To Benefit from a Medicinal Mushroom, You Need to Know What You’re Getting
Not all fungi products are equal. You should know what you’re getting when you purchase supplements to reap medicinal mushroom benefits. And with so many products on the market making claims about ingredients and efficacy, it can be challenging to understand what really offers the most benefit to your health.
Read on to learn the myths and facts about medicinal mushroom supplements to get the most functional health support from fungi.
Mushroom Parts & Marketing Hype
The way many supplement brands market and sell their fungi products is cause for concern. If consumers don’t know what to look for when buying a medicinal mushroom supplement, they may easily be misled by the packaging, naming, and labeling of the vast products available.
It can be difficult to distinguish a real mushroom extract made of the mushroom (fruiting body) from one made of the mushroom’s “root” structure, mycelium. Reading a supplement’s packaging and nutritional labels won’t necessarily tell you the whole story either.
Mushroom product labeling requirements from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tell manufacturers to clearly distinguish whether the product contains actual mushroom (the fruiting body) or just the mycelium in any food or supplement product. But not everyone follows these rules and this is low on the FDA’s enforcement priorities.
In 2017, The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) released labelling guidance for Fungi Dietary Ingredients. This is not enforceable but gives recommendations on how Fungal based products should be accurately labelled to clearly inform the consumer on what is in the product.
Too often, brands disguise the true nature of their products and misdirect consumers who want to buy effective medicinal mushroom products. Here we will separate the myths from the facts about mushroom terminology, their active compounds, and the marketing hype, to give you the information you need to buy a supplement with the most medicinal mushroom benefits.
To reap these benefits, you need a supplement with high concentrations of the parts of the fungi that offer the most therapeutic compounds. This article gives you the knowledge you need to make informed purchasing decisions, so you can truly experience the adaptive health benefits of medicinal mushroom supplementation.
Mushroom vs. Mycelium
The Difference between Fungal Parts
A mushroom is the “fruiting body” of a fungal organism called a basidiomycete (except in the case of the cordyceps mushroom — they are an organism called an ascomycete). Basidiomycetes have three distinct parts that develop throughout its lifecycle: spore, mycelium, and mushroom.
The spores are in the surrounding air all around us, and under favorable conditions, these will germinate and begin to grow branching filaments called hyphae. As the hyphae continue to grow, they will fuse together to form mycelium.
Mycelium is an underground network that expands and feeds off of organic plant matter. This phase of the basidiomycetes’ life cycle is the vegetative stage. During this time, the mycelium produces enzymes that break down the plant material in its growth radius and recycles it into beneficial compounds that return to the soil.
In nature, this typically means that mycelium will form large networks of fungal matter by breaking down wood, logs, leaves, and other plant matter. The plant matter on which fungi feed is commonly referred to as the substrate. The mycelium becomes entwined in whatever substrate it’s in, making an inseparable mass of substrate and mycelium.
If environmental conditions are right, the mycelium will produce a mushroom, a.k.a. the fruiting body. The mushroom is actually the reproductive structure of this organism. When fully mature, it produces spores that, when distributed across plant matter, will allow for the creation of new mycelial networks, and ultimately the spread of the fungus.
Mycelial networks can live for hundreds, if not thousands of years and spread across vast distances. In fact, the largest organism on earth is a mycelial mat of a honey mushroom in eastern Oregon that is 890 hectares in size and over 2,000 years old!
It is important to reiterate that just as a mushroom is not mycelium, mycelium is also not a mushroom. These terms are not synonymous and should be accurately differentiated.
Identifying Fillers in Your Supplement
Read the ingredients on the mushroom or mycelium supplement package to see which part of these fungi the producer used. Based on the labelling, many times it is unclear. The product could be any combination of mycelium, mushroom, sclerotium, spore, and substrate matter, dried, ground into a powder and then potentially extracted.
Using all the parts of the fungi might seem like an effective way to reap the most benefits. However, there are parts of the basidiomycete, like the mushroom (fruiting body), that contain more active beneficial compounds than others. The mycelium, on the other hand, when grown on a solid substrate will also contains compounds of whatever substrate material it has been grown on.
The majority of commercial mycelium producers grow it on grains like rice, oats, or sorghum. Therefore, all that grain becomes inseparable from the mycelium and remains in the final product, leading to high amounts of starch.
When myceliated grain forms the bulk of a supplement, the grain acts as a filler and “dilutes” the product because it doesn’t contain any active compounds. Myceliated grain dramatically reduces how much beneficial compounds are in each serving of your supplement.