The Ugly Truth About Mushroom Powders.

I have known for years that the supplement industry is a minefield of misinformation and deceitful marketing, but through a lot of hard work we were fortunate enough to have connected with an outstanding small-scale manufacturer of mushroom extract powders whom we had a great relationship with. The products themselves were amazing quality, everybody loved them and we genuinely believed that we were beyond the influence of corruption. That belief however, turned out to be a little shortsighted.

Almost half a year ago our manufacturer decided to sell to a much larger corporation. We were assured that everything would remain the same – the production process, prices, minimum-order-quantities etc. We embraced the transition with faith that all would continue as we were told, but once the company changed hands things turned sour very quickly. To cut a long story short, we were lied to and manoeuvred into a position where we lost A LOT of money – so much that we almost went out of business.

The new owner changed the manufacturing process of all of the extract powders without mentioning anything to us up front. Corners were cut and quality went down over night. Our beloved product range was no more. The prices and minimum order quantities did actually increase significantly and we found ourselves with no stock, no capital to buy any more and no supplier. The recovery process was incredibly stressful and challenging in a multitude of ways, but being conned in this way and losing so much money actually turned out to be a blessing, although it wasn’t easy to perceive that at first.

This experience was totally unexpected and I felt both overwhelmed and disheartened. It really pissed me off that our business could be disposed of like that, by people that couldn’t care less about our customers or our livelihood. I realised on a very personal level just how awful and corrupt the supplement industry is, and this was by no means an isolated case. It seemed impossible at the time, but I felt driven to create products that were so good – so much better than the below-average fodder found across the internet and in high-street stores. I wanted superior products that delivered everything our discerning customers expected, and for the quality to be proven – eliminating the doubt, uncertainty and misleading information that is now commonplace with mushroom products.

So we have spent the last 6 months developing a relationship with a new manufacturer – what we now know to be the producer of the most elite level mushroom extracts in the world. The products we have since created are literally unparalleled in quality. That’s a big claim to make, but it’s one that I will make with total confidence, because it is a claim that can be fully supported both legally and scientifically. That said, we are still only a small company and are still recovering from this incident. We have to be strategic and proceed gradually. We will be offering a complete range of mushroom extract powders in the near future, but right now we very proud to announce our two new dual-extracts: Reishi Paragon and Imperial Cordyceps.

New Products Collage

To be honest, it’s a miracle that we have even managed to pull this off. It’s only due to the support of our loyal customers that continued to believe in us that we have managed to achieve this. We are so grateful to have developed such a relationship with you all. We were ripped off by our supplier and basically left for dead, and this is an all-too-common scenario that we must dwell on for a moment because as a potential customer of any supplement company, it’s important that you understand what’s happening here. Only small independent companies care about helping people and promoting health through superior quality products. Even some of the smaller companies have questionable motives, but one thing is certain: almost every large-scale corporation in the alternative health industry is cutting corners and misleading you through their marketing. I’m not saying they are all evil – not at all – there are some great people working for large health corporations, but the nature of capitalism is economic growth, and once you get really big, quality is where the buck stops. Literally. Quality is always the first thing to go as corners are cut. The product is carefully marketed to still resemble everything you want, but the reality behind the production process is far from your expectations. This is why transparency is critically important, but sadly, large companies rely completely on you relating to their branding rather than the truth of how their products are created.

Huge extract manufacturers don’t have any interest in doing business with small conscientious companies. There is little money to be made on their end. They would rather do business on an industrial scale to enormous brands that will be selling to a more mainstream audience. This is where we see a steep reduction in quality – big compromises are made in terms of mushroom cultivation and correct methods of extraction, plus useless fillers like grains, dextrose and maltodextrin are added in high amounts to bulk up the product and artificially increase the polysaccharide content. This is the case for almost all mushroom powders on the market today. It’s all very misleading. Simply put, this is absolutely criminal conduct, but nobody is currently regulating it and until they do, it’s perfectly legal to sell low purity, poorly extracted, low potency products that cost pennies to create, and market them as ‘full spectrum’, ‘whole growth cycle’ or whatever buzz word currently sounds legitimate without actually telling you anything relevant.

