Medicinal Mushroom Supplements: What You Need to Know

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Medicinal mushroom supplements aren’t cheap. So, when you go to a health food store or click “check out” on an online retailer’s website, you want to be confident your hard earned money is purchasing a product that’s going to provide the benefits you seek. Yet, as medicinal mushroom supplements explode into the multibillion dollar health supplement industry, so do a lot of companies with dubious qualifications and even more questionable products. How do you sift through all the noise and find a product that keeps its promises and offers you the most bang for your buck? Start by reading this article!

1. What You Want

If you’re searching for medicinal mushroom supplements that offer increased energy, reduced fatigue, and increased libido, but then you buy a bottle of Turkey Tail mycelium, you might want to do a bit more homework.

Though this is far from a comprehensive list, here’s a list of the most popular medicinal mushrooms and their most well studied benefits:

medicinal mushroom supplements

Reishi (Ganodema lucidum and other Ganoderma species)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris and Ophiocordyceps sinensis)

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

2. What You’re Buying

There’s an ongoing and seemingly never-ending debate in the mycological community. What makes better medicinal mushroom supplements? Products made from mushroom fruit bodies or products made from mushroom mycelium — either grown on grain or in a liquid broth that’s sometimes then fermented. Here at the Fungi Academy, we tend to answer that thorny question with a better question: Why not both? We believe that to truly create full spectrum medicinal mushroom supplements with as many beneficial compounds as possible, it’s probably wise to consume the mushroom and its mycelium. But regardless of where you stand on this issue, the truth is that when you buy medicinal mushroom supplements, you need to know what’s in the product.

The two mushroom species with the highest beta-d-glucan content are Reishi and Turkey Tail. Approximately 50 percent — by dry weight — of the mushroom fruit bodies of those two species consist of beta-d-glucans

Jeff Chilton, founder of Nammex

Some of the most common products on the market include dual extracted tinctures (from mushroom fruit bodies), powdered mushroom fruit bodies, powdered mycelium grown on cereal grains, and powdered mycelium grown in a liquid broth. The mycelium-based products also sometimes go through a fermentation process, especially common in Turkey Tail products.

It’s also important to know whether the medicinal mushroom supplements you’re buying are from a single mushroom species or is a blend of multiple mushroom species. While consuming multiple medicinal mushrooms may seem like a good bet, this shotgun approach may actually constitute a dilution of potency — i.e. you only get a little bit of each mushroom — rather than offering a synergistic effect. 

3. What Makes Medicinal Mushrooms Medicinal

In a nutshell, the main medicinal compounds in medicinal mushrooms are beta-d-glucans, terpenoids, and ergosterol.

Beta-d-glucans are the star of the show. A naturally occurring polysaccharide, — complex, long-chain sugars — beta-d-glucans are present in the cell walls of mushrooms, mycelium, yeast, and certain bacteria. In fact, about half the mass of the fungal cell wall is made up of beta-glucans. Generally speaking, beta-d-glucans activate or potentiate your innate and adaptive immunity, increasing and enhancing the numbers of macrophages, NK cells, and T-cells in your immune system.

When considering the debate of mycelium vs. mushroom fruit body, if we just look at beta-d-glucan concentrations, the numbers breakdown like this: Work by Bak et al. (2014) found that the stipe and pileus of shiitake fruiting bodies showed beta-d-glucans in the range of 29 to 56 percent. Mycelium’s beta-d-glucan concentrations came in at the range of 15 to 27 percent.
According to research by Nammex, the average beta-d-glucan content in six medicinal mushroom fruit body species was between 25 and 65 percent by dry weight. In that same study, myceliated grains contained a beta-d-glucan content of between 0 and 13 percent. Finally, in an analysis of ergosterol content — the definitive marker for fungal matter and presence — ten times the amount was found in mushroom fruit body products than in products made from myceliated grains.

Terpenoids (especially triterpenoids, aka triterpenes) are a non-water soluble lipid that studies have found is liver protective, lipid lowering, antioxidant rich, histamine release inhibiting, and anti-inflammatory. In conjunction with beta-d-glucans, terpenoids help the body and its immune response find homeostasis during times of stress and fatigue.

