For centuries, mushrooms have been used as medicinal extracts and essences and applied as alternative medicine in various cultures across the globe. In recent years, with the renewed interest in psilocybin mushrooms for treating mental health disorders and growing interest in mushrooms as a functional food, mushroom extract supplements have been growing in popularity due to claims of doing everything from staving off anxiety to fighting cancer.
Since mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of macrofungi, they absorb a diverse range of beneficial nutrients such as chitin, glucans, and other bioactive constituents from the organic material in their surroundings. In addition to featuring prominently in traditional cuisines worldwide, mushrooms are extracted to create a variety of supplements. Medicinal mushrooms and mushroom extracts may be created by various methods to support immune function or help patients with viral infections, cancer, cognitive concerns, and other health conditions.
Mushroom extracts and supplements concentrate all of the health benefits of mushrooms into an easy-to-take form. Mushroom capsules can be thought of as nature’s multivitamin. Extracts made from the whole fruiting body are necessary to receive the full benefits of medicinal mushrooms. One of the most convenient ways to add mushrooms to your diet is through mushroom capsules made from organic mushroom powders. You can buy fresh or dried mushroom powders and make the capsules yourself, or buy a bottle of pre-made capsules, preferably with an organic seal of approval. Consuming concentrated extracts of medicinal mushrooms makes the capsules low-calorie, perfect for all diets, including keto and paleo, and an excellent ingredient for specific dietary needs.
How the capsules are derived depends on the manufacturer’s guidelines. Some more affordable varieties are made from a different part of the mushroom called mycelium, which grows in rice grain. Unfortunately, these products contain only trace amounts of the mushroom’s beneficial substances since they primarily consist of starchy fillers. Some brands may also use capsules made from gelatin as a cheaper alternative. As a result, the capsules could be derived from beef or pork instead of completely vegetable-based products. You may also want to keep in mind that vegetarian capsules are not necessarily vegan or halal since they could have been composed in a meat byproduct facility. If you’re looking for a naturally vegan, halal, or kosher capsule, we recommend ones made from pullulan, a substance made from fermented tapioca. Pullulan is typically starch and gluten-free and can be found in organic and non-GMO varieties. Capsules made from pullulan keep mushroom extracts safe from degrading under sunlight and oxygen.
Fungi are currently estimated to account for at least 12,000 species worldwide – 2,000 of which are considered edible and nearly 200 wild species used for medicinal purposes (1). Medicinal mushrooms have been demonstrated to produce beneficial effects as nutraceuticals, food sources with additional health benefits outside their nutritional value. Medicinal mushrooms are categorized as a “functional food,” a novel class of products and dietary supplements commonly known to produce health benefits and alleviate diseases.
Numerous studies have shown that regular consumption of functional mushrooms is effective in preventing and treating specific diseases. Mushrooms have been shown to boost the immune system due to their immunomodulatory action by the activation of dendritic cells. According to a scientific journal titled ‘ Medicinal Mushrooms as a Source of Novel Functional Food,’ scientists state that “NK cells, T-cells, macrophages, and production of cytokines and have curative actions against a lot of degenerative diseases without having any side effects” (Prasad et al. 2015, 222).
Several bioactive molecules, including anti-tumor agents, have been identified in various mushrooms. In fact, studies suggest that mushroom products are a great complement to chemotherapy and radiation therapy by countering the side effects of cancer, such as nausea, bone marrow suppression, anemia, and lowered resistance.
Furthermore, mushroom protein contains all the nine essential amino acids humans require, making it comparable to muscle protein. As a result, they are used in vegetarian diets as they are a good option for those who do not consume meat products. The unique flavor and texture of edible and medicinal mushrooms make them universally acceptable to all age groups.
Functional mushrooms have been shown to have numerous health benefits. Mushrooms contain a high percentage of moisture; are a rich source of protein (leucine, valine, glutamine, glutamic and aspartic acids are the most abundant); are low-calorie, low-fat, and low in sodium and sugar. Edible mushrooms have an abundance of nutrients as they are rich in minerals like potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, and zinc. They are also packed with beneficial carbohydrates, including chitin, glycogen, trehalose, and mannitol. Mushrooms also contain fibers like beta-glucans, hemicelluloses, and pectic substances.
Medicinal mushrooms and their extract supplements are credited with over 130 different therapeutic applications, showing promise in the following areas:
Mushrooms have a variety of potential health benefits beyond those listed. However, it is important to note that mushroom supplements are not a cure-all, and these potential benefits may vary depending on the type of mushroom, the dose, how it is prepared, and the individual. Additionally, some of the science behind medicinal mushrooms are not as well-studied and in-depth as our more common forms of medicine and supplements. For instance, many studies have been done using the mushroom in its whole form, not in the form of supplements. Additionally, several studies are done in small sample sizes or tested on animals rather than humans. It is essential to keep these factors in mind while also being mindful of the science that has been proven with certainty in support of functional mushrooms.
