Today we have an amazing mushroom guru, Jeff Chilton on the blog! Read on to learn about the benefits of mushrooms, how to determine what a good mushroom powder is, the difference between mycelium and fruiting bodies, and the benefits of psilocybin mushrooms!
I was born and raised in the pacific northwest in the United States in Washington. It's a land of green trees, a lot of lakes and rivers. It is one of the best places in the world for wild mushrooms! There are wild mushrooms everywhere and I would go out wild mushroom picking with friends. It's like a treasure hunt and this treasure interested me early. Then when I went to University, my major was anthropology but I also studied some mycology. After University, I decided that I'd like to continue with my mycological studies but not as an academic and so I went to work on a very large mushroom farm in 1973. I stayed there on that mushroom farm for the next 10 years! I was living with mushrooms for 10 years. I also wrote a book in 1983 called “The Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms At Home”. It has everything you need in there to grow mushrooms on a small scale!
The Medicinal Properties of Mushrooms
The key to the medicinal mushroom is a compound called beta-glucan. The beta-glucan is found in the cell walls of all mushrooms but certain mushrooms are more powerful than others. This is because the architecture of that beta-glucan changes from mushroom to mushroom. They all have these beta-glucans so even when you're eating mushrooms that we don't necessarily consider medicinal they still have a lot of very beneficial properties. One of these properties is fiber! Mushrooms are super high in fiber so they're feeding your microbiome when you're eating them.
There is a ton of scientific research on the benefits of beta-glucans. What they do is stimulate the production of immune cells whether that's: helper T cells or macrophages. They hit the receptor sites that we have in our lower intestine then they produce these immune cells. What those immune cells do is sit in the background and if we need them to give us a burst of immunological activity, they'll do it. But if we don't they'll just stay there. In that sense, they're an adaptogen. These beta-glucans are the key active compound in all mushrooms. We test every mushroom product that we sell for beta-glucans. This is the prime marker for a good product!
The Mushroom With The Most Beta-Glucans
In all of our testing the two mushrooms that are highest in beta-glucan are:
-Turkey Tail 50%
And the rest are around 25%-50%
It’s not just the beta-glucans that we're looking at, we're looking at other compounds too. For example: reishi and chaga have triterpenoids. Reishi is bitter and those bitter compounds are the triterpenoids so that's when you know you've got a reishi mushroom that's a high-quality mushroom. Because not all of the Ganoderma species have them. Reishi is Ganoderma lingzhi. This one is bitter and those bitter compounds are very good for your liver.
At a conference in China for reishi, there was a traditional Chinese practitioner there and he said it was the number 1 herb for the liver. He said he used as much as 30 dried grams! Sometimes when you're taking supplements the bottle tells you to take two capsules and there are 500 milligrams per capsule and there are 60 capsules which means you have one month's supply. Well, in this case, they are telling everyone to take that same high amount. So that's one of the things you have to be aware of when you're out there trying to find the right supplement. Sometimes the supplement might say it has Reshi in it and it'll just be what we call fairy dusting where it's just a little bit in there and they're just using it as a marketing ploy.
The Difference Between the Mushroom Fruiting Body and The Mycelium
Mushrooms don't have seeds, they have spores. So with every medicinal plant you can think of, we have the different plant parts:
- Leaf (where the medicinal compounds come from)
But with a mushroom you have:
- A spore (which that spore germinates into a very fine filament and that fine filament comes together with other of these filaments from different spores that have germinated and that turns into a network)
-Which is mycelium (and this is the body of this fungus. It's like the tree of this fungus >> whereas the mushroom is the fruit of that tree.)
What happens is that once the mycelium has a lot of nutrients and it starts colonizing, it's out there under the ground. We don't normally see it even if we are harvesting mushrooms. We see this mushroom pop up but we don't see the actual body of this fungus that is under the ground there. So the mushroom comes up, it matures, and it opens up like an umbrella. There are gills and underneath those gills is what produces the spores. That is the completion of the life cycle. So when I'm thinking of medicinal mushrooms, I'm asking: “since the mushroom has three plant parts (spore mycelium and mushroom body), do they all have the same medicinal effects?” Mycelium does have beta-glucans but it's a very simple part of it compared to the mushroom. That mushroom is like a bio factory and what it's feeding on allows it to produce these triterpenoids and produce other compounds that are not in the mycelium.
