Medicinal Mushrooms are not something new, in fact, they have been in existence and used for thousands of years by various cultures. Some of the mushrooms are part of the original Materia Medica in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is now gaining a lot of attention here in the western world. The health benefits of taking medicinal mushrooms keep surfacing every day, and there are countless more benefits which are yet to be discovered. There are a lot of research studies that are going on around the world, and new discoveries are being made for the numerous uses of these mushrooms. Simply put, people have been using medicinal mushrooms for thousands of years for good reasons: They are effective and they have benefited from them.
Besides the obvious health benefits, medicinal mushrooms are being used nowadays for other purposes such as environmental remediation, helping oil spill cleanups, remediating conventional and nuclear landfills. Nowadays, there are some companies that are using shipping and packing materials that are made from mushroom mycelia. And more recently, mushrooms are being used to recycle precious metals such as gold, silver, and copper from e-waste or electronic waste material.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of mushroom species, but only a few edible mushrooms have been used, studied, tested, and made bioavailable. That is not to say that we will not see more research and availability of other mushroom species in the future. There are several FDA approved prescription drugs that are derived from medicinal mushrooms, and many more are being studied and tested for possible medical use.
Even though medicinal mushrooms have thousands of compounds,constituents, and nutrients that are beneficial to our health, there is one in particular that is present in most mushroom species. Inside the cell walls of mushrooms, there are carbohydrate molecules called Polysaccharides, more specifically Beta-Glucans (1,3/1,6). For medicinal purposes, these beta-glucans are extremely beneficial to our health. Beta-Glucans have been widely studied and tested, and it is widely believed that these polysaccharides are able to stimulate and enhance our immune system.
Some of the most widely studied and used medicinal mushrooms nowadays include:
HOW TO USE MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS
Medicinal mushrooms can be taken as tea, food, or as supplements. Medicinal mushroom supplements can be in the form of liquid extracts, powdered extracts, or mushroom powder. They can be made from a full-spectrum mushroom (which includes the spores, mycelia, and fruiting bodies), or just each individual part alone. Let's take a look at each of these forms of mushroom supplements:
Liquid Extracts: In this form, the beneficial compounds and constituents are extracted from the dried mushroom and are left in liquid form. The most effective methods used to extract the compounds and constituents are through hot water, alcohol, or a combination of both depending on the mushroom. In the hot water method, the mushroom cell walls are broken down, because they are made of chitin (which is virtually undigestible to humans), and this enables us to obtain the immunomodulating polysaccharides found inside these cells. In the alcohol extraction method, the water insoluble compounds are extracted, therefore increasing bioavailability.
Powdered Extracts: In this form, the mushroom goes through the exact same process as the liquid extract, but at the end are made into powder. The powdered extract have the same compounds and constituents, but are made into a more convenient form which can be taken as a powder, capsule, or tablet. The main reason is that some people do not like the taste or hassle of liquid extracts, and prefer the convenience of capsules or tablets. The potency and effectiveness are not altered in this form.
Mushroom Powder: In this form, the entire mushroom is dried, and then ground into very fine powder directly, without undergoing any extraction or processing method. In this form, the mushroom can be taken as a powder, capsule or tablet. The main reason to make mushroom supplements into this form is that the entire life-cycle of the mushroom is left untouched and the beneficial compounds and constituents are not altered.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BIOAVAILABILITY
Bioavailability refers to how well the nutrients and compounds can be absorbed by the human body. If a nutrient is easily absorbed, the bioavailability is high and vice versa. This is critical when considering dietary supplements, and the whole purpose of supplementing. With medicinal mushrooms, a lot of the beneficial compounds such as polysaccharides have low bioavailability unless they undergo an extraction process. This is not to say that non-extracted mushrooms are useless, but one would have to take large amounts of it to obtain the same benefits as extracts.