Ergosterol, which is also considered a triterpenoid, is present in all fungi and is a corollary to cholesterol in humans. Its main benefits are its antitumor and antioxidant properties. Ergosterol is a precursor to vitamin D, meaning that by exposing mushrooms to UV light — e.g. the sun— you can raise the vitamin D2 level in your mushrooms.

4. Where It Was Grown

Have you ever wandered into Asian market and found a bag of Shiitake mushrooms for pennies on the dollar compared to the cost at your local grocery store? If so, you’ve probably felt the urge to buy the whole place out. Aside from the fact that they’re probably imported from China — the largest and thus cheapest mushroom producer in the world—there’s an unfortunate risk to those mushrooms: They may contain high levels of heavy metals. According to an article from Robert Rodgers in Fungi magazine, an analysis of organic certified mushroom fruit body hot water extracts from China showed extremely high levels of heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and arsenic. A banned fungicide was also detected. Even if the product says that it is made in the United States, be wary. A change in labeling laws allows for mushroom logs produced in China then shipped to the U.S., where they are then fruited, to be labeled as Product of U.S.A.
medicinal mushroom supplements

5. How the Compounds Are Extracted and Absorbed By Your Body

While most if not all of the beta-d-glucans present in medicinal mushrooms can be extracted via a simple hot water extraction — simmer the mushroom in hot water for two to four hours, then strain out the mushroom matter — many tinctures on today’s market are from a process called dual extraction. The process is rather simple. First, you perform a hot water extraction. Then, you perform a solvent-based extraction, typically with ethanol alcohol, to pull out any other compounds — esp. terpenoids — that may have been left behind. Jeff Chilton, founder of Nammex, a medicinal mushroom supplement company, notes that in analysis carried out by his company, terpenoids, though non-water soluble, were still found in just the hot water extraction. In essence, the terpenoids may not dissolve but they’re still in the product. As for those beta-d-glucans, well, they and other polysaccharides are much too large to pass from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream—with the exception of Lion’s Mane mushroom’s main medicinal compounds. This means that just consuming the fruit body in a powdered form isn’t going to get you far. Nonetheless, some companies advertise micronized (nano-particles) powdered medicinal mushroom supplement products in an effort to convince consumers their product is superior in terms of absorption by your body. But when it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, we tend to believe products based on the dual extracted fruit body method are a good place to start.

6. What The Product’s Claims Really Mean

By now, you probably understand what a company means when they market their medicinal mushroom supplement product as a dual extract, pulverized, and/or micronized.

But that’s just the tip of the “product claims” iceberg.

If you’ve ever seen products tout their medicinal mushroom supplements’ polysaccharide content, perhaps you’ve concluded that it’s indicative of a good product and that the more polysaccharides found in a product, the better.

But this simply isn’t true.

Polysaccharide content is a fancy way of saying nothing while sounding like you’re saying everything. While it’s true that beta-d-glucans are polysaccharides, so too are starches like the ones found in potatoes, cereal grains, corn, and rice. In other words, high polysaccharide content may be more indicative that you’re buying a whole lot of cereal grains with a smattering of mycelium than a product with a high beta-d-glucan content.

Further, if you ever see medicinal mushroom supplements claim that they contain hundreds of triterpenoids, be wary. Though it is true that, for example, Reishi mushrooms have hundreds of triterpenoids — Ganoderic acids, primarily — the concentration of almost all of them on an individual basis is low enough to be inconsequential.

By now, you should have a firm idea of what to look for and what to avoid when searching for the right medicinal mushroom supplements.

This is not only great news for you! It’s great news for all of us!

That’s because the more educated the consumer is, the higher the demand will be for companies to innovate, research, and ultimately produce the most medicinally effective medicinal mushroom supplements they can.

About the Author
Sam is a writer, award-winning journalist, and emergent mycophile from the United States who arrived at the Fungi Academy one midsummer’s day in 2019 and left six weeks later with lifelong friends and a passion for mushroom cultivation. In the past year 18 months, he’s built a laboratory and fruiting room in his home, cultivated and foraged over 20 species of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms, started a medicinal mushroom tincture business, and returned to the Fungi Academy to teach his techniques to students.

One Response

  1. Hi Sam, Wonderful and very informative. I leave on the 17th for another major operation but in the meantime I have been getting more into holistic and have quite a few products. Maybe during my recovery we can talk, so I can get your input.

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