Medicinal mushrooms have thousands of years of use as therapeutic foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as in ancient Greece and Egypt. Now they’ve become increasingly popular in the U.S., for therapeutic use with humans and animals.
But with so many companies now including medicinal mushrooms in their supplements, or as stand-alone products, it can be difficult for a consumer to distinguish which is the best choice for their dog or horse.
Mycelium or fruiting body? Or both?
There is a vigorous debate in the animal supplement community about which part of the mushroom is the most therapeutic.
Some say the mycelium, which is the vegetative part of a fungus, is not as potent or as beneficial as the fruiting body. Some mushroom experts point to the active polysaccharide content or percentage, which is made up by the beta-glucans — and the fruiting body does have a higher beta-glucan percentage than the mycelium.
But is beta-glucan content the only reason to feed medicinal mushrooms?
In a recent article published in the journal FUNGI (volume 9:1, spring 2016), Dr. Solomon Wasser, editor in chief of The International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms and author of over 600 papers on mushrooms writes:
“It is not known whether bioactive effects are caused by a single component or are the result of a synergistic impact of several ingredients. There is insufficient data to determine which components have better effects—those from mushroom fruiting bodies or from mycelia powder.”(FUNGI, volume 9:1, spring 2016)
My personal opinion on this is to use both, which is why BioStar’s two formulas containing medicinal mushrooms (True Balance EQ for horses and Terra Biota K9 for dogs) include the mycelium and the fruiting bodies. Providing both the mycelium and fruiting bodies ensures the whole food synergy of the mushroom components.
Powder or extract?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, mushrooms were ground and made into teas, or whole mushrooms were boiled to extract the medicinal components.
With the exception of reishi, reserved only for emperors, mushrooms were regularly eaten cooked with rice and grains. The medicinal applications of mushrooms were teas and extracts.
Based on the long history of mushrooms in Traditional Chinese Medicine, mushroom powders are an excellent choice for support, and extracts are best given for therapeutic applications.
Water extracts, alcohol extracts, dual extracts
Water extracts of medicinal mushrooms are prepared with a very traditional Chinese process that requires hot water for extracting the water-soluble compounds from the mushroom—such as the beta-glucans.
Other compounds, like the triterpenes in reishi and chaga mushrooms, are not water-soluble, requiring extraction via alcohol.
Dual extraction includes a hot water extraction and an alcohol extraction to ensure that both water-soluble and non-water-soluble compounds are collected.
High-quality dual extractions are made from the fruiting bodies and/or the mycelium depending on which mushroom is being extracted. For instance cordycepts mushrooms should be extracted from the fruiting bodies, while reishi needs dual extraction from the fruiting bodies and the mycelium.
The benefit of extraction is that the compounds in medicinal mushrooms are now concentrated: from four to 15 times, depending on which medicinal mushroom was used. Extracts are typically dosed lower than powders due to their increased potency. So far, most of the clinical studies demonstrating health benefits have been conducted with extracts, not powders.
Where do mushrooms in supplements come from?
China is responsible for 70% of the world’s medicinal mushroom production. In 1983, Japan accounted for 82% of the world’s production of shiitake. Today China accounts for 89% of shiitake production and Japan’s share has dwindled to 7.3%.
While China has millennia of experience and expertise in mushroom cultivation and extraction, there are issues with pollution, heavy metals and pesticide residue, depending on the region and variety of mushroom grown. This does not mean a consumer should automatically rule out “from China,” but you will have to do due diligence, asking for a COA (certificate of analysis) that will show the heavy metal assay results.
There are companies in North America that are growing medicinal mushrooms, but some of these medicinal mushrooms are labeled “myceliated grain,” which is more grain than mushroom.
Mushroom substrates (organic material for the spores to grown on) can be straw, sawdust, oats, rice, and other grains. There is an ongoing dispute among medicinal mushroom companies about which substrate is best.
After hours and hours of reading various claims and assertions, I’ve come away with this: any medicinal mushroom powder that includes fruiting body ensures at least that it’s not myceliated grain. And until we have more science on the grain-versus-wood debate over medicinal mushroom growing techniques, it appears that myceliated grain is a low-activity, inexpensive ingredient masquerading as a true medicinal mushroom.
It makes sense that a dog would eat mushrooms, but horses?
While none of us can imagine our horses wandering over to munch on some button mushrooms in the pasture, the fact is, a mushroom is a fungus, and horses on pasture are consuming fungi all the time, just as they are other soil microorganisms.
Fungi and bacteria play important roles in the soil web, helping to deliver nutrients to the roots of plants, as well as digesting the hard-to-break-down soil organics—plant matter like lignin and some sugars. Approximately 80-90% of all plants form symbiotic fungi relationships. Fungi prefer perennial plants, such as the grasses and legumes that make up our hay and forages.
So providing medicinal mushrooms to horses when needed is a kind of synergy in the complex natural world.
BioStar has partnered with a small family company that specializes in dual extract medicinal mushrooms. This small-batch approach, carefully prepared by hand (like all BioStar supplements) ensures vigorous quality control by people who love medicinal mushrooms. The mushrooms are USDA certified organic.
Look for BioStar’s innovative new formulas for horses and dogs in 2019.