Medicinal Mushrooms are not a new thing, in fact, they have been in existence and used for thousands of years. 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 a lot 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. Besides the obvious health benefits, medicinal mushrooms are being used nowadays for environmental remediation purposes, helping oil spill cleanup efforts, remediating conventional and nuclear landfills.
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 has been an increasing popularity in the usage of medicinal mushrooms in the West, simply because people have tried it, and have benefited from them.
HOW TO TAKE 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.