- Alternative & Natural Medicine
What Are the Four Sigmatic?
Chaga, Reishi, Cordyceps and Lion's Mane
,When I heard that there was a new mushroom coffee, that boasted all the benefits of the original beverage without the acidity or jitters I was intrigued. At times I could go through a pot of coffee every morning, but my Heartburn had gotten worse over the years and I knew I needed to start being more conscious of the acidity in my diet. Although the option of a less acidic coffee sounded simple, these mushroom supplements were claiming a variety of other benefits as well. Superfoods are trendy right now and I wanted to know if this was just the next trend.
My research shows that these four mushrooms: Chaga, Reishi, Cordyceps and Lion's Mane, are fungi that have been collected and used medicinally for ages. Modern scientific research, however, is varied and scientists are still working to back up the data collected through historical use. The company Four Sigmatic has brought media attention to these four mushrooms, but it is still up to consumers to look into the research and decide what these supplements can do for us.
Four Sigmatic's Medicinal Mushrooms
Four Sigmatic, the new mushroom coffee company has recently been attracting media attention to the possibilities of the health benefits of fungi. Their name is derived from the four main medicinal mushrooms that they use in their products: Chaga, Reishi, Cordyceps, and Lion’s Mane. Like many natural supplements, the scientific backing, behind each mushroom is a collection of old world uses and new scientific research.
The Chaga Mushroom
This Siberian mushroom is used for immune system support.
The Chaga mushroom, as claimed on the Four Sigmatic website, is meant to be an antioxidant booster and an immune system supporter. Historically, this mushroom was used in Siberia. It grows in cold climates and is most beneficial when harvested off Birch trees. Other benefits claimed by the Chaga mushroom include its ability to regulate stress levels and support skin and hair growth.
Modern scientific research has shown that Chaga has some positive effects on suppressing tumors. It also shows promising anti-inflammatory effects, and has been shown to support energy levels and fight fatigue. Although these benefits have been observed in studies, they have not been translated into clinical trials for preventative use against specific diseases.
Traditionally Chaga was harvested by taking the entire growth off of the tree. This growth is called the conk. It is made up of both the wood of the tree and the mycelium, or "root" parts of the fungi. Over harvesting has caused Chaga depletion in the wild, so scientists are looking for ways to produce it in labs. While this could help protect wild Chaga, it is unsure how potent the synthetically grown substitute would be, since most of the benefits are derived from the birch tree. Four Sigmatic harvests wild Chaga, but only the outer section, leaving the mycelium in the tree, to regrow.
The Reishi Mushroom
This mushroom has been used for 2400 years!
The Reishi mushroom, like the Chaga mushroom, is high in antioxidants and said to be a stress regulator. The Four Sigmatic claim it to be an adaptogen, something that works as both a stimulant and a depressant, regulating the body to adapt to stress. Historically, Reishi has been used by the Chinese for 2400 years as a tonic for the heart, liver, and mind.
Modern research shows that Reishi is an immune-stimulant. It has been shown to combat the effects of AIDs and chemotherapy but has not been proven to have a specific effect against illnesses. Reishi’s effects against cancer cells are being studied.
Reishi is a commonly gathered mushroom, but like the others, its potency is affected by the wood that it grows on. The Four Sigmatic promise that their mushroom is grown on Linden logs and that only the fruiting body of the fungus is harvested, preserving the mycelium for further reproduction and ensuring that the resulting product is the highest possible quality.
The Cordyceps Mushroom
It grows on caterpillars, not wood!
Cordyceps is most popular for its sport enhancing abilities. It is also used for treating sexual dysfunction. Historically, knowledge of Cordyceps properties is not new. It has been used for thousands of years, as a cure-all and is still held in high esteem in eastern medicine.
Cordyceps' benefits stem from it's effect on blood cells, causing the body to absorb more oxygen and allowing for enhanced physical performance. Scientific studies have shown Cordyceps to influence certain cancer cells and to combat the negative effects of radiation. It has also been seen having a positive effect on renal transplant patients.
