Medicinal Mushrooms for Depression

According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health problems, particularly depression, will be the first of the global burden of diseases in 2030 and the leading cause of mortality and morbidity [1]. Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest [2]. Depressive disorders are often accompanied by somatic and cognitive changes that may significantly impact an individual’s capacity to function and decrease quality of life [2]. However, we cannot forget that many individuals present with high-functioning depression, as well.  

The underlying cause of depression is multifactorial as both genetic and environmental factors may play a role, but most research points to an interaction between neurotransmitter availability and receptor regulation, such as a disturbance in serotonin activity [2]. Approximately 60% of those with depression do not seek help because of the existing stigmas surrounding mental health disorders; instead, we rely on online depression tests rather than a medical diagnosis in order to feel validated [2].  

Medicinal mushrooms have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects that may have a positive effect on mental health. Although antidepressant medications are the standard of care, many individuals are refractory to treatment or have difficulties living with the adverse effects. Mushrooms may be an appropriate choice as both an alternative and complementary method in treatment of depressive mood disorders. 

Lion's Mane Mushroom to Support Depression and Anxiety

A clinical trial was completed assessing the ability of Lion’s Mane to improve factors of depression, anxiety, and sleep in a group of overweight patients after 8 weeks of supplementation [3]. The researchers assessed the serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its pre-cursor, pro-BDNF, before and after supplementation [3]. The results concluded that, after 8 weeks, the patient’s presented with increased serum levels of pro-BDNF, along with improvements in the severity of their depression, anxiety, and sleep quality [3]. The mechanisms of action of BDNF are far from simple, but it has been found that decreased BDNF or a dysfunction in its processes can cause decreased excitatory neurons, which may potentially lead to depression [4].  

The hippocampus is a region of the brain responsible for emotion and memory. Countless studies have found that in mood disorders, such as depression, this region is less than average in size, meaning there is a shrinkage of brain circuits in the area, affecting its functioning. A study published in 2018 found that the actions of Lion’s Mane in exerting anxiolytic and anti-depressant effects may lie in its ability to enhance neurogenesis in the hippocampus [5].  

Lion’s Mane also contains a class of constituents known as terpenes. Hericenones is one of many terpenes found in Lion’s Mane that has been studied extensively, but it is unique in that it is able to pass the blood-brain barrier [6]. Not only has this constituent been shown to improve neurocognitive impairment and stimulate the growth of brain cells, but its anti-inflammatory and antidepressant-like effects have allowed it to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders [6].  

lions mane mushroom supplement

The Effects of Reishi Mushroom on Mental Health

Reishi, or Ganoderma lucidum, is another medicinal mushroom that may have profound effects on mental health. Polysaccharides extracted from Reishi have expressed anti-depressant effects in many research studies [7]. One study found that Reishi exhibited antidepressant and anxiolytic effects by antagonism (blocking) of 5HT2A receptors, much like certain antidepressant pharmaceuticals [8]. Research suggests that activation of this receptor may lead to mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, OCD, and insomnia [9]. Thus, the use of Reishi may alleviate symptoms of depression and combat the comorbidities that tend to develop alongside it, such as anxiety and sleep disruptions.  

reishi mushroom for mental health

Cordyceps Mushrooms for Inflammation and Anti-Depressive Effects

Cordyceps has historically been used as a complementary therapy to treat depression and anxiety because of its powerful anti-inflammatory actions [1]. In one study, Cordyceps mushroom extract exhibited anti-depressive and anxiolytic effects by reducing inflammation and modulating certain neurotransmitters [1]. The Cordyceps formulation significantly reduced levels of glutamate in the amygdala of the brain [1]. Currently, there is increasing evidence of a possible relationship between glutamate and the development of depression; dysregulation of glutamate in the brain and gastrointestinal tract may play a role in the underlying pathophysiology of depressive disorders [10].  

cordyceps mushroom for inflammation

With a large proportion of our population living with daily symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders, research into alternative methods is continuously diving deeper. Medicinal mushrooms hold many properties that would be beneficial to those suffering from depression while also providing additional health benefits and lowering the risk of adverse effects.  

