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Four Sigmatic’s Herbalist Explains the Health Benefits of Functional Mushrooms

March 11, 2022

You can find them in coffee and chocolate, skincare and smoothies, tinctures and tonics (and even in your Netflix queue). We’re talking about mushrooms; these humble fungi have outgrown their predictable place in the produce aisle and become a full-fledged wellness obsession. 

Four Sigmatic was into mushrooms before they were cool. Over the last decade, the brand has made a name for itself pioneering high-quality functional foods like mushrooms and adaptogens in easy-to-use forms — think coffees, drink mixes, and plant-based protein powders. And they’ve managed to do it while maintaining a deep reverence for the ancient roots of these ingredients and the cultures that originally used them long before they were a trend.

Four Sigmatic’s Functional Mushroom Magic

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that mushrooms are everywhere right now. “There’s this alignment happening,” says Danielle Ryan Broida, RH (AHG), Four Sigmatic’s previous formulator and current Director of Education. “We desperately need what [mushrooms] can offer us.”

Four Sigmatic has been focused on long-term immune health and stress support since the company was started in 2012, Broida explains; she cites founder Tero Isokauppila’s agrarian upbringing in Finland, his background in chemistry and nutrition, and his mission to bring the world’s most nutrient-dense foods to the masses. 

But those particular issues — immunity and stress — are especially relevant now. “With the modern-day stress that we face affecting our energy, sleep, and immune system,” Isokauppila says, “this is the perfect time to leverage the ancient healing powers of functional mushrooms, adaptogens, and superfoods for a better life.”

The conditions are ideal, Broida adds, for the “’shroom boom” that’s currently unfolding. “[Functional mushrooms are] incredibly safe for almost all bodies, and there are ways we can consume them that are easy, that can be part of our routine, and that actually taste good.”

Of course, any time a trend picks up steam, so do frauds and imitators. “It’s easy to catch on to the buzzword and not honor the culture or traditional lineage,” Broida reflects, noting the long history of mushrooms in ancient healing modalities like Traditional Chinese Medicine. “The vast majority of the mushroom space is not providing these ingredients in the ancient way. Four Sigmatic was the first brand I had ever seen that was offering the ingredients in the way of the herbalist.” (She would know; she’s a registered herbalist and an Instructor of Mycology at the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism.) Four Sigmatic’s obsession with quality and their commitment to ethics and authenticity in their sourcing practices make all the difference — to Broida, and ultimately for the consumer.

Curious about the power of functional mushrooms to support cognition, energy, stress, and immunity? Below, Broida answers some of the most frequently asked questions about using mushrooms for health and shares how to incorporate Four Sigmatic products into your daily routine.

What are some of the health benefits of mushrooms?

“Functional mushrooms are adaptogens, which means they’re non-toxic, nonspecific, and normalizing natural medicines that give our bodies tools to better deal with stressors,” Broida says.  

She explains that functional mushrooms support immunity the same way a thermostat keeps a room at a specific temperature: they help the body maintain an equilibrium at which the immune system can function optimally. “Based on the body that ingests them, [mushrooms] can either stimulate that person’s immune system or down-regulate…if there’s overactive immune activity happening,” Broida says. “They really are meeting us where we’re at.”

Where do functional mushrooms come from?

Like many wellness trends, mushrooms and other functional foods have long and storied histories. “These natural medicines, ingredients, and species have been used for hundreds or even thousands of years in cultures around the world,” Broida says, adding that in the 21st century, we have decades of clinical research to bolster their healing claims. “What’s so cool about mushrooms and adaptogens is that the modern science is confirming what the ancient use case has been.”

“The way our ancestors used these ingredients is so critical,” Broida goes on. “We need to carry on that lineage in order to receive the same benefits.” At Four Sigmatic, that means paying special attention to sourcing. Broida shares that the brand gets all of its ingredients from their native lands: Ayurvedic herbs like ashwagandha and tulsi from India, fair-trade cacao and coffee from South America, wild-harvested chaga mushroom from the Siberian taiga (the largest birch forest in the world), and reishi mushroom from a family farm in China that grows the fungi in a way that mimics the way it grows in nature. 

“As an herbalist, I find there’s power in the lineage,” Broida says. “For hundreds if not thousands of years, people experimented with these ingredients, felt a certain way, and shared and passed that on. We have this resource of experience [that] is so valuable.”

What should a consumer look for when buying functional mushroom products?

It’s all about quality, so do your research, look closely at labels, and stick with brands that are transparent and trustworthy. Four Sigmatic states that they source all organic ingredients and conduct third-party testing on both their raw materials and final products for heavy metals, pesticides, mold, yeast, and radiation. 

