What you should know before buying mushroom supplements

Published Sep. 24th, 2014. Last revision: July 7th, 2016

• Which supplement should I choose ?
• What about value for money ?
• Is Siberian Chaga better than Chaga from other regions ?
• What is a ‘full spectrum extract’ ?
• Why this emphasis on extracts ?
• Liquid extracts and tinctures
• Product reviews and testimonials


Which supplement should I choose ?


Everybody will agree that a dietary supplement is only worth considering if it has therapeutic potency. Consumers in general automatically assume that all dietary supplements have therapeutic potency. But this assumption is wrong! A problem often overlooked is bioavailability – can our body actually digest and absorb the product ?

In particular mushroom supplements are problematic – if they have not been subjected to an extraction procedure they are therapeutically useless.
Only mushroom extracts are worth considering.

In the past decade science has made enormous progress in mapping the active ingredients of medicinal mushrooms. We now know that in general their main bioactive ingredients are beta-glucans (a specific type of polysaccharides), triterpenes, polyphenols and phyto-sterols. In a dual extract all these ingredients are bioavailable (resulting in additional synergy), in a hot water extract only polysaccharides and polyphenols are bioavailable.

As a consumer, you can use this knowledge to judge both the objective quality and the value for money of the product you intend to buy.

As said before, to be able to guarantee therapeutic potency the mushroom supplement should be an extract. Extraction makes the product more expensive, but it is essential. Most people cannot digest non-extracted mushroom products properly. The $ 18.99-per-bottle products (not to mention even cheaper products) are without exception non-extracted mushroom products. They are easy to spot: they do not give a breakdown of the bioactive ingredients on their supplement facts label, because these cannot be determined properly in a non-extracted product.

Sometimes they use convincing-sounding but misleading statements such as ‘a whole food with its natural ratio of components is always a better choice than concentrations of individual elements, like in extracts‘. However, mushroom extraction is never about concentrating specific components (like in herbal extracts), but about making bio-active components bio-available by extracting the indigestible chitin from the mushroom. A statement like that underlines again the fact that most sellers are not knowledgeable about the nature of the products they are selling.

Non-extracted products are mostly indigestible (= low bioavailability) and can never deliver therapeutically useful levels of the active ingredients. The producers of these products can also not guarantee the levels of bioactives, making dosing a trial and error process at best. An extensive explanation can be found here. In a consistent quality product the percentages of at least one of the bioactive ingredients is guaranteed and listed on the supplement facts label. The supplement facts label is governmentally supervised and is 100% reliable. Exaggerations or deceiving claims are prohibited.

Summarizing:

The only mushroom supplements worth considering are extracts and should guarantee at least one bioactive ingredient (preferably beta-glucans, but usually polysaccharides, part of which are beta-glucans) on their supplement facts label. In general the best extracts in terms of therapeutic potency are dual extracts (AKA ‘full-spectrum’ extracts – see below) which guarantee several bioactive ingredients on their supplement facts label (e.g. beta-glucans + triterpenes).

Keep in mind polysaccharides also include starch, chitin, dextrin and other therapeutically useless compounds. Only beta-glucans are noteworthy bioactive polysaccharides.


What about value for money ?


As an example, we offer 100 grams / 3.53 oz. Chaga extract powder for $ 99.95 whereas a competing supplier might offer 113 grams / 4 oz. for only $ 35. If you only take this fact into account, you might think that our product is 3 times more expensive. However, the weight should not be the deciding factor here. The deciding factor is the amount of bioactive ingredients you get for your money. It defines the therapeutic potency of the product. It defines whether it is beneficial for you or not (in the therapeutic sense).


Example of a value for money calculation:

Product A: 10% polysaccharides; 60 capsules @ 500mg; $ 10. (10% = 50 mg polysaccharides p/capsule)

Product B: 30% polysaccharides; 60 capsules @ 400mg; $ 20. (30% = 120 mg polysaccharides p/capsule)
Product B is obviously the best value for money. Spend $ 20 on product A and you still have way less bioactive polysaccharides than in product B.


Although it is not compulsory, there is no reason not to list the active ingredients on the label (it is a great selling point!!), except maybe these:

  • It is actually not an extract but a biomass product, a tincture or a dried, ground up and powdered mushroom product. In these products the bioactive ingredients cannot be determined properly and the bioavailability is so low that you cannot expect therapeutic effects.
  • Compared to similar products the percentages of bioactives are so low that it is better to keep it vague. As said, it is not compulsory to list bioactives on the label.
  • The supplier cannot guarantee the percentages as required by the FDA. This can be the outcome of using cheap or outdated extraction methodology, which is more likely to deliver an inconsistent product quality. An example is using a mix of water and alcohol to perform a single step dual extraction, instead of several isolated extraction steps. You can roughly compare this to cooking the dried mushrooms in vodka. These products are often marketed as “xx:1” extracts. Not only can this ratio not be validated by an independent third party (unless they’re present during the whole manufacturing process) but it is also completely useless as a valuation tool, unless there’s also a breakdown of the bioactive ingredients and their percentages.As an example, ORIVeDA’s Reishi Primo extract is a 35:1 extract with guaranteed over 30% of polysaccharides (90% of which are beta-glucans) and over 6 % of triterpenes. With the specifications of the bioactives included you are able to compare it to other products and make an objective valuation.

NB – Asian products usually do not reveal the active ingredients on their labels. They are in general very expensive, not just because they are imported, but because many people unconsciously assume ‘expensive means better quality’ and the sellers often abuse this assumption for their benefit.

