Medicinal Mushrooms Supplement Buying Guide

Last Updated on August 12, 2022

Medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and recent studies and published health journals have shown that they can have a powerful impact on human health. Over the past few decades, medicinal mushrooms have carved their way into Western health and are now being studied for their potential to treat a wide range of conditions, from cancer to anxiety. With the medicinal mushroom supplement industry expected to grow rapidly in the coming years, it’s more important than ever to know how to find quality medicinal mushroom products.

This buying guide will teach you everything you need to know about medicinal mushrooms, from what to look for when buying them, some potential considerations of avoidance – each unique to a specific mushroom species. By the end of this guide, you’ll have the foundational knowledge on medicinal mushrooms and be able to make informed decisions about which ones are right for you.

1. Mushroom (fruit body) vs Myelium

mycelium-and-fruiting-body

Look for medicinal mushroom products where the main ingredient is mushroom fruiting bodies. This applies to Cordyceps, Lion’s mane, Maitake, Reishi, Shiitake, Tremella, and Turkey Tail mushrooms.

When choosing a product one of the first things to analyze is to see if it is made from mycelium or the mushroom fruiting bodies. If you are not familiar with the term, just think of mycelium as the white spider web-like “roots” of the mushrooms, whereas the fruiting bodies are the structures we eat and know as mushrooms. 

While fruiting bodies are traditionally what has been used in medicine, today many products contain fungal mycelium instead of fruiting bodies. While mushroom mycelium has been shown to be medicinal there are issues with their use in medicinal supplements. Mostly it is that mycelium-based products actually contain relatively small quantities of fungal biomass and instead contain starches and other compounds from the grains that the mycelium is cultivated on. Because of this, these supplements contain high quantities of starches and low quantities of the medicinal compounds we are after. 

How to Know If Your Supplement Is From Mycelium or Fruiting Bodies

  • Check the label. Ingredients in mycelium products will likely list grains (like brown rice, wheat, barley, etc.) and will have a high quantity of carbohydrates. 
  • Producers will often mention if they are made from fruiting bodies. It should say “Made with 100% Whole Fruiting Bodies” or something of the like. 

It should be noted that dozens of studies have been conducted on medicinal mushroom mycelium that show it does indeed have strong medicinal properties. The biggest difference is that scientific studies usually use pure mycelium that contains no extra grains or fillers. In these cases, fungal compounds are much more concentrated than grain-based mycelium products typically sold in the supplement industry.

The term “mushroom” use in marketing non mushroom products

Some mycelium companies have attempted to claim the term mushroom to mean the entire organism when this is not true at all.

Mushroom companies have tried to stand out from mycelium companies by using mushroom fruiting body, and while in attempts to differentiate, has now created confusion in the terminology. The mushroom is synonymous to fruiting/fruit body just as the mycelium is synonymous with vegetative body. Saying mushroom fruiting body is like saying mushroom mushroom. It is like saying apple fruit, strawberry fruit, orange fruit, blueberry fruit? Would you walk into the grocery store and ask where the fruit bodies are?

Some mycelium companies are now using the term mushroom as a general catch all is misleading. The FDA has very specific guidelines on this.

For clarity, throughout this website, we are using the term ‘fruiting body’ which refers to the mushroom and not mycelium.

Interesting consideration: Lion’s Mane mycelium

Lion’s Mane mycelium contains high quantities of erinacines which can be extracted via dual extraction. Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) has the ability to activate the secretion of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) directly in the brain. This has a positive effect on the brain cells improving neurogenesis, cognition, memory, mood and aging. This is the core reason why Lion’s Mane is so popular and considered a ‘brain boosting’ supplement.

  • The fruiting body of the mushroom contains Hericenones and Beta-Glucans
  • The mycelium contains Erinacines

While Erinacines found in the pure mycelium can induce Nerve Growth Factor, the problem is that majority of medicinal mushroom brands that use mycelium in their Lion’s mane products either use mycelium grain biomass which has more grain than mycelium, or they use both fruiting bodies and mycelium and do not state the ratio of this. In each case, we strongly recommend choosing Lion’s Manes supplement products where the primary ingredient is mushroom fruiting bodies.

2. Importance of beta-glucans on the label 

One of the best ways to determine the quality of a medicinal mushroom supplement is to see if there is mention of the beta-glucan content on the product label. These are some of the most important medicinal compounds and good indicators of other fungally-derived compounds. 

Beta-Glucans are compounds found ubiquitously within the fungal kingdom. They are a type of polysaccharide that occurs within the cell walls of the mushroom and have been shown to exhibit a wide array of health properties. The benefits of beta-glucans are diverse but usually tied to improved immune function, digestive health, improved well-being, and anti-cancer properties. 

