The Best Mushrooms for Chronic Pain

Mushrooms are part of many people’s diets, but did you know they can be medicinal? Let’s find out more together.

We’ve all heard of mushrooms and you probably know that there are lots of different types. Mushrooms have been used in traditional styles of medicine for centuries. Many people swear by them to help with mental health, energy levels, boosting their immune system, fighting illness, and even reducing pain!

So, what does the science say – can mushrooms actually help with chronic pain? Let’s dive in and take a closer look.

Are Mushrooms Medicinal?

Mushrooms can be used medicinally and have been for many years, particularly in Eastern medicine. In more recent years, their medicinal properties have been studied in depth and their popularity as a medicine is growing. A book on Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms states that mushrooms have an impressive: “130 medicinal functions”.

Mushrooms are full of amazing nutrients, compounds, and antioxidants that can have health benefits. This article from the Journal of Functional Foods explains: “The extracts, compounds, and metabolites have a lot of biological activities such as antidiabetic, antioxidative, antitumor, and anti-inflammatory effects.”

Polysaccharides are part of the cell wall in a mushroom and are perhaps the most important part medicinally. This 2021 study explains that: “polysaccharides have a strong ability to carry biological information.”

How Can Mushrooms Help With Chronic Pain?

Many people have found that mushrooms can reduce pain levels, but how is this possible? Essentially, parts of the cells that make up the mushrooms can interact with systems in our bodies to influence how they work.

Improving Mental Health

Living with chronic pain is a complex experience. The mind and body are deeply connected, with the health of one being able to affect the other.

Some mushrooms have been proven to help promote better mental health, which in turn could improve the quality of life for pain patients and reduce pain levels. A 2020 study on medicinal mushrooms as a treatment for depression states: “Numerous studies have provided insights into the neuroprotective effects of medicinal mushrooms, which are attributed to their antioxidant, anti-neuroinflammatory, cholinesterase inhibitory and neuroprotective properties.”

Reducing Inflammation

Inflammation is common in patients with chronic pain conditions. This 2023 study explains: “Chronic inflammation is maladaptive and often leads to a considerable amount of chronic pain.” Research shows that compounds within some mushrooms can block mechanisms in the body which cause inflammation.

You may have heard of a process called central sensitization, where the nervous system ‘learns’ to keep producing pain signals. You can think of it like the nervous system being on high alert, even though it doesn’t need to be!

More recent evidence suggests that: “central sensitization is caused by neuroinflammation in the CNS (central nervous system).” So, if mushrooms can reduce inflammation, they could in turn reduce pain and in theory, help to retrain the brain away from chronic pain

Reducing Pain 

It’s thought that many mushrooms have bioactive compounds which can change the body’s pain response.

This 2021 study states that: “The popularity of mushrooms for pain management has been increasing because of their tremendous analgesic (pain relieving) effects.” The study tested the effects of five mushroom extracts on the pain levels of animals and found that the mushrooms provided: “significant analgesic activity”.

Many prescription painkillers such as opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can have serious side effects. If patients can treat their chronic pain naturally, they may be able to improve their overall health.

The 10 Best Mushrooms for Chronic Pain

1. Lion’s Mane

Lion’s mane is one of the more well-known mushrooms. It’s native to North America, Europe, and Asia.

Lion’s mane mushrooms can promote nerve health and may even ease nerve pain. Compounds within the mushroom help to stimulate nerve growth, which can help nerves heal. This detailed study states that lion’s mane: “ is well known for the neurotrophic effect it confers by promoting nerve growth factor biosynthesis.” The study also found that during animal trials, this mushroom significantly reduced pain levels.

So, if you struggle with neuropathic pain, lion’s mane could be worth introducing to your diet to see if it can help alleviate your symptoms. 

2. Reishi 

The Reishi mushroom has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s even referred to as the “mushroom of immortality” or “divine mushroom” because of its amazing medicinal properties.

Many people feel that reishi mushrooms are one of the best options for reducing inflammation and pain. This 2020 review article states that the compound in reishi mushrooms: “ has been used for the prevention and treatment of bronchitis, allergies, hepatitis, immunological disorders and cancer.”

3. Chaga 

Chaga mushrooms grow on the bark of birch trees, especially in colder climates. Although they don’t look very appetising, these mushrooms are very popular for their health benefits. They’re most commonly used in teas.

Chaga mushrooms are thought to reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain by blocking specific proteins. They’re also full of antioxidants, which are known to reduce the effects of stress on the body.

This detailed 2020 review on medicinal mushrooms explains that Chaga mushrooms have a vital role in: “preventing and healing cancer, beneficially activating the immune system, inhibiting cellular degeneration due to oxidation, suppressing inflammation, killing and/or inhibiting the growth of viruses, supporting diabetes treatment.”

4. Turkey Tail

Despite their funny name, turkey tail mushrooms are amazing little fungi. They grow on decomposing wood, for example on tree trunks and stumps.

Many people swear by turkey tail for boosting the immune system; fighting cancer, and increasing muscle strength. This review shows that scientific studies of turkey tail mushrooms: “exhibited a promising antioxidant, antimicrobial, antihyperlipidemic and antitumor and immunity enhancement effects.”

5. Cordyceps 

Cordyceps is a fungus that grows on insects (I know that it doesn’t like something you’d want to consume, but keep reading). Supplements of this fungi are popular for increasing energy levels; reducing pain; preventing and fighting cancer, and more!

Cordyceps can reduce inflammation and in turn, reduce pain levels. Cordycepin is a major nutrient found in cordyceps. This 2020 review discovered: “that cordycepin exerts protective effects against inflammatory injury for many diseases including acute lung injury (ALI), asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease (PD), hepatitis, atherosclerosis, and atopic dermatitis.”

