Mushrooms have been used over the centuries for the flavor they add to food as well as the medicinal effects they produce with daily use.
Only certain species of mushrooms have healing potential. These mushrooms include maitake (Grifola frondosa), shiitake (Lentinula edodes), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus), sun (Agaricus blazei) and the silver ear (Tremella fuciformis) mushrooms.
These miracle mushrooms are referred to as medicinal mushrooms or mycomedicinals.
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) and the common white button ones (Agaricus bisphorus) may also stimulate immune function.
Medicinal mushrooms are believed to possess anti-cancer activity, improve immunity and prevent virus, bacteria and fungal infections. They are also believed to reduce inflammation, minimize allergic reactions, maintain blood sugar levels, and support the body's detoxification mechanisms.
In Traditional medicine, the active compounds of the mushrooms are extracted in the process of making teas and decotions. A decotion is the process of simmering or boiling an herb or mushroom in water for an hour or longer. This helps release the bioactive polysacharides or beta-glucans that are bound up in the indigestible chitinous cell walls of mushrooms.
Hot-water extraction is the only method known to cause such release and still maintain the structural integrity of the natural compound.
Beta-glucans are long chain, polysaccharides, macromolecules unique to mushrooms. They are complex molecules consisting of spiraling chains of differing patterns that are linked to each other.
Beta-glucans, unlike plant phytocompounds, can not be reproduced or synthesized by pharmaceutical companies. Their unique shape allows them to bind to a host of receptors in membranes on macrophages which confer enormous immune power to mushrooms.
Traditional versus Supplement Use
Traditional use of mushrooms involve boiling mushrooms in water for over an hour to release the active ingredients in the fungus. The Chinese and Japanese mushroom manufactuers also employ a hot-water extraction process to acccomplish the same goal. Most American supplements manufacturers on the other hand utilize whole mushrooms, powdered extracts, and tinctures in their products. They are all available in various concentrations and combinations and marketed as foods that enhance immunity. Unfortunately, as with medicinal herbs, there is no guarantee of strength, purity or potency in these products.
Some mushroom supplements are simply ground up whole mushrooms while others use an extraction process based on alcohol. These liquid extracts are sold as tinctures and do not provide the concentration of the active agent. In addition, mushrooms grown on rice or cereal grains, known as mycellium biomass, makeup the bulk of the mushrooms sold as dietary supplements. These mushrooms are dried, ground and powdered and encapsulated. Unfortunately, the active agent is still surrounded by the indigetible chitin and is therefore bio-unavailable.
The only known and proven method to release the bioactive compounds and maintain the structural integrity of the beta-glucan is through the process known as hot-water extraction. This is a more time consuming and expensive process but one that provides a more consistent and bioavailable product. As pointed out earlier, this is the process used by Japanese and Chinese supplement manufacturers as well as a few American ones. Hot-water extraction allows the manufacturer to concentrate the active agents into specific levels, which are normally listed as a percentage of total weight.
The clinical use of medicinal mushrooms to treat chronic diseases like AIDS, chronic fatigue and cancer requires is now widesspread. It is therefore essential that the products they are using be from an extraction process that maintains the library of nutrients and polysacccharides found in the original mushroom and concentrates them in a small and manageable dose