The Asian suppliers have nothing to gain by the Western style of business transparency; the therapeutic potency of their products is in general low or average at best, just like the majority of the Western products. Instead of using verifiable quality claims they rely on emotional triggers to market their products. A health guru or a person in a white coat is supposed to give the product credibility.

You, as a consumer, should be aware that your emotions are being played. Don’t let that happen – use your head. Read the supplement facts label. It is objective and you can trust it. It makes it easy to compare products and to judge a products’ objective quality. Ignore the website writings – only the label is actively monitored by the authorities.

Core fact: the majority of supplement sellers give no detailed information about their product and the amount of bioactives it contains. Most big companies and all multi-level marketing (MLM) companies use this strategy in our experience: instead of investing in quality products they prefer to invest in marketing. It is in the end more profitable, apparently.


Summarizing:

Value for money is determined by the amount of bioactive ingredients you get for your money, not by just the weight or the size of the capsules. Knowing what is listed on the official supplement facts label is essential to be able to determine value for money. A product without guaranteed levels of bioactives cannot be valued objectively and as a consumer, you have no clue what you are buying. Accurate dosing is impossible because you don’t know the amount of bioactives in the tablet/capsule.


Why is Siberian Chaga better than Chaga from other regions ?


The answer is short – it is not.

Chaga has a long history of use in Russia and over there it is found mainly in the coldest regions of Siberia. When Chaga became ‘hot’ in the slipstream of the recent superfood hype, the term ‘Siberian Chaga’ added an exotic not to say romantic/authentic touch to the product. But in fact it is mere marketing, playing the emotions of the potential customer.
Chaga develops best in very cold regions and it appears that the more harsh the climate and the swings in temperature, the better the therapeutic quality of the Chaga. However, these conditions are not only found in Siberia, but also in e.g. Finland, the Chinese Changbai region, N-Korea and parts of the N-American continent. Harsh climate + birch forest = high Chaga potential!

In fact, when judging a Chaga product the same rules apply as when judging a mushroom supplement in general (see the first FAQ): check the supplement facts label. Chaga’s main bioactives are, according to science, beta-glucans and betulin / betulinic acid. Look for these on the supplement facts label and you can objectively compare products against each other. Siberian Chaga does not have better therapeutic properties or a higher amount of bioactives as a standard.

The extraction technology used to make the bioactives bioavailable is actually more important. This is obvious when comparing e.g. Russian-made extracts with Chinese extracts.


Lab technician at work in Russian Chaga extraction factory


The Chinese do everything according to their customers wishes, which makes the quality range from very low to very high. Russians use only hot water extraction and are therefore not producing full spectrum extracts (also see the next FAQ). This means the natural synergy found in a full-spectrum product will be missing.

Russian producers are also forced by the Russian Pharmacopeia to use the ‘Chromogenic complex’ as the quality standard for Chaga. This ‘Chromogenic complex’ is an outdated concept from the 1950s which reveals nothing about Chaga’s chemical composition. It is useless as a valuation tool from the modern point of view.

See, as an example, the opening paragraph of this Russian journal(Translated from Khimiko-Farmatsevticheskii Zhurnal, Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 35 – 37, March, 2010) where the ‘chromogenic complex’ is described as ‘ a vague concept with no definition of its chemical composition’ and products and protocols based on that (meaning: all Russian Chaga extracts) are described as ‘severely out of date’ and ‘not respond(ing) to current requirements ‘. This article is written by Russian Chaga producers/exporters that apparently want to spread their wings and be able to compete with non-Russian Chaga, using modern scientific concepts, just like the rest of the world.

Scientific research does not use ‘chromogenic complex’ as a starting point, only spectrographic analysis (invented in the late 50s) and other, even more advanced methods such as HPLC.
After all, the scientists’ goal is to find the exact bioactives responsible for a therapeutic effect. These bioactives can then be listed on the supplement facts label, making it easy for the consumer to determine the quality and value for money of the product, as described earlier.

If you go to PubMed, the worlds largest database of scientific publications and you enter “chromogenic complex chaga” (or something similar) as a search term NOTHING shows up. There is ZERO research using the chromogenic complex in Chaga as a starting point, not even in the most important Russian scientific papers (which are also indexed in PubMed).


Summarizing:

Where the Chaga was harvested is not that relevant. When judging a Chaga product the same rules apply as when judging a mushroom supplement in general: check the supplement facts label, or, if possible, the Analysis certificate (CoA) on which that label is based. The products therapeutic potency is a combi of using the proper raw material and optimal processing. Only the levels of acknowledged bioactives matter. High levels means a pure extract. In the end, this determines the therapeutic efficacy, not exotic stories and historic references.


What is a ‘full spectrum extract’ ?


This term used to refer to a mushroom extract containing the full spectrum of therapeutically interesting bioactives in a bioavailable form. Only extracts that have been extracted using both hot water and alcohol extraction (or fermentation) can claim this. These products contain both the water-soluble and the non water-soluble bioactives; in other words, everything that is therapeutically interesting. (During the extraction process only chitin is removed. Chitin is the reason non-extracted mushroom products are indigestible: it locks the bioactives in the cell walls of the mushroom, like a LEGO brick is locked in a LEGO wall.)

However, in the past year we’ve seen several websites where the term ‘full-spectrum’ was used to deceivingly describe a product that was e.g. a combination of mycelia, substrate and fruiting body. A smart play with words, but in essence misleading.