Reshi is a perfect example of that because the reishi triterpenoids are almost exclusively produced by the mushroom fruiting body. This is true of most mushrooms, the benefits are in the mushroom itself. If you had pure mycelium you'd get some benefits from the beta-glucans but not many.
You have to be mindful of what products you buy because a lot of companies out there are growing the mycelium on grains. And grain is something that as a mushroom grower we would use as a carrier for mycelium. You can use sawdust because grains have traditionally been used as a carrier. BUT what some companies do is:
They grow the mycelium onto the grain, then when the grain is colonized they will then dry it and grind it to a powder > grain and all! When we measured those products, it turns out that those products are mostly starch from all of the grains! When you have that much residual grain as starch in the product, the beta-glucan content is very low. We have found that these particular products are 30% to 60% starch and around 5% beta-glucan. That is the exact opposite of an actual mushroom! An actual mushroom is 25% to 50% beta-glucan and mushrooms also don't have starch! They have about 2% of glycogen, so it's just the opposite.
If you are looking for a good product you have to be careful. If it says mycelium on the back (if you're lucky because a lot of them don't even reveal that) or if it says in the “other” ingredients myceliated rice or myceliated oats it is not a good product. Put it back on the shelf because it's going to be mostly starch! If you want to get the real benefits of mushrooms then you want to be sure you're getting a mushroom product. The label you look at will show a picture of a mushroom and it says “reishi mushroom” and you think “oh it's a great mushroom product” it may not be. Sometimes they don’t even tell you on the label.
We see that across the food industry with the use of fillers and dilution of the benefits of the product. They are making it cheaper in production as well so you're not fully getting the benefits of the product with these additional processes and fillers being added to the product. -Kriben Govender
Mushrooms are expensive to grow and they are all harvested by hand. So it's very expensive and that's why these other products are produced because they're very cheap to produce. If you’re selling grain powder instead of mushroom powder the expense is night and day! Be very careful and look very closely and call the company if you have any questions!
Beware of this if you are going on some sort of protocol like paleo or keto. Since there would be hidden carbs that you would be adding into your protocol. And I don't blame people for going out and trying to get the most cost-effective product but typically, from my experience, you get what you're paying for. There's a reason why some products are marked at a cheaper RRP versus other products that are more expensive by looking at the product but there's a reason for that.-Kriben Govender
How Did Mushrooms Come to Be for Their Medical Benefits?
I was just in China for the 10th annual medicinal mushroom conference and they talked about the use of mushrooms through antiquity. They stated that there were somewhere around 180 different species that had been used and 800 different formulas that included mushrooms in them! It's a very old practice but in the west, herbalists were not into mushrooms. We had just kind of lost that love. Then they started cultivating one mushroom and that's the button mushroom you see in the supermarkets.
So in 1989, I started my company and we were the first company to introduce medicinal mushrooms into the herbal marketplace in the United States. Everybody had a complete line of green herbs, they had botanists on staff, and they knew all about plants but nobody knew anything about mushrooms. So when I started my company, it took a lot of trade shows and articles to educate people about the use of mushrooms. Then in the late 90s, a lot of companies had mushrooms in their product lines. Whether it was shiitake or reishi but there wasn't that much use of them out there as an herbal product. And now it has just exploded and every time you turn around there is a new article on mushrooms. I believe a couple of things that have happened to make it this way:
- We have to remember that nothing happens overnight. It's been a very very slow education for people and the food markets to finally realize that mushrooms are a real health food. When I first got into mushrooms, the classical nutritionists thought that they had no actual food value at all. The reason they thought that people used them was because mushrooms are low in calories. This is because they have a lot of fiber. Fiber was not as well known back then. The education on them has finally shifted.
- In the last 20 years, especially in North America, we have people growing mushrooms that are different species which makes it much more interesting.
- And there have been certain people out there that have been talking more about mushrooms as well!
