The Health Benefits of Poria Mushrooms

Poria mushrooms on a wooden table

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Poria (Poria cocos) is a type of mushroom long used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a medicinal tonic. Next, to licorice room, it is arguably one of the most commonly prescribed traditional remedies in China. Poria is used as a tonic to promote immune health and is believed by some to prevent or treat a wide range of illnesses and disorders, from anxiety and insomnia to cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Typically sourced from the mushroom's filaments (the threadlike membranes under the cap), this lesser-known medicinal mushroom is available both in dried form and as a dietary supplement

Poria mushroom is called fu ling in traditional Chinese medicine and is also known in the West as China root or China tuckahoe.

Health Benefits

For thousands of years, Poria mushrooms been used eastern medicines for their diuretic, sedative, and tonic effects. Poria contains several substances thought to promote good health, including polysaccharides (known to enhance immune function) and triterpenoids (a class of compounds with antioxidant effects).

In traditional Chinese medicine, Poria mushrooms are believed to aid in the prevention or treatment of a variety of common and uncommon illnesses, including:

  • Alzheimer's disease 
  • Anxiety
  • Cough
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Diarrhea 
  • Fatigue
  • High cholesterol
  • Insomnia
  • Kidney infection
  • Senile dementia
  • Tinnitus
  • Urination problems

Despite their popularity in traditional Chinese medicine, there is little qualitative evidence to support the use of poria mushrooms in preventing or treating any medical condition.

A number of small studies have hinted at benefits, although most are low-quality or lack the statistical evidence to draw a reasonable conclusion. Still, some are convincing enough to warrant further research.

Alzheimer's Disease

Preliminary research suggests that Poria mushrooms may help fight Alzheimer's disease. According to a 2009 study in the German journal Die Pharmazie, water-based P. coco extract appeared to reduce the oxidative stress on biopsied brain cells obtained from rats.

The study's authors suggested that P. cocos may help shield the brain from the toxic effects of beta-amyloid, a substance associated with the formation the brain plaques in people with Alzheimer's disease. Despite the positive finding, there has been no evidence of this occurring outside of the test tube.

Diabetes

Triterpenes found in Poria mushrooms may be effective against diabetes, suggests a 2011 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

According to the research, a crude oral extract of P. cocos delivered at a dose of 50 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) significantly decreased blood glucose levels in lab mice following. Triterpenes were credited for this effect, the compounds of which are believed to enhance insulin sensitivity.

In theory, taking a poria supplement with meals may reduce blood sugar fluctuations in people with diabetes or insulin resistance (although this has yet to be proven in research).

Cancer

Several test-tube studies have suggested that Poria mushroom may possess anti-tumor properties that could help fight or prevent certain forms of cancer, including pancreatic cancer and breast cancer.

A 2018 study in the journal Cells reported that an extract of P. cocos exhibited cytotoxicity (cell-killing abilities) to four human lung cancer cell lines. Despite the findings, there is no evidence that injecting P. cocos into a live tumor has any cytotoxic effect or that taking the extract by mouth can either prevent or treat cancer.

Possible Side Effects

Due to a lack of studies investigating poria's effects in humans, little is known about their safety, long-term risks, or possible drug interactions. Even though the mushrooms have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, that doesn't necessarily mean they are safe.

Keep in mind that supplements and herbal remedies are largely unregulated in the United States and are not required to undergo routine testing that pharmaceutical drugs do. Because of this, imported natural remedies pose a risk of contamination and/or may not contain the ingredients listed on the product label.

Not much is known about the safety of poria mushrooms during pregnancy or breastfeeding. If you are pregnant or nursing, you may want to err on the side of caution and avoid poria mushrooms in any form.

Dosage and Preparation

There are no guidelines directing the appropriate use of Poria mushrooms. When taken in supplement form, Poria tablets or capsule are typically dosed at anywhere from 500 milligrams once daily to 1,200 milligrams twice daily. As a rule of thumb, never exceed the manufacturer's dosing recommendations.

Dried Poria mushrooms are usually prepared as a tonic by steeping the mushrooms in boiling water. Some are sold as pre-packaged granules in 10-gram sachets and are mixed with between 50 to 100 milliliters of boiling water. The flavor is described as sweet and bland.

Some people will even make porridges, soups, and rice cakes from reconstituted or powdered mushrooms, transforming the medicinal remedy into a culinary treat.

What to Look for

When buying Poria supplements or powders, opt for well-known brands that are more likely to contain the ingredients listed on the product label.

Chief among these are supplements that have been voluntarily submitted for testing by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab. Although certification is a less practice common in the herbal supplements industry, it has started to be embraced by larger manufacturers.

If buying imported whole dried Poria mushrooms, do not assume they are safe because they come in a sealed container. If there are any signs of mold or moisture, discard immediately.

According to the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health, products used in traditional Chinese medicine pose safety concerns because they are so loosely regulated. In the past, products have been found to be tainted with heavy metals, pesticides, and even drugs.

It is important to remember that traditional Chinese medicines are classified as dietary supplements by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As such, manufacturers are barred from making any misleading claims about cures or other health benefits.

If you experience any adverse effects (like vomiting or diarrhea) after consuming Poria, call your doctor's office and let them know what product or supplement you have taken.

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