While beta-glucans are polysaccharides it is important to distinguish between these two when reading a label. Polysaccharide content could be originating from grains or other plant-based sources. It is important that your product contains no more than 5% polysaccharides than beta-glucans. The best quality products contain very low quantities of starches (like alpha-glucans) and higher quantities of beta-glucans. If grains or other plant-based fillers are mentioned in the ingredient label this can be an indicator of an inferior product.

3. Ideal extraction methods 

Medicinal mushrooms are most often consumed as extracts. These concentrate the number of medicinal compounds in an easy-to-consume product. They are ideal for consumption not only due to their potency but also because of their high bioavailability and ease of consumption.

The dual extraction 

In the medicinal mushroom world, the most common extractions are known as “dual extractions”. They are “dual” because of the fact they use both alcohol and water as solvents. This ensures that all water-soluble and alcohol-soluble compounds end up in the final product. 

Hot water extraction

Hot Water is used for extracting the most important type of polysaccharides, known as beta-glucans. These are found in high quantities in Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s mane, Maitake, Reishi, Shiitake, Tremella, and Turkey Tail mushrooms.

Specifically, aside from beta-glucans in all the medicinal mushrooms, hot water extractions are crucial in isolating other important medicinal compounds from the following mushrooms:

  • Cordyceps
    • Adenosine and Cordycepin are the most bioactive compounds found within Cordyceps. Cordycepin is almost exclusive to Cordyceps militaris, with only trace amounts found within Ophiocordyceps sinensis. 
      There is 90x more Cordycepin in militaris compared to sinesnis.
    • Cordycepic Acid is also known as D-Mannitol and has various activities including anti-cancer properties. It is worth noting that, D-mannitol is found in all medicinal mushrooms, so seeing Cordycepic acid on a product label should not be a quality marker of a Cordycep product.
  • Turkey Tail
    • PSP is also known as Polysaccharopeptide. It is a beta-glucan originating from Turkey Tail commonly used in China to help in cancer treatment. It can be chemically distinguished by the presence of rhamnose and arabinose. 
    • PSK or Polysaccharide K is another Turkey Tail-derived beta-glucan commonly consumed in Japan as an adjunct therapy in cancer treatment.
  • Shiitake
    • Highly refined extracts of Lentinan are commonly used as an adjunct treatment for cancer therapy in Asia.

Alcohol extraction

Alcohol is used for extracting the non water soluble compounds present in medicinal mushrooms. In the case of tinctures, it also helps as a preservative that increases the shelf life of the mushroom. Alcohol extraction can assist in isolating beneficial compounds in:

  • Chaga
    • Betulin is a triterpene that also occurs within the bark of Birch, Chaga’s host tree. It has been shown to have various anti-cancer properties
    • Betulinic Acid is a triterpenoid derived from Betulin that is produced by the Chaga fungus. It has been shown to have a number of properties including being anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and a good source of antioxidants. 
    • Lupeol is another compound that originates from the Birch shown to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. 
  • Lion’s mane
    • Hericenones, Erinacines and Sterols have the ability to activate the secretion of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) directly in the brain
  • Reishi
    • Over 50 different triterpenes occur in Reishi mushrooms, the most common being Ganoderic acid. Another important triterpene is lucidenic acid. These are shown to be immune-modulating, anti-cancer, and help with a variety of chronic diseases.

Important consideration regarding extraction methods

While it is good to consider whether a medicinal mushroom is hot water extracted or dual extracted with alcohol, a crucial consideration to buying a quality medicinal mushroom product is to look at the verified compounds of each ingredients through third party lab testing and certification.

“With any extraction method, you need to verify your results. We’ve seen reishi mushroom hot water extracts with more triterpenes than reishi mushroom dual extracts. If you’re not analyzing for the important compounds then it’s basically marketing speak.”

Skye Chilton, Founder of Real Mushrooms

Extraction ratios 

The extraction ratio is something that is commonly mentioned in medicinal mushroom products. Brands may say something like “10:1 Reishi Mushroom Extract”. What this ratio represents is that the producer used 10kg of Reishi mushrooms for every 1kg of extract they end up with. The higher the ratio usually suggests the more potent the product. 

It should be noted that a 10:1 product may not necessarily contain twice the active components of a 5:1 product. This is because this ratio does not necessarily represent the effectiveness of the extraction or the quality of the original materials. It is also important to consider that the more potent the extract doesn’t always reflect the effectiveness of the product. This is because higher doses may not necessarily always be more effective in specific treatments. The only real way to compare the potency of unique supplements is by a chemical analysis that measures the number of beta-glucans, triterpenes, and other fungal-derived compounds. 

Extracts can also be found in tinctures or powders. Powders tend to be much more potent by weight because they contain none of the liquids originally used in the extraction process.

4. Drying methods

Different drying methods can effect the quality of the final product. While all can result in effective products, freeze drying is typically considered the best method, especially when it comes to Chaga mushroom products.