Beyond that, Broida shares the following fundamental questions you should always ask about any mushroom supplement:

1. Is it the real mushroom? 

Feel like your mushroom supplement isn’t working? Maybe there’s no mushroom in it. Broida reveals that 74% of reishi products sold in the U.S. don’t actually contain any reishi mushroom. Some brands just grow the mycelium, or root system of the mushroom, in a lab, then grind it up into a powder. “Our ancestors never used that, and clinical research shows it’s incredibly less effective than the fruiting body,” she says.

Look for the word mushroom or fruiting body to make sure you’re getting the real mushroom, meaning the part that bears spores. Otherwise, “It’s like if you asked for an apple and someone handed you a leaf from the apple tree.”

2. How was it grown? 

We have a lot in common with mushrooms —  40 to 50% of our DNA, in fact. “They are what they eat, just like us. They can’t photosynthesize like plants, so they need to get their nutrients from the outside,” Broida explains. “Much of what makes a mushroom a mushroom are compounds in the trees they’re naturally found growing on in nature.” 

Because of this, she says, you want to make sure your mushrooms were grown on wood, not on cheap grains like rice or oats—otherwise your final product could be as much as 90% growing medium (so look out for “other ingredients” listed on the label).

3. How was it extracted? 

You can’t toss functional mushrooms into an omelet; most have a compound called chitin in the cell wall that binds up the beneficial compounds and makes their flesh hard and tough. Making those compounds accessible requires extraction, but be mindful here: some brands use chemicals to do so. Four Sigmatic reports that they use alcohol and hot water (a chemical-free method called dual extraction) to make their mushroom supplements.

How do you use functional mushrooms?

As with other natural remedies, consistency is key. “Functional mushrooms and adaptogens work as tonics. You can’t take them once and expect a result,” Broida says. 

To help you reap the benefits, Broida recommends incorporating mushrooms into your routine by habit-stacking. “Instead of starting something new, focus on elevating that place where you already have that bit of ritual.” The most obvious choice — and the one Four Sigmatic is perhaps best known for — is coffee, a ritual most Americans perform daily. 

Not only does stacking mushrooms onto your existing coffee habit mean you’re unlikely to forget, but according to Broida, the adaptogenic effects of functional fungi work synergistically with caffeine. “The caffeine is stimulating and the adaptogens are tonifying,” she explains. “What happens when we combine adaptogens like mushrooms with our coffee [is] we don’t hit that depletion or exhaustion phase because we’ve been refilling [our adrenals] as we’ve been taxing them.” 

Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee is made with organic, fair-trade arabica beans plus a full supplement effective dose of functional mushrooms. The result? Fewer jitters, reduced stomach-upsetting acidity, no crash, and a sharper mind, according to the brand. “With your same cup of coffee, you’re reducing a lot of the side effects and making your coffee more effective,” Broida adds. 

If you’re not a coffee drinker but you love a daily smoothie, try adding a scoop of Four Sigmatic’s plant-based protein powder to your blend. You’ll get 18 grams of protein from 5 different organic plant sources plus the immune system and stress support of 5 mushrooms and 2 plant adaptogens.

Four Sigmatic Mushroom Latte Recipe

“I believe in bio-individuality,” Broida says. “Every body is unique, so we’re all going to need different allies.” Your perfect blend might vary from day to day, so start with Broida’s tried-and-true base recipe, then add a Four Sigmatic functional mushroom elixir depending on your needs.

Nut milk
Hot water + 
1 date
Scoop of coconut oil or ghee
1 packet Four Sigmatic Mushroom Elixir Mix 

Blend and serve warm.

Not sure where to start? Here are some of the most popular functional mushrooms and what they are best for, according to Four Sigmatic:

Reishi Mushroom Benefits

  • Stress support
  • Sleep support

Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits

  • Gut health
  • Immunity

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits

  • Focus
  • Productivity

Chaga Mushroom Benefits

  • Immunity
  • Overall well-being

Cordyceps Mushroom Benefits

  • Energy
  • Performance

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Thrive Market does not represent or warrant that the nutrition, ingredient, allergen, and other product information on our website is accurate or complete, since this information comes from the product manufacturers. On occasion, manufacturers may improve or change their product formulas and update their labels. We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented on our website and that you review the product’s label or contact the manufacturer directly if you have specific product concerns or questions.

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Kirby Stirland

Kirby Stirland is a writer, editor, and New York transplant living in Los Angeles.

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