Healthy Lifestyle Immunity

The Best Medicinal Mushrooms for Your Brain and Immune System

Inside the world of medicinal mushrooms and what to look for with Jeff Chilton.

On today’s podcast episode, I had an eye-opening conversation with Jeff Chilton about the world of medicinal mushrooms, and how to know that you’re getting a good quality product. Jeff shares the benefits of reishi, lion’s mane, chaga, and other mushrooms for brain health, immune system function, energy, and more, as well as tips for cooking with mushrooms and what to look for in mushroom products. Listen to the episode to learn more.

In This Episode

Intro … 00:00:45
Where it All Started … 00:05:38
Reishi Mushrooms … 00:09:42
The Role of Medicinal Mushrooms … 00:14:22
Quality of Medicinal Mushrooms … 00:20:31
Dosage of Medicinal Mushrooms … 00:31:00
Lion’s Mane Mushroom … 00:36:30
Cordyceps Mushroom … 00:38:50
Preparation of Mushrooms …00:42:00
Less Common Mushrooms and Fungi … 00:45:05
Ordering Medicinal Mushrooms … 00:50:14
Over-the-Counter Mushrooms … 00:54:18
Episode Wrap-Up … 01:00:03

The Best Medicinal Mushrooms for Your Brain and Immune System - Podcast306a JeffChilton

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Hey everyone. Oh, what a tangled web we weave in the world of dietary supplements. I wanted to have someone on the podcast who was well-versed in medicinal mushrooms, and I had an incredibly eye-opening experience by having Jeff Chilton on the show to discuss this topic. One of the things that was really eye-opening for me is the lion’s mane I have been using, as you will learn in this podcast, predominantly contains mycelium fractions of the mushroom, which is not the medicinal aspect of the mushroom. So hopefully I will get a bit smarter as I change the formula that I’m using to be one where corners are not cut. So this was a great interview with Jeff on medicinal mushrooms, discussing some of the more well-studied and beneficial including reishi, lion’s mane, Cordyceps and chaga, and also some tips for how to recognize a good product versus a bad product, as well as some advice on cooking these mushrooms and the importance of getting them into your diet.

So this definitely is a podcast that I feel to be worth the listen. There is some published, documented evidence that medicinal mushrooms can improve health, and like many things within the space of natural and alternative medicine, there’s a lot of good. However, the consumer needs to be aware of how certain companies are cutting corners. There may also be this very well-intentioned but misinformed execution by some of these companies that are making products that don’t really have the constitution of the product that they should have to allow you to experience, lion’s mane as an example, the best cognitive outcome. Cordyceps is another example. Cordyceps is something that can improve performance or reishi as something that can improve immune function.

So this was a really insightful conversation, and one other thing I just want to preempt in the podcast is that it’s helpful to embody a perspective of never knowing everything and always learning. In this case, I consider myself pretty well-versed in various topics in alternative and functional medicine, however, this was one that had sneaked underneath my radar because no one can know everything all the time. What that can be helpful in achieving is not clinging to any belief, but rather always being okay with there being something that you don’t have or you don’t fully understand, which keeps you open-minded to new information. And so in this case, I will be shifting how I personally and also in the Clinic use medicinal mushrooms.

We are going to fact check a few of these claims just to have an external verification. Just for full disclosure here, I absolutely trust everything Jeff outlined, but I always like to do a third-party fact check just to make sure. So we will be doing that also as we try to incorporate some of Jeff’s recommendations into the products that we recommend going forward. If you have, or you are considering using any type of medicinal mushroom, then this podcast is a must listen. If you’re enjoying the podcast, please, please, please leave us a review on iTunes.

One other thing I’ve got to mention is that he had my name wrong. He thought my first name was Jesse, so he refers to me as Jesse throughout the show here a number of times. I was tempted to ask our audio person to edit that out, but I thought I’d leave it in just because it was making me laugh, and I didn’t want to correct him and interrupt his flow. It was just making me laugh in my head, so hopefully you’ll get a kick out of it too. With that, we will go to the show.

➕ Full Podcast Transcript

Intro:

Welcome to Dr. Ruscio radio, providing practical and science-based solutions to feeling your best. To stay up to date on the latest topics as well as all of our prior episodes, make sure to subscribe in your podcast player. For weekly updates visit DrRuscio.com. The following discussion is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply any of this information without first speaking with your doctor. Now let’s head to the show.

DrMichaelRuscio:

Hey everyone. Oh, what a tangled web we weave in the world of dietary supplements. I wanted to have someone on the podcast who was well-versed in medicinal mushrooms, and I had an incredibly eye-opening experience by having Jeff Chilton on the show to discuss this topic. One of the things that was really eye-opening for me is the lion’s mane I have been using, as you will learn in this podcast, predominantly contains mycelium fractions of the mushroom, which is not the medicinal aspect of the mushroom. So hopefully I will get a bit smarter as I change the formula that I’m using to be one where corners are not cut. So this was a great interview with Jeff on medicinal mushrooms, discussing some of the more well-studied and beneficial including reishi, lion’s mane, Cordyceps and chaga, and also some tips for how to recognize a good product versus a bad product, as well as some advice on cooking these mushrooms and the importance of getting them into your diet.

DrMR:

So this definitely is a podcast that I feel to be worth the listen. There is some published, documented evidence that medicinal mushrooms can improve health, and like many things within the space of natural and alternative medicine, there’s a lot of good. However, the consumer needs to be aware of how certain companies are cutting corners. There may also be this very well-intentioned but misinformed execution by some of these companies that are making products that don’t really have the constitution of the product that they should have to allow you to experience, lion’s mane as an example, the best cognitive outcome. Cordyceps is another example. Cordyceps is something that can improve performance or reishi as something that can improve immune function.

