Prince Harry and the magic of mushrooms...
The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (January 15th 2023)
Not a sentence I thought I'd ever write...
I have to say I have been lapping up Prince Harry’s memoir Spare, the ghost-writer is a genius, the turn of phrase is excellent and the details – wow; from the bathwater at Balmoral, brown and peaty, to how Princess Margaret once gave him a biro for Christmas, and how he lost his virginity (in a field behind a pub to an older woman who whacked him on the arse…). I’m finding it much more riveting than I expected (and yes I am firmly team Harry and Meghan, I love the way they are shining a light on the way the media interacts with and supports the royals and the snobbery, coldness and racism they embody).
One aspect of the book which has particularly piqued by interest is how he has used psychedelics such as ayahuasca, and magic mushrooms to help deal with the trauma of losing his mother. He is very moving on how after Diana died he thought it was a scam, that she was still alive and would re-appear, and that he couldn’t cry. The psychedelics, he says, helped him realise that she had really gone and that she wanted him to be happy! And he isn’t the only one.
The active ingredient in such mushrooms, psilocybin, has been scientifically shown now to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients with treatment-resistant conditions. It is also good at tackling the effects of trauma and anything which results in a kind of stuck pattern in the brain, where the sufferer seems to go round and round the same track (such as in OCD, or anorexia, or addiction). I’ve written about this quite extensively and interviewed several doctors who explain that taking psilocybin allows the brain to create new connections. One scientist described its effect on the brain to me as being like a metre of fresh snow falling on a mogul field; rather than going round the bumps in the same old grooves, the psilocybin allows the mind to create fresh tracks, to think differently. The MRI scans of people’s brains on psilocybin show this in real time – the brain lights up all over showing new connections in action (if you are interested in this I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s book How To Change Your Mind – or the Netflix series they made out of it).
I am glad that Harry is drawing attention to how mushrooms can help with mental illness. It’s a subject close to my heart as the idea for my platform for women in midlife, noon.org.uk was born during a magic mushroom retreat I attended in Jamaica. At the time I was the Editor of the Sunday Times Magazine and I went with my dear friend, the writer Decca Aitkenhead whose husband had earlier drowned in front of her and her children (read her brilliant book All At Sea about this) and who wanted to try the Shroom cure for her subsequent PTSD. When she first suggested the piece, I said: “Brilliant – but if you’re going, I’m coming with you!” We had a truly life-changing week on the Jamaican retreat and the article she wrote about it was chosen by the BBC as the best long-form article of 2021. (I’ve written about my own experience in an earlier post on here
and on Noon if you are interested).
But you don’t have to get out of your mind or head to Jamaica to get the benefits of mushrooms. Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life describes how fungi have not only given us bread, alcohol and life-saving medicines but can digest plastic, explosives, pesticides and crude oil; all properties which are currently being harnessed in a kind of shroom gold-rush of breakthrough technologies. Let’s hope they can help in the struggle to stop global warming. And if you’ve read The Secret Life of Trees,you’ll also know mycelium networks (the roots of the mushroom which is the fruit) connect plants underground, bringing them the nutrients they need and news of invaders in a Wood Wide Web.
Unsurprisingly, then, mushrooms can be just as powerful for our bodies’ immune systems as they are for our minds and our world. In Traditional Chinese Medicine they have been used for hundreds of years to fight cancer and boost immunity; mushrooms have been cultivated for their medicinal properties in China since the 12th century and used by humans since 5000BCE. And more recently, the market for mushroom supplements has grown 50% in the last three years, particularly in the US. I talk to a lot of nutritionists and experts in wellbeing who all seem to be drinking mushrooms teas, or taking these supplements and swear by them.
So as a bit of mycophile myself, I’ve been looking into the many different chemical compounds in mushrooms that are responsible for their health-giving properties. First up is Beta-D-glucans, a specific type of polysaccharide. These are complex sugars that have been shown to stimulate the production of white blood cells and increase the production of antibodies. The properties of these beta-glucans indicate that they activate or potentiate both innate and adaptive immunity. In layman’s terms, when beta-glucans activate our immune system, the numbers of macrophages, NK cells, and subsets of T-cells are increased and their functions are enhanced. The mechanism for this activation is the presence of specific beta-glucan receptor sites in our small intestine. Since beta-glucans are not degraded by digestive enzymes, they pass intact into the intestine (unlike many other supplements).
Medicinal mushrooms are a traditional remedy in cancer therapy. Today purified beta-glucans are often given in conjunction with anti-cancer drugs. Their immune system boost also increases our protection against viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections. As such, beta-glucans are considered antibiotic and antiviral. The other category of active compounds in mushrooms are triterpenoids, which protect the liver and are anti-inflammatory. There is extensive research into triterpenoids which occur in significant amounts in reishi, chaga, and antrodia mushrooms.
