Medicinal mushrooms have thousands of years of use as therapeutic foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as in ancient Greece and Egypt. Now they’ve become increasingly popular in the U.S., for therapeutic use with humans and animals.
But with so many companies now including medicinal mushrooms in their supplements, or as stand-alone products, it can be difficult for a consumer to distinguish which is the best choice for their dog or horse.
Mycelium or fruiting body? Or both?
There is a vigorous debate in the animal supplement community about which part of the mushroom is the most therapeutic.
Some say the mycelium, which is the vegetative part of a fungus, is not as potent or as beneficial as the fruiting body. Some mushroom experts point to the active polysaccharide content or percentage, which is made up by the beta-glucans — and the fruiting body does have a higher beta-glucan percentage than the mycelium.
But is beta-glucan content the only reason to feed medicinal mushrooms?
In a recent article published in the journal FUNGI (volume 9:1, spring 2016), Dr. Solomon Wasser, editor in chief of The International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms and author of over 600 papers on mushrooms writes:
“It is not known whether bioactive effects are caused by a single component or are the result of a synergistic impact of several ingredients. There is insufficient data to determine which components have better effects—those from mushroom fruiting bodies or from mycelia powder.”(FUNGI, volume 9:1, spring 2016)
My personal opinion on this is to use both, which is why BioStar’s formulas containing medicinal mushrooms include the mycelium and the fruiting bodies. Providing both the mycelium and fruiting bodies ensures the whole food synergy of the mushroom components.
Powder or extract?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, mushrooms were ground and made into teas, or whole mushrooms were boiled to extract the medicinal components.
With the exception of reishi, reserved only for emperors, mushrooms were regularly eaten cooked with rice and grains. The medicinal applications of mushrooms were teas and extracts.
Based on the long history of mushrooms in Traditional Chinese Medicine, mushroom powders are an excellent choice for support, and extracts are best given for therapeutic applications.
Water extracts, alcohol extracts, dual extracts
Water extracts of medicinal mushrooms are prepared with a very traditional Chinese process that requires hot water for extracting the water-soluble compounds from the mushroom—such as the beta-glucans.
Other compounds, like the triterpenes in reishi and chaga mushrooms, are not water-soluble, requiring extraction via alcohol.
Dual extraction includes a hot water extraction and an alcohol extraction to ensure that both water-soluble and non-water-soluble compounds are collected.
High-quality dual extractions are made from the fruiting bodies and/or the mycelium depending on which mushroom is being extracted. For instance cordyceps mushrooms should be extracted from the fruiting bodies, while reishi needs dual extraction from the fruiting bodies and the mycelium.
The benefit of extraction is that the compounds in medicinal mushrooms are now concentrated: from four to 15 times, depending on which medicinal mushroom was used. Extracts are typically dosed lower than powders due to their increased potency. So far, most of the clinical studies demonstrating health benefits have been conducted with extracts, not powders.
Where do mushrooms in supplements come from?
China is responsible for 70% of the world’s medicinal mushroom production. In 1983, Japan accounted for 82% of the world’s production of shiitake. Today China accounts for 89% of shiitake production and Japan’s share has dwindled to 7.3%.
While China has millennia of experience and expertise in mushroom cultivation and extraction, there are issues with pollution, heavy metals and pesticide residue, depending on the region and variety of mushroom grown. This does not mean a consumer should automatically rule out “from China,” but you will have to do due diligence, asking for a COA (certificate of analysis) that will show the heavy metal assay results.
There are companies in North America that are growing medicinal mushrooms, but some of these medicinal mushrooms are labeled “myceliated grain,” which is more grain than mushroom.
Mushroom substrates (organic material for the spores to grown on) can be straw, sawdust, oats, rice, and other grains. There is an ongoing dispute among medicinal mushroom companies about which substrate is best.
After hours and hours of reading various claims and assertions, I’ve come away with this: any medicinal mushroom powder that includes fruiting body ensures at least that it’s not myceliated grain. And until we have more science on the grain-versus-wood debate over medicinal mushroom growing techniques, it appears that myceliated grain is a low-activity, inexpensive ingredient masquerading as a true medicinal mushroom.
