There are a lot of medicinal mushroom supplements sprouting onto the scene, each with its claim to medicinal potency and superiority. One such example is emblazoned across the labels of many new products: “Full Spectrum.”
But what exactly does the term “Full Spectrum” mean?
The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Oftentimes when the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms are discussed, the validation of certain claims is backed not by scientific study of the actual mushroom but rather, of the compounds within a particular mushroom.
For example, it’s widely agreed upon that Turkey Tail mushrooms (Trametes Versicolor) are anti-carcinogenic. This consensus is largely based on studies demonstrating the anti-carcinogenic properties of Polysaccharide Krestin (PSK), which is found within the fungal cell walls of Turkey Tail mushrooms.
Yet PSK is just one of the hundreds if not thousands of polysaccharides within Turkey Tail mushrooms. And while it’s true that Turkey Tail mushrooms contain PSK at significant levels, wouldn’t you be better off simply taking an isolation of pure PSK?
“Full spectrum” proponents would argue ‘No.’
The belief in “full spectrum” is in part a belief that the other compounds in the mushroom—the hundreds of other polysaccharides as well as alkaloids, terpenoids, ergosterols, etc.—have a synergistic effect when combined. This idea is sometimes called the entourage effect: that various compounds can work together to produce a better effect than when taken alone.
And that concept underlies a lot of the reasons why companies decide to produce a “full spectrum” product. Yet it isn’t the only.
Mushrooms, Mycelium, and More
“Full spectrum” products usually go a bit further than just promoting the idea of mushroom fruit bodies as a more potent medicine than an isolated compound.
Many “full spectrum” products, aside from containing mushroom fruit bodies or extracts of mushroom fruit bodies, also contain the other stages of fungal growth like the mycelium, spores, and/or the secondary metabolites created as a byproduct of fungal digestion. In this way, the “full spectrum” claim is a way of communicating that all the different facets of a particular fungus’ growth are included in the product and thereby, all the beneficial compounds created during its life are, too.
Going back to our Turkey Tail mushroom example, instead of bringing an isolation of PSK or a Turkey Tail mushroom extract to market, a company rooted in the “full spectrum” ethos may create a product that includes the mushroom, mushroom spores, cultured mycelium, and the secondary metabolites that were produced as the mycelium grew and consumed its substrate.
Full Spectrum Doesn’t Always Mean Better
Perhaps as you read about the “full spectrum” concept you’re sitting there nodding your head. “Of course a full spectrum product is better,” you may think to yourself. But there’s always a catch.
Many products claiming to be “full spectrum” may include everything we’ve touched on: mushroom fruit bodies, mycelium, spores, metabolites, ergosterols, etc. But sometimes, the incorporation of all these components may constitute a dilution of potency rather than a concentration.
For example, there are a lot of companies selling mycelium-based products grown on grains. Yet most if not all of the studies demonstrating the medicinal benefits of mycelium are studies conducted on mycelium grown in an enriched liquid broth, not on grains. The truth is, when you buy a grain based mycelium product, you’re usually buying a lot of grains and only a little mycelium as the mycelium is rarely if ever separated before packaging.
Further, the science on spores says that they must be cracked open to release the medicinal compounds. But that doesn’t stop many companies from including whole spores in their product instead of the cracked form.
In other words, seeing the claim of “full spectrum” on a product’s label is definitely not a foolproof way to know you’ve found a good product.
Next time you’re searching for a medicinal mushroom supplement and come across the claim “full spectrum,” do a bit of digging to understand what exactly the product contains that makes it so. Only through some good ‘ole research will you really know what you’re buying, and only through knowing what you’re buying will you truly find what you seek.