2023-01-03 Fungi (Probably Not) On My Brain

Creepy Crawlies

You may, or may not, be interested to know that you are infested with fungi right now. You can wash all you like, change your diet, engage in really unhealthy regimens of questionable “miracle cures” and you will never, ever be rid of it. It’s probably not infecting your brain and controlling all of your thoughts.


Candida is a kind of yeast, which is to say it is a single-celled fungus, as opposed to something more complex like a mushroom. It naturally grows in small quantities on your skin, in your mouth, in your guts, in your throat and in your vagina if you are so equipped. It exists as part of your microbiome—the impressively varied ecosystem of microscopic creatures that live all over and inside your body all the time.

You might be most familiar with Candida albicans, your little buddies, when they get out of hand. When your microbiome gets out of whack for all sorts of reasons—stress, diet, other infections—your collection of candida can overgrow and cause an infection of its own. Depending on where this happens in your body, you might know it as a yeast infection (in the vagina) or thrush (in the mouth or throat).

Generally, this is never life threatening and may not even be uncomfortable. But again, this isn’t normal, so things like candida overgrowth (Candidiasis) can be a warning signal that there are other, bigger problems with your health.

In short, if your hoo-hah starts itching, you might see your doctor regardless of the fact that over the counter medication is available, especially if you are feeling down.

Everything is Cancer!

Okay, that’s a lot of WebMD shit right there. (Thrush? Probably cancer!) I wouldn’t get too worked up about it, but you might be low on vitamin D. Doesn’t hurt to check, especially if you haven’t had a checkup in a while and most especially if you have other physical complaints.

But that’s not what I had on my mind when I started writing this. What I had on my mind (by my own free will) was fungus more generally, from mushrooms to mycelium. I’ve been reading what is recommended as a seminal work on the subject, Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets. This lengthy volume and Stamets’ Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms come highly recommended as required reading for the amateur or nascent mushroom cultivator from many sources. There are a lot of books on mushrooms, kinda like on dinosaurs, but among that entire library of literature, a few volumes float to the top.

For dinosaurs some of those are The Complete Dinosaur edited by Michael K. Brett-Surman and others, now in its second edition, Bakker’s Dinosaur Heresies (buy it used!) which is dated but foundational, and of course The Dinosauria, edited by David B. Weishampel and others and a true tome, probably the single greatest book on the subject. Very heavy reading in every sense. There are others, but cross-referencing several sources looking for the "best" books on the subject led me to these as being among the absolute best in show.

For mushrooms, Stamets seems to very much approach the level of religious reverence among aficianados. “Read this and this, and Stamets.” “Read these two books and of course Stamets.” Over and over. It’s kind of like Godzilla top ten or twenty lists, the same few films that always seem to populate the top five spots.

Anyway, I’ve been reading Mycelium Running. Stamets has a lot of fun with the subject and much passion. He really seems to believe and certainly expresses the belief that mushrooms are the cure for all ills. Indeed, mushrooms grown on clean substrate do seem to contain all those things that are supposed to be so very good for you and not much of anything that’s supposed to be bad. I once thought that mushrooms had essentially no nutritional value whatsoever. It is a true statement to say that mushrooms are mostly water. Ninety-percent, in fact. But then again, so are you. Like the coverage of the planet by oceans, we are seventy-percent water. That’s fairly true of all meat-bearing mammals we might like to eat. You don’t think about water content of your steak (about 75%), you instead think of it as this iron-rich, protein slab of pure alpha manhoodserve it to me bloody so I can testosterone harder!

Mushrooms are actually pretty similar in that regard. They do contain a lot of water and you do want to cook quite a bit of it out. In fact, you do really need to cook mushrooms because their cell walls contain chitin and we just cant digest that. Heat breaks it down. In that sense I guess you could say that raw mushrooms don’t contain much nutrition because it remains largely inaccessible, passing through our system mostly unmolested by our digestive apparatus.

It makes me wonder about the ingestion of "magic mushrooms" and the bodies ability to metabolize them. I wonder if that's why people say they throw up, because they're indigestible? Mystery for another day, I'm not looking it up.

Cooked mushrooms, however (or steeped in a tea or made into a tincture, etc) provide much in the way of low fat, low carb protein, vitamins and minerals. In addition, according to Stamets' relation of others’ research, they also seem to provide a potentially very wide range of immunity supporting molecules and a variety of cancer fighting compounds. A lot, by the time of the books publication, of this research is highly preliminary. Unfortunately medicine takes time. It does remain true, however, that many mushrooms have been used in folk medicine since time immemorial and that a lot of folk remedies, after much study, have been proven to be effective treatments for a variety of ailments.

Now I’m not saying if you roll around in a fairy ring you’ll be cured of cancer.

Well, maybe you will, who knows? But I’m not making that claim.

What I am saying—and I’m pretty sure the fungi have not yet grown into my cerebral cortex and I’m saying this of my own free will—is maybe eating some mushrooms couldn’t hurt. Particularly Lion’s Mane and Reishi, throw in some Shiitaki and Cordyceps (yes, the zombie fungus), and maybe you won’t get cancer, or maybe if you already have it your tumors will slow their growth or even shrink. Maybe you get no health benefit at all but you get to enjoy some delicious foods, and exotic teas. It’s like cleaning up the environment even if you don’t believe in climate changedespite the pretty obvious evidence in the nice spring we’re having right now here in the American Midwest in Januarywhat if we cleaned up the world and made it a nicer place for everyone for no reason? What harm does that do?

This is the same way. Maybe mushrooms aren’t a miracle cure. Maybe they’re gross slimers you pick off the pizza and only ever lead to things like itchy vaginas and toenail fungus. But maybe mushrooms really are magic (not that kind of magic mushroom) and can give you a better life, clean up the environment as Stamets suggests, and act as a cure-all for everything that ails you.

Sprinking dried Reishi in my hot tea on the off chance it cures cancer doesn’t seem like a bad bet to me. What harm does it do?