The reality is this: it is not possible to produce a superior quality mushroom extract powder for cheap. 4oz bags of high quality dual-extracted mushroom powder can not be bought for $25 – $45. You might believe you’re getting a great deal at that price, but the product will be low quality with limited therapeutic value. In the end, it is small independent companies with integrity that get driven out of the marketplace as the industry becomes awash with cheap, low grade crap. More and more small producers are being bought up by massive corporations that immediately lower the standards to something more profitable. Genuine health-promoting products cost more money and take more time to create which just gets in the way of rapid economic growth.

With mushroom extracts, our standards are all too often appeased by things like the concentration ratio – this product is a 10:1 extract etc. This sounds great, but in reality it doesn’t tell us anything fundamentally important. The concentration ratio doesn’t refer to anything other than a reduction in overall volume of the product. “It took 10kgs of mushroom to produce just 1kg of extract powder, making it ten times more potent”. You’ve no doubt read that plenty of times. I’ve even said it plenty of times. It has value in the right context, but as a main selling point it is meaningless. Here’s why:

First of all, fresh, whole Reishi is about 90% water. By drying it we reduce the weight of the mushroom by 90%. It now weighs 10% of what it did. If we grind the dried mushroom into a powder, there is nothing stopping us from legally claiming that this Reishi powder is 10:1 concentrated – a claim that numerous un-extracted Reishi powders are capitalising on. Always make sure you are in fact buying an extract powder, otherwise you will be getting little-to-no value from it without extracting it yourself first. They don’t tell you that on the label though…

Reishi Powder
Un-extracted, dried Reishi powder

Even if we are dealing with an extract powder, the concentration ratio still doesn’t tell us anything about the quality of the product. It doesn’t tell us how it was grown: On wood logs? On sawdust? On grain? Is it even a fruiting body extract? Or mycelium? Or both?  How exactly was it extracted? Has it been 3rd party lab tested? What is the profile of bio-active compounds? For all we know it could be poorly cultivated, inefficiently extracted, packed with unnecessary fillers, additives and excipients and with low or even completely absent levels of bio-active compounds that it claims to be a ‘rich source’ of. It could be absolute garbage, but 10:1 makes it sound potent and strong and without knowing any better, we believe the hype. It’s easily done.

Let’s be frank – almost every mushroom extract powder (in fact most health supplements period) are not what they claim to be. Seriously. Most mushroom powders are marketed as having bioactive compounds, specific properties and health benefits, but seldom are these claims substantiated with any measure of transparency. You’re just supposed to believe it because they tell you it’s true, without actually proving it to you. The marketing and branding may resonate with us on some level, yet the overwhelming majority of these products are actually very poor quality. This is a fact, and one that we can quite easily verify.

Recently I read a statement made by a popular mushroom extract company, stating that due to Reishi containing over 300 bioactive constituents, it is pointless focusing our attention on just the polysaccharides and triterpenes. This is very true – the medicinal efficacy of Reishi cannot be narrowed down to a handful of compounds – it is a complex inter-relationship between a vast number of nutrients and chemicals (some in minute amounts) that produce Reishi’s therapeutic effects. However, Reishi’s polysaccharides (in particular beta-glucans 1>3 and 1>6) and its triterpene complex are the two most prevalent, well-researched and easy to detect groups of compounds in the mushroom. Of course we cannot say that it is only these substances that are beneficial, but we can say that a low quality, poorly extracted product won’t have adequate levels (if any) of these compounds, which would make it basically worthless. It’s a great diversion to emphasise the 300+ compounds in Reishi rather than testing for specific bio-actives, but the only reason why a company wouldn’t test their products is because they are afraid the results will be less than excellent. Perhaps the claims made about the product won’t be reflected in the results. The thing is, if Reishi is grown properly and extracted thoroughly and carefully, it will naturally contain significant levels of these important, primary bioactive compounds.

So let’s do a little investigation into what makes a great extract powder – the kind you actually want to use – versus the majority of supplements currently available. Reishi is the most popular and well researched medicinal mushroom on the planet, so let’s use that as an example. Whenever we buy a Reishi extract powder (or any other mushroom for that matter) we should have a checklist of questions to ask before we decide to buy it – like a screening process that helps us eliminate all of the products we are better off avoiding. The first thing to discern is how the mushroom has been cultivated.

CULTIVATION

There are a number of medicinally active Ganoderma (Reishi) species, although the one that is most therapeutically effective, well researched and with the greatest abundance of historical use is Ganoderma lucidum. This is the Reishi we need in our extract.