Nonetheless, many bioactive compounds in mushrooms are proven to impact health concerns and prevention significantly. One of the most notable is the polysaccharide beta-glucan found in many mushrooms. These compounds “are structurally diverse, and this diversity may have implications for the way the body responds to these compounds both in the case of defense from fungal pathogens and infection, and in the case of therapeutic immune stimulation” (10).
Both mushroom capsules and powder are effective means to consume the benefits mushrooms can provide. The best option may depend on personal preferences and the specific mushroom supplement. Mushroom capsules are a convenient way to ingest mushrooms as they provide a consistent dose of the mushroom supplement, which can help achieve particular health benefits. Some people may find that capsules are more expensive than powder. On the other hand, mushroom powder can be a more cost-effective option and versatile as it can be added to various dishes, soups, and drinks. In high-quality mushroom powders, the raw mushrooms are carefully dried and extracted with hot water, then turned into a fine powder through a process called “spray drying,” resulting in a potent mushroom powder that contains all the expected beneficial compounds. However, measuring the exact dose of mushroom powder can be more challenging, and the taste may be more noticeable than one may find while consuming capsules.
Mushroom supplements produced are used to treat and prevent various health concerns and can be found in capsules, powders, liquid extracts, mouth sprays, teas, coffees, gummies, and sometimes in combination with other products such as CBD. Some supplements contain extracts from a single type of mushroom, while others combine extracts from several different mushrooms. It is generally safe to take mushroom supplements in the recommended doses. Most people consume between one-half and two grams of mushroom powder extract daily, equating to one to four capsules. However, dosage depends on one’s personal health needs and any medical condition they aim to treat. Mushroom supplements can be an excellent way to consume mushrooms if you want specific health benefits, but they should not be used as a substitute for a balanced diet or as a sole source of nutrition. Moreover, taking mushroom supplements daily for an extended period is not well-studied and may cause some adverse effects.
Following the recommended dosage and cycling on and off the supplement is best to avoid any potential adverse effects. As with any supplement, there is always a potential for interaction or interference with the medication one takes or a condition one may have. For example, extracts that contain adaptogens are not recommended for people with autoimmune conditions since they could stimulate your immune system. Similarly, reishi is a type of mushroom that could interact with medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, and blood clotting. In addition, the extract of chaga can boost the effects of anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs and may improve blood flow, which could prove dangerous if taken with blood-thinning medication or if one has a bleeding disorder.
Purchasing supplements from a reputable source ensures that the supplement is labeled accurately and meets safety standards. As there are no internationally recognized standards and methods for testing fungus products, they vary significantly in how they’re prepared. It is unknown whether any effects are caused by a single ingredient or a combination of ingredients.
Although supplement manufacturers are expected to follow practices that prevent the wrong ingredients or the wrong amounts of ingredients from getting into the product, reduce contamination, and ensure labels are accurate, mushroom extracts aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can choose supplements that meet independent quality standards from ConsumerLab.com, NSF, or USP, though testing doesn’t necessarily prove that a product is safe or effective.
Mushroom supplements are generally considered safe when taken in recommended doses. However, some people may experience side effects depending on the type of mushroom and the dose used. Common side effects may include:
These side effects are uncommon and may vary depending on the individual, the type and quality of the mushroom supplement, and the dosage. It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, taking any medications, or struggling with underlying health conditions. Additionally, it’s crucial to ensure that you purchase supplements from a reputable source and that the supplement is labeled accurately. Always check that the supplement meets the safety standards, as not all mushroom supplements are created equal. The quality of ingredients, purity, and dosage may vary depending on the manufacturer. Some mushroom supplements may also be contaminated with heavy metals or other toxins, which can cause serious health issues.
Some edible mushrooms are great for incorporating into meals, such as shiitake, portobello, white button mushrooms, and porcinis. Other mushrooms, such as reishi, turkey tail, lion’s mane, maitake, and many others, are known as functional or medicinal mushrooms due to their elevated levels of beta-glucans, higher quantities of bio-available polysaccharides, and other important nutrients.
The use of Reishi mushrooms has been documented in the earliest pharmacopeia writings of Asian cultures over thousands of years. The mushroom is thought to prolong life, prevent aging, and increase energy. It is currently used in China with cancer patients who receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy to strengthen the immune system. Reishi is one of the most well-known functional mushrooms. It is an adaptogen that helps the body maintain homeostatic equilibrium when faced with internal and external stressors. Reishi is often used to promote better sleep, support the body’s response to stress, protect the immune system, and defend against heart disease (11). Because of its relaxing effect on the nerves and kidney system, it is regarded as a powerful “Shen” tonic and is said to “open the spirit” in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It can also aid neuron renewal to treat insomnia, and Taoists have employed it to achieve Enlightenment or “spiritual immortality.” Reishi is usually dried and taken as an extract in the form of a liquid, capsule, or powder.
Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is a fungus that grows worldwide and is named for its brown and tan rings that resemble a turkey’s tail feathers. It is one of the most popular mushrooms for supporting the immune system and is known for its anti-cancer properties. Traditionally, turkey tail has been used in Chinese medicine to treat lung diseases. Turkey tail is high in beta-glucans and polysaccharide K (PSK), the best-known active compound in turkey tail mushrooms that has been studied in patients with several types of cancers and used as adjuvant therapy for thousands of cancer patients since the 1970s. In Japan, PSK is an approved mushroom product used to strengthen the immune system when given with standard cancer treatment. PSK has been safely used in Japan with few reported side effects.
