If you’ve ever spent some time searching for a medicinal mushroom supplement, you’ve likely come across companies touting the polysaccharide content of their products.
Plenty of companies make claims like “standardized to contain > 30% polysaccharides” or something akin.
It’s a great marketing ploy, really. If you create a product with a high polysaccharide content and advertise it as such alongside a bunch of other companies doing the same, all you need to do is win the polysaccharide content battle to make your product appear as though it’s superior.
But what the heck are polysaccharides, are they medicinal, and does a high polysaccharide content actually mean anything?
Potatoes Are Polysaccharides
At their most fundamental level, polysaccharides are complex, long-chain sugars composed of monosaccharides—the simplest form of sugar and the most basic units of carbohydrates—bound together by glycosidic bonds. Carbohydrate-rich foods like potatoes, cereal grains, and rice have high polysaccharide contents.
Therein lies the problem.
Not all polysaccharides are created equal. When you’re buying a medicinal mushroom supplement, you’re probably not interested in forking over $40 for a small bottle of pulverized potatoes in capsules. But if you buy a product based on its high polysaccharide content, well, you leave yourself vulnerable to marketing ploys like this. In the broadest sense, then, polysaccharides are not inherently medicinal.
To be fair, part of what makes medicinal mushrooms medicinal is a type of polysaccharide present in fungal cellular walls known as beta-d-glucans. Beta-d-glucans are a type of polysaccharide known to possess immune system-boosting properties that can help your body naturally and more powerfully respond to diseases like autoimmune disorders and various types of cancer, as well as to external pathogens like, say, a virus.
These miraculous benefits are possible because beta-d-glucans activate the various cells — T-cells, NK-cells, B-cells, and Phagocytes — that comprise the immune system. In this way, yes, polysaccharides can be medicinal. But only certain types of polysaccharides, most especially beta-d-glucans, have something to offer.
It’s also worth noting that while a high concentration of beta-d-glucans is certainly a sign of a quality product, you specifically want a product with 1,3 and 1,6 beta-d-glucans. These numbers represent different branching structures of different beta-d-glucans. Don’t worry. Understanding the exact details of the structures isn’t really important. What is important is to look for companies advertising the 1,3 and 1,6 beta-d-glucan contents and concentrations of their product. Chances are that if they’re testing for these compounds and openly advertising the concentrations, they’re in the business of creating a quality product, not just a quality marketing plan.
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