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Mushroom Facts: 4 Common Myths About Mushrooms & Mushroom Supplements, Debunked

Mushroom Facts: 4 Common Myths About Mushrooms & Mushroom Supplements, Debunked
Mushroom Facts: 4 Common Myths About Mushrooms & Mushroom Supplements, Debunked

Mushrooms and mushroom supplements are more in demand than ever. For good reason: Not only do mushrooms make delicious and nutritious additions to your favorite dishes, but they also have a long history of use in traditional herbalism for supporting whole-body health and wellness.* And today, this ancient wisdom is routinely confirmed thanks to modern research, with study after study revealing and elucidating their benefits.*

But with popularity comes misinformation. In this article, we’ll debunk four common myths about traditional mushrooms and products made from them. Armed with the truth, you’ll be able to confidently choose only the highest-quality mushroom supplements to support your and your loved ones’ well-being.*

Myth #1: All Mushroom Supplements Contain Mushrooms

maitake

You might be surprised to learn that some mushroom supplements don’t actually contain mushrooms at all! How could that possibly be, you’re probably asking? Let us explain.

As you already know, mushrooms aren’t plants, rather fungi. But we can use plant terminology to better understand their anatomy. Fungi is the term for the entire fungal organism—to start the plant metaphor, it’s, well, the whole plant. Fungi have “roots” below ground known as mycelium, and they produce a “fruit” above ground, which is the mushroom. Collectively, all of the mushroom’s parts that we eat—its stem, gills, and cap—are referred to as the fruiting body.

Many companies use mycelium in their formulas, not the mushrooms themselves.

Recent research has confirmed that the concentration of active beneficial compounds, including beta glucans, is highest in the fruiting body versus the mycelium.1 In fact, nearly all studies to date on mushrooms’ benefits to human health have been conducted using fruiting bodies. That’s in part because, though mycelium is not a new discovery, it cannot be “harvested” in the traditional sense of the word. In production, it is cultured onto grain in a lab, and once developed, the entire mass of grain and mycelium is dried and powdered.

Mycelium is beginning to be studied for its constituents and effects on the human body, but previous research on fruiting bodies cannot really be extrapolated to show the efficacy of mycelium supplements. This would be like assuming the roots of an apple tree contain the same available compounds as the apple itself.

Fruiting bodies have long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and other traditional approaches. At Gaia, we embrace this accessible, holistic wisdom: Our line of mushroom supplements contains 100% organic and sustainably sourced fruiting bodies, with no added fillers or starches, for concentrated potency.* As a result, and thanks also to our rigorous quality testing, we can guarantee our products’ levels of beta glucans—so you get the support you want and need from a mushroom supplement.*

Myth #2: Mushrooms from China Aren’t Safe

It’s no secret that China, as an industrial country, suffers from air quality problems and groundwater pollution. However, these issues are primarily concentrated in Southern China, where there is widespread manufacturing—international organizations, including IQAir, track and document levels around the world.

Gaia’s trusted mushroom supplier, North American Medicinal Mushroom Extracts (also known as Nammex), is located in Qingyuan, the innermost county in China’s Guangdong province. For over 40 years, Nammex has been an industry leader in mushroom analysis and research and is a premier supplier of organically certified mushroom extracts.

While the urban areas of Guangdong province are some of the most highly populated in the country, this mountainous region is divided from Southern China by the Nan Mountains, which cut it off from heavy pollution. In fact, air quality maps show the region where our mushrooms are grown as being on par with US cities like New York City and even Charleston, South Carolina, for instance.

Most of the mushrooms we use in our supplements are grown on sterilized wood substrates, so they are not affected by what ground pollution might be present. They are, however, grown in open-air shade houses that closely mimic their natural environment, which is why it is so important they’re grown in air with low air pollution levels. A growing environment that resembles their natural habitat also helps encourage the production of active phytochemicals.

Our only mushroom that follows a different path is Chaga, which grows in very cold, remote regions of the world, particularly northern Russia, far from pollution. Turkey Tail mushrooms have previously only ever been harvested in the wild and have never been cultivated commercially (until now; more below).

All of our mushrooms are thoroughly tested for mold and other microbial content, heavy metals, and pesticides. They pass our stringent requirements and specifications before being made into extracts, at which point they are tested again to further ensure their safety. With our rigorous testing process, you can trust the quality of our mushroom supplements and feel confident about what you are taking to nurture your health.*

Myth #3: Wild-Harvested Mushrooms Are Not Sustainable and Harm the Environment

Turkey Tails

Turkey Tail and Chaga mushrooms have historically been wild-harvested, as they are more difficult to cultivate outside of their natural growing conditions than other mushrooms. When mushrooms and herbs are grown in the wild, there is less control over their habitat, where they can be influenced by the surrounding environment and pick up metals or pesticides from the ground.

Continual harvest of mushrooms in the wild can be detrimental to the animals that use them for food. Both Turkey Tail and Chaga mushrooms are too tough to be eaten raw like Oyster or Lion’s Mane mushrooms.

