For the past several years, mushroom extract powder has been spreading across the supplement aisle like (yes) a fungus. Although a relatively new fad here in the West, medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese practices and in other Asian countries as both a remedy and preventative medicine.
Of course, with the avalanche of exotic supplements, superfoods and extracts out there, you may find yourself mystified as to what mushroom extract powder is and what exactly it can do for you.
To raise your health and wellness IQ and help you figure out if this extract is for you, we’re going to fill you in about its benefits and some crucial things you should know before buying it.
But first, let’s start with what mushroom powder is.
What Is Mushroom Extract Powder?
Mushroom extract powder is a concentrated supplement that’s made by first drying the mushrooms and grinding them up. This powder is then cooked in either water or a water/ alcohol mix to extract beneficial compounds (like beta-glucans and triterpenes) and make them more bioavailable.
While some companies bottle the resulting liquid, other manufacturers use a spray dryer to evaporate it, resulting in a concentrated mushroom powder. This is sold in either a loose form which can be used in teas, smoothies or other foods or in capsule form, which you can take like a pill.
Though eating fresh mushrooms is good for you, a concentrated powder form will give you more of the health benefits without having to eat, say, a pound of shiitakes.
Benefits of Mushroom Powder Extract
So what exactly can mushroom extract powder do for you? That will depend on the kind of mushrooms used. Reishi, Cordyceps, Shitake, Lion’s Mane, Turkey Tail and Maitake mushrooms are just a few of the varieties commonly used in these kinds of supplements, and each has special properties.
However, one of the main superheroes in most mushrooms is beta-d-glucan. Beta-d-glucan is a long-chain carbohydrate (or polysaccharide) found in the walls of mushrooms and has been extensively studied for its positive health benefits, which include:
- Modulating the immune system
- Fighting infections
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving gut health
- Blood sugar regulation
- Cholesterol regulation
- Tumor reduction
- Increased energy
In addition to beta-glucans, mushrooms also contain triterpenoids which help to protect the liver and reduce inflammation. Ergosterol, another active compound in fungi, has antioxidant properties and helps regulate the immune system.
Sounds good, right? But before you run out to the health food store, it’s important to keep in mind that the level of beta-glucans and other beneficial compounds in supplements can vary widely. The percentage will depend on which part of the mushroom is used and the extraction method.
We’ll go into detail about how to find the best mushroom powder extract for you a little later, but for now, let’s talk about the specific benefits of some mushrooms commonly used to create these kinds of supplements.
Reishi: The Longevity Mushroom
Scientific Name: Ganoderma Lingzhi
Reishi’s first recorded use dates back 2000 years to Asia, where it was prized for prolonging life, boosting qi and calming the mind.
Recent studies have proven that this bitter-tasting mushroom can boost your immune system and reduce fatigue.
Especially interesting is that certain molecules in this mushroom promote the activity of NK or Natural killer cells, white blood cells that are known to fight infections and cancer. In fact, Reishi has been approved as an adjunct treatment for cancer patients in Japan and China for over 30 years.
Reshi has also been proven to encourage sleep in animals, though more studies on humans are needed to verify this benefit.
The downside is that studies on Reishi supplements have shown that many on the US market contain no Reishi mushrooms at all. That’s why it’s so important to know how to read labels and verify the source of the mushrooms; something will cover later.
Lion’s Mane: The Mental Mushroom
Scientific Name: Hericium Erinaceus
This white, shaggy-looking mushroom grows on tree trunks in northern forests and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
Modern studies on this mushroom have shown that it improves cognitive function and especially short-term memory. It also contains compounds that trigger re-myelination, a process that helps the neurons in your brain to pass electrical signals correctly.
Also found in this mushroom are compounds that stimulate Nerve Growth Factor or NGF, which is important for the survival, growth and maintenance of neurons.
In addition to helping with cognitive function, organic Lion’s Mane is rich in beta-glucans which suppress tumor growth and help to modulate the immune system.
Turkey Tail: The Immune Booster
Scientific Name: Trametes Versicolor
Turkey tail is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat lung disease. The drug PSK, which is derived from this feathery-looking mushroom, is used to help boost immunity in cancer patients in Japan.
Boasting one of the highest percentages of beta-glucans among mushrooms, this little powerhouse helps boost immunity by promoting cytokine production, which increases the presence of Natural Killer Cells and boosts other immune functions.
Chaga: The Antioxidant Mushroom
Scientific Name: Inonotus Obliquus
The Chaga mushroom is actually a wood canker that only grows on birch trees in the Northern Hemisphere. Its first recorded medical use was in 16th century Russia where it was used to treat stomach ailments.
Today this antioxidant-rich fungus is believed to support immune function, enhance endurance during exercise, reduce inflammation and support liver health. The beta-glucans it contains may also lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Additionally, the black outer layer of this fungus is rich in melanin which helps to protect the skin.
The caveat with Chaga is that in order to reap the full benefits, it needs to be wild-harvested. That’s because in addition to beta-glucans, it contains medicinal compounds from the birch tree, including betulin and betulinic acid.
If you plan to include Chaga as a supplement, be sure that what you buy comes from birch trees and not from a lab (where Chaga is usually cultivated on grains that don’t give it the same properties.)
