Health and Fitness

Tero Isokauppila: Medicinal Mushrooms, The Original Biohacker, & How to Nap on a Nail Mat

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “mushrooms?”

Was it mushroom pizza? Buttery portabellas in a stir fry? Psychonautics at Burning Man?

Even if you don’t think much of mushrooms, they play an enormous role in our lives. In fact, you’re breathing in mushroom spores right now. There are over 400 known medicinal mushrooms that heal everything from gut health to cancer.

And did you know that the oldest living thing on earth is a 2,000 year old, 6,000 ton fungus just chillin’ in Oregon?

Today we’re here with Tero Isokauppila of Four Sigmatic to show you how to power up with mushrooms.

Tero is the whip-smart founder of medicinal mushroom company Four Sigmatic, and you’re about to learn:

  • Which 4 medicinal mushrooms you should be taking right now
  • How to cook a Lion’s Mane (hint, lots of butter)
  • What it’s like to make raw chocolate from scratch
  • Why Tero naps on a nail mat
  • And much more…

Abel: We’re here with Tero Isokauppila, founder of Four Sigmatic. Tero is on a mission to make medicinal mushrooms, some of the world’s most researched superfoods, more accessible to everyone. Tero’s company makes some of the best mushroom coffees, cocoas, and elixirs I’ve tried. Tero, thanks so much for joining us!

We have to start at the weirdest thing I saw on your bio – the fact that you nap on a nail mat.

I had a couple injuries in soccer and a lot of back pain, and my best friend’s dad was one of the original biohackers. He met this Eastern European olympic weight lifter who made nail mats.

I love napping. I’m a big napper. Even if I don’t fall asleep, I love naps.

I travel with this little portable nail mat. They’re actual nails. You think they’re going to go through your skin, but once you put the weight on a larger surface, it’s not going to pierce your back.  It’s like acupressure and it’s great for the nervous system.

Abel: It works great on the feet. When I lived in the desert, I enjoyed the feeling of my feet toughening up.

It’s the earthing element. When I lived in Asia, foot massage was the big thing. I miss foot massage more than anything.

Abel: Here’s a quick trick. If you’re looking for a massage and you haven’t scheduled in advance, look for reflexology place. They can often get you in quickly, it’s not that expensive, and the foot and cranial massage they give you is so fundamentally different than the freeze-dried franchise where they just squish you a little.

It’s a research pipeline. It started with organs and blood, and then got into the nervous system.

When I started studying nutrition with my mom, we didn’t know much about the brain. We thought if you had a glass of red wine you’d kill your brain cells and never get them back. But that’s not actually true. Then the 90s was the decade of the brain, and now we are entering the nervous system and gut biome.

If you take a traditional massage, it’s not about the muscles—the neck is so sensitive, it’s about the nervous system and that’s where stress management and weight loss is. It’s pretty huge.


Abel: Growing up in New Hampshire, mom and dad foraged for mushrooms in the woods. We’d come back with chunks of chaga or a big ol’ Lion’s Mane and come back and fry in butter. It’s a rare and wonderful treat.

Most Americans are missing out on this whole world of mushroomsthe medicinal, the culinary. But why should we care?

Anglo saxons and Americans have been pretty microphobic. The rest of the world is pretty mushroom friendly, but we should care because we need them. They are vital for this planet and for us.

25% of the Earth’s biomass is fungi. All plants require mushrooms to grow. They were the first thing to come from the ocean to dry land and they started eating rocks. They’re really paleo.

Mushrooms can break down diesel and even eat plastic. @FourSigmatic Click To Tweet

From the human point of view, we are closer to mushrooms than plants. We share 30 – 50% or our DNA. We share 80 – 85% of ribosomal RNA, so how we process proteins is so similar.

They breathe oxygen and expel CO2, as do we. They have to get food externally like animals. Because of this DNA similarity, we can get really sick from mold.

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “mushrooms?”:

Bad gut biome right now can be related to bad fungi. But we can use the best mushrooms for medicine.

There are 6 times more mushrooms than plants in this world. @FourSigmatic Click To Tweet

Abel: The first time we visited Asia, my wife and I were astounded by the variety of mushrooms there. Borrowing from Chinese medicine, we know that mushrooms can also act as powerful adaptogens. How can mushrooms be used medicinally?

Out of the 1.5 million different mushrooms on the planet, about 400 have been found to be medicinal.