DrMR:

So this was a really insightful conversation, and one other thing I just want to preempt in the podcast is that it’s helpful to embody a perspective of never knowing everything and always learning. In this case, I consider myself pretty well-versed in various topics in alternative and functional medicine, however, this was one that had sneaked underneath my radar because no one can know everything all the time. What that can be helpful in achieving is not clinging to any belief, but rather always being okay with there being something that you don’t have or you don’t fully understand, which keeps you open-minded to new information. And so in this case, I will be shifting how I personally and also in the Clinic use medicinal mushrooms.

DrMR:

We are going to fact check a few of these claims just to have an external verification. Just for full disclosure here, I absolutely trust everything Jeff outlined, but I always like to do a third-party fact check just to make sure. So we will be doing that also as we try to incorporate some of Jeff’s recommendations into the products that we recommend going forward. If you have, or you are considering using any type of medicinal mushroom, then this podcast is a must listen. If you’re enjoying the podcast, please, please, please leave us a review on iTunes.

DrMR:

One other thing I’ve got to mention is that he had my name wrong. He thought my first name was Jesse, so he refers to me as Jesse throughout the show here a number of times. I was tempted to ask our audio person to edit that out, but I thought I’d leave it in just because it was making me laugh, and I didn’t want to correct him and interrupt his flow. It was just making me laugh in my head, so hopefully you’ll get a kick out of it too. With that, we will go to the show.

DrMR:

Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Dr. Ruscio radio. This is Dr. Ruscio here today with Jeff Chilton and we are going to be discussing the funky world of mushrooms. Not psychedelic mushrooms like we have in the past, but medicinal mushrooms like reishi. So Jeff, I’m looking forward to furthering my knowledge base in “medicinal mushroom-ry,” if you will.

JeffChilton:

Well thank you, Dr. Ruscio for having me on. I’m really happy to be here.

H3:

Where it All Started

DrMR:

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you’re currently interfacing into the world of medicinal mushrooms?

JC:

I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle actually. Mushrooms were all around me right from the very beginning. It’s actually one of the best places in the world for wild mushrooms, so I got into that. And then in the late 60s, I was in university in Seattle and my field of study was actually anthropology, but they had a mycology department, and so I took my college courses as well. I kind of put the two together into what I would call “ethno-mycology.” So part of my study in anthropology was the use of mushrooms for food, for medicine, and in shamanic purposes, but after university, what do you do in terms of a degree in anthropology? Not much, so I asked my mycology professor, because I thought I’d love to learn how to grow mushrooms. He directed me to the only mushroom farm in Washington state, which was in Olympia Washington. I went there, got a job, and I was on that mushroom farm for the next 10 years, living with mushrooms. It was a big farm with 200 employees and I enjoyed every moment of it. It was just a real interesting intro into the world of mushrooms in a much more concentrated and focused way.

DrMR:

Sure, sure. There are many types of medicinal mushrooms, at least that’s my understanding. Maybe we can start high-level with, are there certain categories, maybe some that help with inflammation, some that help with circulation? How do you approach the dizzying array of mushrooms out there, and how do you start to organize them into chunks that people can grasp onto?

JC:

What’s interesting about mushrooms is that they all have in common a compound called beta glucan. Beta glucans make up about 50% of the cell walls of most fungi. The difference is that certain ones of those mushroom species have a little bit different architecture of those beta glucans. It’s the architecture of the beta glucan that will make the difference between a mushroom being simply nutritionally very good for you and a mushroom that has activities that are actually medicinal.

JC:

What is interesting is that I’ve got a book from China called The Icons of Medicinal Mushrooms and they list 270 different species of mushrooms that have medicinal properties. Now, some of them maybe just have one scientific paper behind it. Others have hundreds of scientific papers. So when you look at those and then look at, for example, traditional Chinese medicine, you can see that there’s probably about a dozen or so species that have been used traditionally, and that have a lot of scientific activity studies that support that traditional use. And that’s what we look for when we’re actually deciding which mushrooms to sell in our business. So for us, there’s approximately 10 or so major species that we utilize. They have traditional use, and they also have a lot of scientific research behind them. Again, one of the key compounds is this beta glucan, and that’s really what makes a mushroom medicinal.

DrMR:

Okay, so that’s great to help narrow some of the focus here. Of those 10 or 12, can we go through the list and give people a short synopsis of each?

H3:

Reishi Mushrooms

JC:

Sure, sure. The mushroom that I think maybe most people are familiar with would be reishi mushroom. Reishi mushroom really is a special mushroom. In China it’s called “The Mushroom of Immortality” or “The 10,000 Year Mushroom.” It’s a beautiful mushroom that has got a cap shaped kind of like a ram’s horn, it’s red and can be polished. It’s just very beautiful. It’s not an edible mushroom. It’s very, very woody. It’s what we call a polypore. What makes reishi different from all of the other species is that it not only has these beta glucans, but it also has compounds called triterpenoids. Anybody who’s ever tried a reishi mushroom tea or tasted a reishi mushroom powder or something finds it’s very, very bitter. For one, you’re definitely not going to be eating this mushroom.

JC:

Traditionally they’ll brew it up into a tea, but it’s these triterpenoids that will give reishi another aspect, and that is triterpenoids are considered to be very, very good for liver function. They’ve also been shown in some experiments to be cytotoxic, for cancer cells and things like that. So you put those two together and you have a mushroom that kind of stands out above all the others. And what’s really interesting to me is that one of the things that we do in our businesses is a lot of analysis. So we have a body of analytical information on all of the species that we utilize. One of the tests that we do is actually a test for beta glucans, and it turns out that the two species that are the highest in beta glucans are reishi and turkey tail, which have a content of 50% of beta glucans, the highest of all the other species. So to me that was a validation, to some degree, of the benefits of this particular mushroom. But reishi is one that really stands out and it’s been utilized a long time. I would say of all the different species, it’s probably the premier medicinal mushroom. Again, it’s pretty much first supplement use; it’s not an edible.