Most medicinal mushrooms were found to have the biggest concentration of bioactives in either the fruiting body or the mycelia, so for most products combining these has no added benefit, although it does indeed sound very ‘complete’ to a layman. It is just marketing. Below we give some examples, to illustrate our point.


Natural Cordyceps. The black ‘branch’ on the left is the fruiting body, and the caterpillar is filled with mycelia – only the skin is left.


E.g. Cordyceps fruiting bodies do not contain the bioactives that are responsible for Cordyceps’ reputation, the nucleosides and the cordycepin. The ancient Chinese already knew this: wild Cordyceps with the highest value is the one with a very small fruiting body and a large ‘worm’ (which is filled with mycelia). Cultivated mycelia of specific strains, chosen for their consistent quality, give the best yield of bioactives.

Reishi, on the other hand is exactly the opposite: Reishi’s characteristic bioactives (the ganoderic acids and other triterpenes) only start developing when the mycelia are about to form a fruiting body (once a year) and are mainly found in the fruiting body.

In old times Reishi’s therapeutic quality was valued by its bitterness. The mycelia are not bitter at all because they contain very little triterpenes. The triterpenes are responsible for the bitter taste.

There are also ‘full-spectrum’ Chaga products for sale that claim to contain a mix of the wild-harvested fruiting body and cultivated (lab-grown) mycelia. This is wrong in more than one way. Chaga is a parasitic fungus, infecting mainly birch trees. Chaga extracts are always mycelia based, because the black growth called Chaga is actually not a fruiting body but a dense, hardened mass of mycelia that comes bursting from the inside of the tree, a few years after infection. It is called a sclerotium.


This is Chaga mycelium cultivated in a petri dish. Small fruiting bodies are forming.


Several of Chaga’s main bioactive ingredients are developing only because of the battle of the fungus with its host; in particular the phyto-sterols and the polyphenols, responsible for the anti-oxidant properties. Lab-grown Chaga mycelia have therefore a completely different chemical composition. Betulinic acid is also absent in lab-grown Chaga mycelia, because in nature the fungus absorbs this from its host, the birch tree. Therefore only dual extracted, wild-harvested Chaga can claim to contain the full spectrum of bioactives.

Apart from all this a key point remains the extraction procedure. No matter what the source or composition is of a particular mushroom product, if it has not been extracted it is best avoided in our opinion. It should also have a breakdown of the main bioactive ingredients on the supplement facts label, as said before. If not, you have in fact no clue what you actually get and whether or not it will be therapeutically effective, as explained before. The proof of quality lies in the scientific facts, not in folk stories.


Dried Red Reishi + mycelium + substrate…
‘Full-spectrum’ ?



Summarizing:

A full-spectrum mushroom extract should contain the full spectrum of bioactives; meaning both the water soluble and the non-water soluble ones. ‘Full-spectrum’ as a term should refer to a dual extract (hot water + alcohol), not to a product containing the full range of a mushrooms growth cycle.


Why this emphasis on extracts ?


When looking for medicinal mushroom supplements you’ll come across these options:

  • mushroom powder (loose, in capsules or in tablets)
  • mushroom biomass powder (a mix of mushroom mycelia -sometimes also the fruiting body- and the substrate it grows in)
  • mushroom tinctures (water and/or alcohol based)
  • dried chunks / strips of mushrooms (used to make tea or soup)
  • mushroom extract powder (loose, capsules, sometimes in tablets)

Medicinal mushrooms have a long history of use; some types (like Reishi and Coriolus) have a documented history of over 2000 years. In recent decades science started investigating the therapeutic effects of mushrooms and fungi in general, triggered by the accidental discovery of anti-biotics such as penicillin (1928) and, in Asia, by the reported successes of traditional medicinal systems (like TCM and Ayurveda). Many successful drugs have been discovered this way.
Specific immune-related effects of 39 mushroom products compared.  The black bars show the effects of the extracted and the white bars the effects of the non-extracted products.


Scientific research and traditional use is always using extraction (hot water, hot alcohol (=ethanol) and other types of solvent extraction) when researching mushrooms, to overcome the problem of the poor bioavailability of raw/dried mushrooms.

A 2015 study performed at Bastyr University clearly showed the differences in therapeutic potential between extracted and non-extracted mushroom products.

See the picture.


Specific immune-related effects of 39 mushroom products compared. The black bars show the effects of the extracted and the white bars the effects of the non-extracted products. The differences are striking.


Many people think that herbs and mushrooms are similar, structure-wise, but they are wrong. Herbs are plants and mushrooms are not. Herbs are made of cellulose, structurally speaking. Cellulose degrades in alcohol (which is the reason why herbal tinctures are successful). Mushrooms, however, are chitin based. Chitin is probably the hardest natural material found on earth – it is also the main building block of e.g. lobsters’ claws and insect’s exo-skeleton. Chitin does not degrade in alcohol or water. (Which is the reason why mushroom tinctures are mostly useless, therapeutically speaking). Most people cannot digest unprocessed mushrooms or mushroom products – they lack the enzyme chitinase in their stomach, needed to break down chitin. The bioactive ingredients are embedded in the chitin, like LEGO bricks in a LEGO wall, and in order to benefit from them the chitin should be removed. Heat is very effective to ‘melt’ the chitin and set the embedded bioactives free, thus making them bioavailable.


Cultivated Cordyceps fruiting bodies as an ingredient in Chinese duck soup.