Penicillin is the one people know, but even cancer drugs in certain countries have been made from mushrooms. There’s multiple compounds that affect the body, and the most studied ones are polysaccharides called beta-glucans. There are over 1,000 papers written on them—usually they’re known for their immune system support. They protect us from when our immune system is low or maybe there’s an autoimmune disorder.

These beta-glucans have a very high molecular weight, so they work as a prebiotic and help alter your gut bacteria for the better. They also reduce insulin resistance, and lower inflammation.

Mushrooms researchers have known for along time that a lot of these beta-glucans get absorbed in the colon, but last year came the research showing the benefits of that for weight loss and inflammation.

They do these tests on mice. They put them on a high fat diet and then one group adds Reishi mushrooms. The group who took the Reishi lost more weight. Then they gave a fecal transplant to the ones that didn’t lose, and they started losing more weight.

Abel: How about dosage for medicinal mushrooms, how do you get started?

Acknowledge that you’re taking in mushrooms in so many different products already, good or bad. You’re taking in 1 – 10 mushrooms spores with every breath. You breath 300,000 spores per day.

You’re taking in 1 – 10 mushrooms spores with every breath. @FourSigmatic Click To Tweet

When we talk about medicinal mushrooms like reishi, chaga, lionsmane, cordyceps—these are generally regarded as safe, they are a food. But they’re also sold as supplements and people get scared of supplements. They’re bitter in supplements, that’s why they’re capsulated.

Abel: Mushrooms can ruin a smoothie pretty quick.

Especially if you’re doing a fruit smoothie, but they’re excellent if you’re doing coffee or cacao. There’s some contraindications people don’t talk about with mushrooms—if you’re pregnant you should consult with a doctor. Or if you’re on antibiotics or anticoagulants, because they’re usually based out of mushrooms. Pharmaceutical companies isolate the medicinal properties out of them and combine them to get a patent, then you take the isolated form and add the whole food version and there might be some risk there.

Usually, however, there aren’t problems with overdosing mushrooms. You can mix and match—chaga in the morning and reishi in the evening.


Abel: What specific effects can you expect when you take various mushrooms?

You don’t need to know the 400 different medicinal mushrooms. Let’s talk about 4.

Chaga is the king of mushrooms, Reishi the queen, Lion’s Mane, and the popular one with crossfitters and athletes is Cordyceps.

I call them the 4 ninja turtlesmushrooms that are good for the immune system—Antiviral, antibacterial, and usually anti-inflammatory. They all wear the same outfit but have their own weapons.

Chaga is probably the highest in antioxidants and melanin, so it’s good for skin health and inflammation.

Reishi is more adaptogenic, reduces stress, calming, grounding. It helps with liver detox, and breaks down cortisol.

Lion’s Mane is for the nervous system and brain. It protects and repairs your nerve growth factors.

Cordyceps is for oxygen intake and  the adrenals. It’s good for people who drink too much coffee, or have asthma or used to smoke.


Abel: It’s not always easy to take mushrooms. Think about adding supplements to smoothies.

Coconut flakes – you can’t ruin anything. But some of my weirder supplements, like powdered black ants, bitter mushrooms, chinese herbs… boy do some of those taste bad. Smoothies are ruined. It’s a shame because it’s a lot harder to take something every day if it tastes awful.

I appreciate that your company makes consuming mushrooms fun.

I want to thank a lot of people who follow us. We started self-funded and we were an employee-owned business. The mushroom coffee started from our fans, they wanted that and we went through some bad ones first.

If you’re someone who has the munchies, taking something bitter before a meal will help you carve out some of the cravings.

Abel: I like the Lion’s Mane in the evening – it’s a nice, sweet evening ritual. That’s how I turn it into a positive habit. How do you take mushrooms on a daily basis?

You’re touching on one of the most important things in health—ritual. When I got started first coaching in nutrition, I didn’t get this.

You take it, it’s good. And maybe 5% of people will do it. But the other 95% have to build rituals, that’s why it’s easy to start with things that come naturally and there’s a preexisting ritual that you can upgrade.

A lot of Americans don’t drink tea. If you’re already doing a smoothie or coffee, upgrade it. That’s why mushroom coffee has become the California Roll of the mushroom world.

Mushroom coffee doesn’t taste like mushrooms at all. Good mushroom coffee will taste like smooth coffee. You’ll get some of those neurotransmitters activated, but a lot less acid. Cordyceps will be good for adrenals, Lion’s Mane will support your brain like coffee but with less caffeine.