  • Infrared Drying usually involves drying with infrared heat. The high quantities of heat used in this process may deteriorate some of the temperature sensitive compounds present within a supplement. 
  • Spray dying is generally considered better than Infra-red drying because it is conducted at lower temperatures. This process involves spraying liquid extracts with heated gasses that promote evaporation. 
  • Freeze drying is often considered the best method because it does not expose the contents to high temperatures. It also may help further break down fungal-materials that then make the medicinal components more bioavailable.

5. Organic

Choose medicinal mushrooms supplements that are certified organic. This ensures that your products do not contain herbicides, fungicides or pesticides and other harmful chemicals that slowly weakens the body over extended period of consumption. Look for the widely recognized stamp of quality and integrity of a Certificate Organic from the regulatory body of your county. The common ones include:

Medicinal mushroom products in the form of capsules are not usually certified organic, because while the mushroom powders within the capsules are organic, the capsules themselves are not organic.

6. Certificate of analysis

A Certificate of Analysis from a third party lab is important to identify the beneficial medical compounds such as beta-glucans, polyphenols triterpenes, ergosterol, and ganoderic acid. A certificate of analysis may also include levels of heavy metals and other foreign contaminants. Heavy metals that are typically tested for range from arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Quality medicinal mushroom sellers should be able to provide this upon request, or better yet, publicly display this on their website.

Beware that some medicinal mushroom brands will pretend they have a certificate of analysis, when really it is just a third party test report of only heavy metals and no testing of the medicinal compounds in the mushroom. In our research, many medicinal mushroom brands do not provide a true Certificate of Analysis of their products, which is an indication of the current state of the medicinal mushroom industry. We are not saying that you should dismiss their products as fraudulent, rather we are highlighting this in hopes that further regulations and intelligence around standardization and purchase are considered.

Here is a great example of a true Certificate of Analysis from a third party test from Eurofins of Oriveda‘s products.

7. Chinese grown mushrooms vs Western grown (Australia, North America)

There is frequent discourse about the quality of health foods and supplements coming from China. Some areas of China have high rates of air pollution which can negatively affect the quality of soil with unwanted pollutants and heavy-metals. But this does not mean Chinese mushroom products are bad.
China has been using mushroom-based medicine for thousands of years, long before it became popular in the west. China is the largest producer of modern medicinal mushrooms in the world and grow their products from provincial areas in rural mountain provinces. 

With decades of research and usage, China produces some of the most potent medicinal mushroom products on the market, and also has some of the most sophisticated extraction labs in the world.

Australia

According to Dr Noel, there are strict biosecurity regulations in Australia that only allow Shiitake, Turkey tail and Tremella to be grown in Australia. Other medicinal mushroom species such as Lion’s Mane, Reishi, and Chaga are currently banned from being grown in Australia, but are legal for importation.

North America

Growing organic mushrooms in North America to create extract powders from the fruiting body is not economical which is why myceliated grain is grown instead. Majority of American grown mushroom companies sell supplements where the main ingredient is myceliated grain and mycelium biomass. While there are studies showing the efficacy of mycelium, these studies are on pure mycelium, and not mycelium grain.

Conclusion

We hope this buying guide has helped you understand what to look for in medicinal mushroom supplements. Our team has carefully put together in hopes that you will have the information to make the right choices for your own health or whom you care for. Medicinal mushrooms are powerful adaptogens with healing potential – make sure you buy top quality products and don’t get scammed!


Author Credits:
This article has been researched and contributed by the following authors. We are in the process of research and consulting with medicinal mushroom experts to add more information to this article.

Timothee Mendez Reneau

Environmental Science and Mycology Researcher – Mexico City, Mexico
Humboldt State University Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Environmental Science with focus on Ecological Restoration.

Dr Sony Sherpa

Registered Health Medical Practitioner – Kathmandu, Nepal
Guangzhou Medical University – Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS)

Dr Abdullah Ahmad (PhD)

Molecular Biologist, Biotechnologist – Gujranwala, Pakistan
Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences– Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Molecular Biology and Biochemistry 2021-2025 (expected)

We are not a traditional society or club. World Mushroom Society is a collective of fungi enthusiasts and health advocates, sharing information and identifying top producers of high quality medicinal mushroom supplements.

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DISCLAIMER

DISCLAIMER
The information on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information found here is not meant as a substitute for, or alternative to, information from your doctor for ongoing medical treatment you currently receive. If unsure, please consult with your doctor before using medicinal mushrooms. Any content related to cancer should not be considered as prescriptive medical advice and should not be a substitute for any cancer treatment, unless advised by your doctor first. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by TGA and FDA-approved research. If you are pregnant or on prescription drugs that thin the blood, consult with your medical professional before using medicinal mushrooms.
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