A hot water extraction is probably the most common and cheapest process to create a therapeutically useful mushroom product. Mushroom teas or mushroom soups are in the core crude hot water extracts.

Still, extraction costs money, so many supplement producers skip this step, knowing that 99% of their potential customers will be unaware of the limited bioavailability of their products. It seems like a harsh thing to say, but it is a verifiable fact that most supplement sellers don’t really care about helping people. They are running a business, and their main focus is trying to make money. Cutting costs is a good way to improve the profit margin.

After reading this it will be obvious that if you want a maximal therapeutic effect and you want your money’s worth a well-prepared extract is the only option. Making your own tea or DIY home extraction is unfortunately not very effective and relatively expensive (the yield of bioactives is at least 10 times lower when compared to a multistep dual extract prepared in a dedicated factory). Biomass products, tinctures and mushroom powders are in comparison a waste of money, unless your main objective is to stimulate your bowel movements (chitin is a dietary fiber).

This is cultivated red Reishi, sitting on top of its mycelium + saw dust substrate. This dried brick is harder then concrete – see this link.

Ground into a fine powder, this is basically what you’ll consume if you choose a non-extracted ‘full-spectrum’ Reishi extract. Sounds good ?


Summarizing:

A mushroom supplement should be extracted, because only extracts can deliver therapeutic effects. Scientific research and traditional use is always using extraction (hot water, hot alcohol (=ethanol) and other types of solvent extraction) when researching mushrooms, to overcome the problem of the poor bioavailability of raw/dried mushrooms.


Liquid extracts and tinctures


In a liquid extract or tincture the main ingredient is always the liquid. This can be water, alcohol or something else, but it is a liquid that has no therapeutic potency in itself. It is only a carrier for the actual active ingredients, and contrary to popular belief liquid extracts do not have better bioavailability, although they might be digested faster (but this has nothing to do with bioavailability).

tincturebottles

To jump straight to the conclusion, all liquid extracts and tinctures are offering a ridiculously low value for money. Even without knowing how much bioactives are actually present in the product (we’re not aware of any liquid mushroom product that specifies any bioactives, not even polysaccharides) this is very obvious.

First, take into account that all powdered extracts exist in a liquid phase before they are dried, because the extraction method used is almost always -liquid- solvent extraction (water and/or alcohol). An dried extract in powder form contains max. ± 4 – 9% of moisture, whereas a liquid product usually contains at least 85% of moisture (= liquid).

Second, a basic calculation: a 50 ml bottle completely filled with dry powdered extract can contain about 19 grams of extract powder (easy to verify – fill a 50 ml measuring cup with extract powder and weigh it before and after filling it). This equals around 63 capsules @ 300 mg. If you calculate the price per capsule of a specific product you can already do the math.

But, don’t forget that in this example we actually left out the liquid – we’re just comparing a 50 ml bottle filled 100% with powdered extract against powdered extracts in capsules. If you introduce the liquid (85-95% of the contents, usually) the value for money gets truly bad.

If 15% of the bottle contents is actual extract that means a 50ml bottle will contain ± 2.85 grams of extract (15% of 19 grams). Taking the Oriveda Chaga extract powder as an example, 2.85 grams will cost ± $ 2.84 ($ 99.95 p/100 grams, incl. shipping). A 50 ml bottle of liquid Chaga extract might cost as much as $ 60 – $ 90.


Summarizing:

A liquid extract/tincture will be at least 21 to 31 times more expensive than a good quality powdered extract. Apart from that, there are no liquid extracts/tinctures that specify any bioactive ingredients, such as polysaccharides. The therapeutic potential is minimal at best.


(Thank you Duncan Moss, for asking the question -see below- that led to us adding this final paragraph !!)

Product reviews and testimonials


The majority of people do not share their reasons for buying a particular product with the seller and most don’t bother to share the results, even when they are good. The normal review rate was found to be ± 2% of all sales. In order to get testimonials and reviews on their website, the seller has to offer an additional trigger, such as a discount or a chance to win something worthwhile. This automatically corrupts the testimonial system.

People tend to write overly positive reviews, to increase their chances of winning the potential price or to get more discounts.

testimonialsA

Apart from that, testimonials are impossible to verify – the reason why it’s easy and tempting to write your own testimonials as a company. This is done a lot. And negative testimonials are usually non-existent.

Another point is that testimonials can be abused to make indirect health claims for products, which is illegal.

For all these reasons the use of testimonials in marketing is prohibited in the EU, which seems like a good thing.

That aside, it is easy to see after analyzing websites with a lot of testimonials on them (100s to 1000s) that almost without exception these websites are using testimonials to mask the fact that they actually have no verifiable quality claims about their products to share (the key word here is ‘verifiable’, of course).

Their supplement facts labels do not guarantee bioactives or are missing altogether. Many of these websites are MLM-companies, which are solely relying on testimonials, because the main focus for everybody involved in an MLM-setup is making money, not offering high quality products.

Many people go to Amazon.com to purchase supplements. On Amazon third party sellers are allowed to offer customers discounts in return for product reviews. The initial goal was to offer potential customers more information and background. But instead this led to the development of ‘professional reviewers’.

The whole concept is now completely corrupted and became unreliable. In particular because Amazon is using these 4- and 5-star reviews as a guideline for their ‘Best Sellers’ lists. If a seller has a lot of positive reviews their products will show up on the first page in search results, which is the best thing that can happen to you on Amazon. More sales, more money !