DrMR:

And the immune system is obviously the application that people are probably most used to hearing of regarding reishi. I actually just pulled up a clinical trial from the International Journal of Medical Mushrooms. The title of this paper is Randomized Clinical Trial for Evaluation of Immune Modulation by Yogurt Enriched with Beta Glucans from Reishi Medicinal Mushrooms. And then a few other words, essentially in children in Colombia. And they demonstrated that beta glucans increased the frequency of immune cells in the peripheral blood critical in the defense of infections that threatened asymptomatic children from three to five years old. It was just a quick pull on my part, but to your point, these are things that are being studied. What do people know about the take home in terms of what reishi mushrooms do? Obviously, if you go to Whole Foods, the guy in the aisle will probably say, “Oh, you’re feeling sick? Take some reishi.” And there may be something to that, but I’m always a little bit wary. So how should people be looking at this? What does reishi do best, and what do they need to know as consumers when considering purchasing reishi?

JC:

Well, just to get to the whole basis of these beta glucans, what they’re considered is what’s called a biological response modifier. What that really means is they are going to potentiate our immune system. I think that’s really the appropriate word, because what they’re actually doing is they’re activating macrophages, T-cells, and K cells. And so their activity, when we consume them either as a food or as a supplement, is they will hit certain receptor sites that we have in our intestines. They’ll hit these receptor sites, and that’s where they will potentiate and stimulate the production of these different immune cells, and then the cytokines from there.

H3:

The Role of Medicinal Mushrooms

JC:

And something that I think is really important when people are thinking about mushrooms, it’s not something that you’re going to go, “Oh, gee, I feel a cold coming on. I’m going to take these mushrooms and tomorrow it’s going to be gone. That’s great.” That’s not how it works. You really have to be consuming them in a regular way. They are sitting in the background, and essentially when you’re challenged in some way, whether it’s by viruses or bacteria or some other microbial type of pathogen, they’re there to boost your immunity and help you meet that challenge.

JC:

How I would categorize mushrooms in general is they are what I would call food as medicine. They are something that you’re consuming. You’re putting them into your diet. They’re part of your diet, they’re part of your overall regimen, and they are there working for you. You’re not necessarily going to notice them, just like you wouldn’t notice if you were taking vitamin C or vitamin D. You wouldn’t be saying, “Oh, man, that feels so amazing. I just took it a few hours ago and I feel so much better.” It’s the same kind of activity. It’s there; you’re not really going to notice it, but at some point you would say, “Wow, it’s been a few years since I’ve had a cold or the flu or something like this. Overall, my health is better.” Now, let’s face it, you still have to have a good diet, which is really the foundation for our health. You still have to be exercising and living in at least a reasonable environment. But all in all, that’s pretty much how these mushrooms work and what their activity is like.

DrMR:

That’s actually really good to know, because I think most clinicians are receiving at least a significant part of their education about how to use “buytanicals” from supplement companies. Oftentimes it seems that there’s a formula for cold, flu, that sort of thing, and it’s usually recommended to be used at the first sign of feeling a cold all the way through until resolution. Perhaps there are other items like echinacea that lend themselves more to that and reishi is kind of lumped into the formula, and therefore it’s incorrectly described in terms of how to use it. But it’s really good to know that if you’re looking for the immuno-benefit, that a vector should be used in the longer-term.

JC:

Yeah, and there are a couple of things about herbal medicine in general. In traditional Chinese medicine, when you go to a practitioner, they give you a formula and then you take it home and you create a tea with it, because they’re really into liquid extraction. They’re giving you a very strong and potent amount. So you’re boiling these things up into this really deep liquid, and then you’re throwing away all the fiber, and now you’re drinking this. What they really want is that they want to see something happen. The issue sometimes, Jesse, is that when you’re buying a supplement, for example, it says to take two 500 milligram capsules a day. So you get one gram a day of this, and we’re giving you 60 capsules, so here’s your one month supply. Well, what does that mean in terms of a 120-pound person versus a 200-pound person? I mean, it’s pretty obvious. They’re not going to both be taking two capsules a day.

JC:

The other side of that too is that a lot of those products are underpowered. They’re not like that TCM clinician who is like, “I really want to see something happen here. I really want to give you enough of whatever herb it happens to be. I want to give you enough that it’s going to actually have a benefit or effect.” That’s something I think people have to consider when they are supplementing. Again, it’s not like vitamin D where you’ve got 2,000 IUs or 5,000 IUs, you know how much you’re taking and how much you should be taking. With herbs and herbal medicine in general, especially if you’re just buying a supplement off the shelf, it’s very difficult to know if what’s in that capsule has enough of the active compounds to give you the benefits or not. Maybe you’re just taking something and it ends up being nothing more than a placebo because it doesn’t really have the active compounds that you’re looking for.

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H3:

Quality of Medicinal Mushrooms

DrMR:

I can see this being one of the challenges with buying products at a health food store, because if we’re really doing all the math here, there’s a lot of market pressure that dictates what product is going to find its way to the prized retail space on the shelf at Whole Foods.

JC:

That’s such a great point.

DrMR:

So if the price point is too high, if the taste isn’t appropriate, if you don’t get enough pills per capsule, and these are all the things that as I’m learning, I guess you could say the business of supplements, there’s all these pressures that want to pull you off of what we keep as the primary and unwavering objective, which is giving people the best products that can improve their health. But to get onto the shelves at Whole Foods, I have a feeling that, I don’t want to say corners are going to be cut, but it’s just if you can’t do it at this price, people aren’t going to buy it enough. Therefore, after your one month trial on the shelf at Whole Foods, your product is gone and they’re just going to keep going until they find the product that consumers will buy. So I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that what’s on the shelf at the health food store, especially if it’s a big chain health food store that’s a bit more bureaucratic, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best.

