Medicinal Mushrooms to Support the Liver

Medicinal Mushrooms to Support the Liver

January 16, 2024

Written by Silvana Jakupovic, BSc, ND (Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, CCNM)

It’s that time of year again – that feeling after the holiday parties are over. December was full of family gatherings, activities chock-full with indulgent behaviours, and who could say no to that extra slice of pie or mugful of eggnog? If that isn’t enough, our sleep schedules are likely all over the place, and we’re probably not too keen to exercise when the alternative is hiding from the cold weather and sipping hot cocoa by the fire. 

With all these changes, most people forget that our liver doesn’t know it was the holidays. The liver becomes easily thrown off by schedule changes, especially if these changes involve increased alcohol consumption and poor dietary habits. It’s one of the reasons why people experience such low energy levels during this time of year, when the aftermath of the festive season sets in.

What is the Main Function of your Liver?

The liver oversees many physiological processes and is one of the most vital organs in the human body [1]. Its primary role is to filter and process toxins from the bloodstream before they can harm other organs or tissues [1]. The liver also stores glycogen, a form of glucose that the body uses for energy and helps regulate blood sugar levels [1].

The liver also plays a critical role in the metabolism of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and the production of blood-clotting factors and other essential proteins [1]. This fundamental organ performs many vital functions necessary for maintaining good health and well-being, so why not provide your liver with some support this holiday season with the following liver-loving medicinal mushrooms?

Reishi Mushroom Liver Benefits

The mushroom most studied for its hepatoprotective effects is Ganoderma lucidum, commonly known as Reishi. The bioactive compounds most responsible for Reishi’s impact on the liver are its polysaccharides and triterpenoids [2]. Through research, Reishi has exhibited powerful antioxidant and radical scavenging activity [2]. When free radicals overwhelm our systems and cause an imbalance with antioxidants, oxidative stress can ensue and lead to cellular damage. 

This is especially important regarding the liver because the liver metabolizes many compounds that produce free radicals, and our bodies need adequate antioxidant support to scavenge these compounds and maintain the oxidative/antioxidative balance [3]. If this balance is disrupted, it would result in oxidative stress and cellular damage [3]. 

Reishi has also been found to modulate the phase 1 and 2 hepatic enzymes [2]. In one animal study, the mushroom extract inhibited the increase of serum ALT and liver triglycerides; high levels of ALT are associated with any form of liver damage [2]. Additionally, the extract prevented the decrease of essential liver antioxidants, SOD and GSH, and inhibited β-glucuronidase activity, another indicator of liver damage [2]. Overall, Reishi significantly improved liver health markers, even decreasing MDA levels, a specific feature of oxidative stress [2]. 

Chaga Mushroom for Liver Support

Inonotus obliquus, often called Chaga, is a mushroom known for its powerful antioxidant abilities. It has one of the planet's highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values! ORAC informs us about the power of a substance to neutralize free radicals so that they do not overpower our antioxidant capabilities and cause oxidative stress. Chaga also has powerful anti-inflammatory effects due to its antioxidant capabilities and bioactive compounds. 

These actions of Chaga lend to its hepatoprotective activities [4]. Administration of the mushroom extract inhibited rising ALT, AST, and LDH enzyme levels – all positively correlated with liver damage [4]. Much like Reishi, Chaga may decrease MDA formation, illustrating its powerful antioxidant abilities and the prevention of oxidative stress [4]. 

Another key function of Chaga is especially important during or after the holiday season! Whether you’re preparing cookies, pies, or other baked goods, it’s almost impossible to avoid temptation – which is why Chaga’s ability to improve blood sugar levels could do your liver some good. In one animal study, Chaga reduced fasting blood glucose levels, improved glucose tolerance, and enhanced insulin sensitivity, allowing better glucose transport from the bloodstream into the tissues [5]. 

High blood sugar and insulin resistance affect lipid, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism and may lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [6]. The underlying mechanism of this progression is a combination of increased oxidative stress and an inflammatory response that leads to the activation of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1, IL-6, TNF-α), which damage liver cells [6]. Overall, Chaga is hitting many of the targets you’re looking for when it comes to liver support.

Cordyceps Mushroom for Liver Protection

Cordyceps militaris, or just Cordyceps, is a funny-looking fungus with excellent benefits. Its abilities range from anti-cancer effects to improving respiratory health in those with asthma and COPD. However, it also carries hepatoprotective effects similar to Reishi and Chaga’s. One study found that Cordyceps decreased the activities of IL-6 and TNF-α, the pro-inflammatory cytokines mentioned previously, in mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [7]. 

More importantly, the mushroom extract increased levels of hepatic glutathione (a powerful endogenous antioxidant) and reduced lipid peroxide levels, again illustrating the ability of medicinal mushrooms to prevent oxidative stress-induced liver damage [7]. 

The Best Mushrooms for Liver Support

This was just a quick overview of a few medicinal mushrooms that have displayed protective effects on the liver, but the evidence speaks for itself! We all deserve a break and time to wind down without obsessing over our diets, exercise levels, or the firm schedules we usually must stick to. 

However, as mentioned previously, our livers don’t know that it was the holidays, and any support we can offer this critical organ is vital during this time. Incorporating mushrooms into your liver wellness routine may be a wise choice this winter, especially after the holiday season. 

We hope you have found this article informative.

Remember, Edible Island’s team of Wellness Advisors are always available in-store to help you find the right products for your particular needs!


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[2] Soares AA, de Sá-Nakanishi AB, Bracht A, da Costa SM, Koehnlein EA, de Souza CG, Peralta RM. Hepatoprotective effects of mushrooms. Molecules. 2013 Jul 1;18(7):7609-30. doi: 10.3390/molecules18077609. PMID: 23884116; PMCID: PMC6270077.

[3] Casas-Grajales S, Muriel P. Antioxidants in liver health. World J Gastrointest Pharmacol Ther. 2015 Aug 6;6(3):59-72. doi: 10.4292/wjgpt.v6.i3.59. PMID: 26261734; PMCID: PMC4526841.

[4] Hong KB, Noh DO, Park Y, Suh HJ. Hepatoprotective Activity of Water Extracts from Chaga Medicinal Mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Higher Basidiomycetes) Against Tert-Butyl Hydroperoxide-Induced Oxidative Liver Injury in Primary Cultured Rat Hepatocytes. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2015;17(11):1069-76. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushrooms.v17.i11.70. PMID: 26853962.

[5] Wang J, Wang C, Li S, Li W, Yuan G, Pan Y, Chen H. Anti-diabetic effects of Inonotus obliquus polysaccharides in streptozotocin-induced type 2 diabetic mice and potential mechanism via PI3K-Akt signal pathway. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Nov;95:1669-1677. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2017.09.104. Epub 2017 Oct 6. PMID: 28954386.

[6] Mohamed J, Nazratun Nafizah AH, Zariyantey AH, Budin SB. Mechanisms of Diabetes-Induced Liver Damage: The role of oxidative stress and inflammation. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2016 May;16(2):e132-41. doi: 10.18295/squmj.2016.16.02.002. Epub 2016 May 15. PMID: 27226903; PMCID: PMC4868511.

[7] Choi HN, Jang YH, Kim MJ, Seo MJ, Kang BW, Jeong YK, Kim JI. Cordyceps militaris alleviates non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in ob/ob mice. Nutr Res Pract. 2014 Apr;8(2):172-6. doi: 10.4162/nrp.2014.8.2.172. Epub 2014 Mar 28. PMID: 24741401; PMCID: PMC3988506.

We respectfully acknowledge that we are living and working in the unceded traditional territory of the K’omoks First Nation, the traditional keepers of this land.