If you plan a purchase on Amazon and the seller has 100s of reviews, it is advisable to check the reliability of the seller and these reviews on this website.

logo-blue2-6f9123d565f6012dd43a9e46e9683d5b

This link shows the quality of Oriveda Chaga reviews, as sold on Amazon, and, just to compare, here is a product that is clearly abusing the system to manipulate search results and ranking.


Summarizing:

Testimonials and reviews as found on websites in general cannot be trusted and are not a reliable way to value a product.. On Amazon the reviews can at least be tested for their reliability, which is good. Also see this link for an extensive test; the test team from Lab Door have been comparing objective lab data against subjective consumer reviews for the same products. An interesting read !

Last revision: July 7th, 2016


All information provided is for informational and educational purposes only. The statements on this page have not been evaluated by the FDA or the EFSA. The products discussed are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease and have not been approved as medication by the FDA or the EFSA. Do not use these products instead of regular medication.

© oriveda.com 2015-2016 – all rights reserved. Visit our website for more background and our products.

26 thoughts on “What you should know before buying mushroom supplements

  1. Pingback: What to look for in a Chaga Supplement

  2. Pingback: Where to Buy Chaga

  3. Hi,

    Thank you for your very informative article. Unfortunately, I have ordered a two months supply of dried lion’s mane mushroom (in capsule form) before reading this article. I was not aware of the poor bioavailability of the non-extracted forms of medicinal mushrooms. Given that I have already payed for the two months supply, I was wondering if there is a way I could still benefit from the product. You have mentioned above that the poor bioavailability stems from the fact that chitin cannot be digested in the stomach for most people. Hot water “melts” the chitin, however, according to you, infusion the mushroom myself in hot water would not be so effective. Nevertheless, I can still see one more way around the chitin indigestion problem: in order to break down the chitin, the chitinase enzyme is needed in the stomach. After a quick internet search I found out that bananas, kiwis, and avocados contain a high amount of this enzyme. This made me think that maybe a banana or kiwi based smoothie, blended with the dried mushroom may solve the indigestion problem.
    Any thoughts on that would be much appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Zak

    • Hi, Zak,

      I think that is indeed the best solution right now. It’s probably best to make the smoothie, leave it for a few hours so the enzymes can do what they’re supposed to do, and then drink it. The smoothie will still be a low potency ‘product’, though, but much better than a no-potency product.

      Medicinal mushroom extracts will only show the impressive therapeutic effects one can read about in the scientific research publications if two conditions are met:

      The first: they should be as pure as possible; the higher the level of bioactive compounds the better. Unfortunately, getting a high level of purity makes the product expensive.

      As an example, the difference between a basic Maitake hot water extract and the famous Maitake MD-Fraction extract is mainly purity. The basic extract has e.g. 25% of crude polysaccharides (both high- and low-molecular weight glucans and other polysaccharides) and costs ± $ 25 per 30 grams (retail price), whereas the MD-Fraction extract has a purity of 80 – 99% polysaccharides according to the patent (mainly high-molecular weight glucans, which are the most active ones) and costs ± $ 5000 per gram (B2B price). This is also the reason the MD-fraction is not available in its pure form in supplements; it is simply too expensive.

      The second: use the right dosing. If you study the existing research and then compare it with what is usually recommended by the supplement sellers as a daily dosage it becomes obvious that their recommendation is in general arbitrary, not based on what was found during research as being effective, but on marketing concepts.
      In general using 25 mg/kg body-weight of a high purity extract will have excellent therapeutic effects, including potential anti-cancer effects. There are no OTC supplement sellers that dare to recommend this as a daily serving, because it would make their product appear to be expensive and affect their sales.

      Even when their health is at stake people tend to look for the cheapest products, instead of the most effective products.

      These are the main reasons OTC medicinal mushroom supplements are in general weak compromises. Our recommendation is therefore to choose the most powerful products available and don’t be afraid to take a high daily dose of those if you’re battling a grave health condition.

  4. Great article! Thank you for sharing this informative and valuable article with us. Although mushroom powders are superior to mycelium powders, they are still less potent than a concentrated extract. Traditional Chinese Medicine, which has used mushrooms and herbs for thousands of years, almost always makes a tea from herbs. Tea is a simple water extract. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners will boil herbs for long periods of time to extract the medicinal compounds. In recent month i have ordered a chaga mushroom tincture [spam removed] for my diabetics. Thanks.

    • Mushroom powders are not superior to mycelium powders, that’s a way to general statement to make.

      It depends on the particular mushroom. Chaga is e.g. always mycelium; and e.g. Cordyceps fruiting bodies have none of the special elements (nucleosides) that give Cordyceps its reputation.

      TCM was aware of the uselessness of raw powders, which is why they ALWAYS use mushrooms as a tea or in e.g. a soup, NEVER raw.

      Tea is indeed a simple hot water extract, but when these traditions were developed there were no other options available. In recent years research in Asia has build on the ancient traditions to investigate and improve the therapeutic potential of mushroom. This led to more insight in what exactly makes a mushroom therapeutically effective (which constituents) and how to make those bioavailable (develop highly advanced extraction procedures), which e.g. led to the isolation of highly purified products such as Maitake D-Fraction (don’t mix this up with the supplement sold under that name).

      Tinctures are therapeutically not very effective. For more background on this (including references), we advise you to read this link.

