where-are-medicinal-mushrooms-grown

Where are Medicinal Mushrooms Grown?

Did you know that China grows over 87% of mushrooms worldwide?

Many of our customers ask us why we source all our mushrooms from China.

The answer is simple.

It is not possible to produce organic mushroom extract powders in North America.

While it is possible to grow these mushrooms in North America for food, what you’ll discover is that is that it is too expensive to grow them for supplement use.

U.S. Growing Economics

To demonstrate this, I will use shiitake mushrooms as an example, since they are one of the most inexpensive mushrooms to grow.

The 2017/18 USDA averaged price for fresh non-organic shiitake mushrooms was $4.44 per pound. This equates to $9.77 per kilo and for sake of argument I will use the price of $10 per kilo.

So a U.S. grower receives $10 per kilo for fresh non-organic shiitake mushrooms.

Dried mushrooms are used for supplements so I will need convert the fresh price to a dried price.

Mushrooms are generally around 90% water so when shiitake mushrooms are dried they will yield ~10% of the initial weight.

This means that in order for the grower to get the equivalent $10 per kilo fresh they will need to charge $100 per kilo dried. (1kg fresh = 100g dried. 100g * $100/dried kg = $10)

This is where the economics start to break down.

To produce a simple extract, the dried mushrooms must be ground into a powder, extracted with hot water and/or alcohol, concentrated and then converted from a liquid into the final extract powder.  This can easily add upwards of $50 per kilo in equipment and labor.

$150 per kilo for a 1:1 shiitake mushroom extract powder with no additional profit margins added into the price yet. This is already too expensive for the majority of supplement companies.

And this is for non-organic and one of the cheapest medicinal mushrooms.

Certified organic mushrooms are more expensive and harder to grow mushrooms like reishi can easily double the price.

Now for an 8:1 extract like in our Turkey Tail product, 8 times the mushrooms are needed before processing even begins, so the raw ingredients costs would be $800+ per kilo. This would not be competitive in the current medicinal mushroom supplement marketplace which is why you cannot find it.

A 15:1 reishi dual extract like in our 5 Defenders, would be over $3000 per kilo if grown in North America.

This is why mushrooms are not grown for supplements in North America.

What the USDA Says

If this is hard to believe, here’s what the USDA says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture releases reports every year on the production and sales of various agricultural crops; mushrooms being one of them.

They break it down into different categories like location, mushroom type, organic, etc.

Some interesting facts from their 2017/18 data:

  • The U.S. grew 917 million pounds of mushrooms (<3% of worldwide production).
  • The button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) accounts for 97% of this.
  • Specialty mushrooms (non-button mushroom) account for the other 3%.
  • Organic mushrooms are 14% of production with 83% of this being the button mushroom.

Now if we want to consider medicinal mushrooms, we need to look at specialty mushrooms. Specialty mushrooms are broken into shiitake, oyster and other. The table below breaks down the total production for 2017/18.

Specialty mushroom estimates represent growers who have at least 200 natural wood logs in production or some commercial indoor growing area, and $200 in sales.

While the U.S. grew 27 million pounds of specialty mushrooms, footnote #3 says: “Virtually all specialty mushrooms sales are for fresh market

The USDA is saying that there is basically no specially mushrooms being grown that are being used by anything other than the fresh market (ie. None of these mushrooms are being used for supplements).

This confirms my statements above about it being too expensive to grow medicinal mushrooms for use in supplements in the U.S. or North America for that matter.

The Alternative to Mushrooms

Mycelium grown on grain

Mycelium growing on a grain substrate.

But you can find so-called medicinal “mushroom” supplements claiming to be U.S. grown.

Medicinal mushroom supplements and ingredients that are claiming things like “US Grown” almost always do not contain any mushrooms. As you’ve seen above, it is too expensive.

But if it’s too expensive to grow them then what is it?

The main suppliers of U.S Grown “mushroom” ingredients are actually selling myceliated grain and not mushrooms. If you’re a mushroom grower, you will recognize this product as grain spawn. It is the seed used to start the process of growing mushrooms.

Myceliated grain is sterilized grain that has been inoculated with the mycelium of a fungal species like shiitake. The shiitake mycelium will then begin to grow out on the grain and in 30-60 days it will be dried, powdered and sold as a “mushroom” ingredient grain and all even though it contains no mushrooms.

It is very cheap to produce and hence economical for use in supplements.

Here’s an example of the full process from start to finish and you can read further on how to identify myceliated grain.

Who Grows all the Mushrooms?

China is the leading grower of mushrooms worldwide, accounting for over 87% of production as of 2013 (2). Given their explosive growth of mushroom production, as of 2019 they likely account for 90-95% of worldwide production.

Cultivated mushroom production in China and selected regions of the world, 2013 (billion kg)

Cultivated mushroom production in China and selected regions of the world, 2013 (billion kg)

Shiitake (lentinula), Wood ear (auricularia) and Oyster (pleurotus) mushroom have all pushed ahead of the button mushroom (agaricus) in global production.

