycelium, the underground part of mushrooms that can span thousands of acres and produce fruiting bodies, are proving to be the antidote to a wide range of deleterious health conditions that result from aging.
In this article we will explore the plethora of benefits that mushrooms can offer us and why fungi was termed elixerium ad longem vitem — elixir of life — in the first ever recorded herbal medicine guide.
Enhance your Cognitive Function: Lion’s Mane
First discovered in 1994, Lion’s Mane or Hericium erinaceus, earns its title for its odd resemblance to an actual lion’s mane. Recently, Lion’s Mane has seen an increase in popularity for its potential as a preventative treatment for America’s most feared disease, Alzheimer’s disease.
(Sadly, by the time you read this sentence, someone has developed dementia and there are over six million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s with the rate projected to rise to thirteen million by 2050.)
The brain’s ability to make connections often declines with age, but early research suggests that the medicinal powerhouse of Lion’s Mane contains two compounds that when working together, allow the mushroom to cross the blood brain barrier and regenerate the myelin sheath which insulates neurons in the brain and makes signal transmission rapid and efficient. Some types of Lion’s Mane also promote the genesis of nerve growth factor (NGF), responsible for maintaining nerve cell function and preventing cell death.
“It has been reported that [Lion’s Mane] promotes nerve growth factor secretion in vitro and in vivo. Nerve growth factor is involved in maintaining and organizing cholinergic neurons in the central nervous system. These findings suggest that [Lion’s Mane] may be appropriate for the prevention or treatment of dementia.”
This rare but amazing feat makes Lion’s Mane a great insurance policy for the harmful, but preventable cognitive effects of aging.
Increase your Longevity: Reishi
“Continually consumed, makes your body light and young, lengthens your life and turns you into one like the immortal who never dies.”— Shen Nong’s Pharmacopeia (the first Chinese herbal text written 2,400 years ago)
As the largest mushroom found in nature, Reishi boasts a plethora of benefits. Rightfully titled the “mushroom of longevity,” the Reishi mushroom has been used for centuries throughout Asia for its medicinal properties. Since the Han dynasty, it has been implemented to treat infections, and lives in spirit through paintings, sculptures, and is woven into silk robes.
Scientists have since studied and discovered that reishi mushrooms have been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, issues commonly linked to chronic health issues such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In one study, 48 breast cancer patients demonstrated a statistically significant drop in fatigue and decreased levels of depression when treated with Reishi for four weeks.
Another benefit of Reishi is that it’s an immunomodulator. This means that Reishi will stimulate the production of immune cells if your body needs them, or suppress the production of immune cells if your body has an excess (ie: in autoimmune diseases). This dual-action effect allows Reishi to suit the needs of the individual rather than target one specific issue. More specifically, when your body faces a chemical imbalance, oxidation can occur. Oxidative stress can disrupt DNA repair mechanisms, which can in turn speed the aging process or cause cancer. Reishi can stop this process in its tracks and mitigate the damage caused by oxidative stress. In mice, Reishi has been shown to significantly increase the levels of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme found in humans that breaks down potentially harmful molecules that arise from oxidative stress. A lack of superoxide dismutase has been linked to lung disease. In short, Reishi holds the potential to combat the buildup of harmful substances, hence decreasing the opportunity for cancer to arise.
The antidepressant effect, immunomodulant properties and antioxidant powers all make Reishi mushroom an excellent source of longevity.
Unlock your Creativity: Psilocybin
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic prodrug compound produced by more than 200 species of fungi. A mountain of evidence suggests that psilocybin has been used for thousands of years during ceremonies and is even displayed in ancient Mayan stones. The Aztecs referred to the mushroom as “God’s flesh.”
The Stoned Ape Theory goes even deeper and states that our hominin ancestors, who relied on forest floor foods, encountered psilocybin. The mushroom is credited for catalyzing human evolution by enhancing visionary experience, self-reflection and creativity, which led to spoken language.
More recently in 1958, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman isolated psilocybin into capsules. For two decades, he used it in clinical trials for people with psychiatric disorders including autism and obsessive compulsive disorder. Today, there are many higher education institutions conducting research on psychedelics, including Harvard, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins University. Up to forty academic centers worldwide are doing research on psilocybin. All of these institutions steer towards the same conclusion: psilocybin is one of the most powerful treatments for the psyche known to man. This is an important breakthrough considering the ban on psychedelic drugs enforced by Nixon in the 70’s.
Psilocybin is unique in its ability to improve many areas of life for individuals living with PTSD, childhood trauma and addiction. Dr. Roland Griffiths explains in a TedTalk how he obtained approval to administer psilocybin to volunteers. These volunteers ranged from cigarette addicts to cancer patients to depressed patients.
Griffiths notes the most interesting effect was that most volunteers had a positive experience, “characterized by a sense of unity, a feeling that all people and things are connected, accompanied by a sense of sacredness, sense of positive mood, love, joy and a deeply felt sense of encountering ultimate reality… more real and more true than everyday waking consciousness.”
In Griffith’s depressed patient group, 92 percent of high dose volunteers felt positive effects, and 79 percent of them sustained these effects after a 6 month follow-up. These findings are unprecedented in the field of psychiatry given currently legal treatment methods. For the volunteers struggling with cigarette addiction, after just one exposure to psilocybin, 80 percent of volunteers completely quit smoking in just 6 months. Compare that with the typical 15 percent quit rate expected with conventional therapies!
In a subsequent study, Griffiths states that 80 percent of volunteers reported that the experience was among the five most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.
Paul Stamets, critically acclaimed author and mycologist, took a high dose of psilocybin and gained the ability to speak without stuttering, an issue he suffered with until his teenage years. “Think of the return on investment…This is something that can help the health of our human psyche, of our social system, reducing trauma throughout our entire society. It’s time to wake up and look at this in a much more seasoned and intellectual fashion,” says Stamets, as recounted on the Joe Rogan show.
Today, psilocybin remains classified as a Schedule I drug for its mind-altering effects, making it illegal in most countries. I hope pioneers like Stamets and Griffiths can drive the Food & Drug Administration to decriminalize and permit the use of psilocybin by the medical community.
Magical Healing Powers
From improving cognitive function, strengthening immune systems and healing trauma, the mysterious and untapped potential of mycelium to heal common human ailments is simply magnificent. One can only hope that scientists, therapists, universities and researchers across the world will continue to explore the world of mushrooms, which could turn out to truly be the elixir of life.
Are you adding Reishi or Lion’s Mane to your coffee or adding them to your supplement routine? Do you believe in the power of mycelium to heal? Know anyone who has been treated by the medical community with psilocybin? Let us know in the comments below.