  5. Hi, Thank you for a great articel. I have ordered a 6 months supply of lion’s mane mushroom biomass (in capsule form)from Pure Helth, before reading this article. Pure Helth write om their webside that their product is heat-treatet in order to signicifantly increase their bioavailability. Is that a good product?

    • We’ve sent a detailed answer to your email. In short, the answer to your question is already in the article.

      Biomass products are a mix of undigested substrate and mushroom. In general the percentage of undigested substrate is high, (over 50%), so the value for money of such a product is always low, compared against 100% mushroom products.

      That being said, if a supplement doesn’t specify any active ingredients you don’t know what you get for your money. Usually the lack of specs is due to the fact the product in question is not extracted, therefore has a low bioavailability and cannot guarantee any bioactives.

      If you are after a therapeutic effect, as a consumer it is common sense to choose a product that specifies at least the ingredients that are thought to be responsible for the therapeutic effects you’re after.

      All that aside, no producer will leave good specs unmentioned – that is basic logic.

  6. Hi I find this a helpful summary – just one question though – a number of companies offer a dual extraction liquid extract. Your article implies tinctures are not useful as a form of taking mushrooms, but in my understanding a liquid dual extract should contain bioactive compounds and be very bioavailable to boot? I do understand a liquid double extract is perhaps unable to specify exact amounts of active constituents as this varies… but unless i’m not understanding things correctly I can’t see why a liquid extract (which is not the same as a tincture of an unextracted mushroom – and I’ve not come across this being sold) is intrinsically inferior to a powder extract

    • That is a very good question. In the core you are right – because every powdered extract starts as a liquid extract. But that is not the whole story.
      First of all, liquid extracts are in no way more bioavailable. In the stomach all food is turned to liquid, before it is entering our intestinal tract, where the absorption of the nutrients (incl. bioactive nutrients) takes place.

      Second, in our experience, the companies offering ‘liquid dual extracted products’ are most of the time DIY set-ups. They have developed their own extraction procedures, which are usually low-tech solutions to a complex high-tech ‘problem’ – how to make a high percentage of the bioactives bioavailable. A very important step (hot water extraction should be performed under high pressure to counter the problem of disintegrating beta-glucans) is left out, because it requires an expensive set-up.

      The last phase of the professional extraction process is the drying / powdering phase. There is no low-tech solution for this phase – it involves expensive equipment and a controlled sterile environment. That is the main reason it is skipped – these small companies do not have the means.

      During this last phase the volume of the liquid product might be reduced up to 95%. The acceptable standard for a powdered extract is not more then 9% moisture. The water and/or alcohol (= ethanol) is removed using e.g. spray-drying or freeze-drying.

      We read this promotional phrase somewhere on the internet: “The production of the concentrated liquid extract of wild Chaga uses up dramatically less natural resources than the powdered extract equivalent” which is 100% true albeit in a different way as intended. There is indeed very little Chaga in such a product.

      Example calculation: 50 ml of dual extracted Chaga liquid might cost $ 60 – $ 90. Let’s assume the liquid is pure alcohol, which weighs ± 800 gr. p/liter. 50 ml will weigh ± 40 grams, depending on how much water is in the solution: more is heavier.
      Even if half of the bottle would be actual ‘solid extract’ (which it isn’t – that would mean a bottle containing a thick, opaque slurry) you get only ± 10 grams of Chaga extract for your $ 60 – $ 90. (See the final paragraph of the article for a more detailed calculation)

      Therefore a liquid extract can be considered a very low value for money.

      All that aside, you still don’t know how potent these ‘extract-grams’ actually are, because the preceding extraction phase is, as explained before, in general a non-professional set-up and the final product is, without exception, untested for potency. (We at least never saw a liquid extract with detailed specs).

      (A specific case is the liquid MaitakeGold 404® product – in this case the liquid form is a way to mask how little of the extract you actually get for your money: only 1 gram per 30 ml. bottle according to their own specifications).

      [Note: edited to correct some calculation errors]

      • Ah thanks – I think I may have wasted some money over the years then! I wonder if your comments on mushroom liquid extracts apply to other herbs? Would for example a tincture or liquid extract of Rhodiola also carry the same problems, or is it just with mushrooms? Thanks again

      • You’re welcome!

        I guess this applies to all liquid ‘extracts / tinctures’, unless there is no alternative such as a tablet or capsule available (and if so make sure it is 100% pure and free of additives or fillers, as is often the case).
        The main ingredient in a liquid ‘extract’ is, after all, the liquid. You pay a lot of money for water/glycerine/alcohol with a bit of a ‘herbal additive’.

        In the case of herbs it’s easy to make your own tinctures – just take a bottle of HQ vodka and add the dried and ground-up herb to the vodka. Leave for at least a month (more is better) and it’s ready for use.

        ORIVeDA is also selling Rhodiola and a few other dried raw herbs, and this is what we recommend.

  7. I enjoyed this article. I am trying to make my own medicinal mushroom tinctures from both whole mushrooms, and powdered extracts of mushrooms. Although a therapeutic dose is good I am aiming for good bioavailability. I am making alcohol tinctures and water decoctions. Alcohol tinctures go for 6 weeks, then are strained and the leavings used to make a hot water decoction.

    Here is what I am thinking to work around the chitin problem. I am a canner and I use a pressure canner to preserve low acid foods. My thought was to can my water decoctions; First to sterilize and make them shelf stable so I can use them as I need them without worrying about spoilage from water bacteria and mold. Secondl, to melt the chitin in the mushrooms. These decoctions are canned at 15lbs pressure for 90 minutes at 240º or higher. I leave the mushrooms in the jar with the water.