World edible mushroom production (% of total) by genus (2013)

World edible mushroom production (% of total) by genus (2013)

You can see the amazing rise in production over the last 30+ years.

Growth in world shiitake production (1980–2013; billion kg)

Growth in world shiitake production (1980–2013; billion kg)

China has a rich history around mushrooms. They have been a food source and used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. China was the first to begin cultivation of mushrooms in the early 13th century. They have many research centers dedicated solely to the development of mushrooms: whether it’s as food or as medicine.

Every year when I travel to China during the mushroom harvest season and visit the organic mushroom farms, I eat so many different kinds of mushrooms. There is not a single meal that goes by where there is not some kind of mushroom dish.

Me at an organic reishi farm in China.

Me at an organic reishi farm in China.

Summary

For medicinal mushrooms, China is the leading grower worldwide with no other countries coming close to their production volume. For this reason, if you want a mushroom extract that is actually made from the mushroom, it needs to come from China.

Growing mushrooms in North America is too expensive for supplement use. The only option is laboratory grown myceliated grain because it is much cheaper to produce. But myceliated grain is not mushrooms and should not be marketed as mushrooms when it does not contain any mushrooms and the majority of it is grain.

When selecting a medicinal mushroom product it is important that it is:

  • 100% mushroom
  • Certified organic
  • Verified levels of beta-glucans
  • Guarded against fillers like grains

Resources

  1. August 21, 2018, USDA, Mushroom Product and Sales
  2. Royse, D. J., Baars, J., & Tan, Q. (2017). Current Overview of Mushroom Production in the World. Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms, 2010, 5–13. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119149446.ch2

How to Identify Myceliated Grain

There are many supplements in the marketplace today that are marketed as mushroom but do not contain any mushrooms. These are products made from what is called myceliated grain.

This very important distinction is not easy to identify and the consumer is left believing they have purchased mushrooms when in fact that’s very far from the truth.

This is even true for many influencers and health practitioners who often cite research based on mushrooms and then recommend a product that contains no mushrooms.

I’ve reviewed many mushroom and myceliated grain products and even I still get stumped when trying to determine what the product is actually made from because the marketing materials are so confusing. Sometimes the company itself doesn’t know what they are selling because they’re buying from a 3rd party ingredient supplier who is buying from the actual source. It’s like a bad game of telephone.

Below are some tips you can use to determine if a product is myceliated grain.

But first…

What is Myceliated Grain?

Myceliated grain is produced by growing mycelium, the mushroom root system, on a grain substrate. This technique was developed back in the 1930s to produce seed for growing fresh mushrooms. Mushrooms growers call this seed grain spawn. 

The process involves putting cooked grain into a plastic bag and sterilizing it in a giant pressure cooker called an autoclave. Then the sterile grain is inoculated [injected] with mycelium of the desired fungal species like reishi or lions mane or cordyceps.

Inside the plastic bag, the mycelium will then grow out on the grain and create an inseparable white mass. This mass is very similar to the Asian, fermented food product tempeh. Once the mycelium growth is complete, the mycelium and the grain are harvested together, dried and powdered.

This myceliated grain is now sold as a “mushroom” ingredient even though it contains no mushrooms. The grain component, which dilutes the amount of mycelium present, is often not disclosed.

In the link below, a local TV news organization tours a major producer of myceliated grain. The video shows very clearly the exact process of how myceliated grain is produced.

Look very closely. Do you see any mushrooms? Count how many times they say the word “mushroom”.

The Trouble with Myceliated Grain

For one, much of what you’re paying for is grain.

In fact, a patent filed by Paul Stamets (see example 9) estimated that myceliated grain contains 60-70% grain.

More grain equates to less mycelium which equates to less active compounds. This was confirmed in the Nammex White Paper (1) and the McCleary & Draga research (2). The active compounds, like beta-glucans, are where most of the benefits are derived.

Secondly, the majority of the research literature is based on the mushroom (fruiting body). While there is a large body of research on mycelium, almost all of this is based on pure mycelium made through liquid fermentation. Liquid fermentation grows the mycelium in a liquid medium instead of a grain substrate. The liquid can then be drained off at the end of the growing process leaving just pure mycelium.

If you are someone who is trying to avoid grains (allergies, paleo, keto, etc.), you may be inadvertently consuming grains without knowing it.

Ways to Identify Myceliated Grain

Location – Where is it grown?

Myceliated grain, sold as a supplement, is almost entirely grown in the US. This is because it is too expensive to grow mushrooms for supplements in North America. Products claiming “US Grown” are almost always myceliated grain and not mushroom.

Pure mushroom extracts generally come from China. As of 2013, China grows over 85% of the world’s mushrooms (5) and this has been steadily climbing. 

Color – What does it look like?

Mushroom extracts vary in color depending on the color of the mushroom whereas myceliated grain almost always looks the same. This is because the mycelium is a uniform color and the grain is also a uniform color. Typically myceliated grain is light in color similar to the color of the grain it grows on. 

Can you tell which one is Cordyceps and which one is Reishi?

Myceliated grain color comparison on reishi and cordyceps

Note the similarities in color. Which one is cordyceps and which one is reishi?

