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Posted on March 28, 2016
The growing awareness of new foods that boost health has led to greater research into mycology—the study of fungi, namely mushrooms—and their functional use as a medicinal extract. Studies have found that these medicinal mushrooms contain a variety of components that act as antioxidants, support immune function, and even promote cellular health and function. However, the realm of medicinal mushroom extracts is filled with a growing divide between those who prefer whole fruiting bodies and those who prefer mycelium on grain.
A fruiting body is generally what you would visually recognize as a mushroom. It is fleshy, contains spores, and grows above ground or directly on the surface of its host, like a tree or old log. The mushroom's fruiting body comprises a stem, cap, and gills, which are what the general populace would eat in a culinary dish, but in nature, it acts primarily as the reproductive component of a fungal system, dispersing spores and inoculating hosts. Not all mushrooms have a fruiting body.
Mycelium is the main body and feeding membrane of a mushroom. It grows underground or within the host plant. While it might not look like much, the mycelium acts much like a complex network that can communicate with and adapt to its surrounding environment. Think of it like the roots of the mushrooms. The mycelium is responsible for taking in nutrients by breaking down decaying matter using various enzymes. These nutrients are absorbed and transferred through hyphae to feed and support not just the fungus itself but whole ecosystems.
Medicinal mushrooms are used and consumed via extracts from either whole fruiting bodies or mycelium. These extracts are designed to offer a more concentrated form of the glyconutrients and healthy components present in medicinal mushroom extracts. Fruiting body extracts often involve hot water extraction. In the process, a medicinal mushroom is placed in hot water, which essentially breaks down the chitin in the cell walls. Humans lack the enzyme needed to break down chitin. So doing an extraction is necessary to be able to get the nutrients from the mushroom's fruiting body. This extraction pulls out beta-glucans, the active compounds held within the cell walls of a mushroom. The hot water extraction is then purified and dried into a powder with all the beneficial mushroom material kept in.
With non-fruiting body extracts, the mycelium is grown on a sterilized grain, usually brown rice. This is then dried and ground into a powder. So not only are you not getting any of the beneficial compounds that are only found in the fruiting body of the medicinal mushroom, but you are also mostly getting ground up grains that the mycelium is grown on. These are essentially very expensive ground up rice and grains being sold as a medicinal mushroom extract. While its true that certain mushroom mycelium can be grown properly and put into an extract, these are specialty extracts that are grown on proper substrates, not grain. If you see a product saying freeze-dried myceliated brown rice, that means you are essentially receiving ground up brown rice with the roots of a medicinal mushroom mixed in.
Fruiting bodies offer a much more effective, high-quality product than mycelium extracts. Fruiting bodies are considered “full spectrum” as they provide a wider array of the medicinal mushroom’s nutritional components. Fruiting bodies offer more minerals, including phosphorous, copper, zinc, and potassium. Fruiting body extracts also contain higher concentrations of vitamins, including vitamin C, vitamin D, beta-carotene, and various B vitamins. Also, most clinical studies use whole fruiting bodies in their trials, as mycelium is not even considered a mushroom product by the FDA. If you read a scientific study showing effects on Reishi mushroom, they are using whole fruiting bodies. If you use a Reishi mycelium product, you are not getting the same compounds that the participants of the study were, and are not going to see the same results.
Mycelium, on the other hand, was primarily created as a cheaper alternative that was quicker to produce. The benefits of mushroom extracts are studied in relation to the fruiting body. Mycelium actually contains very little of the important compounds, vitamins, and nutrients of the actual mushroom. Furthermore, mycelium is not allowed to be considered a mushroom by the FDA, but many companies in the medicinal mushroom industry will hide this with clever labels. For instance, instead of listing beta-glucans (the effective compounds in fruiting bodies), mycelium producers will generalize by stating that their product contains high amounts of polysaccharides. This isn’t untrue but only because polysaccharides are a class of carbohydrates, and the brown rice used in mycelium extracts is definitely a carbohydrate. In other words, the high amount of polysaccharides mainly comes from the starch, gluten, and other non-medicinal components in the brown rice.
With mycelium on grain mushrooms, you are essentially getting a lot of ground rice with low potency mycelium. Fruiting bodies give you nothing but the potent, effective, concentrated compounds present in the actual medicinal mushroom extract.
Below you will find a list of medicinal mushrooms.
If you’re looking for true, certified organic medicinal mushroom extracts from fruiting bodies, Nootropics Depot offers a wide selection of medicinal mushroom extract powders, capsules and sample packs that may provide a variety of potential health benefits.