    After reading the article I am thinking I may have to pressure can my alcohol tinctures also. Would this help with any stray chitin in my alcohol tinctures? Or since I’m straining the mushrooms (chopped or powdered) out of the alcohol tinctures is there really much chitin in these?

    Although I am a DIY medicine maker I think I can make a product that is bioavailable by using the high heat and pressure of the pressure canner. Potency is another matter. Am I on the right track for what I am doing? I’m very curious.

    • Making a tincture from a powdered extract makes no sense. ‘Tincturing’ is an effective extraction method itself (for plant based material, not fungi / mushrooms) – why should you try to extract an extract ?

      We are not biochemists, so we cannot give detailed guidelines. In this article we offer a review / summary of the existing information and we ‘connect the dots’ to turn all this information into an easy to understand reference source.

      Chitin will only dissolve/disintegrate because of heat (like when you’re making your water decoctions), an enzymatic treatment (like using chitinase) or fermentation. Pressure is used to prevent evaporation of the water during the hot water extraction phase (which destroys some bioactives). In itself pressure does nothing to the chitin.

      Alcohol itself also does not affect chitin, which is why alcohol tinctures are in itself not very useful in the case of mushrooms / fungi. Only alcohol solubles that are in direct contact with the alcohol will dissolve (this is called ‘cold extraction’).

      That is why it is important to grind the base material as fine as possible (dust-like). That increases the surface that will get in direct touch with the alcohol. If you would also heat the alcohol to at least 90º C / 194 ºF you will cause the chitin to ‘melt’ and thus free more bioactives. Take caution, this is not without danger – hot alcohol is explosive!!

      That being said, the main bioactives in medicinal mushrooms are the water-solubles, not the alcohol solubles. Immune modulation is a core property of hot water extracted mushrooms, and not so much of alcohol-extracts.

      As for the potency, even the best DIY extract will never have the potency of a professional product. A final phase in the professional extraction is alcohol precipitation, which removes useless matter and by doing so increases the potency of the final product. The majority of extracts on the market does not use this final step, though. It is expensive.

      If you really want to know the potency send your final product to a lab that can do beta-glucan testing. Such a test will cost around USD 350 per sample.

      • Thanks for the info. I am especially glad to know that I should not buy mushroom powder extracts as they are not going to extract anything in alcohol. I will stick with whole mushrooms fresh or dried to make my tinctures and then my water decoctions. Pressure canning alcohol is probably not a problem since I am only canning the water decoctions which is perfectly safe. I don’t need to know what the exact beta glucan content is in my own tinctures. Much research today is showing that biological activity in whole foods is much greater than the sum of their parts so even your own insistence that your extracts are strong or concentrated does not mean they have better activity in the body. Bioavailablility is all that matters. Bioavailablility comes from imbibing as much of the whole food as possible. My protocol will be:
        1. Acquire high quality whole medicinal mushrooms fresh or dried.
        2. Tincture them using the cold or possibly a safe hot method to extract constituents that will dissolve in alcohol.
        3. Taking those same mushrooms and canning them in jars in water in a pressure canner to make a shelf stable water decoction.
        4. Combining the two liquids to take as a supplement
        5. Eating the rest of the mushroom if it is edible after all that.
        Thanks again for taking the time to give feedback and clarification of the article and my question.

  8. I was thinking of having a go at growing medicinal mushrooms for fun(specifically lion’s mane, reishi, cordyceps), would this not be worth the bother, if a dual extract is so expensive and impractical to do at home? I’m aware that for years the Chinese had only one method of preparing: tea (hot water extraction), and still they apparently found this method worthy enough to scour the ground for this product for centuries. Is it worth a go? I’ve already got many of the tools needed for growing.

    • It’s not worth the trouble unless you like to do it as a hobby.

      If a therapeutic effect is your goal there’s only one way to go: buy an extract with clear and verifiable specifications. You know what you get and you can easily dose it.

      The cost will be significantly lower and the yield MUCH higher.

  9. If a liquid extract is superior to freeze dried, then why was there such a positive outcome from the he first study using Host Defence Turkey Tail Mushrooms which is freeze dried and not extracted? And why are they going to use the same brand which again is NOT extracted for the $5.4 million dollar study??

    • You are misinformed.

      Freeze drying is not a form of extraction, it is just a way to remove liquid. The Host Defense Turkey Tail is not extracted and indeed is just freeze dried mushroom powder.

      It was used in the Phase I of the Bastyr clinical study you are referring to. In Phase I the safety of the mushrooms is the subject, not the therapeutic effects.

      If you have no clue what exactly is in the product (being non-standardized) you can never make a convincing link between the product and it’s therapeutic effects. Being a natural product one Turkey Tail mushroom can be very different from the next one, just like not all oranges are created alike – some oranges contain 50 mg vitamin C, whereas the next one contains only 5 mg. They do look and taste the same, though.

      Apart from that, most people cannot digest non-extracted mushroom products properly, so the therapeutic potential is completely unpredictable.
      That’s why all scientific research and all traditional use does use and always has used some form of extraction. The most simple form is probably making a tea or soup from the mushroom – heat melts the chitin cell-walls and sets the bioactive compounds free – they are embedded in the indigestible chitin cell-walls.

      Host Defense was most likely chosen because of the media reputation of Paul Stamets as a mycology guru. When it turned out that this reputation does not automatically mean that his company is producing superior supplements Bastyr University decided to switch to a more reliable standardized extract, the Japanese PSK, for Phase II of the study. See this link for the background.

