Introduction to Behavioral Disorders: Can Mushrooms Help?

Behavioral disorders are notoriously difficult to treat and can have a significant negative impact on the individual, the family, and the broader society. While treatment is usually a multidisciplinary effort, medicinal mushrooms have great therapeutic potential in both autism and ADHD.

Medicinal mushrooms are fungi that have played an essential role in traditional Oriental Medicine systems, and over 100 species are found in modern Chinese medicine. Mushrooms offer a promising avenue of treatment and regulation of the complex symptomatology of Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.

A large number of benefits are offered by their high nutritional content and numerous bioactive ingredients, including improving gut health, boosting the immune system, and improving cognition. This article will explore the top mushrooms to help with behavioral disorders best taken in supplement form as well as some great healthy recipes incorporating mushrooms.

The Features of Autism and ADHD

Autism is a behavioral disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests. Comorbid medical conditions are common, however, and include social anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, immune system abnormalities, sleep disorders, and epilepsy. Additionally, 9 out of 10 of those affected by the disorder also suffer from gastrointestinal conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS) and “leaky gut”, where the intestines become permeable to bacteria and toxins.

Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. These symptoms typically begin in childhood and extend into adolescence and adulthood. Concentration problems, depression, anxiety, and forgetfulness are often also present in ADHD sufferers. Sufferers of ADHD have been found to have dysfunction in brain regions related to executive function, including abnormalities in brain dopamine and norepinephrine levels. This makes it difficult for those with ADHD to focus, remember things, and utilize working memory abilities.

Both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder arise from a complex interplay of environmental and genetic factors that is still not fully understood, but increasingly scientists are making the link between a deficient immune system, a dysfunctional gut microbiome, inflammation, toxic substances like heavy metals, and behavioral abnormalities. Medicinal mushrooms may be a promising line of treatment to alleviate these behavioral abnormalities while offering none of the negative health side effects of conventional medications provided there is no allergies associated with them.

It is important to note that further research and especially randomized, double-blind clinical trials in humans are needed to confidently recommend medicinal mushrooms as a primary avenue of treatment or prevention for both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. While medicinal mushrooms have been consumed for centuries, its supplemental use for behavioral disorders is a very recent approach and so it is always best to consult with a medical professional before trying integrative naturopathic approaches as a treatment or prevention regimen.

The Multi-faceted Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms

Autism Spectrum Disorder is increasingly thought to involve dysfunctions in the immune system, specifically altered cytokine levels that may contribute to specific behavioral subtypes. Mushrooms in general stimulate, strengthen, and modulate the immune system. They contain biologically active polysaccharides of different chemical compositions, with most belonging to the group of beta-glucans.

Increasingly, research is suggesting that the healthier the gut, the healthier the overall body and mind will be. Gut microbial composition plays an important role in the regulation of mood and behavioral outcomes, as many important neurotransmitters are created in the gut (for this reason it is often called “the second brain”) and many byproducts of gut bacteria cross the blood-brain barrier and interact with the Central Nervous System. Gut dysbiosis is a common feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder and recent evidence points towards altered gut microbial compositions as a potentially important contributor to the development of the disorder.

Administration of probiotics is a promising avenue of treatment for ASD and may help reduce negative behavioral symptoms, improve gastrointestinal health, and reduce systemic inflammation. Prebiotics are often taken in conjunction with probiotics (sometimes the combination is called “synbiotics”) to maximize the efficacy of the probiotics and help these beneficial bacteria flourish in the gastrointestinal tract. Medicinal mushrooms are rich in hemicellulose, alpha and beta glucans, mannans, xylans, and galactans that act as effective prebiotics to fuel the beneficial bacteria in the gut and increase the chances of them surviving in the large intestine. In this way, they may promote optimal digestive health and well-balanced gut microbiome and may additionally help resolve systemic inflammation and mood disorders.