Real Mushrooms Reishi and Cordyceps comparison

Note the distinct differences in color. Guess which one is cordyceps and which one is reishi?

If you have a product like reishi or chaga and it’s a light color, start asking questions.

Taste – What does it taste like?

If it is made from mushrooms, it should taste like mushrooms.

For mushrooms like reishi, it should taste bitter since one of the main active compounds in reishi are bitter triterpenes. Bitterness is a good quality indicator for a high quality reishi extract.

Is your reishi bitter? Ours is.

In contrast, myceliated grain tastes very bland and is often marketed as having “no mushroom flavor”. When you realize that there is a large amount of grain in the product, your mind will start to think it tastes like grain. 

Does it mention polysaccharides?

While this is not an absolute indicator since many mushroom extracts are still measured for polysaccharides, some myceliated grain products are also tested for this. They often show very high polysaccharide counts but as we’ve seen, polysaccharides are a poor measure of quality as starch is a polysaccharide so any residual grain will increase the total polysaccharides giving you a false sense of quality. If you look at (1) and (2) you will see high total polysaccharides for myceliated grain products (alpha-glucans + beta-glucans) but the majority of it comes from alpha-glucans which are primarily starches (not what you want).

Product Label – Does it say mycelium?

Although it is a requirement by the FDA to properly label whether a product is mushroom or mycelium, this is often overlooked by the brand. Either they themselves are unaware that their ingredient is myceliated grain and they think it is mushroom or they are trying to mislead you. 

The American Herbal Products Association has also released a labeling guide stating that mycelium or mushroom should be properly identified. 

Common terms you can use to identify myceliated grain:

  • US Grown
  • Mycelium 
  • Myceliated brown rice
  • Mycelial biomass
  • Organic White Milo
  • Fermented
  • Full spectrum
  • Primordia and exocellular compounds

Make sure to read the marketing materials, ingredient info and supplements panel very carefully. 

Summary

If a product is grown in the US, it is fairly certain that it is myceliated grain and not mushroom. There are some exceptions to this for small scale producers. 

Myceliated grain has been shown to be primarily grain and contain very little of the active compounds that make mushrooms beneficial. While there is mycelium research, it is almost always based on pure mycelium made through liquid fermentation which does not contain any grain in the final ingredient. 

We believe it is important for consumers to be aware of what they are consuming and know about the different processes used to make mushroom and mycelium products. 

At Real Mushrooms we are committed to providing high quality mushroom products that are:

  • 100% mushroom
  • Certified organic
  • Verified for beta-glucans
  • Have no added fillers like grain
  • Consistent with the scientific literature

Please leave any questions or comments below.

Resources

  1. Chilton, Jeff, Nammex, 2015. Redefining Medicinal Mushrooms.
  2. McCleary, B. V., & Draga, A. (2016). Measurement of ß-Glucan in mushrooms and mycelial products. Journal of AOAC International, 99(2), 364–373.
  3. FDA: CPG Section 585.525: Mushroom Mycelium – Fitness for Food; Labeling
  4. AHPA: Labeling of Dietary Supplements Containing Fungi Dietary Ingredients
  5. Croan, S. C. (2005). Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms. Mycological Research(Vol. 109).
Is Dual Extraction Necessary for Mushrooms?

Is Dual Extraction Necessary?

Whether a mushroom extract powder should be extracted with water or alcohol or both is a question that comes up often.

Hot water is a very traditional extraction process and is the most common. Only alcohol is rarely used when making extract powders. When both water and alcohol are used, this is called a dual extract.

It is important to make sure the correct solvent is used since many mushrooms do not need dual extraction and may potentially be negatively impacted. Not only that, in many cases, non-water soluble compounds can be preserved without the need for alcohol extraction.

Note: This is addressing commercial mushroom extract powders where the liquid has been removed. If you are making your own tinctures this generally does not apply unless you are precipitating out a portion of the alcohol (see Dual Extract with Less Beta-glucans).

What is an extract?

An extract is defined as “a substance made by extracting a part of a raw material, often by using a solvent such as ethanol or water. Extracts may be sold as tinctures or in powder form”.

In this case, the raw material is mushrooms and the solvents are water and alcohol (typically ethanol).

How is a hot water extract made?

Think of a traditional hot water extract similar to making a soup stock or bone broth. 

The raw materials could be mushrooms or vegetables or beef bones. These get cooked in hot water for a set period of time. Once the cooking is finished, the liquid is drained off and preserved and the solids are thrown away.

Cooking with hot water will extract out any water soluble compounds from our raw material. These will now be contained in our liquid. Compounds that are not soluble in water will be left in the solids that get thrown away at the end of the cooking period.

Note, a commercial mushroom extract is a bit more complex than this in terms of pressure, temperature, surface area of raw materials but the example above is a good general simplification.

Now, our final liquid can either be consumed as a liquid or in the case of an extract powder, this liquid is put through a spray dryer which evaporates all the water, leaving you with a powder.

For mushrooms, the primary water soluble compounds are polysaccharides like beta-glucans.

But what about non-water soluble compounds?

