How to Use Mushrooms for Immunity (Reishi, Shiitake, Maitake)
Reishi, shiitake, and maitake are functional mushrooms that primarily help balance the immune system. High-quality products are packed with active compounds and may also provide a host of other benefits like boosting your energy levels, mood, and general wellbeing. If you’re ready to supplement, read on. We’ve compiled science-based tips for choosing the right mushroom supplement and getting the most out of it.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor before taking supplements to avoid any potential disease and drug interactions.
Top 3 Medicinal Mushrooms for Immune System Support
People around the world have used medicinal mushrooms since at least 3000 BC. Mushrooms boast many health benefits but are best known for providing powerful immune support (Guggenheim et al., 2014).
We focus on the top three well-researched medicinal mushrooms in this guide: reishi, shiitake, and maitake.
Other sought-after medicinal mushrooms that also support the immune system are cordyceps, turkey tail, and lion’s mane. Some less commonly used immune-supportive mushrooms include matsutake, Agaricus blazei, and snow fungus (Patel et al., 2021).
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) provides immune support, helps reduce stress and anxiety, fight infections, and has anti-inflammatory action. Reishi or “Lingzhi” has been used for millennia in traditional Chinese medicine. Practitioners claim it’s great for balancing the immune system–boosting it if weakened and downregulating it if overactive (Sanodiya et al., 2009).
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) are packed with antioxidants, fiber, and important nutrients (like zinc, selenium, vitamin D, and essential amino acids). They’re purported to support immunity, longevity, liver health, and blood flow (Cassileth, 2011; USDA database).
Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) balance the stress response and support immune, liver, lung, and reproductive health. They’re a popular traditional Chinese medicine adaptogen—a remedy that helps maintain energy levels and good health under increased stress (He et al., 2017; He et al., 2019; Lindequist et al., 2010).
How to Use Mushrooms for Immunity (Step by Step)
1) Choose a High-Quality Mushroom Product
The first step to experiencing any potential health benefits of medicinal mushrooms is finding a high-quality supplement.
Some mushroom supplements and products contain cheap fillers like starches, artificial additives, and other ingredients you should avoid. In one analysis, 68% of tested reishi products in the US used polysaccharide fillers in place of the active ingredient; only 26% contained the labeled amount of reishi mushroom (Wu et al., 2017).
Here’s what to look out for in a quality mushroom supplement (Patel et al., 2021):
- Extract vs. powder: extracts are more potent than dried mushroom powder
- Level of beta-glucans: aim for products that specify at least 20% of beta-glucans, the main active ingredient that supports the immune system
- Part of the mushroom used: beta-glucans are found mostly in the mushroom fruiting body, avoid products that contain mycelium
- Extraction method: hot water extraction is the cleanest and most efficient method—it ensures high beta-glucan levels; double extraction (hot water/alcohol) may extract some additional active ingredients that aren’t soluble in water
- Starches, fillers, and other additives: ideally, the supplement should contain 5% starch or less and no fillers. Avoid products with toxic fillers, colorants, and additives like soybean oil and cornstarch (often GMO), titanium dioxide (E 171), and aluminum (E 173)
- Sustainably sourced and organic: low-quality products may contain GMOs, pesticides, and heavy metals that can disrupt the immune and endocrine system; unsustainable mass production also harms the environment
We recommend My Smart Habits Triple Immune. It contains certified-organic shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms providing 1000 mg of medicinal mushrooms per serving. It’s third-party tested to guarantee high levels of beta-glucans. No starch, grains, or mycelium is added.
2) Supplement Regularly
How long does it take to see results?
According to the research, medicinal mushrooms start improving antioxidant status within hours of ingestion. However, it may take weeks or months to achieve specific health benefits (Wachtel-Galor et al., 2004).
As a rule of thumb, it takes at least two weeks to notice the effects of medicinal mushrooms. It may take 4-8 weeks to feel a boost in immune function, energy levels, and stress resilience. Cognitive function, nerve repair, and metabolic support may take even longer (Tao & Feng, 1990; Mateo et al., 2015; Donatini, 2014).
Do I need to take a break from supplementing after some time?
Although health practitioners typically recommend taking a week off every four to six months, most medicinal mushrooms in this blend have been used consistently for longer periods of time without safety concerns.
For example, reishi mushrooms were safely used for up to one year in clinical trials as a standalone supplement and for 6 months in combination products (with vitamins and plant extracts) (Oka et al., 2010; Chiu et al., 2017; Parravano et al., 2019).