Cordyceps: The Energy Booster
Scientific Name: Cordyceps Militaris
Cordyceps is often recommended for athletes because of energy boosting properties. That’s because Cordyceps contains precursors that increase ATP production, the compound that gives our cells energy. This mushroom is also used in Chinese medicine to treat asthma and seasonal allergies.
Cordyceps grows by preying on insects and comes in hundreds of varieties. The most expensive variety is Cordyceps Sinensis, a rare combination of a high-altitude caterpillar and mushroom that costs over $20,000 a kilo.
Though it can only be found in Asia and can’t be cultivated, some supplements still advertise it on their list of ingredients. If you see this variety in a supplement and it’s grown in North America, this most likely means that it was cultivated on grain and will not have the same properties.
However, Cordyceps Militaris is a variety that can be cultivated. If grown and extracted properly, it will contain beta-glucans and cordycepin (an ATP precursor) along with their beneficial properties.
Shitake: The Tasty and Healthy Mushroom
Scientific Name: Lentinula Edodes
This highly popular and edible mushroom was known as the “elixir of life” during the Ming Dynasty and has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine as it’s believed to increase longevity and improve circulation.
Like many mushrooms, the shitake is great for the immune system and is also rich in B vitamins that can help to reduce blood sugar and inflammation in the body.
Eritadenine, another compound found in this mushroom, was shown to reduce cholesterol in some studies.
What You Need to Know Before You Buy Mushroom Extract Powder
As you can see, mushroom extract powder has many health benefits. But as mentioned before, the percentage of the beneficial compounds it contains will vary widely depending on the part of the mushroom used.
Most of the beta-glucans, triterpenoids and other active compounds are contained in the reproductive part of the mushroom, which is what we know as the mushroom itself. But fungi also have an extensive underground root system which consists mainly of starches.
Unfortunately, many companies seeking to ride the wave of mushroom popularity use the roots (which grow faster) instead of the mushroom, or fruiting body as it’s called. That’s why it’s so important to read the labels of the supplements you are considering carefully.
To help you discern what you’re getting in a supplement, let’s dive a little deeper into the terminology.
Fruiting Body vs. Mycelium
Mycelium is the roots of the mushroom, which have to establish themselves before a mushroom or fruiting body can be produced. Unfortunately, they have little to none of the benefits that have been discussed in this article.
If the label of the supplement you are considering contains mycelium or a combination of fruiting bodies and mycelium, it will not have the same concentration of beneficial substances that are contained in an extract made of pure fruiting bodies.
To get the most benefits from mushroom extract powder, always look for one that is made of pure fruiting bodies and not mycelium or MOG powder (mycelium grown on grain) as it’s often called.
Beware of the Terms Full Spectrum and Polysaccharide
Though the FDA does require companies to clearly state whether their product is made from mycelium or the fruiting body, not all manufacturers follow these guidelines.
Some companies will try to disguise the fact that their product is mainly mycelium by using terms like “full spectrum.” Although using all parts of mushroom may sound more beneficial, it’s actually not. Again, it’s the fruiting body that contains the beta-glucans, vitamins and other nutrients you’re looking for.
Another vague term you should look out for is “polysaccharide.” Yes, beta-glucans are polysaccharides. But there are many other polysaccharides found in the roots of the mushroom that don’t have the same health benefits.
Don’t Be Fooled by Scientific Names or Vague Labels
Other companies will also try to disguise the fact their supplement is mainly mycelium by using the scientific names of the mushroom (Ganoderma lingzhi, trametes versicolr, etc.). Although as impressive as this terminology may sound, if the label doesn’t specify that only fruiting bodies are used, most likely the product contains mainly mycelium or, at best, a small amount of fruiting bodies.
Look for Supplements with Specific Beta-Glucan Contents
When it comes to mushroom extract powder, the more specific the label is, the better. Responsible companies will test their product for contents and specify the amount of beta-glucans, triterpenoids and other beneficial compounds you get per serving.
So be sure to read the supplement facts carefully when choosing an extract, and be sure it’s been tested for contents. If the label is not specific, it’s hard to know what you’re actually getting.
Look for Organic and Third Party Tested
The term “natural” is not the same as certified organic. To be sure your supplement doesn’t contain harmful pesticides, be sure that it is specifically labeled “USDA organic.”
Another way to ensure the purity of the supplement is to buy products that are third-party tested for heavy metals and other harmful chemicals. Look for extracts that are tested by NSF International, US Pharmacopeia (USP), UL or Consumerlabs.com to ensure that the supplement is safe.
Talk to Your Doctor
As with any supplement, talk to your doctor to ensure that there aren’t any side effects that will interfere with any medication you’re taking or exacerbate any medical condition you may have.
Shroom and Bloom
Mushrooms have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine for their life-giving and adaptogenic properties. In more recent times, scientific studies have discovered that they contain active compounds like beta-glucans, triterpenes and ergosterol that are beneficial for the immune system as well as other functions of the body.
Mushroom extract powders offer a concentrated form of these active ingredients, but not all supplements are created equal. If you decide to try one of these extracts, be sure that it contains pure fruiting bodies, specifies the amount of beta-glucans and is third-party tested.
With the right product and consistent usage, you could find yourself shrooming and blooming!
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