If we want our extract to contain non-water soluble compounds, we will need to extract the raw materials with something other than water. This is where the alcohol comes in. The alcohol will extract the non-water soluble compounds into our liquid.

With the leftover solids from our hot water extraction, we will now add them to a mixture of alcohol and water and continue to cook the solids for a set period of time. Once the cooking is done we will separate the liquid from the solids and add this liquid to our first hot water extract liquid.

Voila! A Dual Extract.

This is all and well but was it really necessary?

What are these non-water soluble compounds?

There’s a lot of talk specifically about the need to use dual extracts to get a “full spectrum” of compounds available in the mushroom.

But what are these compounds?

For reishi, we have triterpenes like ganoderic acids, many of which are non-water soluble. These are an important component of reishi which should be present in any reishi product. Triterpenes give reishi its bitter flavor as this bitterness is a good quality indicator for reishi. Reishi products that aren’t bitter can be assumed to have negligible amounts of triterpenes.

For chaga, we have triterpenes and sterols like inotodiol, trametenolic acid and betulinic acid. These are primarily non-water soluble.

For other mushrooms like cordyceps, lions mane, turkey tail, shiitake and maitake there isn’t any primary non-water soluble compounds of note.

For these reasons, we recommend dual extracts of reishi and chaga like we have in our 5 Defenders but for the other mushrooms, it’s not only unnecessary but potentially detrimental.

Are these compounds present?

The other issue with many of these non-water soluble compounds is the ability to measure them. Many of them cannot be measured so we don’t even know if they are present in the final product.

We can measure the triterpenes in Reishi using HPLC and guarantee them like in our Reishi 415.

Inotodiol in Chaga can be measured although very few labs can perform this test.

The measurement of these compounds adds an additional layer of quality. This is why we recommend that any product you choose have measured levels of beta-glucans and not polysaccharides.

It’s great to say “this is a dual extract” but without any analysis of the compounds that are supposed to be present, you have no proof if they are actually there.

Maybe it was a poor extraction?
Maybe fillers like starch and grain were added?
Maybe it’s being called a dual extract when it’s only a hot water extract?

The term “dual extract” or “hot water extract” for that matter don’t provide any real context without the analysis of the compounds they are meant to extract.

Dual Extract with Less Beta-glucans

We have seen test results of dual extracts that actually have fewer beta-glucans than their hot water extract counterparts. This is due to the fact that polysaccharides precipitate out in alcohol and are removed from the final liquid in the filtration process. This essentially removes many of the beta-glucans.

Herbalist and traditional medicine specialist, Subhuti Dharmananda Ph.D., has said the following in regards to alcohol extractions:

In some cases, such as the immune-enhancing polysaccharides of astragalus, lonicera, medicinal mushrooms, and other herbs, alcohol is actually a poor medium for extraction because it causes the desired components to condense out of the liquid (thus none is left in the finished product). (1)

Here are some testing details courtesy of Nammex:

Hot water extract vs Dual Extract
Beta-glucansAlpha-glucans
Reishi mushroom hot water extract26.23%4.59%
Reishi mushroom alcohol / hot water extract5.5%2.5%

Both extracts are the same ratio. A high alcohol percentage in the dual extract was used specifically to create a high triterpene extract.

So for mushrooms that have few non-water soluble compounds, a hot water extract is a more valid method of extraction. For our 5 Defenders, our shiitake, maitake and turkey tail extracts are all hot water extracts. This keeps the levels of beta-glucans high.

Non-water Soluble Compounds Without Alcohol Extraction

What if, at the end of the hot water extraction process, instead of discarding the solids, you included them in the final product?

Would the non-water soluble compounds be present without alcohol extraction?

Of course they would. As they are present in the raw materials and nothing is being removed during the extraction process, they would end up in the final product.

You may have noticed that our Chaga Extract is a hot water extract and not a dual extract. This is because the extraction process for this product does not remove any of the raw materials. All of the raw chaga is still present in the final extract powder so any non-water soluble compounds are still present.

Our Cordyceps-M, Lions Mane Extract and Chaga Extract are all special proprietary extracts from Nammex that still include the entire mushroom. Nothing is removed during the extraction process so while they are hot water extracts, all the non-water soluble compounds are still present. No medicinal constituents are removed.

The Takeaway

It may be simplistic to say that everything needs to be dual extracted. Extraction is definitely a must for medicinal mushrooms but as we’ve seen above, not all mushrooms need to be dual extracted and in some cases it’s actually detrimental. Plus, without analysis to back up that extraction, it gives no guarantee of quality.

If you have any questions, leave us a comment below.

References

  1. DOSAGE AND FORM OF HERBS: Decoctions, Dried Decoctions, Powders, Pills, Etc. by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon

A Complete Guide to Cordyceps Supplements

Everything you need to know about Cordyceps supplements

Cordyceps seems to be all the rage right now. You see it in every adaptogen and pre workout supplement. It’s being talked about extensively in the mushroom community and is one of the top superfoods.