JC:

Oh yeah. And part of that too is that you would expect the people who work there to be very knowledgeable and trying to sell you the best of those products, but what happens is that there are a lot of companies that send around reps and educators that are talking to the people that work there and giving them the whole story about that particular product line. It may not be a great product line at all, but let’s say that the company puts a lot of advertising behind it, so it’s going to sell well. They know there’s a lot of profit in selling it. So then you get the people working there pointing to that product when somebody asks, “Well, what’s a good mushroom product?” They’ll point to that product. They’re not really that educated.

JC:

And I see that all the time, because I’ll often go into a Whole Foods or some other store like that, and I’ll ask the person working there, “What do you think is one of the good mushroom products here? What brands?” They’ll very often point me to a brand that I know from our own testing is not a brand that’s got a good amount of beta glucans. It might not even be a mushroom product. It might just be masquerading as a mushroom product, and that’s very discouraging. And so people really have to be well-educated when you go into the store looking for supplements to find something that actually is a high-quality product. And price is not something where if it’s more expensive, it’s going to be better. Not at all. That doesn’t necessarily mean it either, but certainly the lower-priced products are probably going to be your lowest common denominator.

DrMR:

Well said. I’ve said that exact same thing, which is, more expensive doesn’t equal better, but usually when you go to the cheapest, oftentimes to get to that cheap price some corners have been cut.

JC:

That’s right. That’s absolutely right.

DrMR:

It’s also just important to mention that it’s great that we’re even having this conversation. It’s great that our culture has shifted enough to a point where there’s enough consumer demand for things other than Theraflu on the counter.

JC:

Oh my God, yeah.

DrMR:

So praise on the one hand, but then some things to keep in mind for the savvy consumer who really wants to make sure that they’re getting the best stuff. Obviously right now, one other question that comes up is regarding immune health. It’s probably something that people are really concerned about, I think less so as the vaccines are rolling out, but I just pulled up the paper here as an example. Effects of Combination of Elderberry and Reishi Extract on the Duration and Severity of Respiratory Tract Infections in Elderly Subjects, a Randomized Control Trial. Essentially they found that the duration of the respiratory tract infection was cut in half by using a combination of reishi and elderberry. Which begs the question, is there and has there traditionally been some sort of optimum combining of a couple of these things into a multi-pronged support formula?

JC:

My own feeling about combinations like that is it’s just shooting in the dark. It’s kind of like, “Oh, this product works for this particular disease. So does this, so does this. Let’s put them all together and it’s going to have to be a better product.” That’s absolutely not necessarily the case at all. I mean, you may end up diluting the one that is actually going to have the most benefits, and maybe as a standalone, it’s even better. But I think part of what goes on out there in the industry is how do you differentiate your product from somebody else’s product? What do you have to do? So often it ends up as, “Well, let’s just formulate it.” A lot of the herbal companies have formulators on staff, and they’re always trying to figure out how they can sell something new and novel.

DrMR:

There’s always that pressure. To give you maybe a little bit of a paternalistic chastising here, it’s amazing how consumers will just gobble up the new and novel and look over the things that are tried and true. So for whatever it’s worth, in the Clinic, we oftentimes help people who have been floundering in the new and novel, sometimes for years, just by executing the tried and true, either dietary changes, supplements, or herbs. So yes, that’s definitely something that we’re always trying to pull people back from that brink.

JC:

The other part of that which I find so fascinating in the mushroom space is I would say that if you’re going to combine mushrooms of different species then maybe the absolute upper limit would be maybe five species. And there’s some research that says that can be better than just one alone. I could possibly see that, but what happens is that somebody comes out with 10 species. It’s like, “See, the more you have, the better.” And then the next thing, somebody comes out with 17 species. I’ve seen a company that put out a product that has 25 different species. By the time you get to 17 or 25, now you’ve dropped down each one of them to maybe 25 milligrams or something like that. Again, what you end up doing is diluting the species that are the important species. It’s like those kitchen sink products that are out there and somehow people think, “That’s just great. It’s got everything I need in this one place.” Those are usually the worst products that you can buy. It’s certainly the case in our testing when we’ve tested these kitchen sink mushroom products that have these multiple species, 10, 17, 24. They are the worst of the products out there in terms of beta glucans.

DrMR:

Well, that makes sense in certain areas. We had a podcast with Mike Matthews from Legion Athletics, and he referred to this as “pixie dusting,” where you put just a small amount of various active ingredients in a formula so you can say that “Active ingredient X is in the formula,” but it’s not enough to have any real clinical benefit.

JC:

That’s absolutely right.

DrMR:

I think that probably holds true for many “buytanicals.” Just to prevent any confusion for our audience, there is an area where more species technically does seem to make a difference, and that is with probiotics. There have been a few meta-analyses that have found that multi-species probiotic formulas work better than single or double species probiotics, but that’s likely a very different animal. The gut contains a thousand some odd bacterial species, so it seems that a broad presentation is probably better to give the immune system all these different shapes and sizes of receptors and really, microbes to help attune it. But if you’re looking for a medicinal mushroom that has a certain effect, then this would probably be a different animal altogether.

H3:

Nutritional Value of Mushrooms

JC:

Yeah, totally. That’s a very good point. One of the interesting things too about eating mushrooms is that they are very, very high in fiber. When I first went to work on a mushroom farm in 1973, the classical nutritionist said, “Mushrooms have no food value.” They basically said, “Oh yeah, it’s very good flavor and all, but there’s no food value there.” The reason they said that was because mushrooms are low in calories. So in 1973, a low-caloric food was considered a non-food. But the fact is that mushrooms are a very high-quality food. They’ve got a decent-quality protein in it that can be a 15 to 30% protein. The majority of mushrooms are carbohydrates, but those carbs are actually high-quality carbohydrates.

