Mood-Boosting Mushrooms: The Best Functional Mushroom Supplements for Mood
Boosting mood and easing stress were big concerns at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Supplements for mood and brain health became more popular than ever during that time, and the quest for mood support continues even though high-stress pandemic conditions have passed.
A bunch of new snacks, beverages, and supplements have entered the market in response, promising to ease stress and promote relaxation. But there’s one option that’s been the star of the show for centuries and is growing in popularity: medicinal mushrooms for mood.
Wait, what exactly is “mood”?
More than just making you feel happy, these mood-boosting products and supplements can influence how you think, behave, and express yourself.
That’s because mood is more than emotions: it’s what’s called an affected state, a term used to describe states associated with feeling. Numerous factors can influence mood, including food choices, lifestyle habits, sleep patterns, social interactions, exercise, and physiological disorders like depression.
Your body regulates mood with neurotransmitters, compounds that carry messages between the neurons in your brain. Each neurotransmitter is associated with a different feeling or function:
- Serotonin regulates overall mood
- Dopamine, also called the “feel-good hormone,” influences motivation and reward
- Endorphins ease pain and also stimulate a sense of reward
- Norepinephrine keeps you alert and sparks ambition
- Oxytocin promotes bonding and induces positive feelings like love
- Glutamate stimulates neurons and plays a role in regulating mood
- GABA calms the brain to help you relax
Neurotransmitters are produced throughout the body, including the brain, the pituitary gland, the adrenal glands, and the gut. When this complex system works as it should, your mood stays relatively balanced.
Mood disorders disrupt mental harmony
But many people struggle to maintain a balanced mood. About 21.4% of adults in the U.S. experience moderate-to-serious mood problems at some point in their lives. Globally, 42% of people report feeling “a lot” of worry, and 41% struggle with high stress levels. That means mood boosting isn’t just a fad: it’s worldwide concern.
Can functional mushrooms really “boost” mood?
A positive mood can increase your ambition, make you more productive, improve your social life, and benefit your physical health. While no magical solution can transform stress into serenity, functional mushrooms may improve some of the factors that influence mood.
1) Reishi mushroom can help you rest*
Getting good-quality sleep is associated with better mood, possibly because brain activity during sleep is involved in processing emotions and storing positive memories. Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) has a long history of use as a remedy for insomnia, so it could be a solution if restless nights are affecting how you feel.
Reishi’s sleep benefits may be related to how it interacts with the gut microbiome. In one study on mice, alcohol extracts from the mushroom increased the populations of gut bacteria associated with serotonin. One particular bacterial species, Bifidobacterium longum, is thought to help serotonin move between nerve cells, which could improve sleep.
Reishi also contains numerous active compounds, 34 of which have the potential to ease stress and anxiety. These compounds appear to interact with dozens of genes throughout the body that regulate cell and organ functions. Of particular interest for mood is how reishi may affect calcium signaling. This process regulates sleep and wakefulness by prompting you to go to sleep and helping you stay asleep throughout the night.
2) Lion’s mane mushroom may balance your brain chemicals*
A review of scientific studies on lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) showed that high-dose supplementation could improve the brain’s ability to respond to stressful experiences. Lion’s mane extracts may also prompt neurons to grow in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that tends to be smaller in people with major depression.
Depression is also associated with imbalances in key neurotransmitters related to mood and lower levels of nerve growth proteins like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Supplementing with lion’s mane mushroom may help normalize levels of these chemicals to improve symptoms of depression.
While research demonstrating these improvements is still in its early stages, lion’s mane shows some initial promise as a mood-boosting mushroom.
3) Cordyceps mushrooms can encourage you to exercise*
Cordyceps mushrooms (Cordyceps militaris) may increase energy levels and improve athletic performance, a dynamic duo for boosting your mood. Why? Moderate physical activity is associated with better mood and fewer symptoms of depression.
Exercise increases endorphins and improves sleep, so you have the motivation to stay consistent with your workouts. Consistency creates a positive feedback loop that keeps endorphins flowing and your mood elevated.
But that’s not all cordyceps can do. Some studies suggest this functional mushroom also has direct effects on neurotransmitters and hormones related to mood, including:
- Regulating dopamine and serotonin
- Replenishing BDNF
- Balancing the stress response
- Prompting new brain cells to grow
- Exerting antidepressant effects
4) Cheer up with culinary mushrooms
And here’s some good news if you’re a fan of mushroom recipes: an analysis of data from the 2005-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that people who eat mushrooms might be less likely to suffer from depression.
The effects could be due to ergothioneine, an anti-inflammatory antioxidant found in mushrooms. Ergothioneine may reduce glutamate, which can help ease symptoms of stress and anxiety. Ergothioneine may also regulate the stress response and prevent stress-related sleep disturbances to give you calmer days and more restful nights.
The best part? You don’t need to hunt down fancy mushrooms for these mood-boosting health benefits. All mushrooms contain ergothioneine, including the button, crimini, and portabella varieties at your local grocery store. But if you’re up for a mushroom hunt, king oyster mushrooms are particularly high in ergothioneine. You can find them at specialty stores and Asian markets along with other tasty culinary treats like shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, and beech mushrooms.
What else can you do to enhance mood?
Whether functional or culinary, medicinal mushrooms can be a helpful ally in the quest to boost mood. Looking for more ways to stay balanced, calm, and focused? Consider these stress-busting options:
- Add adaptogens. Adaptogens are foods, herbs, and supplements that help your body handle stress, which can improve mood. Give these nine a try (spoiler alert: mushrooms are one of them!).
- Try nootropics. Nootropics may enhance brain function to improve concentration and reduce stress. These eight are some of the best.
- Plan for focus. Lifestyle habits that reduce distractions can help you get more done every day. When you’re not scrambling to meet deadlines, you’re much more likely to be in a good mood!
- Make time to unwind. Developing daily habits and routines that give you space to relax can reduce stress and improve sleep for a better overall mood.
Adapt your routine to your specific situation and stress levels to find a combination that keeps your mood balanced.