So all of a sudden, it finally reached that tipping point. Mushrooms are here to stay and make sure you put mushrooms into your diet! They are very beneficial for feeding your microbiome and not only that but for example:
- Lion's mane is our top-selling mushroom right now. Lion's mane has compounds that stimulate the nerve growth factor. This is important for the maintenance of our neurons. We all can use a little bit of help in that area. You can get help from coffee or there is a whole category called the nootropics. Which is anything that enhances mental performance.
Which Different Mushrooms Should You Use For Different Situations?
- Reishi should be used regularly because it’s different from all the others! It has beta-glucans and triterpenoids. In China, especially as you're getting older, reishi becomes the one that most people will take. It’s called the mushroom of immortality, it's something that will help you as you age.
- Turkey Tail & Maitake have both been used when you have immunological difficulties. Like a cancer treatment or something where your immune system is being destroyed and you need something to help your immune system cope with it. Those mushrooms (including Reishi!) would be high on my list for that.
- Chaga if you have any issues with your stomach, that's been one that is very helpful. If you have issues in your alimentary canal (irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, or something like that), try Chaga!
Always come back to the question: “Are there studies behind this?”. And Chaga (including the compounds) is certainly one of these mushrooms that are pretty well studied. - Kriben Govender
- Cordyceps used to be used for neurasthenia, which is a condition that someone has when they are still weak from a long illness and they can't quite break out of that illness. So you think about that in a sense of “okay they're fatigued they're tired” which is where it drifted into the whole athletic use. And how they measure this is that they take a small pool of water, they click a stopwatch, and they put a mouse in there. The mouse will swim in there and when it stops swimming they will stop the time. They will do that with a control mouse and they do that with a mouse that's been taking something like cordyceps. And then they see how much longer the mouse that had the cordyceps swam.
- Shiitake is a fabulous mushroom that would help you with any sort of immunological issues. Look at it as prevention and preventative medicine.
- Oyster mushrooms have amazing medicinal properties. Not only with the beta-glucans but also they had compounds called lovastatin. And it’s one of the easier ones to grow!
Make sure to not follow the internet hype all of the time either! It is usually a marketing ploy. Chaga is in the spotlight right now but all mushrooms are important for different things.
Reishi and Cacao is a blend that I make for maintaining good health. Reishi has got all these triterpenoids as Jeff mentioned but then with the cacao combination, you have all the polyphenols to feed the good bacteria like Akkermansia. So you know you've got your beta-glucans that feed Bifido bacteria (which are incredibly important keystone peacekeeping bacteria in the gut) and then have the raw cacao to feed Akkermansia muciniphila, which is another important bacteria that maintains the integrity of the gut lining. -Kriben Govender
Are There Any Other Mushrooms That Are Emerging?
Recently at the conference, they talked about some of the different mushrooms that they've been studying. The cauliflower mushroom (which has medicinal properties as well) is a fabulous edible mushroom. A few other mushrooms are coming down the pipe but you know right now we have these core of 8-10 mushrooms and unless it's really special, it's hard to break into that top group. There was a paper at this conference where this scientist had grown 91 different species of cordyceps. He went out and found all of these other different species, brought them back to his lab, got an actual culture, and then got them to grow! When you think about 91 different species, once you start to analyze those you may find many interesting compounds.
When mushroom spores come together it's sexual interaction or reproduction. So all these different spores that combine with each other give rise to a lot of genetic diversity in the different strains of mushrooms that can be produced from one species. -Kriben Govender
If you have multi-spores coming together, they do have mating types. They will produce different hybrids just like the genetics of that same species from a different part of the world will have a whole different profile. They've demonstrated the amounts and types of the different triterpenoid profiles of different reishi mushrooms.
A useful tip for mushrooms is once you are done cooking your meat, throw in some mushrooms at the end of the process. What that does is absorbs all the oils, the flavors, and the good fats from the pan rather than just washing it down the sink. -Kriben Govender
Using Mycology to Break Down Environmental Toxins
Most of those fungi that do that are not edible mushrooms at all. Most of them are what we would call imperfect fungi (we would refer to these as molds!). And when most people see a mold you're like “oh my god, time to clean things up”. And we have to remember that the molds and that group of imperfect fungi produce penicillin. The reason we call them imperfect is they don't produce a perfect form (which would be the mushroom fruiting body). The imperfect ones are out there in the soil working on breaking things down and they're producing all sorts of interesting compounds.