A 2023 article on medicinal mushrooms says: “This mushroom strengthens the immune system, reduces aging problems, promotes life longevity, and improves the functioning of the liver in hepatitis B patients.”

6. King Trumpet

The king trumpet mushroom is a type of oyster mushroom. They’re called that because they’re shaped like oysters!

These mushrooms are thought to help prevent cancer; control blood sugar levels; and even improve cognitive health. This could be highly beneficial for those of us who struggle with brain fog along with our chronic pain.

A study from the Journal of Pharmaceutical Biology on oyster mushrooms concluded that they can: “act as an orally active, safe, short-acting, moderate to strong antinociceptive agent.” This means that they can reduce pain!

7. Shiitake

Shiitake mushrooms are incredibly popular and with good reason – they taste good and are full of nutrients. Native to East Asia, these mushrooms grow on hardwood trees. They’re thought to help boost immunity; fight cancer; strengthen bones, and more!

This 2022 article states that: “this species of mushroom has a great nutritional significance because it has high protein content, with a significant amount of fiber and indispensable amino acids.”

8. Maitake

The maitake mushroom grows on Oak, Elm, and Maple trees. These mushrooms are also known as ‘hen-of-the-woods’. They are an adaptogen, which means they help the body respond to stress and improve general well-being.

A 2021 study on maitake mushrooms concluded: “The crude water extracts, isolated fractions and purified components have shown a number of bioactivities, including antitumor, immunomodulatory (improving the function of the immune system), antiviral, antibacterial, antidiabetic, lipid metabolism regulation, hypertension control and antioxidation.”

9. Black Hoof

The black hoof mushroom (also known as Phellinus Linteus) grows on mulberry trees. In Chinese medicine, this fungus is commonly used to relieve sickness, reduce abdominal pain, and even help with diarrhoea.

This 2022 review found that compounds from these mushrooms have: “multiple health-promoting effects, including immunomodulatory, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective (protecting the liver), hypoglycemic (lowering blood sugar), hypolipidemic (aiding in lowering cholesterol), antioxidant, and other bioactivities.”

10. Psilocybin Mushrooms

These are the types of mushrooms that are typically used as ‘drugs’. You’ll hear them referred to as psychedelics, ‘magic mushrooms’ or ‘shrooms’. Psilocybin is the scientific name for the compound found in these mushrooms which produces the ‘high’.

Many people microdose these mushrooms as a medical treatment for mental illness and chronic health conditions. Microdosing simply means they take them in very small doses so they don’t get that level of ‘high’, while still getting the medicinal benefits.

This 2022 study on the topic explains that: “Similar to the action of SSRIs on 5-HT receptors alleviating chronic pain in patients with neuropathic, musculoskeletal pain and fibromyalgia, psilocybin may reduce chronic pain symptoms.”

A 2023 study on three patients who were given low-dose psilocybin to manage chronic neuropathic pain found that: “These patients have achieved robust pain relief with decreased reliance on traditional analgesic medications.” The study goes on to say that when paired with exercise, the results were even more positive.

Although this type of mushroom can produce a psychedelic effect, it has relatively low health risks compared to many other non-prescription drugs. This study states: “Psilocybin has low toxicity with chronic exposure and moderate toxicity in cases of acute exposure and has low addiction and dependence issues “

In fact, they’re thought to have fewer side effects than opioids. This 2020 review explains: “Psychedelic substances have a generally favorable safety profile, especially when compared with opioid analgesics.”

There are also other forms of psychedelic mushrooms which contain different compounds, but these have less scientific evidence behind them for the treatment of chronic pain.

Although there is increasingly positive scientific research on these types of mushrooms, it’s important to bear in mind these mushrooms are illegal to consume in most places and are categorised as a class A drug. Currently, they’re only legal when used during scientific trials.

Potential Side Effects and Risks of Taking Mushrooms for Chronic Pain

Dietary supplements aren’t regulated like other drugs. Therefore, it’s crucial you do plenty of research before you purchase any supplements or other products containing mushrooms.

It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking any new supplement or adding anything medicinal to your diet. This is particularly important if you take prescription medications to ensure that there are no dangerous interactions.

Although there are not many known side effects of consuming mushrooms, this depends greatly on which ones you ingest, how much, and your other health conditions. Possible side effects include:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Lowered blood sugar (which may affect some people with diabetes or other blood sugar issues)
  • Bloating
  • Digestive issues
  • Changes to bowel movements
  • Heartburn
  • Changes to blood clotting
  • Changes to the immune system
  • Dizziness
  • Skin irritation/rashes
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchy skin

How To Take Mushrooms for Chronic Pain

There are many ways you can take mushrooms for your chronic pain. You can purchase some types of mushrooms to cook with, although this way it can be difficult to monitor and control your dose if you’re using them medicinally.

Many people choose to use mushroom supplements which they take daily. This is the best way to ensure you are getting a consistent daily dose. Supplements come in powders, capsules, or extracts. Some companies mix a few different types of mushrooms in supplements, which allows you to get the benefit of more than just one mushroom.

Ensure you read the label carefully to see how much of the mushroom is in each product. You should also check what the other ingredients are.

Should You Try Mushrooms for Chronic Pain?

Mushrooms are a natural and accessible way to try to treat chronic pain with few side effects compared to other medicines. If you are interested in trying mushrooms for your chronic pain, do plenty of research into which types are best for your needs and chat with your doctor to ensure they’re safe for you to take.

References

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    ISSN 1756-4646.
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  • Fang XX, Zhai MN, Zhu M, He C, Wang H, Wang J, Zhang ZJ., (2023), “Inflammation in pathogenesis of chronic pain: Foe and friend.” Mol Pain. 2023 Jan-Dec;19:17448069231178176.
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