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Tremella Mushrooms May Boost Cognitive Health, Skin Elasticity, Immunity, and More

Jan 02, 2024Jan 02, 2024

According to emerging research, this fluffy white fungus can help your skin glow and your body handle stress. Here's what to know, according to an RDN.

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Though some people are averse to their taste and texture, there's a lot to like about mushrooms. For starters, they tend to be a surprising source of antioxidants, fiber, and protein, and they’re often associated with protecting immunity and brain health. But mushrooms have additional benefits beyond their healthy nutritional profiles: Functional mushrooms like lion's mane, chaga, and tremella mushrooms are the latest and greatest (to Americans, at least) health foods to take mushroom-lovers—and the modern Western wellness world—by storm.

We spoke to Jenna Volpe, RDN, holistic registered dietitian nutritionist in Austin, Texas, to learn more about the unique health benefits of tremella mushrooms, why they’re so popular, and how to actually get these benefits.

Related:Are Reishi Mushrooms Worth the Hype? We Asked RDs for the Lowdown on This Buzzy Fungus

Tremella mushrooms are a type of fungus that goes by several names. Tremella fuciformis is the scientific name, but they also go by the nicknames snow mushrooms, snow fungus, white fungus, and white jelly mushrooms. As you can probably infer from these names, tremella mushrooms are white in color and look more like fluffy snowballs, white, translucent seaweed, wild sponges, or underwater coral than the opaque brown and white mushrooms you’re used to seeing at the grocery store and cooking with at home. They’re native to tropical regions and climates like Brazil and parts of Asia and have been around for hundreds of years.

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"[Tremella mushrooms] are a type of edible and medicinal mushroom that have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years," Volpe says. "They can be used for everything from anti-aging skincare to immune support, disease prevention, and more."

Since tremella mushrooms have been identified as adaptogens with nootropic properties (compounds thought to enhance learning, memory or other cognitive functions), they’ve become easier to access than ever these days in the mainstream market. You can find them from pretty much anywhere thanks to the ease of online shopping. Fresh tremella may be a little harder to find, but powdered and dried tremella mushrooms and mushroom-derived products may be just as beneficial.

"Adaptogen" sounds like a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but it's a real thing. "Adaptogenic herbs and foods like tremella are special in that they work synergistically with each person's unique system to help restore balance," Volpe explains. Research has found that mushrooms, including tremellas, are a good example of adaptogens "that help the body adapt to both internal and external stimuli, restoring equilibrium and regulating a variety of biological processes," states a 2022 paper in Frontiers in Pharmacology.

You may have also seen the word "nootropics" floating around. This term refers to compounds in certain foods, as well as supplements, that may enhance cognition, so those looking for a little brain boost may express interest in tremella mushrooms.

"Nootropics are known to help support and enhance memory, focus, and other aspects of cognitive function," Volpe says, adding that how they work isn't fully understood just yet. In the case of tremella mushrooms, it may have something to do with their polysaccharides, carbohydrate molecules with ample essential roles in the body. "Research studies have suggested that the special polysaccharide profile in tremella mushrooms seems to help protect brain cells from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and even play a role in repairing brain memory impairment," Volpe says.

Related:Is Mushroom Coffee Actually Beneficial, or Just Another Wellness Trend?

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Those polysaccharides mentioned earlier? They may exhibit antioxidant activity, too. Antioxidants fend off free radicals linked to disease and are also potent protectors of skin health. "A 2021 study found that tremella polysaccharides have the ability to alter gene expression in skin cells in ways that result in increased collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid in skin fibroblasts exposed to UVA rays," Volpe explains. Other studies echo the ability of tremella to inhibit oxidative stress, and some reviews highlight its potent capacity as an antioxidant and free radical scavenger. Fermented tremella may have significantly more antioxidants, one study shows.

We’ve established that tremella has tremendous antioxidant properties, which is incredible news for your skin as well as overall health. In fact, you can reap the skin benefits of tremella by ingesting it or applying it topically, Volpe says. Much of tremella's skin benefits have to do with its impact on collagen, a protein that's highly important for skin structure, firmness, and elasticity (and that naturally breaks down as we age). Consuming tremella mushrooms can reduce collagen loss and repair damaged collagen, as evidenced by one review (in animals), while studies suggest that tremella polysaccharides in cosmetics can increase collagen.

In a recent review, tremella mushrooms were found to possess anti-aging, photoprotective, wound-healing, and skin barrier protection properties. "They have a special affinity for the skin," Volpe says. "Tremella's potent antioxidants have an anti-inflammatory and anti-aging impact on skin cells, and their polysaccharides have been shown to moisten the skin in ways that are clinically comparable to the coveted hyaluronic acid."

So, tremella mushrooms have antioxidants that protect against free radical damage from the sun, moisturize the skin like one of the best-selling humectants, and increase collagen? Now you see why they could be the next big skin care superstar.

"Tremella mushrooms play significant roles in immune system modulation and optimization," Volpe says. She points to a 2020 review that found that tremella mushrooms alter the immune system in ways that are significant and beneficial in both animal and human studies. Since tremella is an adaptogen, this isn't too surprising. Part of how adaptogens bring the body to equilibrium has to do with their role in balancing the immune system.

The link between tremella and immunity may also have positive effects on gut health, Volpe adds. Researchers are beginning to study the complex relationship between the gut microbiota and immune system, and tremella mushrooms may promote healthy microbial diversity in the colon. "This could support the growth of key immune-modulating probiotics like Lactobacillus," she explains, citing a 2021 study in Frontiers in Immunology.

Like the mushrooms you’ll find in the produce section of the supermarket, tremella mushrooms contain nutrients that are simply good for you. They’re especially high in fiber and protein.

"Tremella mushrooms contain more protein compared to most other types of mushrooms, which could be helpful for people following a vegan or vegetarian diet," Volpe says. "One cup of tremella mushrooms is said to contain about 12 grams of protein." (Everyone should aim to get 0.8 grams of protein per every kilogram of their individual body weight per day, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. A 140-pound person would need a minimum of roughly 50 grams of protein daily.)

While the average U.S. adult does get enough protein, the same cannot be said of fiber. Most Americans don't get enough fiber in their diets, making high-fiber foods even more beneficial. "Tremella mushrooms consist of about 30 percent dietary fiber, which can be beneficial for people looking to optimize their digestion," Volpe says. Beyond digestive and gut health, fiber is also excellent for heart health.

Related:10 High Fiber Vegetables to Add to Your Diet

Tremella mushrooms are relatively safe to consume. There are no current studies suggesting they have any major side effects or toxicity. While they’re safe and beneficial, their adaptogenic effects are best when used for a short duration.

As someone who uses tremella mushrooms herself, Volpe has plenty of tips:

Soak the white fungus for at least an hour or overnight. Then simmer it with other herbs—red dates (jujubes), dried lotus seeds, and lily bulb petals—in hot water for about 30 minutes to make a healing drink.

Add tremella mushrooms to soups or smoothies.

You can also take tremellas in capsule or powder form. However, you should always consult your health care provider before taking a new supplement and be wary that dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Do your research before buying supplements to ensure their safety and purity: Look for the seal of approval from organizations conducting third-party testing and verification, including NSF and U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).

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