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What's Better for Health, Raw Mushrooms or Mushroom Extracts?

Mushrooms can work wonders for your health and are a great addition to pasta dishes, stews, soups, and a range of other savory meals. They are also a great substitute for meat, providing much of the taste and texture, and nutrients in a form that’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

What if you've tried mushrooms and can't bear the taste but still want to reap the immense health benefits? That’s where mushroom extracts come in. Mushroom powders in the form of extracts provide many of the same benefits you get from raw or dried mushrooms, but in an easy-to-use and convenient form.

What are Mushroom Extracts?

There are two types of mushroom extract: whole food powders and extracts (usually more potent).

Whole food extracts contain all of the mushroom, often including both the fruiting bodies (the actual “mushrooms” that you eat) and the mycelium (the root-like structure that supports growth). They aim to include a full spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants by drying and powdering the mushroom.

Many mushroom extracts contain just one of the compounds found in the mushroom, unless you find a high quality extract that uses them all. They are created using a water, alcohol extraction process, or both, and then sold as a powder or liquid tincture

To use an example that you might be more familiar with, think about an orange.

If you were to blend an orange and create a liquid, you’d have a whole food extract, but you could also blend only the flesh or add the peel for additional essential oils. The resulting product can then be added to a smoothie or boiled to remove the excess water and then taken via a dropper.

Alternatively, you can extract vitamin C, a potent antioxidant.

The first solution contains less vitamin C per milligram, but it contains all of the other nutrients, along with fiber and enzymes. The second option doesn’t have any of that additional stuff but delivers a potent punch of vitamin C.

It’s much the same story with mushroom extracts, although the compounds they contain will depend on the type of mushroom and the extraction process that was used, and it's important to note that not all extracts are created equal. You want to look for organic mushroom extract that contain Beta-glucans and use the fruiting body, not the myceluim grain.

What Extraction Process is Used to Create Mushroom Extracts?

The extraction process will largely depend on the ingredient being extracted. Mushroom extracts typically use either water or alcohol, or a mixture of the two.

Beta-glucans, a type of digestible fiber, are water-soluble, so water is the preferred method. Terpeniods are soluble in water, they require alcohol or fat for the body to break them down to extract the benefits. Mushrooms also contain a variety of Sterols, hormone precursors that become functional hormones when activated.

Your body can't break down the tough cell walls of mushrooms to access the beneficial compounds inside. In order to be most effective, mushrooms need to go through an extraction process.

Mushroom Extracts vs Raw Mushrooms

You could be forgiven for thinking that raw mushrooms provide more bang for your buck. After all, they can be quite bulky and you’ll need to take a lot of pills to consume the same quantity as you would in extract form.

But mushrooms are mostly water, and that's just not the case.

Once you dry them and remove all that water, very little remains, and the product that does remain is where you’ll find all of the nutrients. Where standardized extracts are concerned, you’re often consuming the equivalent of a handful of mushrooms in a single dose.

The extraction method is important because it determines the which compounds are most bio-available, and the benefits you get from the final product.

What Should You Look for in a Mushroom Extract?

The first thing you need to decide is whether you want a whole food mushroom powder or an mushroom extract. Once you have made that decision, focus on the strength and quality of the extract.

What type of mushroom is being used?
How is it extracted?
What's the ratio?
Where is it from?

Value is also important. Think about how much you’re getting for your money, considering the strength of each dose as well as the number of doses in a bottle.

Look for a company that you can trust. Mushrooms are well-tolerated and safe, but only if they are used in pure form. If you buy from a company that uses questionable ingredients and extraction processes, you can’t be 100% sure that you’re actually getting what you’re paying for.

Don’t be tempted by suspiciously cheap supplements. The supplement industry is not as tightly regulated as the pharmaceutical industry, so there’s always an element of trust necessary when it comes to pure organic mushroom supplements. Just because something says it contains the purest product, doesn’t mean it actually does.

What is the Best Mushroom Extract?

It all depends on what you’re looking for and why you’re using mushroom extracts in the first place.

If you’re looking for an energy or performance boost, cordyceps are probably the best option, as they have been linked with many benefits relating to reducing fatigue, performance, and even mental alertness.

For something that can boost cognition, check out lion’s mane mushroooms, a unique mushroom that has been studied for its effects on everything from anti-anxiety to fighting dementia.

Reishi mushrooms are also very promising, and there are many more out there.

You can even combine these extracts to form complete mushroom supplement, one that blends different beneficial mushrooms to provide a variety of effects.

Are Mushroom Extracts Safe?

Yes, mushroom extracts are considered safe for most users. However, as with all things, there is always an allergy risk and some users may experience mild side effects, including digestive discomfort (although uncommon). Such side effects are more common with higher doses, so it’s best to stick with the recommended dose.

If you have a preexisting health condition or you are taking any prescription medications, consult your doctor before taking a mushroom extract. Although they are safe (they are consumed freely throughout the world, after all), it’s best to err on the side of caution.


Summary: Mushroom Extracts

If you like eating mushrooms and have the patience to find and cook them, go for it. But, if you're looking for major health benefits or "the feeling" many of the top quality mushroom supplements can provide, you'll want to find an organic mushroom extract in the form of a powder or tincture.

Always do your research, find a good extract, and monitor your response to understand what it’s doing and whether you would benefit from a higher or lower dose. It vitally important to understand that not all extracts are created equal, and often times cheaper means inferior quality, especially when dealing with mushroom supplements.