JC:

One of the main carbohydrates in mushrooms is a mannitol, which is a very, very slow-acting carbohydrate. Mushrooms have no starch, so that’s the other side of it. No starch, not like plants where you’ll get some really starchy grains, or whatever it is. Next thing you know, up goes the glycemic index on these. It’s very high. Up you go, and then back down you come. Whereas when you’re eating mushrooms, it’s a food that is very slow to digest. It’s not easy to digest, so a lot of that fiber is actually feeding the microbiome. So it’s really a great food for that purpose. It’s what you would call prebiotic.

H3:

Dosage of Medicinal Mushrooms

DrMR:

One thing I want to make sure not to go past here is the dose. Let’s say someone is trying to be on a budget and maybe they don’t feel that they need the immune support the entire year, but definitely maybe late fall for people who are in seasonal climates, like the Northeast, where I grew up and people always get sick in the winter. If you’re trying to get your immune system in peak shape for winter cold and flu season, what’s the front load looking like, a month out, two months out, three months out? What kind of daily dose of reishi should people be shooting for?

JC:

I would say absolutely starting in September you would really start to supplement. Again, like I said, I’m really into putting mushrooms into the diet. When it comes to doses, a physician, an M.D. in the United States who was raised in Hong Kong and knew traditional Chinese medicine very well did a study on reishi mushroom. He looked at all the traditional uses in terms of how much they were using, and he came up with a formula which I use a lot, and that is two to five grams of dried mushroom or extract equivalent.

JC:

Meaning if you’re consuming five grams of powder and you have a 10-1 extract, now you only need 500 milligrams of that extract. That was what he used, and I use that for every single mushroom. So in other words, if you’ve got an entry-level product, you’re going to want to take at least two grams of it. So if they’re saying two capsules, 500 milligrams each, well double that. You don’t want to underdose. Five dried grams is 50 grams of fresh mushrooms. 50 grams of fresh mushrooms is hardly anything. I weighed up just a medium-sized button mushroom not long ago and it was 40 grams. I mean, I can eat five of those things in a meal, no problem. That’s 200 grams. That would be 20 grams of dried mushrooms. And actually eating mushrooms, have you ever had shiitake?

DrMR:

Yeah, I buy this chef’s sampler that has maybe six to eight different types of mushrooms in it that I will saute with some rosemary. But yes, I have had shiitake.

JC:

Shiitake’s just such a great mushroom. I mean, not just a medicinal mushroom, but it’s also just a choice edible mushroom. You can buy fresh shiitake and you could put 100 grams or more into any dish that you happen to be eating, and you’d be getting a really good amount of those beta glucans. It is a really great medicinal mushroom, and how lucky you are to be able to have that many species in your market. I know Austin is definitely getting to be a place where you can go into a Whole Foods or something and they do have multiple species there, which is something. If you’re in a metropolitan area, you have the availability of a lot of great species.

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H3:

Selection of Medicinal Mushrooms

DrMR:

Now, is it your thinking that it is more important just to get in a certain amount of mushrooms, or do we have to be more strategic with lion’s mane if we’re looking for brain health, and reishi for immune? Or is it not that complicated?

JC:

I would say it’s not that complicated. If you look at all of these species, they all have the immunological benefits. Certainly if you’re looking for the neurological benefits that come with lion’s mane, then you might want to focus on lion’s mane. Certainly. I mean, lion’s mane is really interesting because it’s got these compounds in it called hericenones which actually will stimulate the production of what’s called nerve growth factor. We produce nerve growth factor, and it helps in the maintenance of neurons and the organization of neurons, so it’s really important. As we get older, we tend to produce less of this nerve growth factor. They think that’s maybe one of the reasons why ultimately people start to lose their memory a little bit, and ultimately for dementia.

H3:

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

JC:

They’ve done some really good clinical trials on lion’s mane where they’re actually doing nothing more than feeding people three grams of lion’s mane powder for a period of 90 days or 120 days, I think it was. They have a control group and there’s 30 people. They’re all at somewhere around 60 to 70 years old. They give them a battery of tests. At the end of the 120-day period they test them again, and the ones taking the lion’s mane do better on the tests. What’s interesting is after another 30 days where neither group is taking lion’s mane, they sort of dropped down to baseline. Both of them. So the group taking lion’s mane is back to normal.

JC:

So it’s an interesting trial. There certainly needs to be more trials, but a lot of the in vitro or in vivo research with lion’s mane demonstrates that these compounds that stimulate the nerve growth factor seem to be pretty important and seem to be very active in terms of helping with memory and cognitive type issues, which is one of the reasons why right now lion’s mane is our most popular product. It’s really kind of interesting. Everybody wants something that can sort of help them out cognitively.

DrMR:

Well, I had another question, but I just forgot it. No, I’m just kidding. Are there other mushrooms that you think are good for cognition, or is lion’s mane the best one at least currently available for that application?

JC:

Oh, no. There’s actually others. What’s interesting is that lion’s mane has gotten that reputation because of certain studies. But no, there’s other mushrooms like reishi. Reishi has shown some really good activity for stimulating nerve growth factor as well. Again, it’s not just lion’s mane. And if you’re lucky enough to be in a place where you’ve got shiitake, maitake, and lion’s mane in your marketplace, man, you have got it made in terms of putting that into your diet. To me, I think mushrooms are the forgotten food. I look at them as the missing dietary link. So I’m always telling people, “Get them into your diet first, and then if you want to supplement, well sure, go ahead and supplement.” You’ve heard about cordyceps, right?