In the wild, Cordyceps is a genus of fungi, which grows as a parasite on insects. The most well known Cordyceps mushroom grows on a caterpillar. The resulting fungi/caterpillar is dried and used, however, it is highly expensive, so it is more commonly grown on a synthetic substrate. The Four Sigmatic make a point to say that they grow theirs synthetically and that it is completely vegan.
The Lion's Mane Mushroom
It tastes like lobster.
Lion's Mane Mushroom
Of the four, Lion’s Mane is the only one that is also edible. The other three can be ingested, but their taste is bitter. Lion’s Mane has the highest percentage of protein and supposedly tastes like lobster. The reason it is included in the sigmatic four, however, is for its medicinal effects. It is claimed to enhance cognitive abilities.
Scientific evidence is new for the medicinal uses of Lion's Mane. It is being looked at as a potential treatment for diseases such as Alzheimer’s but has not been accepted as well-studied, most likely since our understanding of the brain and nervous system is still so new. It is known that diseases of the brain and nervous system can be linked to a low amount of Nerve Growth Factor protein. This protein is crucial to the function of nerve cells. We can’t simply supplement NGF by injecting it because its molecular weight is too big to cross the blood to brain barrier. The Lion's Mane mushroom has high quantities of certain compounds which are small enough to breach the barrier and which supposedly stimulate the production of NGF. The scientific community is excited about the possibilities these findings offer but admits that further research is necessary. Regardless, Lion's Mane is already popular among the intellectual and student crowd. It is used as a mental stimulant for focus, memorization, and clarity.
Like any natural supplement, it is highly dependent on the source and process used to extract the active ingredients. In the wild, Lion’s Mane is harvested from high up on trees in North America, Asia, and Europe. It can also be grown at home. Four Sigmatic explains their process clearly. They grow the mushrooms on wood, harvest them and then extract the ingredients with water and alcohol before drying it down to powder.
How to Use These Mushrooms and Where to Learn More
Four Sigmatic offers these four supplements in a variety of drinks: coffee, hot chocolate, and elixirs. They are also available through a variety of natural supplement companies. When choosing an medicinal supplement, it is best to know how it is gathered and processed, so do your research and look for this information when buying from a new source. A fun way to boost your understanding and knowledge of these mushrooms and how they can be processed can be found on the Four Sigmatic website. They have what they call the Mushroom Academy. The president of Four Sigmatic teaches about their mushrooms and processes but also takes the time to lay out some good information for anyone looking to use these supplements from other sources. There are three parts, each focusing on deeper material. I found the first and the second most helpful as a consumer.
Amy. The Unique and Versatile Lion’s Mane Mushroom. Retrieved from Mushroom Appreciation on September 3rd, 2017. http://www.mushroom-appreciation.com/lions-mane.html#sthash.n9sviUSh.dpbs
Nootriment editorial staff. Chaga Mushroom Medicinal Uses, History and Properties. Retrieved from Nootriment.com on September 5. https://nootriment.com/chaga-mushroom/
Staff Writers for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (2017, Jan. 26th). Chaga Mushroom. Retrieved form Memorial Sloan Cancer Center on September 4th, 2017. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/chaga-mushroom
Staff writers for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (2014, Feb. 9th). Cordyceps. Retrieved from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on September 4th, 2017. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/cordyceps
Staff writers for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (2017, Feb. 1st). Reishi Mushroom. Retrieved form Memorial Sloan Cancer Center on September 4th, 2017. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/reishi-mushroom
Stamets, Paul. (2012, Oct. 8th). Lion’s Mane: A Mushroom that Improves Your Memory and Mood. Retrieved from Huffington Post on September 5, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stamets/mushroom-memory_b_1725583.html
Suttie, Emma. (2015, Nov. 3rd). Reishi/Ling Zhi: The Mushroom of Immortality. Retrieved from Chinese Medicine Living on September 5, 2017. https://www.chinesemedicineliving.com/eastern-philosophy/reishi-ling-zhi-the-mushroom-of-immortality/