The sustainability of wild harvests is not something we take lightly at Gaia Herbs, and we work tirelessly to set benchmarks to increase our use of ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable Fair Trade and FairWild herbs and mushrooms. As mentioned above, our growing partner, Nammex, has been working in China since 1997 to responsibly wild-harvest and cultivate Certified Organic mushrooms for extraction.

For the past several years, they have been developing the first commercial-scale Turkey Tail cultivation in the world and began production in the summer of 2021. As of fall 2021, our new orders of Turkey Tails will be from this novel production, grown in the same way as the rest of our Certified Organic mushrooms. Gaia Herbs is excited to be part of this evolution in the mushroom industry!

Chaga is another mushroom (though not really a mushroom, it is biologically a canker made of the cellulose of the tree and about 10% fungal mycelium) that has been under fire recently for sustainability concerns.

To understand the sustainability of Chaga, one must understand its biology. Chaga is a disease pathogen and must grow on live trees. The pathogen kills the tree, causing it to topple around the girdle it creates on the trunk of the tree. When Chaga is harvested, it is done without felling or harming the tree.​ The tree can live for another 80 years, and the harvests increase Chaga’s production, resulting in harvestable cankers every 3-10 years.​

Similar to Turkey Tail, there have been some efforts to inoculate managed birch forests with Chaga. It is a unique situation, as careful management of these forests is important since they are spreading a birch pathogen.

Myth #4: Mushrooms Must Be Extracted to Reap Their Benefits

You can achieve some benefits from eating certain mushrooms! It is well known that you can eat Lion's Mane, Oyster, and Shiitake mushrooms. But did you know you can eat Reishi mushrooms, too?

In its early stage, before it has developed its characteristic tough brownish-red lacquer, the Reishi is edible. If you are able to find Reishi mushrooms fresh, either at a local market or farm stand or if you can properly identify them in the woods, you can use the white flesh and stir-fry it like tofu. Important tip: You must avoid the bitter, inner yellow band. Note that a handful of people have experienced mild to moderate digestive upset from eating fresh Reishi, so we recommend using moderation and starting with just a few Reishi the first time you add this mushroom to your diet to avoid any tummy troubles.

This said, most mushrooms do need to be heated in some way to release their beneficial compounds. Whether through cooking or making tea, this process breaks down chitin, tough walls that trap these compounds, so the compounds become available to us.

For mushroom supplements, how a company extracts their mushrooms matters, as it impacts the product’s potency. We recommend only buying from companies with the knowledge and scientific expertise to use the most beneficial extraction processes to ensure efficacious supplements.

At Gaia, we use two extraction processes: hot water extraction for maximum potency—which is similar to traditional tea or soup preparations—and ethanol extraction.* When combined with hot water extraction, this is known as dual extraction, and it offers additional beneficial constituents.* Dual extraction ensures optimal bioavailability, absorption, and digestibility.* Both water and ethanol extraction release different compounds, water-soluble polysaccharides with the former and fat-soluble compounds like triterpenoids in Reishi with the latter.

Discover the Gaia Mushrooms Difference

Gaia Herbs Mushroom Family

It's not just the fact that we use only fruiting bodies, source the highest-quality mushrooms, and extract them especially for potency that sets our mushroom supplements apart from the fungi field.

In our newest mushroom line, each 400-450 mg concentrated capsule contains 2,500 mg (or 2.5 grams) of dry mushrooms—delivering 5x-6x strength. Because of this powerful concentration, you only need one capsule a day for wellness support, versus two or three capsules with many other brands.*

The line includes four single-mushroom formulas and two mushroom blends:

  • Lion’s Mane is formulated to support mental performance, cognition, focus, and nervous system health.*
  • Reishi is designed to help you maintain a healthy immune system, support your heart health, and help your body cope with stress in a healthy way.*
  • Cordyceps can help you sustain energy, endurance, and stamina plus better manage the daily tasks of life.*
  • Turkey Tail is a popular choice to support healthy liver function, aid in your body’s natural cleansing process, and provide natural antioxidant support.*
  • Respiratory Mushroom Blend is a go-to for helping maintain overall lung and respiratory health.*
  • Immune Mushroom Blend contains five immune-supporting mushrooms to support your body’s natural defenses so you can stay feeling your best.*

Gaia Herbs also offers a line of Mushrooms & Herbs powders that support cognition, energy levels, and immune health.* These powders can be mixed into a smoothie, dairy or non-dairy milk, water, or any other beverage of your choice, providing an easy way for you to add organic mushrooms and herbs to your daily wellness routine, without any added fillers or sweeteners.

Our Mushrooms & Herbs powders are also all USDA Certified Organic, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free, which makes them ideal for many dietary lifestyles and preferences.* There are three formulas to choose from:

Learn More About Mushrooms

Want to read more about what makes mushrooms so magnificent? Check out the following articles:

Discover the Gaia Mushrooms difference today!

REFERENCES:

1. Jeff Chilton, "A New Analytical Fingerprinting Method for Quality Control of Medicinal Mushroom Products," Science and Cultivation of Edible Fungi, Baars & Sonnenberg (ed.), 2016.