H3:

Cordyceps Mushroom

DrMR:

One of my next questions, yes.

JC:

Cordyceps is just such a fascinating fungus. It used to be wildcrafted, and still is, up in the foothills of Tibet. It’s a small little blade-like fungus that grows off of a caterpillar. So they call it “caterpillar fungus” in China, and they harvest it on their hands and knees, combing through the pastures. They call it “Winter worm, Summer grass.” Well, it also happens to sell for somewhere around $20,000 a dried kilogram, which means you and I are not going to be eating any cordyceps. But what is great is that in the last 10 years we have learned how to cultivate cordyceps and not on a caterpillar. There’s another species that has been used interchangeably. It’s called cordyceps militaris, and now we can grow that and sell it at a normal price where everybody can get the benefits of cordyceps.

JC:

Cordyceps has been traditionally used for neurasthenia, which is when people are just tired. They don’t have a lot of energy. In China, it was when people were coming out of an illness and they can’t quite get over the hump. They’re giving them cordyceps because they’re just tired and fatigued. And the interesting thing is whenever anybody hears fatigue over here we think, “Oh, that’s going to be great for athletes.” Here in North America, that’s kind of where cordyceps has tended to go, into the athletic market. A lot of people are working out these days, a lot of people are being very active, which is fantastic, so they think that cordyceps is perfect. It’s also been used for oxygen utilization. That kind of plays into that same model. Cordyceps is from high elevations so that’s really interesting. What’s really fantastic about cordyceps is that cordyceps militaris is this beautiful orange little and they do now sell it in the markets in China for food. So you can actually now be eating cordyceps as food.

JC:

I had this beautiful plate of cordyceps a few years ago when I was in China. And it was so tasty; it had a great flavor. For me, anytime that I can get these mushrooms and put them into my diet, that’s number one. Supplementation is number two, but into my diet is number one. In China, the cordyceps essentially became too expensive for anybody to actually consume. It’s pretty much just given away as a gift. Nobody can afford to take it on their own, except the very rich.

H3:

Preparation of Mushrooms

DrMR:

With getting these in your diet, is there any particular way? Or is something as simple as just medium level sauteeing something that would work for these?

JC:

What I really will emphasize with cooking mushrooms is first of all, cut them. Don’t cut them too thin, a quarter of an inch thick maybe. They need to be cooked in a hot pan. If you cook them in a pan that’s not hot enough, what happens is all the liquid comes right out of them. They’re 90% water, like most vegetables. They’re 90% water. If you cook them on a low heat, the water comes out of them, and now they’re sitting in a pool of water in your fry pan. The thing to use is a hot pan with your choice of oil or however you like to fry. I like to brown them up on either side. I’ll cook them for maybe 10 minutes, but I’m really making sure they’re nice and brown on each side from the high heat.

JC:

When you get them out, talk to any kid who’s five years old and he’ll just say, “Oh, these mushrooms, they’re so slimy. I hate them.” Well, they’re not going to be slimy because you’ve really done a nice job. So they’re almost a little bit dry in that sense, and the moisture stays in the mushroom. Remember, when you’re cooking mushrooms, they’re going to shrink. They will end up being half the size of when you sliced them and put them in. So again, it’s really, really important the way you cook them. The beauty of mushrooms is they go with just about anything. You can cook them in so many different ways and add them to so many different dishes. It’s a very, very versatile food.

DrMR:

So not too thin, but cook them hot and brown them.

JC:

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And let me tell you, they’ll be so much better and so much tastier. If I’m just eating them alone, which I will often do, I’ll just put a little salt and pepper on them. I’m a meat eater, so when I’m eating any kind of meat, I will always cook mushrooms with them. That’s my go-to, and then I’ll put them in stir-fries or anything else that I’m cooking. So I’ve essentially got mushrooms in my meals almost daily, and that’s just a general part of my diet.

DrMR:

That’s great to know about the cooking piece, because sometimes it’s recommended to not cook things too hot, because you may denature or damage certain compounds in the food. So people may have inadvertently skewed more toward the direction of cooking low and slow, that sort of thing. So that’s really helpful to know.

JC:

Yeah, and I get that. I think when you’re doing that, you’re always going to be losing maybe a little bit of vitamin, but the surface area is not a lot compared to the whole of what you’ve got there, so that would really be the least of my worries. The beta glucan compounds are resistant to high heat, so you’re definitely not going to be damaging those in any way.

H3:

Less Common Mushrooms and Fungi

DrMR:

So we’ve hit a few of the big ones here, reishi, lion’s mane, cordyceps. Are there one or two others that are worth mentioning?

JC:

One of the ones I like to mention is chaga. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the information about chaga out there. Chaga is really interesting because chaga is one of those fungal growths that actually is not a mushroom at all. And let me just do something really quickly here, because I think it’s important. That is that anytime you’re buying a supplement, they have to tell you what part of the plant that they are giving you. So, when you’re buying echinacea, normally it’s the flower. When you’re buying ginseng, it’ll be the root. Gingko, it’ll be the leaf. That’s very, very important.

JC:

When you’re talking about mushrooms, a mushroom is just one part of this fungal organism, which starts with a spore. Mushrooms do not have seeds. That spore gets dispersed into the environment, maybe on the ground, maybe on wood. Ultimately when multiple spores germinate, they’ll germinate into a fine filament. Those filaments will fuse together and form a network. That network is called mycelium. Mycelium is the vegetative body; that’s the actual body of this organism. We don’t normally see it because it’s underground. It’s embedded in the wood. When conditions are right, that mycelial body, which has amassed nutrients, will put up a mushroom. That’s called the fruiting body, so in a sense, it’s kind of like the fruit of this actual body.