Shiitake is known to be safe in the long term when used in food amounts. However, 4 g/day of shiitake powder for 10 weeks caused abnormally high eosinophil levels (eosinophilia) in one small study of 10 people (Levy et al., 1998)
In the most recent study of 68 people, though, shiitake mushroom bars were used for 66 days without safety concerns. In another recent study, 5-10 g/day of the whole, dried shiitake mushrooms were used safely for 4 weeks to support immune function in 52 healthy men and women. More safety data are needed (Spim et al., 2021; Dai et al., 2015).
Maitake mushrooms also seem to be safe in the long run, when used appropriately. A maitake mushroom extract (3 mg/kg) twice daily has been used safely for up to 12 weeks. This is about 500mg/day for a person weighing 190 lbs. Meanwhile, 1-1.5 g/day of maitake mushroom polysaccharides were used safely for up to 2 years (Wesa et al., 2015; Konno et al., 2001).
How much should I take? When?
The typical dosage for products with a combination of immune-supportive mushroom extracts is 1000-2000 mg/day.
Since medicinal mushrooms are not approved for any conditions, there is no official dose. Some clinical trials used higher doses (up to 6 g/day) in specific patient populations, but more safety and effectiveness data on optimal dosing are needed.
In general, it makes the most sense to split the daily dose into 2-3 servings throughout the day–a regimen that most clinical trials followed. This strategy helps maintain levels of active compounds in the body.
Aside from supporting immune function, dosing throughout the day may help balance the adaptogenic benefits—giving you a boost of energy in the morning and helping you wind down before going to bed.
3) Take with Meals
Taking reishi, shiitake, and maitake with meals helps absorb the active compounds and boost microbiome health.
Traditionally, medicinal mushrooms are prepared in food. Research confirms that taking mushroom supplements with meals is a good idea.
Reishi, shiitake, and maitake are high in polysaccharides like beta-glucans and lentinan, which act as prebiotics and feed the good bacteria in your colon. Prebiotics work best when taken alongside light, fiber-rich meals (Bhakta & Kumar, 2013).
Beta-glucans from medicinal mushrooms can boost your gut microbiome health, beneficial bacteria (Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria), and anti-inflammatory small-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) (Cerleti et al., 2021).
Taking medicinal mushrooms with meals also helps form a protective coating in the intestines and reduces potential side effects like stomach pain, gut discomfort, and nausea (Cerleti et al., 2021).
4) Healthy Lifestyle & Diet
Taking a mushroom supplement is no miracle solution to healthy immune function and general wellness. To support your body holistically, be sure to also (Monye & Adelowo, 2020):
- Eat antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense foods (high in vitamin C, A, E, zinc, iron, magnesium, and other nutrients)
- Maintain healthy vitamin D levels (through sun exposure or supplementation)
- Get enough sleep
- Stay active—engage in regular moderate‐intensity exercise
- Reduce stress in your life
- Avoid toxins (junk food, artificial sweeteners, cigarettes, alcohol in excess, pesticides, environmental toxins in cosmetics and other household products)
- Tend to your psychological well-being and social connection
5) Boost Immune Benefits with Synergistic Supplements
Consider combining medicinal mushrooms with the following supplements to boost immune and other health benefits:
- Probiotics and prebiotics (also support gut and heart health)
- Lion’s mane (also supports brain and nerve health)
- Echinacea, elderberry, and other herbs (added immune and antiviral support)
Although most probiotics are good for your immune system, many have not been through human studies. L. Reuteri NCIMB 30242 is the only probiotic that has been clinically tested for supporting healthy vitamin D levels. Learn more about the clinical research behind this probiotic strain and its benefits.
- How & When to Take Lion’s Mane + Dosage
- How to Take Prebiotics and Probiotics Together for Best Results
- When & How to Take Digestive Enzymes
- How to Maximize L. Reuteri NCIMB 30242 Probiotic Benefits
Ana Aleksic, MSc Pharm
Ana is an integrative pharmacist and scientist with many years of medical writing, clinical research, and health advising experience. She loves communicating science and empowering people to achieve their optimal health. Ana has edited 800+ and written 200+ posts, some of which reached over 1 million people. Her specialties are natural remedies, drug-supplement interactions, women’s health, and mental health. She is also a birth doula and a strong advocate of bridging scientific knowledge with holistic medicine.
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