So what is all the hype surrounding this fascinating fungus. Let’s first explore exactly what this fascinating fungus is and how it can benefit your health. Then we will look at the common variations of cordyceps on the market and help decipher what to look for in a cordyceps supplement.

What is Cordyceps?

Stroma and caterpillar of Cordyceps sinensis

Cordyceps is a parasitic fungus that includes over 400 different species which are found all over the world.

They typically infect other insects and arthropods.

Cordyceps spores will land on the insect and then the spore will germinate and hyphae will begin to grow inside the insect and turn into mycelium. The mycelium will continue to consume the insect from the inside and when the insect is fully consumed and the environmental conditions are correct, a blade-like mushroom (fruiting body) will be produced from the insect’s head. The mushroom will then release spores and the lifecycle will start over.

Many have seen the BBC Planet Earth clip of Cordyceps infecting ants.

 

Wild Cordyceps sinensis – The Caterpillar fungus

Wild Cordyceps sinensis caterpillar and fruiting body

Wild Cordyceps sinensis. The caterpillar is below ground while the mushroom is above ground. ©Nammex

The most well known species of Cordyceps is Cordyceps sinensis (now known officially as Ophiocordyceps sinensis) which infects the caterpillar of the Hepialus moth. It is mainly found at high elevations in Tibet and the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu. It can also be found but is less abundant in India, Nepal, and Bhutan.

This is an entire article in itself, but Cordyceps sinensis was made famous back in 1993 at the Chinese national games in Beijing where multiple Chinese runners shattered track and field records.

Most notable was Wang Jungxia, who beat the 10,000m world record by 42 seconds. This record lasted 23 years.

3 days later, she came second to teammate Yunxia Qu in the 1500m. They both beat the current world record and Yunxia’s record stood for 22 years.

Then 2 days after that, Wang posted a world record in the 3000m. This record still stands today and 5 of the top 10 times in the 3000m come from Chinese athletes in these 1993 games.

Their coach, Ma Junren claimed their success due to a tonic of Cordyceps sinensis and turtle blood.

This olympic runners story is touted all around the internet to promote Cordyceps products, but what is typically left out is that many of Ma’s athletes later failed drug tests. Junren Ma was eventually dropped as part of Chinese olympic team due to his athletes failing drug tests.

This era of sports in the 80s to mid 90s was rife with doping scandals and it begs the question, was their success really due to Cordyceps?

Wild Cordyceps sinensis

Commonly shown in marketing materials yet these are not in your supplements.

The Caterpillar Fungus is not in Your Supplements

True, wild Cordyceps sinensis (shown above) is not in 99.9% of Cordyceps supplements because of its exceptionally high price tag. In fact, wild Cordyceps sinensis costs over $20,000 per kilogram, making it the most expensive mushroom in the world.

They are almost exclusively sold in Asia and rarely make it into the North American market.

The high price is due to the fact that for many years, the Chinese have been unable to cultivate this mushroom. This has fueled increased demand on a set supply of wild Cordyceps sinensis. Only recently have the Chinese figured out how to cultivate this mushroom but it is not at a production scale yet to make an impact on the wild Cordyceps sinensis prices.

Even though the majority of Cordyceps supplements do not contain the caterpillar fungus, this has not stopped many companies from using photos of this mushroom in their marketing materials and label information causing customers to believe they are consuming this mushroom. Sadly, they are not.

But if the Caterpillar fungus isn’t in your supplements, what is?

Forms of Cordyceps Supplements

Liquid fermentation mycelium facility

Liquid fermentation mycelium factory in China. ©Real Mushrooms

Cordyceps Cs-4

In the 1980’s, when the wild Cordyceps sinensis was gaining in popularity and the price tag kept climbing, scientists in China set out to cultivate this fungus. Many tried and many failed. Still to this day, there is no affordable cultivated version of this mushroom. What the scientists did end up with are Cordyceps anamorphs, mycelium cultures that are unable to produce a mushroom (fruiting body).

These anamorphs were grown in liquid fermentation to create mass amounts of pure mycelium.

This process is known as liquid culture mycelium or liquid fermentation and involves growing the mycelium in a liquid solution of nutrients which can then be removed, leaving you with pure mycelium.

These anamorphs were studied extensively and found to produce similar results to the wild Cordyceps sinensis.

This ended up turning into what is now known as Cordyceps Cs-4. After undergoing clinical trials in China, the Chinese government approved its use in TCM hospitals and it is now recognized as a safe natural product drug in China.

If a Cordyceps supplement is claiming to be Cordyceps sinensis and it is made in China, it is almost certainly Cordyceps Cs-4.

Other Cs-4 products may also be labelled as Paecilomyces hepiali which is an anamorph form of Cordyceps sinensis.

Do not confuse Cordyceps Cs-4 with Cordyceps myceliated grain (below) as these are very different products.

Cordyceps Myceliated Grain

Mycelium grown on grain

Mycelium growing on a sterilized grain substrate. ©Nammex

Due to the fact that it is not economical to grow mushrooms in North America for supplement use, if a Cordyceps product is grown in North America, it is almost certainly Cordyceps myceliated grain, recently referred to as MOG.