Ganoderma lucidum
Ganoderma lucidum fruiting bodies.

Fungi are excellent environmentalists – they absorb heavy metals, radioactive isotopes and other harmful chemicals from the surrounding environment. Therefore, if we grow them with (or in close proximity to) chemical additives, we will contaminate the mushroom which will subsequently end up in the extract and ultimately, your body. Organic and non-GMO are things we need on our checklist.

There are various methods for cultivating Reishi. While some species of fungi have important compounds present within the mycelium, the biologically active constituents of Reishi are generally concentrated within the fruiting body of the mushroom. Reishi’s secondary metabolites and triterpenoids are some of the most important and well studied medicinal compounds it possesses – all of which are produced after the fruiting body has emerged, as a way for the mushroom to respond to its environment and protect itself from pathogens, parasites and other competing fungi. Such substances are only found within the fruiting body. Choosing a fruiting body extract is therefore very important. Reishi mycelium is very quick and cheap to produce though, so despite its inferior role as a medicine it is still the option many producers go for. Fruiting bodies take much longer to mature and are more labour-intensive which means they cost more to produce, but they are irrefutably the better option.

Reishi indoors
Reishi fruiting bodies grown indoors on submerged ‘duanwood’ logs.

Fruiting bodies can be grown on natural wood logs or on sawdust in bags, bottles or trays. The sawdust method is the cheaper option and will yield mushrooms that are much smaller and with significantly less bioactive compounds than those grown on logs. So the log method of cultivation is the best, but there are still some important details we need to be clear on. Reishi should be grown on wooden logs from the trees it chooses to grow on in the wild, such as oak or maple. This is known in China as ‘Duanwood Reishi’ which means ‘original wood’. It can be grown outdoors on large unsterilised logs or indoors on smaller sterilised logs in a closed, carefully controlled environment. The outdoor method requires far less attention, yields an unpredictable and inconsistent level of bio-actives from one batch to the next and is much cheaper to produce. The indoor method on the other hand can produce consistently high and stable levels of therapeutic compounds because the environmental conditions are closely monitored and controlled. It requires a lot more work and attention to detail and is correspondingly more expensive, but the end result is pure, potent and totally reliable. Simply stating ‘Duanwood’ is insufficient, we must clarify whether the product is grown indoors or not. Therefore, indoor, Duanwood-grown fruiting bodies is the next thing on our checklist.

EXTRACTION

Reishi contains hundreds of beneficial compounds, nutrients and trace elements so it is crucially important that we extract it properly. The cell walls of fungi are composed of chitin – a hard, fibrous polysaccharide that also forms the structural exoskeletons of crabs, lobsters and some insects, which gives you an idea of how tough it is. All of the nutritional and medicinal compounds of Reishi are locked up inside these cell walls, so the reason why we extract the mushroom is simply to remove the chitin and gain full access to the medicine. Chitin will break down in response to high temperatures, so cooking the mushroom in hot water is the perfect way to begin extracting it, but not all of the medicine is soluble in water…

All of Reishi’s polysaccharides/beta-glucans, plus some of its antioxidants, polyphenols and trace elements are soluble in water which is great, but if we cook the mushrooms in hot water for hours, many of these constituents will denature and begin to deteriorate. This is why the hot water extraction needs to be performed in a pressurised tank, to protect these important substances and ensure they are present in the finished product. Again, this adds some cost to the process but is absolutely necessary if we want an extract that actually works. Stick ‘pressurised hot water extraction’ onto the checklist.

Industrial Pressure Cooker
Industrial pressure cooker for hot water extracts.

Then we have the vast assortment of triterpenes and sterols in Reishi, none of which are soluble in water. So many Reishi products on the market are hot water extracts only, so they don’t contain any of these important substances despite many of them claiming to. These are the constituents that give Reishi its incredibly bitter taste. If your Reishi powder isn’t intensely bitter, then quite frankly it’s not very good. To draw these out from the mushroom an ethanol extraction is required, and to guarantee that it successfully collects everything the mushroom has to offer, it must be conducted separately to the hot water extraction. This is very important! A lot of the dual-extracts (water & ethanol) on the market right now are produced using a single-step extraction where the mushrooms are added to a combination of water and ethanol and heated up. While this does result in a dual-extract it is generally of low potency with below average quantities of the medicinal compounds we are expecting. The two parts to the extraction process need to be conducted separately for the best results, and to provide maximum potency both extractions should be repeated as many times as necessary in order to harness everything of medicinal value. The next criteria for our checklist is ‘dual-extract’, and we need to clarify that both extraction processes occurred independently from one another, and preferably repeated numerous times.