Step one is mushroom coffee for a lot of people.

Abel: Real food is catching on. Do you see medicinal mushrooms popping up in Whole Foods some day?

Yes, but there’s still some stigma around that and supply chain is not yet optimized.

The forever debate between vegan and paleo is whether you should eat animal protein or not. But we can all agree that we should have a more fiber.

We talked about prebiotics and gut health, so mushrooms can be a great alternative for some of those meaty meals—taking Chicken of the Woods or Lion’s Mane and cooking them in butter, they can become meatlike.

You can mistake a lot of these mushrooms for chicken or seafood and make dishes like Lion’s Mane Pad Thai. I think it’s definitely coming.

Abel: How have humans used mushrooms over the course of history?

Pretty much all indigenous cultures would have used mushrooms. People don’t realize that everywhere you live there will be mushrooms.

When we talk about mushrooms, we’re talking about the fruit of the mushrooms that’s above ground. But underground are these huge networks of mycelium—remember that fungi count for 25% of the Earth’s biomass.

The world’s largest organism is a 2,000 year old mushroom chillin’ in Oregon. It weighs over 6,000 tons and it’s one cell level thick. Think of your skin, which has 3 – 7 layers. It has one layer, and it’s eating trees and forests.

The world’s largest organism is a 2,000 year old mushroom chillin’ in Oregon. @FourSigmatic Click To Tweet

The original Paleo guy is the ice man Otzi. He was frozen in the alps. They checked out his gear and he had two medicinal mushrooms—tinder mushrooms for carrying and starting a fire, and he had worms in his body so he had this birch polypore, which helps with worms.

He was the original biohacker.

Both of these mushrooms would have grown on a tree—and tree mushrooms don’t tend to be poisonous. In Finland, all the poisonous mushrooms are ground mushrooms.

Turkey Tail is an easy one to start foraging, it’s really easy to spot and it’s actually pretty beautiful. It looks like a rainbow.

Abel: You’re right about the meat substitute. S much better than Tofurkey. Those mushrooms are savory and have that wonderful umami.

How can we use mushrooms to improve the flavor of our meals?

You have to understand, you can’t eats these mushrooms raw. Chitene is a substance we cannot digest, we lack the enzymes. You have to cook them, and cooking the mushrooms also removes toxins.

The most common way is to saute with fat, and that will also unlock some of the medicinal properties. Mushrooms have two types of health benefits—water soluble polysaccharides, which are good for immune and gut health. Then we have that fat-soluble compounds, like betulinic acid in chaga—the fat will help extract these benefits and also helps them taste good.

For many mushroom lovers, butter is the thing. @FourSigmatic #TheWildDiet Click To Tweet

Abel: That’s the way to do it. You just can’t go wrong with butter.

On a daily basis, how are you actually consuming them yourself?

I travel a lot. I also live next to the Santa Monica farmer’s market… and there’s pretty much a great farmer’s market wherever you go.

A lot of the grocery store mushrooms freak me out—the mold factor in them. These fleshy mushrooms can stack other mushrooms on top, like molds. Unless I know where I’m getting it from, I don’t eat it.

I’m not going to Walmart or Target to buy mushrooms, for sure.

I usually consume the mushrooms in beverages, but a few times a week I try to cook with them. But that’s more for once you’re really in it and want to explore.


Abel: Preventative medicine has utilized mushrooms for centuries. But preventative medicine is a hard sell… You take this mushroom pill most days of your life – and all of a sudden you’re 80 and you DON’T have cancer. Humans don’t tend to think that way.

How do you encourage people to build those little habits?

Most of the research was focused on the immune system. Most people just don’t give a darn about the immune system. They only care when they have the flu, a cough or now they have Crohn’s Disease or MS, or arthritis. It’s good to start before you get to that point.

It’s kind of like boot camp. These mushrooms will irritate the internal protection officers in our body. They’re good to take them on a regular basis. They’re a tonic, so they get better the longer you take them.

I personally haven’t been sick one day in 7 years.

When I was doing long distance running, I got this nasty mycoplasma. The doctors didn’t know what it was, so they just gave me antibiotics. The first antibiotic didn’t work, and they were like, “I gave you the wrong antibiotic.” They just guessed.

I have to take these mushrooms as an insurance policy.

Just understand that a good immune system is related to your skin health, weight loss, and hormonal health. You’ll look sexier and be leaner if you take care of your immune system.