Myceliated grain can also go by mycelium on grain, mycelium biomass or grain spawn.

Myceliated grain products will typically be labelled as Cordyceps sinensis or Cordyceps militaris.

Instead of growing the mycelium in liquid like what is used for Cordyceps Cs-4, the mycelium is instead grown in a plastic bag containing sterilized grain. This can also be referred to as solid state fermentation.

The issue here is that unlike being in liquid, the mycelium cannot be separated from the grain so the grain ends up in the final product.

It has been shown with MOG products that the mycelium does not fully consume the grain so much of the final product is actually the grain the mycelium grows on. This is most apparent with Cordyceps as it is a slow growing fungus.

From the table below you see that the high amount of alpha-glucans, which represent starch from the grain. Starch is an alpha-glucan. This confirms that the grain medium the Cordyceps mycelium grows on is not being fully consumed.

The high amount of grain translates into a low amount of mycelium and this is confirmed in the low beta-glucan numbers. This is why it is important to measure beta-glucans and not polysaccharides for medicinal mushroom products. These samples can tout high polysaccharide numbers (beta + alpha) but the majority of it comes from non-beneficial starches which are alpha-glucans.

Beta-glucan and Alpha-glucan results of Cordyceps mycelium grown on grain.(3,4)
Beta-glucansAlpha-glucans
Sample#11.5%64%
Sample#23%65%
Sample#31%45%
Cordyceps Mycelium Nutritional Comparison

Nutritional analysis of Cordyceps mycelium grown on grains showing that these products closely mirror the grain itself and not the true Cordyceps mushroom. ©Nammex

The nutritional analysis above also confirms how well Cordyceps myceliated grain tracks the grain it is grown on. This further demonstrates how closely myceliated grain is to the grain itself which leads you to wonder how much is actually mycelium.

Myceliated grain is often justified by referencing research on pure mycelium made through liquid fermentation. As pointed out above with Cs-4, Cordyceps myceliated grain is very different from Cordyceps Cs-4 so using Cordyceps Cs-4 research to justify the use of Cordyceps myceliated grain is not valid and is misleading to the consumer.

Cordyceps Mushroom Extracts

Cordyceps militaris fruiting bodies

Cordyceps militaris mushrooms (fruiting bodies) ©Nammex

There is currently one type of Cordyceps species that can be commercially cultivated at scale to produce a mushroom (fruiting body) and it is becoming quite popular. This is Cordyceps militaris. By using Cordyceps militaris, for the first time, true Cordyceps mushroom extracts can be made.

By being made from the mushroom, we see much higher levels of the important beta-glucans. Our Cordyceps-M product which is extracted exclusively from Cordyceps militaris mushrooms has greater than 25% beta-glucans. Compare that to Cs-4 which typically has less than 10% beta-glucans and Cordyceps mycelium on grain which typically has 1-3% beta-glucans.

One of the unique things about Cordyceps militaris is that it produces the compound cordycepin (3′-deoxyadenosine) in much higher amounts when compared to Cordyceps sinensis.

Nucleosides in Cordyceps and various medicinal mushrooms

Yuan, J. P., Zhao, S. Y., Wang, J. H., Kuang, H. C., Liu, X., Uan, J. I. A. N. I. N. G. Y., … Iu, X. I. N. L. (2008). Distribution of nucleosides and nucleobases in edible fungi. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(3), 809–815.

As seen from the table above Cordyceps militaris has up to 90 times more cordycepin (column “Co”) when compared with the wild Cordyceps sinensis. Cs-4 would likely have even less cordycepin than the wild Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps mycelium on grain would have almost no cordycepin due to the low amount of mycelium present.

This is very important as products touting the benefits of cordycepin and labelled as Cordyceps sinensis would likely have undetectable amounts. Either that or the product is improperly labelled as Cordyceps sinensis when it is actually Cordyceps militaris.

Note that Cordyceps militaris products grown in North America would still be myceliated grain and not a true mushroom extract. Pure mushroom extract powders almost solely come from Asia, with China accounting for over 85% of the world’s mushroom production.

More and more research is coming out showing that Cordyceps militaris has similar benefits to the traditional wild Cordyceps sinensis and has traditionally been used as an alternative to Cordyceps sinensis in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Cordycepic Acid & Other Nucleosides

This is not to be confused with cordycepin which is a unique compound in Cordyceps but many Cordyceps products talk about Cordycepic acid (sometimes spelled Cordyceptic) as a beneficial compound in Cordyceps. But this was debunked back in the 60s as not being a compound unique to Cordyceps, but a compound that is found in all medicinal mushrooms, which is D-Mannitol or Mannitol (1).

Other nucleosides like adenine, adenosine and uridine which are commonly touted in Cordyceps are also found in other fungi as well (see table above).

Benefits of Cordyceps

Now that we’ve dispelled a lot of the misinformation around Cordyceps, let’s look at some of the benefits of using Cordyceps. Traditionally in China, wild Cordyceps sinensis has been used for lack of energy, treating asthma, sexual function plus lung, liver and kidney support.