Lion’s mane, a shaggy mushroom well-known for its popularity in the culinary world, is most commonly used as a therapeutic superfood. The medicinal mushroom supports brain health, mental clarity, focus and memory, and healthy nervous system regulation. Additionally, many people claim lion’s mane has a calming effect.
Two distinct beneficial chemicals, hericenones, found in its fruiting body, and erinacines, found in its mycelium, make lion’s mane suitable to be used as a “nootropic” dietary supplement to boost cognitive processes. Since 1990, research has proven lion’s mane to be very effective in stimulating nerve growth factors to help repair and defend against nerve damage. The secretion of proteins plays a crucial part in the conservation, regeneration, and survival of its neurons. Other studies also support its use in the treatment of dementia and illnesses like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (12).
Maitake, commonly known as “signorina,” “hen of the woods,” or the “rippled dancing mushroom,” is a natural recurrent fungus that generally develops in the same spot near oak trees annually. Maitake mushroom supplements have been studied for their potential to reduce blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and boost the immune system. D-Fraction is a unique protein-bound beta-glucan found in maitake. It is one of its primary polysaccharides and a key micronutrient component attributed to maitake’s potent immune-modulating properties (Chugh et al. 2022, 3).
Maitake is also known to support metabolic health and healthy weight when taken regularly alongside a balanced diet and exercise (13). In recent years, Maitake has also been grown to be marketed fresh, dried, or prepared as a supplement. It is also often cooked as a gourmet functional mushroom by chefs around the world, delivering a flavorful taste in soups, sauces, and various cuisines.
Mushroom purists rejoice! The Sacred 7 Mushroom Extracts Capsules are adaptogenic, nootropic, immunity-boosting superfood supplements containing a 1:1 blend of high-quality mushrooms made from chaga, cordyceps, lion’s mane, maitake, reishi, shiitake, and Turkey Tail. These seven mushrooms are known as “some of the most historically-revered mushrooms on Earth,” with “a wealth of health-optimizing, longevity-promoting compounds are naturally present within these powerful mushrooms.” The professional, ultra-purified hot water process breaks down the mushrooms’ cell walls to optimize the bioavailability of beneficial compounds. This process yields nutrient-dense mushroom powders with fantastic micro and macronutrient profiles for overall wellness and dietary health. It also includes more protein and higher beta-glucan and antioxidant content. The Sacred 7 Mushroom Extract Powder Capsules are a convenient, easy-to-swallow, portable way to fortify your immune system on the go. These gluten-free, vegetarian mushroom capsules are made of 100% non-GMO organic mushroom powder, only containing the whole fruiting bodies of each mushroom instead of mycelium or substrate, so there are no fillers, flow agents, preservatives, or additives.
The Om Mushroom Superfood Master Blend is self-proclaimed as the “multivitamin of mushroom superfood.” A curated blend from a master mycologist, this supplement is an adaptogen powerhouse of 10 species of certified organic mushroom extracts: agaricus blazei, antrodia, chaga, cordyceps, king trumpet, lion’s mane, maitake, reishi, shiitake, turkey tail, and a proprietary blend of organic Reishi whole food extract. The supplement contains 35% beta-glucans plus three organic botanical adaptogens – ginkgo biloba for brain health, holy basil for antioxidants and anti-inflammation, and astragalus for immune health and energy support. These capsules are filled with a full spectrum of naturally occurring active compounds, making them a powerful master blend for vibrant health.
All of the products at FreshCap Mushroom are made from the whole fruiting body and are certified organic, vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, and made from pullulan capsules. The Ultimate Mushroom Complex is a powerful, potent, and effective mushroom extract supplement made from organic whole fruiting bodies and thoroughly extracted for bioactive compounds. It’s the ultimate blend to deliver all the amazing benefits of mushrooms, such as immunity, focus, and energy. Thoroughly extracted and tested for verified levels of active compounds, each bottle contains 60 servings of pure mushroom extract powder, equally split between 6 notable species: chaga sclerotium, cordyceps lion’s mane, maitake, turkey tail, and reishi for “a difference you can feel.”
Medicinal mushroom supplements show promise in treating a range of conditions, from fighting cancer to reducing inflammation to combating stress. Mushroom extracts can potentially eradicate malnutrition-related problems, ensuring nutrition security for the coming generations through diet fortification and nutraceuticals. Further sustainable research of medicinal mushrooms using “enhanced screening methods of genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics will assist in the biotechnological cultivation and usage of their bioactive molecules to develop novel healthcare biotech products with an encouraging universal impact on human welfare and environmental conservation” (Prasad et al. 2015, 224).
The mushrooms mentioned in this article do not contain the psychoactive compound of psilocybin, so you will receive the positive health and immune-supporting potential without any hallucinogenic effects. For more information about the potential health benefits of psilocybin, you can read more about it here.