The microorganisms that are out there: the bacteria, the yeasts, the molds, and the fungi of all sorts are breaking everything down. There are many things involved in this so don’t focus on just one part of all of that. It’s a really big ecological mix. There are groups out there that are studying bacteria that can break down hydrocarbons and all of that's good. There is the whole ecology that is breaking down all the organic matter that's out there. And without all of those organisms, we would be covered in leaves, branches, and all the stuff that never would break down without them!
There are many mycorrhizal fungi out there and those are the mushrooms that we can't grow! We're trying hard and they've actually developed a way to inoculate tree roots and then they have built truffle plantations all over Europe. They've planted oak trees and they grow truffles (which are a mycorrhizal fungi!). They form a symbiotic relationship and these are part of nature in general. Whether it's a fungus and tree root, or these other organisms. Some people look at the world and they see everything in conflict. I like to think of everything out there as cooperating and doing whatever works to benefit themselves and everything else. That’s how I look at mycorrhizae.
That's the beauty of nature, isn't it? It can seem like a harsh place sometimes with certain situations that naturally happen in nature but everything happens in symbiosis for a reason. There's a reason why there's the apex predator vs the little elk. It seems like a horrible thing to get eaten but everything is balanced by that process of nature. -Kriben Govender
Beneficial Compounds of Psilocybin
The use of these mushrooms was rediscovered in the 1950s. It was discovered that in the deep mountains of Mexico, there were native healers that were still using these mushrooms in healing ceremonies. It was an amazing discovery and that was part of what kicked off the whole revolution in consciousness of the 60s. It was unfortunate that they stopped it and made it illegal because the issue was that we had no real background in how to use them. So we had no map and when you're using something like that the setting is very important.
In the early 60s, some research was done with people who had these life-changing experiences and it was a great benefit for people with end-of-life issues. People who were afraid because they don't know what is coming, the mushrooms helped them through that. It allows them to see that they're just part of this bigger thing and allows them to open up and understand a little bit more. They've also used it for people with addiction and they've been able to break addictions by the use of these mushrooms or other compounds. And lastly using them for mental illness they've been able to help people as well. So it's limitless at this point and it's great that it's finally happening.
The setting matters and I think working with a practitioner is important. It's not for people to rush out and find psilocybin in the forest or buy it from somewhere. What I hope to see is for people to engage with practitioners in safe spaces where people can go in and get these treatments. Because then there's less chance of any horror stories. -Kriben Govender
If you want to have that really powerful experience, you need somebody there that can guide you through it. And being there with you in a safe place where you don't worry about somebody knocking on the door and saying “hey what are you doing”. You need to be in a very supportive place and somewhere you can have that experience without anything coming in and affecting it.
With microdosing, with small amounts, you can reach certain thresholds where it can be very stimulating and be a very positive type of mushroom in this sense. We're at the beginning of the microdose revolution and to get reports back from different people it'll be quite fascinating to see how that progresses. These compounds are not addictive which is huge. Considering all of the people out there who unfortunately have been addicted to all the wrong drugs. They need to get into treatment and maybe even with the psilocybin to help pull them out of that.
Johns Hopkins University is doing all of the research at the moment in the United States with their psychedelic research center. It’s interesting to see what these scientists come up with. And figuring out a way to bring these compounds to other nations across the world where people need them. We're in the midst of a mental health pandemic right now, we talk about gut health a lot but we also have a mental health crisis across the world as well. So anything that can help safely is certainly going to be beneficial for humanity as a whole. -Kriben Govender
We need retreat centers where people can go and have this experience. Allowing them to be able to come away in a much better place. There are groups out there now that are starting to form like the Native American church where they have it more organized and they come together within their group (with as many as 40 people) in a very supportive and in a controlled setting.
Jeffs Top Health Recommendation
Getting outside every day and walking. Get outside and keep the body moving. Keep breathing in that really good air. Try not to focus on anything but absorb and let your mind go! Make sure to add mushrooms into your diet, watch out for the mushroom products that contain mycelium, and keep up on the research of psilocybin if that interests you! And make sure to check out Jeff’s company, Real Mushrooms. Share this with a friend that could benefit from this information.