More recently, Cordyceps Cs-4 showed an increase in exercise performance in healthy older adults according a study from the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine in 2009. This study took twenty healthy elderly individuals ages 50-75. One group was the controlled and the other group took 333 mg of Cs-4 or 3 capsules per day. The subjects performed the stationary cycle ergometer using breath-by-breath examination at baseline and the end of the study. The results were quite good! Following 12 weeks of Cs-4 supplementation, the healthy elderly individuals lactate threshold increased by 10.5% and their ventilatory threshold increased by 8.5%. On the other hand, the control group saw no changes in VO2 max (5).

A study from the Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine journal in 2015 looked at the anti-fatigue effects of Cordyceps militaris (CM) supplementation on rodents and the results are quite exciting! The study found that the rodents that received two weeks of Cordyceps militaris supplementation displayed greater levels of delayed fatigue compared to the rodents not given Cordyceps militaris. Not only that, but the CM rodent group had higher levels of ATP, anti-oxidant enzyme levels and best part of all, lower levels of lactic acid (a key component regarding fatigue and time to exhaustion). In other words, these rodents were able to push longer and harder without tiring out (8).

As Cordyceps militaris mushrooms have high levels of beta-glucans, they can also act as potent immunomodulators to help balance out your immune system. In addition to helping your immune system, Cordyceps militaris mushrooms may also stimulate neurite outgrowth which could be beneficial for brain and cognitive health (9).

Final Thoughts

It is very important when selecting a Cordyceps product to know exactly where it is from and how it is made. Scrutinize the label and supplements panel very carefully.

You now know that the caterpillar fungus is not in any supplements due to its price tag. You know that Cordyceps Cs-4 is pure mycelium from China. You know that North American grown products are myceliated grain and that grain ends up being a large portion of the final product. Cordyceps militaris is the only species able to be used to create a mushroom extract and mushroom extract powders almost solely come from Asia.

We always recommend selecting products that are extracted from the mushroom (fruiting body), ideally certified organic, with measured levels of beta-glucans and starch like our very own Cordyceps-M.

If you have any questions, please comment below.

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Resources

  1. A Reinvestigation of the Structure of “Cordycepic Acid”1a. Milon Sprecher, David B. Sprinson. J. Org. Chem., 1963, 28 (9), pp 2490–2491
  2. Yuan, J. P., Zhao, S. Y., Wang, J. H., Kuang, H. C., Liu, X., Uan, J. I. A. N. I. N. G. Y., … Iu, X. I. N. L. (2008). Distribution of nucleosides and nucleobases in edible fungi. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(3), 809–815.
  3. Chilton, Jeff, Nammex, 2015. Redefining Medicinal Mushrooms.
  4. McCleary, B. V., & Draga, A. (2016). Measurement of ß-Glucan in mushrooms and mycelial products. Journal of AOAC International, 99(2), 364–373.
  5. Chen, S., Li, Z., Krochmal, R., Abrazado, M., Kim, W., & Cooper, C. B. (2010). Effect of Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) on exercise performance in healthy older subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(5), 585–90. 
  6. Hur, Hyun. (2008). Chemical ingredients in Cordyceps militaris. Mycobiology, volume 36
  7. Tuli HS, Sharma AK, Sandhu SS, Kashyap D. (2013). Cordycepin: a bioactive metabolite with therapeutic benefits. Life Sciences.
  8. Song J, Wang Y, Teng M, Cai G, Xu H, Guo H, Liu Y, Wang D, Teng L. (2015). Studies on the Antifatigue Activities of Cordyceps militaris Fruit Body Extract in Mouse Model. Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine.
  9. Phan, C.-W., David, P., Naidu, M., Wong, K.-H., & Sabaratnam, V. (2013). Neurite outgrowth stimulatory effects of culinary-medicinal mushrooms and their toxicity assessment using differentiating Neuro-2a and embryonic fibroblast BALB/3T3. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 13(1), 261. 

 

 

The Truth Behind Polysaccharides in Medicinal Mushrooms

Why Polysaccharides are a Poor Measurement of Mushroom Quality

Polysaccharides are one of the key active components in medicinal mushrooms and they are commonly listed on many medicinal mushroom products. In fact, many companies boast about high polysaccharide numbers. However, if we look deeper it becomes clear that polysaccharide analysis may be hiding significant product flaws.

Are high polysaccharides really a measure of quality?

Actually polysaccharides include more than just compounds found in mushrooms which means many mushroom products are fooling you with their polysaccharide numbers.

But first…

What are Polysaccharides?

Polysaccharides are long chain carbohydrates that are made up of various monosaccharides connected by glycosidic bonds. These molecules can range from the very simple to the more complex carbohydrate molecules.

Some examples of polysaccharides would be chitin and beta-glucans, which make up the cell walls of fungi. Cellulose, which is what plant cell walls are made up of are also polysaccharides. So are sugars like glucose and fructose.

Polysaccharides are considered to be one of the most commonly mentioned active compounds in plants and fungi. Specific types of mushrooms like reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) possess high levels of polysaccharides.