It makes sense that a dog would eat mushrooms, but horses?
While none of us can imagine our horses wandering over to munch on some button mushrooms in the pasture, the fact is, a mushroom is a fungus, and horses on pasture are consuming fungi all the time, just as they are other soil microorganisms.
Fungi and bacteria play important roles in the soil web, helping to deliver nutrients to the roots of plants, as well as digesting the hard-to-break-down soil organics—plant matter like lignin and some sugars. Approximately 80-90% of all plants form symbiotic fungi relationships. Fungi prefer perennial plants, such as the grasses and legumes that make up our hay and forages.
So providing medicinal mushrooms to horses when needed is a kind of synergy in the complex natural world.
Sourcing BioStar’s mushrooms
BioStar has partnered with a small family company that specializes in dual extract medicinal mushrooms. This small-batch approach, carefully prepared by hand (like all BioStar supplements) ensures vigorous quality control by people who love medicinal mushrooms. The mushrooms are USDA certified organic.
You can find the benefits of medicinal mushrooms in these BioStar products:
True Balance EQ: With holy basil (aka Tulsi), another adaptogenic plant, it balances cortisol like ashwagandha, but does not stimulate serotonin. True Balance also provides medicinal mushrooms for kidney, liver, and immune support.
Adaptor EQ: Formulated to support the HPA Axis with two adaptogenic mushrooms: Reishi and Cordyceps. It provides green-lipped mussel, which provides chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and the glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Also contains the super antioxidant astaxanthin and provides important circulatory support from Capros, a patented extract of Indian gooseberry (or amalaki), long revered in Ayurvedic medicine.
Optimum GI: Provides gastrointestinal and ulcer support with vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, essential fatty acids, and highly digestible protein for whole horse health. Apple pectin (pharmaceutical grade) – helps stabilize mucous in the glandular region of the stomach. Sunflower lecithin (non GMO) supports membrane barriers of the gastrointestinal mucosa. Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) provides polysaccharides (with beta-D-glucans) for immune support and may assist in reducing gastric damage.
Star Power EQ: Supports the endurance and stamina of horses by supporting: the production of ATP, burning fat for energy, oxidative stress in muscles, muscle glycogen stores, mental focus, homeostasis, the immune system, and mucosal GI tract protection.
Zen EQ Syringes: Zen paste formulas address the biological response to common stressors, addressing the entire brain/adrenal/gut axis to return the body to homeostasis.
Terra Biota K9: Along with a variety of strains of live microorganisms reflecting the diversity of the microorganism population in the GI tract, Terra Biota K9™ also contains a synergistic mushroom blend for prebiotic support, the specific earth clays for mineral and alkalizing pH support, as well as Soil Based Organisms, which are cultured probiotics found in healthy soils.
Optimum K9 Healthy Weight: Made especially for dogs that need to watch their waistlines. As an addition to your dog’s meals, this formula helps maintain a healthy weight while ensuring your dog is getting the vitamins, minerals and whole body support he needs from real bioavailable ingredients.
Optimum K9 Senior: Special formula that helps older dogs get the support their bodies need, in the most easily absorbable way, through whole, raw ingredients. With immune, antioxidant, GI tract, and stress support, Optimum K9 Senior provides your whole dog with optimum health.
About the Author: With over 30 years experience in the equine and human supplement industry, Tigger Montague knows nutrition from the synthetic side as well as the whole food side. She started BioStar US in 2006 with formulas she created in her kitchen. Before she started the company, she was an avid rider and competitor with eventing and show jumping, until she got hooked on dressage in the late 1980’s. She has competed on horses she’s owned and trained all the way from training level to Grand Prix.
Wasser SP. Medicinal mushroom science: Current perspectives, advances, evidences, and challenges. Biomed J. 2014;37(6):345-356.
Rogers RD. Mushrooms Vs. Mycelium: Choosing the Best Medicinal. FUNGI, volume 9:1, spring 2016.