Some people can take more bitter mushrooms. Some people want to cook it. Some want it their coffee or cocoa.

Start with small amounts and take more as you go. Having something from every kingdom is preferable to going hard core for a week and then stopping.

Abel: That’s the temptation chasing the bright shiny object instead of focusing on the slow burn.

As amazing as mushrooms are, it’s not a cure-all. Mushrooms have suffered from food racism. Just because you haven’t had them, your body is craving that compound.

Sometimes you take Reishi or Cordyceps and you feel it in ten minutes.

Abel: The first time I took cordyceps, I was like, “Wow I can definitely feel that.” When you’re talking nutritional supplements or herbs, there’s very few you can actually feel as you’re taking them.

Now, let’s talk about raw chocolate.

That’s kind of the hack, like with coffee, even though I live and breathe the healthy lifestyle, it’s so much better when it’s fun and social. I’m doing all these sugar-free fat-burning desserts, and chocolate is just fun. I just made one with vanilla, gooseberries, and marapuama which is like an Amazonian aphrodisiac herb. I usually put a little of a mushroom blend on those.

I keep it simple. I don’t temper them at home. I just melt cacao butter, MCT oil or a little coconut oil, tocotrienols (that will make it creamier), any sweetener of your choice, salt, and then medicinal stuff (I hide them and I don’t even notice).

Abel: I like the idea of nuts with chocolate.  

At one point I was eating a lot of nuts and now I don’t eat them almost at all, but they work really well with chocolate. Pistachios I’ll use, and certain berries like gooseberries or mullberries.

It’s awesome—I take it as a snack in between meals, especially if you keep the sugar low it’s just such an easy slow-release good-vibes thing. If you travel a lot or do sports, it’s a great way to get trace minerals in.

Abel: Is there anything else you want to share from a lifestyle perspective? There’s a tendency to say “I’m too busy for all this health nonsense.”

But you’re running a company, traveling a lot, and you’re still finding time to make your own superfood chocolate at home. How do you manage?

Make it fun. I can go to the deep end, as long as it’s fun. But the moment I stress out, I’ve gone too far. If chocolate is fun for you, do that.

You’ve got to stop binge-watching Game of Thrones on Saturday. I haven’t had TV in twelve years. Just be honest with yourself. Use apps like Rescuetime to be honest with yourself. Once you remove that binge-watching, you free up a lot of time. And social media can be a real bummer.

Accept that it’s a journey and appreciate it. Like foraging—just go for a walk in the forest, and if you find something, that’s cool. Meet up with your friend instead of in a coffee shop, and go for a walk in the woods. Go explore, you don’t have to eat any of them.

There’s a difference between efficiency and effectiveness. @FourSigmatic Click To Tweet

It’s like a badge of pride to work 16 hours, but was it a good 16 hours?


Our company is Four Sigmatic and you can find us at and on Twitter @FourSigmatic. If you’d like to try Four Sigmatic elixirs, mushroom drinks, and superfood blends, you can use coupon code fatburningman at checkout for a 15% discount.

One of the coolest things we’re working on is Mushroom Academy—it’s 100% free, and it’s just education on mushrooms. Join and give us feedback. We have 12 videos up now and lots of great resources.


Discover how to drop fat with chocolate, bacon, and cheesecake. Plus: learn the 3 worst foods you should NEVER eat and the 7 best exercises for rapid fat loss. Click below to to claim your FREE gift ($17 value)!


At a recent book signing, I met a man named Brandon who lost an incredible 90 pounds in about 6 months with what he learned in The Wild Diet. That takes serious dedication and trust in the process, Brandon, so I just want to give you huge props for making it happen.


I also met another young superhero named Jack who read The Wild Diet the whole way through. Then he used what he learned to drop weight for his wrestling team, then went on to kick butt in the state finals!

I think we need some Vision Quest music in the background. So proud of you, Jack.

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In case you need more, here’s a bit of inspiration from a member of our online community, The Fat-Burning Tribe. This is a message from Matthew in Arizona:

Great news. Since my first body composition was done 6 weeks ago I’ve lost 13 pounds of fat and gained 1.5 pounds of muscle. Thanks Abel James for making the ‪#‎wilddiet‬ so easy to follow and for making the recipes so delicious that I’d rather cook than eat out!!!!!

Congrats Matthew!

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What are your favorite mushrooms, and how do you prepare them? Share your recipes and tips with us in the comments below!

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