When you purchase a supplement for its health benefits, you want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Supplements are rarely cheap and can vary widely in potency and the bioavailability of the beneficial compounds you seek.
So it’s quite natural that in the medicinal/functional mushroom space, there’s an ever-raging debate about which product is best: consuming the mushroom fruit body, or the mycelium?
Let’s get to the bottom of it, shall we?
Mushroom vs. Mycelium
First, a primer: mushrooms are the reproductive organ of fungi, akin to the apple of an apple tree, while mycelium is a dense collection of one cell wall thick filamentous, tubular structures best understood as the roots of fungi.
Fungi produce mushrooms to release spores that then — under the right conditions — germinate, grow into mycelium, and produce more mushrooms. Mycelium, on the other hand, is like the stomach of fungi, excreting enzymes to break down complex compounds into simpler ones that it then absorbs and uses for nutrients to fuel further growth.
Fighting the Chitin
Unlike plants, whose cell walls are comprised of cellulose, mushroom cell walls are made of chitin, which is also what makes the exoskeletons of arthropods such as crustaceans and insects. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to break through chitin.
Thus, when making medicinal mushroom supplements, hot water extraction methods are often used. By heating the mushroom over an extended amount of time, you break open the chitin and gain better access to the medicinal compounds within. An alcohol extraction is also often times used as well to extract the non-water soluble medicinal compounds like alkaloids within plants and fungi. This process — alcohol extraction first, hot water extraction last — is known as the dual extraction method.
All of this extraction work makes for potent concoctions that are much more bio available to the body than if you simply ate the mushroom.
The Tip of the Iceberg
Recently, there have been some claims that the most potent medicinal compounds — and novel compounds we’ve yet to discover— to be found in mushrooms may be in their mycelium, most especially at the tip of mycelium, where it is most active.
The belief is that the enzymes, metabolites, and other novel compounds produced at the tips of hypha — where the mycelium is actively working to break apart its environment and absorb the resulting nutrients — may possess medicinal benefits that the mushroom itself simply doesn’t possess. As is often the case in mycology, much remains to be researched, studied, and discovered.
A Non-Dual Answer
So, which is it, you ask: mushroom or mycelium?
Most experts in the field say it’s not a question of either/or. Rather, it’s about knowing what’s in your supplement — e.g. is it mycelium on grain, mycelium grown in liquid broth, or something else — and when possible, consuming both mushrooms and mycelium in as pure, potent, and bioavailable a product as possible. In this way, you ensure you access the full spectrum of benefits. Also, do you research and remember to check in on the science now and again!
We at Troop expect to play a vital role in pushing the science and study of medicinal mushroom supplementation and extraction forward. We also expect for new discoveries to lead to new methods. But as new companies continue to sprout forth, there is always going to be the need for some consumer self-education to ensure you understand the products you’re buying and find the most potent, bio-available product.
- Medicinal Mushrooms: The Human Clinical Trials, Robert Rogers
- Radical Mycology, Peter McCoy