We hope you have found this article informative. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below! 

By Silvana Jakupovic — BSc and 4th Year Student of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM-Boucher) 


[1] Huang HS, Wu HY, Chang WT, Lin YE, Huang YJ, Lu KH, Lu YS, Chen MH, Sheen LY. The Antidepressive and Anxiolytic Effects of Formula Consisted of Poria cocos and Cordyceps militaris Waster Medium Extract in Unpredictable Chronic Mild Stress Animal Model. Curr Dev Nutr. 2020 May 29;4(Suppl 2):1212. doi: 10.1093/cdn/nzaa057_028. PMCID: PMC7257912. 

[2] Chand SP, Arif H. Depression. [Updated 2022 Jul 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 

[3] Vigna L, Morelli F, Agnelli GM, Napolitano F, Ratto D, Occhinegro A, Di Iorio C, Savino E, Girometta C, Brandalise F, Rossi P. Hericium erinaceus Improves Mood and Sleep Disorders in Patients Affected by Overweight or Obesity: Could Circulating Pro-BDNF and BDNF Be Potential Biomarkers? Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019 Apr 18;2019:7861297. doi: 10.1155/2019/7861297. PMID: 31118969; PMCID: PMC6500611. 

[4] Yang, T., Nie, Z., Shu, H., Kuang, Y., Chen, X., Cheng, J., Yu, S., & Liu, H. (2020). The role of BDNF on neural plasticity in Depression. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 14.  

[5] Ryu S, Kim HG, Kim JY, Kim SY, Cho KO. Hericium erinaceus Extract Reduces Anxiety and Depressive Behaviors by Promoting Hippocampal Neurogenesis in the Adult Mouse Brain. J Med Food. 2018 Feb;21(2):174-180. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2017.4006. Epub 2017 Nov 1. PMID: 29091526. 

[6] Chong PS, Fung ML, Wong KH, Lim LW. Therapeutic Potential of Hericium erinaceus for Depressive Disorder. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Dec 25;21(1):163. doi: 10.3390/ijms21010163. PMID: 31881712; PMCID: PMC6982118. 

[7] Li H, Xiao Y, Han L, Jia Y, Luo S, Zhang D, Zhang L, Wu P, Xiao C, Kan W, Du J, Bao H. Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides ameliorated depression-like behaviors in the chronic social defeat stress depression model via modulation of Dectin-1 and the innate immune system. Brain Res Bull. 2021 Jun;171:16-24. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2021.03.002. Epub 2021 Mar 8. PMID: 33705858. 

[8] Matsuzaki H, Shimizu Y, Iwata N, Kamiuchi S, Suzuki F, Iizuka H, Hibino Y, Okazaki M. Antidepressant-like effects of a water-soluble extract from the culture medium of Ganoderma lucidum mycelia in rats. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013 Dec 26;13:370. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-13-370. PMID: 24369991; PMCID: PMC3879659. 

[9] Nakamura Y, Kitamura Y, Sumiyoshi Y, Naito N, Kan S, Ushio S, Miyazaki I, Asanuma M, Sendo T. Involvement of 5-HT2A receptor hyperfunction in the anxiety-like behavior induced by doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide combination treatment in rats. J Pharmacol Sci. 2018 Nov;138(3):192-197. doi: 10.1016/j.jphs.2018.10.001. Epub 2018 Oct 9. PMID: 30360947. 

[10] Onaolapo AY, Onaolapo OJ. Glutamate and depression: Reflecting a deepening knowledge of the gut and brain effects of a ubiquitous molecule. World J Psychiatry. 2021 Jul 19;11(7):297-315. doi: 10.5498/wjp.v11.i7.297. PMID: 34327123; PMCID: PMC8311508. 

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