JC:

Which maybe you could look at it as, having an apple tree and having the apple. Mycelium to some degree is also like a root system. So up comes the mushroom, the mushroom goes through a number of growth stages that matures. Underneath are the gills, the gills are where the spores are produced. Now we have the life cycle complete, and we have what I call three plant parts of this fungus. We have spore, we have mycelium, and we have mushroom. Each one of which has certain properties, but it’s the mushroom that has the major medicinal compounds in it. And that’s what’s been used traditionally.

JC:

There are companies in the United States that actually will grow the mycelium, and there’s research on pure mycelium. It’s got beta glucans, it’s got medicinal properties, not like the mushroom, but companies will grow this mycelium on sterilized grain. And then after it’s grown over the grain, they will then dry it, grind it to a powder, grain and all, and they will sell it as a mushroom. This is something that people have to be very aware of. Do you ever eat the product called tempeh?

DrMR:

I’ve had it a handful of times.

JC:

Do you know what tempeh is actually made of?

DrMR:

Fermented soy, I believe? Is that miso, or is that also tempeh?

JC:

That’s correct, that’s tempeh. It’s fermented soybeans, but what they ferment it with is a fungus. So when you buy or cook tempeh, you see all of this white that has colonized and covers the soy of these cracked soybeans is actual fungal mycelium. So in a sense, what’s happening is that companies in the United States are growing a tempeh-like product, and then they’re grinding it all up, with the grain and all that they’ve put this mycelium on, and they’re selling it as a mushroom. And so that’s something that people really have to be aware of when they are looking for a supplement, because I kid you not, 50% of the so-called mushroom products that are on the shelf are this tempeh product.

JC:

And when we analyze it, it basically has somewhere around 5% beta glucan, when a standard mushroom product will have 30 to 60% beta glucan. It also has a very, very high amount of starch, upwards of 30 to 60% starch, which of course comes from the grain it’s grown on. And again, mushrooms do not have any starch. So it’s not a mushroom supplement. It’s mostly starch. You have to be very, very careful or else you’ll end up buying one of these products thinking you’re getting a mushroom product, when in fact you’re just feeding yourself starch.

H3:

Ordering Medicinal Mushrooms

DrMR:

That was one of the objectives I had in asking you to come on the show today was just looking for someone who really knew the mushroom space well. They could give us some of these things to look out for. I have a love/hate relationship with the supplement world. Like I said earlier, I’m happy that people have these options at the health food store, and that there’s things other than Theraflu and aspirin out there. But I think it becomes a little bit more incumbent upon the consumer to know some of these what-to-look-for red flags. Will you tell us more about the company and if people wanted to order some of your products, where they can track those down?

JC:

Well, sure. My company NAMMEX is a supplier of bulk mushroom extract powders to other companies. We’re a wholesale company, so we sell those powders. We have a retail side of the business where you can actually get our products in their retail package. They’re actually being sold only on the internet at realmushrooms.com.

JC:

One of the things about a real mushroom product is you can taste it. It will taste like a mushroom. Some of these other products, like it might be a reishi product, and it’s grown on this grain. You taste it and it’s just kind of sweetish. It doesn’t have any of the bitters that you would expect to find. So it’s fairly easy, if you were to dump it out and taste it, to unmask those products. But the key thing for us too, is that we guarantee all of our products for the beta glucans. And so people should look at that, and at the very least make sure that the product that they buy is giving them more than 20% beta glucans or 30% beta glucans, but has some actual amount of beta glucans that is in the product. That at least will tell you that it’s got what you’re looking for.

JC:

Don’t be fooled by polysaccharides. Beta glucans are polysaccharides, but so are starches. So products that are talking about their high polysaccharide content, they are actually in most cases, just measuring the starches that are in there, and it makes it sound very good, but that’s not what you want. You want the actual beta glucan. So do not think that a polysaccharide number will have any meaning. It doesn’t have any meaning at all.

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H3:

Over-the-Counter Mushrooms

DrMR:

And if there’s no mention of the beta glucan content, is that a red flag in and of itself?

JC:

Well, yes, I would say so for the most part. Some of these companies, even those that are putting out these products are saying, “Oh yeah, we’ve got beta glucans in our products,” if you look at their marketing materials, but no. And this is one of the things that really gets me about research and stuff, because, there’s research out there that will say, “Oh, there’s a hundred different activities from mushrooms,” and then companies like to tout that like, “Oh, there’s all these different things.” That was one of the things about chaga, where it’s like, “This is a panacea. It will do everything for you.” I just don’t like that at all, because a researcher that working at drug discovery finds some compound, it’s got some activity. You can’t take that and say, “Oh gee, that activity is going to work with me when I take that as a supplement.” No, that’s not how it works.

JC:

So I like to look at it as there’s three or four, maybe five different benefits from medicinal mushrooms. That’s what we need to focus on. Be aware that there’s a ton of hype out there about mushrooms. When I read some of the stuff out there, I’m just shaking my head and just thinking that the way things get sold at times and the marketing hype is outrageous.

DrMR:

I’m looking up a couple of different products right now that are lion’s mane, just to try to see what the consumer is going to confront when they look this up. What I’m seeing here is a full-spectrum of constituents, including polysaccharides, and then it lists, within parentheses, beta glucans first. Is that a good indicator if you’re seeing beta glucans first, rather than third or fourth or last?

JC:

No, actually, as soon as you say full-spectrum, that is one of those words where they are trying to say, sometimes they’ll say, “We’ve got spore, we’ve got mycelium,” instead of saying mushroom, they’ll say “fruiting body.” And they try to hide their product behind a word like full-spectrum. If it says full-spectrum, I would stay away from it. That’s being used not 100%, but it’s often being used in a way that is just hiding the fact that mostly what they’ve got is a tempeh-like myceliated grain in there.

