Mushrooms and the Gut-Brain Connection

Expert Advice from Jerry Angelini
a beautiful turkey tail mushroom blooming out of an old tree stump

As we learn more about human health and wellness, the interconnectedness of our body systems becomes increasingly apparent. One important area of research over the last 15 years has been the distinct and significant interconnectedness of the digestive tract and the brain—often referred to as the "gut-brain connection."[1] It has been discovered that nerve tissue, such as the vagus nerve, signals sensory and motor information directly between the intestinal tract and the brain. There are numerous immune influences known to occur in the digestive tract that impact the whole body, including the brain. And it has been found that the microflora of our oral and intestinal tract impacts our immune system and nutritional standing in numerous complex ways.§

Along with new discoveries about the gut-brain connection, more research has focused on how mushrooms can be a beneficial support for both the intestinal tract and the brain. It is well known that numerous mushroom species support the immune response in humans. While early research on mushrooms focused on the fruit body portion of the fungal life cycle, increasingly, research on mushroom mycelium has indicated that it also serves to support the immune response.§

When grown for use in human supplements, mushroom mycelium requires a growth medium, called a substrate. The mycelium consumes the substrate in a process of fermentation not unlike yogurt or tempeh. When separated out in a laboratory setting, research has shown that both the mycelium and the fermented substrate are robustly immunologically active.[2] Products containing both the mycelium and the fermented metabolites can be significant allies as we hope to encourage active yet balanced immune functioning in healthy individuals.[3]§

Further research on mycelium and fruit bodies of different species like lion’s mane, reishi, and turkey tail indicate a wide range of potential supportive activity for both our digestive health and nerve and brain health. Lion’s mane has been studied for its support of cognitive functioning, intestinal tissue integrity, and day-to-day nerve generative activity. It has also been shown to support prebiotic activity for probiotic microflora.[4|5]. The reishi mushroom has been found to support nervous system functioning and provides prebiotic fiber for our probiotic microflora.[6|7|8|9] Likewise, turkey tail has been researched for its support of sympathetic nervous system functioning and prebiotic activity.[1|2|10] And all three of these important beneficial mushroom species support immune modulatory activity.§

Support for the gut-brain connection doesn’t end with beneficial mushrooms. Probiotic intestinal microflora appear to correlate with optimal brain function and balanced mood. Beyond Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria probiotics, Bacillus coagulans has been studied in humans and found to support balanced mood, intestinal tract function, and balanced immune functioning.[11|12] Bacillus coagulans is a shelf-stable probiotic that does not need refrigeration and has excellent survival through the digestive tract to colonize the large intestine.[13] All of these factors point to B. coagulans as yet another strong ally for intestinal, immune and brain health.§

Host Defense® MycoBotanicals® Microbiome§ combines reishi, lion’s mane, and turkey tail with Bacillus coagulans and two herbs: burdock root and marshmallow root. Combining these ingredients increases the convenience for daily use to support our digestion, brain, and natural immunity.§

Click to See Our Sources
  1. “The relationship between intestinal microbiota and the central nervous system in normal gastrointestinal function and disease” by S.M. Collins and B. Bercik, Gastroenterology, 5/09
  2. “The mycelium of the Trametes versicolor (Turkey tail) mushroom and its fermented substrate each show potent and complementary immune activating properties in vitro” by K.F. Benson et al., BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019
  3. “Differential immune activating, anti-inflammatory, and regenerative properties of the aqueous, ethanol, and solid fractions of a medicinal mushroom blend” by R. Davis et al., Journal of Inflammation Research, 2/25/20
  4. Hericium erinaceus improves mood and sleep disorders in patients affected by overweight or obesity: Could circulating Pro-BDNF and BDNF be potential biomarkers?” by L. Vigna et al., Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM, 2019
  5. “Polysaccharide of Hericium erinaceus attenuates colitis in C57BL/6 mice via regulation of oxidative stress, inflammation- related signaling pathways and modulating the composition of the gut microbiota” by Y. Ren et al., The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2018
  6. Ganoderma lucidum effects on mood and health-related quality of life in women with fibromyalgia” by F. Pazzi et al., Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 2020
  7. “A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract in neurasthenia” by W. Tang et al., Journal of Medicinal Food, Spring 2005
  8. “Effects of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides on chronic pancreatitis and intestinal microbiota in mice” by L. KouKou et al., International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, 12/16
  9. “Evaluation of the efficacy and safety of Ganoderma lucidum mycelium-fermented liquid on gut microbiota and its impact on cardiovascular risk factors in human,” by W. Qizheng et al., RSC Advances, 2017
  10. “Effects of polysaccharopeptide from Trametes versicolor and amoxicillin on the gut microbiome of healthy volunteers: A randomized clinical trial” by K. Pallave et al., Gut Microbes, 2014
  11. Bacillus clausii exerts immuno-modulatory activity in allergic subjects: A pilot study” by G. Ciprandi et al., European Annals of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2005
  12. Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856 for the management of major depression with irritable bowel syndrome: a randomised, double- blind, placebo controlled, multi-centre, pilot clinical study” by M. Majeed et al., Food & Nutrition Research, 7/4/18
  13. “Probiotic Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856 spores exhibit excellent in-vitro functional efficacy in simulated gastric survival, mucosal adhesion and immunomodulation” by T. Shinde et al., Journal of Functional Foods, 1/19


Jerry Angelini

Jerry Angelini is head of education at Fungi Perfecti and Host Defense. He has a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling from Boston University, and has been trained in Western herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurvedic medicine.

With more than 30 years of experience, Jerry is an invaluable source of knowledge and an important part of the Host Defense team.