(Ok, science lesson over – sorry I did Physics and Chemistry at A level and I love getting a bit geeky on scientific papers, if you want to read more you can fill your boots here https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/mushrooms-pdq). But it’s worth knowing that in TCM there are more than 100 different mushroom varieties used to treat cancer, and several clinical trials show that a compound called lentinan, extracted from shiitake mushrooms, extends survival in patients with stomach, prostate, colorectal and liver cancers when combined with chemotherapy. Both PSK and lentinan are approved in Japan as an addition to conventional therapies for treating cancer. Additionally, chaga mushrooms have been found to enhance learning and memory in mice, while lion’s mane mushrooms speed wound healing and repair nerves in injured rats. Mushrooms and the mycelium networks which support them are hot topic in scientific circles currently with billions being directed as research.
Of course if you are considering taking ‘functional mushrooms’ the preparation and strength of the ingredient is crucial; the trouble with the supplement market is it is hard to know the quality of what you are buying, which is why at Noon we’ve teamed up with Grass &Co whose CBD products are sold in Planet Organic and Holland &Barratt and who are launching a new mushroom range formulated from the highest quality, pure organic mushroom extracts blended with adaptogens (like ginger and turmeric) and vitamins. Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying their FOCUS variety for brain function, which makes me feel like I’ve had an extra cup of coffee: (the whole Noon team took them last week before our big planning meeting and they seemed to be on fire we’ll be unveiling some exciting new projects over the coming weeks.)
I’ve also been interested in some of the research about mushrooms and digestion so I’ve also been trying BIOME for digestive health, which (early days) seems to be calming things down. They also do POWER (for energy) and DREAM (for sleep). (check it out at mushrooms&co.com). They want Queenagers to try them out for ourselves (it’s one thing reading the science another actually seeing if it works, so if you are a Paid Subscriber, scroll down below the paywall and the first 25 to email me can try some free for themselves. We’ll send them to you.)
While we’re on the subject of new science,Noon has a good track record on this: there have been lots of headlines over the last couple of days about how HRT can help stave off dementia. We published this on Noon last year, when the research was published in the US, if you are interested read this brilliant piece by friend of Noon, Kate Muir, the producer of the Davina McCall documentary, who wrote about how her mum died of Alzheimer’s and talked to the American scientists around the research last year.
And don’t forget the Noon Book Club is on Wednesday at 7pm, hosted by me (it’s free, sign up here.)
And if you fancy a laugh (blushes) my old friend and colleague and great Queenager Jackie Annesley who now edits You Magazine got me to write this article about love in long term relationships and sexuality generally in midlife. I might be divorced by next Sunday as Derek hasn’t read it yet! And for the record he thought I was the biggest mug tourist ever for letting the woman henna my hand in Marakesh. But I thought it was great; thought I hadn’t bargained for being on stage at the huge ABTA Travel conference in front of a magnifying screen which showed my henna in all its glory..
Have a great week!!!
PS – occasionally at Noon and on this newsletter we link up with brands which align with our ethos or interests, such as today (or with Vision Express who ran a whole campaign about Queenagers based on my thought leadership). If that is the case it will always be because it is something I am interested in and genuinely believe in and I will always tell you so you can trust that anything we recommend is for real not for money!
If you’d like to try some mushroom supplements, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org saying which one you are interested in and your address and we’ll send you a free pot (by doing this in terms of GDPR you give us permission for Grass&Co to send them to you). It would be great if in return you can email us after a few weeks and tell us if you’ve think they’ve made a difference.
Also, all my lovely paid subscribers are invited to a special debate on mushrooms chaired by me at the Groucho Club on 22nd February 2023 at 1pm – more details to come. There will be snacks and special guests.
● Mushrooms from Grass & Co. are expertly formulated, organic and vegan. They are legal.
● The five targeted Mushrooms supplements include FOCUS (brain function), POWER (energy), RELAX (stress-less), BIOME (digestive health) & DREAM (sleep).
FOCUS: Contains Lion’s Mane mushrooms as well as Vitamin B12 which contributes to normal psychological and nervous system function.
POWER: Shitake with Iron which contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism and Folate which contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
RELAX Maitake mushrooms and Vitamin B6 which contributes to normal psychological function.
BIOME Chaga mushrooms and Ginger which helps to support digestion and contributes to the normal function of the intestinal tract.
DREAM Reishi mushrooms and Vitamin B5 which contributes to the regulation of tiredness and fatigue.
If you want more info to decide which supplement is right for you go to mushroomsandco.com
By Eleanor Mills