DrMR:

That’s good to know, because it says here “certified organic mycelium with a full-spectrum of constituents.” So it sounds like once you know what you’re looking, from what you’re explaining here, that’s an indicator that they’re probably not giving me a good product.

JC:

Absolutely. If they’re saying mycelium right there on the supplement’s facts panel, you know that’s actually what you’re getting. The more, what I would say, ethical companies might say in the other ingredients something like myceliated oats, or myceliated oats or something like that. That’s another big tell, but I would say, generally speaking, if it says grown or manufactured in the United States, it’s one of these other products, because the basic issue is that growing mushrooms is expensive. You can grow them for food, but as I was saying, they’re 90% water and supplements are dried powder. What you’re getting $5 for in the fresh market, now you have to get $50 in the supplement market for that same pound of mushroom, and the economics simply do not work. So if it says “Made in the USA” or “Grown in the USA,” that’s an absolute tell that what you’re getting is this myceliated grain product.

DrMR:

The economics here also make a difference, because one of these products I’m looking up is one of the more popular brands that you’ll see at Whole Foods, and Whole Foods is going to take a margin. Whole Foods is going to take a big margin. Their lion’s mane and yours is about the same price, but the difference there is you’re going direct to consumer. You’re not having a 20% or maybe 30% taken out by Whole Foods. And so, these are the things that make it important and incumbent upon the consumer to do their homework, because otherwise you may be having this mycelium-based product, and maybe that gives you some benefit, but I’m assuming it’s going to really pale in comparison if you have the correct formulation.

JC:

The key too is, think about this for a second. We would go yearly down to a trade show in Austin, called Paleo FX. I would have people coming up to me at our booth and they’d say, “Oh, mushrooms. I love mushrooms.” And my first question was, “Well, what brand are you taking?” And I’d say, “Well, you know that’s mostly grain starch.” They’re shocked, because a lot of these people are not eating grains. That’s an issue to me because those products are mostly grains. The fact that there’s a small amount of mycelium, and let me tell you, it is a small amount of mycelium in these products, it’s mostly grain starch. That’s what our analysis shows. And for anybody that is uncertain and they have one of these products, just go buy a small little bottle of iodine, put three, four, or five capsules into a quarter cup of water, stir it up really good, put 10 drops of iodine in, and if they’re starch, it will turn black. It’s a great test; it’s easy to do. It’s a great way to unmask those products. Mushrooms do not have starch. They will not turn black.

H3:

Episode Wrap-Up

DrMR:

Well, you’ve certainly sold me to convert the lion’s mane that I was taking previously over to yours. This was really an eye opening conversation for me.

JC:

This is what’s interesting too, because even naturopaths and medical practitioners don’t have the time to look into every single product that they’re purchasing and maybe even selling to others. Nobody’s got the time. So you’re getting word of mouth and you hear about certain products, so you could end up actually consuming one of these products without even actually knowing what’s in there, but just thinking, “Oh yeah, this is a good brand and I’ve seen it a lot.”

DrMR:

You make a really good point, and I just want to reiterate this as a side note for our audience. I am oftentimes critical of the field, but I never assume ill will on the part of any of the providers. To your point, Jeff, it’s really difficult to know every detail behind every product you use. Clinicians are oftentimes just trying to wrap their head around what product might be worthwhile to incorporate into their clinical model. Then it’s a question of when do I use it, what lab markers predict that it will or will not be helpful? They’re going to get a brief from whatever company that they’re buying from. Those briefs can be biased, and doing some of this fact checking takes a lot of time. So I think it’s good just to maintain a perspective of no one knows everything, to remain open-minded, and to be quick to make updates when better information is presented to you, as I’m doing in this case. And so here’s another thing for me to learn.

JC:

I totally agree. I mean, it is so difficult. I mean, you’re a busy guy. Everybody’s really busy, especially if you’re a practitioner. I mean, the amount of time you have to really look into this kind of stuff when you’ve got so many other really important things to look at. It’s so very difficult, and that’s why these products just carry on. One of the things I really try to do is educate people about quality issues and just about the benefits of real, genuine medicinal mushrooms.

DrMR:

This has been a really insightful call. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain all of this. Like I said, you really helped open my eyes to something I had no clue about before, and I hope people will go check out some of your products.

JC:

Well, thank you so much for having me on, I really appreciate it. I hope your audience does get a little better understanding of this.

DrMR:

Awesome. Well, Jeff, thank you again.

JC:

You’re welcome.

Outro:

Thank you for listening to Dr. Ruscio radio today. Check us out on iTunes and leave a review. Visit Dr. Ruscio.com to ask a question for an upcoming podcast, post comments for today’s show, and sign up to receive weekly updates.

➕ Dr. Ruscio’s Notes

All mushrooms contain beta glucans

  • Different beta glucan architecture influences impact of mushroom
  • 2-5g dried or extract equivalent – FOR ALL MUSHROOMS
  • Most have immune benefit
    • Reishi for immune
  • Brain Health
    • Lion’s Mane – for brain health (3g/day)
    • Reishi also
  • Fatigue, perhaps athletics
    • Cordyceps militaris
    • Oxygen utilization
  • Spore, mycelium + mushroom = entire mushroom

 

About 10-12 species with traditional use and scientific study

• Reishi:

  • Immune stimulant, BG and triterpenoids, supports liver
  • Reishi and turkey tails –
  • Biological response modifier
  • Should be used long term, not acutely for cold/flu
  • Dose:
    • starting in Sept for winter cold/flu
    • 2-5g dried or extract equivalent – FOR ALL MUSHROOMS
  • Research

• Lion’s Mane
• Cordyceps
• Chaga

 

Diet: Shitake, maitake, lion’s mane

  • Get into your diet
  • Cut ¼ inch thick, not too thin
  • Cook in hot pain & brown them


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