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We’re living in a functional mushroom boom. The pandemic contributed to the growing demand for mushroom supplements, as consumers have sought new ways to fortify their mental and physical health. Books like Michael Pollan’s New York Times bestseller How to Change Your Mind and the hit documentary Fantastic Fungi have also spurred a modern mushroom boom.
But the concept of fungi as medicine is as old as recorded history. Mushrooms have been key tools for herbalists and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine for millennia. Ancient herbalists prescribed mushrooms for memory, mood, energy, brain health, immune function, longevity, and well-being—and today science confirms many of their arguments for why fungi support health and well-being.
Some people may elect to actually grow their own lion’s mane or turkey tail, but the majority of us are looking for a well-made supplement that contains meaningful amounts of the beneficial compounds we want.
As with any popular supplement, the choices quickly get overwhelming. Wellness magnates from Andrew Weil and Gwyneth Paltrow to Kate Hudson and Joe Rogan are now selling mushroom supplements. How can you distinguish which product is worth its price and will actually work? Here’s what you need to know before investing in a functional mushroom formula:
Related: Even More Cannabis-Mushroom Products Hitting The Shelves
Look for supplements made from fruiting bodies
The actual mushroom that you add to your stir-fry is analogous to the apple on a tree, or the flower on a plant. What we think of as mushrooms (stems with caps on top) are called “fruiting bodies.” Fruiting bodies are produced by what’s called the mycelium, a root-like structure that branches out to absorb nutrients. The mycelium is far bigger than the fruiting body, and many supplements use the mycelium (as well as the substrate, or soil in which the mycelium grows) in their products. The active beneficial compounds you want are highly concentrated in the stem and cap of the fruiting body, so make sure that’s what’s in your supplements before you buy.
Find out where the maker sources their mushrooms
As with any wellness product, the quality of the raw materials your mushroom supplement is made from makes a huge difference in terms of its effects. A quality mushroom supplement brand will be transparent about where they source their fungi from, and will always provide Certificates of Analysis (COAs) to show they have tested for heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, yeast, and molds. If a brand doesn’t provide test results or is cagey about where they get their mushrooms? Steer clear.
Formulations are everything
Heat, processing, and extraction methods—all can affect the potency and bioavailability of a mushroom supplement. Brands should demonstrate deep knowledge of how the extraction process, as different types of mushrooms require different modes of extraction. Check the ingredients label to see if the product contains fillers like freeze-dried myceliated brown rice or myceliated biomass (that’s just a fancy phrase for mycelium, which we discussed above).
Check both the concentration and capsule count.
A good supplement’s label will tell you how many capsules count as one serving, and how concentrated those capsules are. If a serving of a more expensive product contains 1500 mg of lion’s mane versus a cheaper product that only offers 200 mg per serving? The more concentrated supplement may actually be the better investment (as well as the more convenient one—who wants to take eight capsules a day?).
These checks will help you discern quality—but ultimately, your body’s response to the product can be the best indicator of its worth. Keep in mind that when it comes to mushrooms, the science shows they’re part of the long game that is preventative health. Fungi aren’t a quick fix, but they’re an amazingly useful tool to build into your daily routine for maintaining your mental and physical well-being.