Top 3 Medicinal Mushrooms for Behavioral Disorders

These adaptogenic mushrooms, especially when taken as supplements in extract form in combination with a healthy diet, exercise, and other behavioral treatments, are a safe and well-supported way to support healthy immunity, cognition, digestion and reduce inflammation with little to no associated side effects.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Native to North America, Europe, and Asia, Lion’s Mane has gained a lot of recent attention for its beneficial health effects, especially for the brain. Animal and human studies have consistently demonstrated powerful mood-promoting and cognitive-enhancing properties due to the presence of several unique bioactives in the mushroom.

Lion’s Mane contains two bioactive polysaccharides called erinacines and hericenones, named after the Latin name of the mushroom, which has been shown to enhance nerve growth factor biosynthesis in vitro, a compound that is crucial to reduce the degeneration of nerve cells due to aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Erinacines, in particular, have been shown to have memory-enhancing, antidepressant activity, and antianxiety effects in humans and rodent models of depression and acute stress.
In a recent 2018 study on mice, lion’s mane extract, decreased decreased anxiety and depressive behaviors. In addition to its cognition-supporting properties, lion’s mane has also been implicated in reducing markers of inflammation and improving immune system health.

Overall, the extract of this mushroom may help reduce the commonly comorbid symptoms of anxiety, depression in behavioral disorders, improve focus, concentration, and memory, and improve a compromised immune system.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Reishi is one of the most well-studied and widely used medicine in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it is frequently consumed in tea form. Reishi may be supportive in ADHD and Autism by its positive interaction with the immune system, gut microbial health, and cognition. In addition to its plethora of antioxidants which play a role in reducing systemic inflammation, many studies support its anti-depressant, neuroprotective, detoxifying and energy-boosting effects.

Reishi contains powerful immunomodulators that can help optimally adjust the function of the immune system. According to a recent study from 2015 published in Nature, Reishi is also a promising prebiotic that can help feed and sustain beneficial gut microbes that play an important role in regulating the immune system and digestive health of those with behavioral disorders.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis and Coryceps militaris)

Cordyceps is another highly neuroprotective medicinal mushroom with great therapeutic potential. This mushroom is known mostly for its great energy-enhancing and antidepressant effects and is commonly used by performance athletes to increase energy and treat respiratory disorders.
As a part of an integrative functional medicine treatment approach, It could be an ally to those with autism and ADHD by sharpening focus, improving memory, and enhancing learning. One of the main bioactives of cordyceps is called cordycepin, which may help the body maintain a healthy immune system, reduce inflammation, and increase its antioxidant activity.

Food Recipes for a Well-rounded Nutritional Recovery

In addition to supplementation, a well-balanced diet is a key component to a successful treatment program for behavioral disorders and can have a substantial positive influence on your mood, memory, cognition, and behavior.

In addition to a wide range of bioactive compounds and antioxidants, edible mushrooms contain high protein, fiber, vitamin and mineral contents while being very low sugar, low calorie, and low fat. Specifically, mushrooms such as button mushrooms, crimini, and portabella provide an excellent source of B vitamins, potassium, selenium, copper, and vitamin D.

These 5 delicious hand-picked recipes are sure to remove any possible hint of fungiphobia in any child and provide an excellent path of nutritional recovery.

1. Lentil Mushroom Burgers This vegetarian burger option contains white mushrooms and lentils and packs a serious punch of protein and antioxidants. The recipe can also be used to make meatballs for the perfect mushroom-friendly vegetarian Italian dish.

2. Crockpot Mushroom Soup. This simple to make crockpot mushroom soup is more than worthy addition to any Asian style dinner. It contains five vegetables in addition to plenty of health-promoting mushrooms. It will for sure have everyone coming back for seconds.

3. Mushroom and Kale Pasta. Perhaps at the top of the superfood chain, mushrooms and kale provide a powerful antioxidant and nutrient boost and when whipped up in this creamy pasta dish, are truly a savory duo that any child would rave about.

4. Contest-Winning Grilled Mushrooms. This simple grilled mushrooms recipe makes buttery, savory, and an all-around delicious side dish to any BBQ occasion.

5. Mushroom Frittata. This 5-ingredient frittata contains all the benefits of exotic mushrooms while making for a delicious protein-packed meal for any time of the day.