Polysaccharides in Fungi – Beta-glucans

Now that we’ve defined what polysaccharides are, we will look specifically at the polysaccharides you find in fungi. Fungi will contain small amounts of glycogen, but the primary polysaccharides are beta-D-glucans. Beta-glucans come in various forms, but the main one in fungi have what is known as 1-3,1-6 branching also referred to as (1-3)(1-6)beta-d-glucans. These are specific to fungi and yeast. Oats also contain beta-glucans, but they have a different branching structure, which are (1-4)beta-d-glucans.

This is important because the bulk of the medicinal mushroom research is based on the effects of these beta-glucans.

If the important compounds are beta-glucans, why are companies still measuring polysaccharides?

Polysaccharide Fillers – Alpha-glucans

Another group of polysaccharides are alpha-glucans. These are compounds like glycogen, dextran, pullulan and starch. What we’ve discovered is that the polysaccharides in many so-called mushroom products are made up of alpha-glucans and not beta-glucans.

Where Polysaccharide Testing Falls Short

McCleary, B. V., & Draga, A. (2016). Measurement of Beta-Glucan in mushrooms and mycelial products. Journal of AOAC International, 99(2), 364–373. http://doi.org/10.5740/jaoacint.15-0289

If you look at the table above, you will see an alpha-glucan and beta-glucan breakdown of various medicinal mushroom products. Take note of specific mushroom products like sample #5, which is Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). This particular sample tests high in alpha-glucans and very low in beta-glucans. Another prime example would be sample #12, which is Chaga (Inonotus obliquus). It expresses high amounts of alpha-glucans and little if any beta-glucans. Same applies for sample #8, Cordyceps sp. (ascomycete), which is dominated by high alpha glucans and small amounts of beta-glucans. The Nammex report also showed similar results.

On paper these products can tout high polysaccharide amounts (alpha-glucans + beta-glucans) but in reality the majority of those polysaccharides come from alpha-glucans in the form of starches and fillers. Those alpha-glucans provide no medicinal benefit.

This concept is extremely important to understand when it comes to medicinal mushroom products. It is quite concerning because many products on the market tout polysaccharide numbers yet fail to mention any beta-glucan numbers.

The Importance of Beta-glucan Testing

As the beta-glucans are the important polysaccharide in these fungi, it is vital that beta-glucan testing be done instead of polysaccharide testing to properly qualify medicinal mushroom products. The Megazyme method, developed by Dr. Barry McCleary at Megazyme International, has been used by the USDA and other peer-reviewed research papers to precisely measure the beta-glucan and alpha-glucan content in mushrooms. It can test all types of basidiomycete products like mushroom powders, mushroom extracts and mycelium powders. It detects soluble and insoluble (1-3)(1-6)beta-D-glucans and even quantifies the alpha-glucans, which are starches, so we can see if products contain fillers like grain.

High Polysaccharides ≠ Good Quality

A common trend you see in the medicinal mushroom industry are various brands claiming that their medicinal mushrooms products contain high amounts of polysaccharides. This looks and sounds great on paper but this can be very misleading considering that polysaccharides can also come from starches.

For example, products#2, 3, 8 and 12 in the table above are actually mycelium products that are grown on grain. They all can tout >60% polysaccharides but the polysaccharides are mainly coming from alpha-glucans in the form of grain starch and the products contain very little beta-glucans. Thus, the majority of your money is spent on alpha-glucans instead of beta-glucans, leaving you with a less potent medicinal mushroom product that is primarily grain.

This is why it’s imperative that you do your own research into exactly how the product is made and make sure to look for products that measure beta-glucans. Beware that products grown in North America are almost always mycelium grown on grain.

If you’re curious, for less than $5 you can perform an iodine starch test on your medicinal mushroom product to verify if it contains any starchy fillers.

Final Thoughts

It is extremely important to understand that there is a difference in polysaccharides and that measuring polysaccharides for medicinal mushroom products is meaningless. High polysaccharides is not an indicator of quality and could actually be an indicator of poor quality.

A medicinal mushroom product should quantify the beta-glucans so you know the important medicinal compounds that much of the research is based around are present. This will help you in making an honest decision when selecting the right mushroom product.

At Real Mushrooms, we use the Megazyme method to measure beta-glucans and starch on all our products to show the potency and to confirm that they contain no fillers or grains.

Have questions or comments? Ask us below.

Resources:

  1. Friedman, M. (2016). Mushroom Polysaccharides: Chemistry and Antiobesity, Antidiabetes, Anticancer, and Antibiotic Properties in Cells, Rodents, and Humans. Foods, 5(4), 80. 
  2. Sari, M., Prange, A., Lelley, J. I., & Hambitzer, R. (2017). Screening of beta-glucan contents in commercially cultivated and wild growing mushrooms. Food Chemistry, 216, 45–51. 
  3. McCleary, B. V., & Draga, A. (2016). Measurement of ß-Glucan in mushrooms and mycelial products. Journal of AOAC International, 99(2), 364–373.
  4. Biomolecules: Carbohydrates – Polysaccharides
  5. Chilton, Jeff, Nammex, 2015. Redefining Medicinal Mushrooms.