      Host Defense Turkey Tail was dropped.

  10. So what products would you recommend then? You seem much more knowledgeable about this topic than the common consumer, and I know it is not your place to promote random products but I’d like to know which marketers are selling the real deal and not just some low bioavailable product for lots of $$$.

    In the past I bought Planetary Herbals: Full Spectrum Chaga Liquid Extract which claimed to promote cellular immunity, but it mentioned nothing about polysaccharides but contained a “Chaga fruiting body extract 1:4 ratio” It was for my dad who claims it has given him more energy and helped his colon (he has colon problems – it’s probably just the mushroom fiber), but I don’t know if he was just being nice. There were good reviews on Amazon for it, but I want to know your opinion of it? I also just recently bought GNC’s Herbal Plus Formula Mushroom Complex for myself which is just mushroom biomass…the mycelia of reishi, maitake, and shitake. A daily value was not established so one capsule is prob not enough, let alone bioavailable.

    I took animal nutrition classes in the past and it made me question how effective supplements are like these, and luckily, I came across this blog. It makes me sick that companies are allowed to market products that are not worth their weight benefits in nutrients. I am very passionate about real food – the freshest possible produce and their core nutrients. The FDA should play a part in herbal supplement production, marketing, and nutrition labeling – there is really no excuse for it. It just allows these small companies to make money off of lying to consumers, and sure you could argue that it’s the consumers responsibility to do their own research on a desired supplement, but even so, all these herbal companies are doing the same thing – producing very low bioavailable and nutritionally adequate product and their excuse is through vague, deceptive labeling. It makes me so livid. I just want to move to japan, be a cave hermit, and hunt mushrooms every fall/spring. That way I’ll know for sure I’m getting every nutrient available, be cancer free and have the immune system of a stallion!

    I value your answer to this. Please let me know of any products you’ve seen or tried that are the real deal. Thank you in advance.

    • You are very right to be upset about all the deceiving practices, so are we!
      All the answers are in the article, if you use this as a base you won’t be fooled. A key thing: look for beta-glucan percentages on the supplement facts label. Not polysaccharides, but beta-glucans.
      If you see those listed, you have found something decent. To be sure, you can ask the supplier for a CoA of the product. This CoA should have been issued by an independent lab that you can contact if you wish to do so. However, since companies usually don’t share the test results of their products a home-made spec sheet is what you will usually get, but that’s still better than nothing.

      Ratios such as 1:4 mean nothing. In the case of Chaga it might only mean that it was dried and pulverized (the water was “extracted” – which means nothing and has zero effect on bioavailability.)

  11. I’ve just read a paper by Paul Stamets in response to a paper by Jeff Chilton asserting that Beta Glucans are the preeminent constituents in medicinal mushroom products. The reason I mention this is because in the paper, Mr Stametsn writes:

    I. There is no scientifically validated test for beta glucans, let alone a ‘guaranteed’ one.
    No beta glucan test methodologies have been approved by AOAC (Association of Official Analytical Chemists: http://www.aoac.org), which is a standardizing body for scientific methods that are used to accurately identify chemical constituents.

    II. In consulting with chemists deeply skilled in the science of beta glucan analysis, the consensus is that there is no specific enzymatic method for directly measuring mushroom beta-glucans.
    Total glucan is measured by acid hydrolysis and alpha-glucan is measured specifically by enzymatic procedures. Beta-glucan is determined by the difference.
    What this means is that the science is not yet advanced enough to directly measure beta glucans. Due to these technological limitations, a three-step process including enzymatic activity is necessary to mathematically estimate beta glucan content. This estimation of beta glucan content is by inference and not by direct detection. (Further documentation available upon request.)

    This seems to indicate that one of the points you stress, the importance of listing the biactive ingredients on the supplemental label, cannot be done accurately in terms of the beta glucan content.

    Could you please comment on this. Thanks!

    • Stamets article is from late 2015. He is defending his 20 year old point of view. This is understandable, because it suits his business, but he is exaggerating and seems to prefer to ignore new developments.

      A few months later this article in the Journal of AOAC International appeared: “Measurement of β-Glucan in Mushrooms and Mycelial Products”. It makes Stamets’s article obsolete overnight. The AOAC-research team -among other things- tested 19 commercially available and popular mushroom supplements in this paper, including two mushroom blends from Stamets’s Host Defense line of products.

      The conclusion of the AOAC (April 2016) in this article is:
      For the measurement of total glucan in mushroom products, we thus recommend hydrolysis with H2SO4 as described here, followed by incubation with exo-1,3-β-glucanase/ β-glucosidase to ensure complete hydrolysis of laminari-oligosaccharides to glucose. α-Glucan is measured specifically using a starch assay procedure, and β-glucan is determined by the difference.

      In other words, the point stressed in our article -listing the active ingredients should be compulsory so those can be used as an objective tool to determine quality and potency- is a realistic point. Sellers of products with low levels of bioactives in their products will not be happy of course, because they can no longer hide behind vague statements.

      Summarizing, the AOAC recommends the Megazyme method of determining beta-glucan in this paper. It may not be 100% perfect (what is ?), but it is good. All sellers of mushroom supplements should use it. It is also not expensive – for $ 150 a whole product-batch can be tested.

  12. Pingback: Mushroom Extracts: Oral or Sublingual ? | backgrounds and monographs

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