With both the hot water and ethanolic extracts complete, they need to be combined and then spray dried. Spray-freeze-drying is the best method as it will remove any remaining water and ethanol and will result in a very fine powder. Many producers are using a heat-drying method that will reduce the overall nutrient content and potency of the powder, so make sure ‘spray-freeze-dried’ is on the checklist.

It is at this point than many companies add fillers and additives like various starches or grains, firstly to stop the powder from clumping together, but also to bulk it up, thin it out and increase the presence of polysaccharides, should it be tested for them. Powders that contain no excipients like these are more susceptible to condensation, but if stored properly and kept away from light and moisture there should be no need to add anything else to the extract. ‘No fillers, additives, preservatives or excipients’ needs to be on our checklist too.

Now is the time the concentration takes place – where the structural fibre has all been removed and the resulting powder has been condensed to be many times stronger than the original, un-extracted mushroom. This is where you will see 10:1, 20:1, 35:1 etc on the label. This extract ratio is a major marketing factor in most mushroom extract powders, but as we can see, if the previous steps haven’t been completed properly it won’t matter how concentrated the powder is. A non-organic, sawdust grown, single hot water extract with rice starch and maltodextrin added to it will still be a very low quality product, even if it is 100:1 concentrated. Comparatively, if every step mentioned above has been completed properly then a 5:1 extract will be infinitely more effective. Don’t be fooled by the extract ratio. It is perhaps the least important factor in determining a quality product.

LAB TESTING

Finally, if a company has ensured that all of the aforementioned steps have been followed thoroughly, they will absolutely 100% get their product 3rd party lab tested so that they can prove to you that the product is pure, potent and the best quality possible. As mentioned earlier, Reishi’s most prominent and well researched bio-actives are the polysaccharides and triterpenes, so these will normally be the primary focus of testing. Remember that the presence of starches and other excipients will increase the reading of polysaccharides, so 30% or 50% polysaccharides doesn’t really tell us anything useful. To be sure of the quality we need to clarify the presence of Reishi-specific beta-glucans 1>3 and 1>6. This will paint a very clear picture of how well the product has been made, and we also need to know the percentage of triterpenes to get an understanding of how properly it has been dual-extracted. Triterpenes over 7% create a viscous consistency in the powder, so 5% to 6% triterpenes is the maximum you are going to see on even the best quality dual-extract powder. Yes there are over 300 medicinally important substances in Reishi, but simply using these main compounds as quality markers will determine whether a product is good, great or better off avoiding. The final entry into our checklist is ‘lab testing’. Many companies are providing so-called lab results, but if they don’t give you specific percentages for these bio-active markers, it doesn’t really mean anything. Furthermore, these statistics should feature on the regulated ‘Supplement Facts’ label of the product itself.

Supplement Facts Reishi Label
Reishi Paragon Supplement Facts Label

Adhering to all of these steps will require a much greater investment on behalf of the company in terms of both time and money, but the product will be truly excellent and will deliver the results you expect as a customer. That cost will of course increase the retail value, but as discussed, creating a high-quality mushroom extract takes time, expertise and is a complex, multi-step process. Truly great products will be very potent though, so an effective dosage will be a lot smaller than the lesser quality alternatives. That said, even the best quality extract powder shouldn’t cost you more than $2 per day to take at a maintenance dose, which is actually very affordable for something made to the highest specifications.

SUMMARY

When choosing a Reishi extract powder, these are the criteria to follow:

  • The Reishi extract should be from Ganoderma lucidum fruiting bodies.
  • It should be from organic/non-GMO cultivation.
  • It should be ‘Duanwood’, from natural wood logs grown indoors in a controlled environment.
  • It should be dual-extracted – pressurised hot water and ethanol, both conducted separately and repeated numerous times each.
  • The powder should be spray-freeze-dried.
  • There should be no fillers or additives.
  • It should be 3rd party lab tested giving specific percentages for beta-glucans, triterpenes etc. These statistics should be shown on the ’Supplement Facts’ label.

Leave a Reply