Fungi’s contribution to life on Earth goes back billions of years, and fungi were the first organisms to leave the seas and colonize the land. They degrade organic matter, contribute to sequestering carbon, prevent deserts from spreading and form mutually beneficial partnerships with nine out of ten plant species. Fungal enzymes are critical in the fermentation process, biofuel production, food manufacturing, and remedying degraded ecosystems. Fungi are also the source for many modern medications, including antibiotics, and immunosuppressive drugs that allow organ transplants.
Mushrooms are the reproductive parts of certain fungi and have been used as food and medicine throughout human history. Though fungi are not plants, mushrooms compare to the fruits of plants, with the microscopic spores they produce akin to seeds. These spores are carried by the wind or pass through animals’ digestive systems before landing on suitable surfaces, where they germinate and create a microscopic network of mycelia, which corresponds to plants’ root systems. From these mycelia, mushrooms pop up and quickly fade away, though the actual network of mycelia can last thousands of years.
Types of Medicinal Mushrooms
When it comes to the different types of medicinal mushrooms, they contain high amounts of polysaccharides and triterpenes, along with multiple other bioactive compounds. The following types have been used by human populations, some dating back to prehistoric times:
- Agaricus mushrooms include hundreds of varieties from around the world that are both poisonous and edible. One type used for medicines, Agaricus blazei, originated in the Atlantic highlands of Brazil and is used to treat Type 2 diabetes, arteriosclerosis, digestive issues, liver disease, cancer, and other medical issues. Agaricus mushrooms also help prevent osteoporosis, stomach ulcers, and heart disease, as well as boost immune response, and help in controlling stress.
- Chaga mushrooms were used medicinally by the Khanty, a people indigenous to Russia and western Siberia, for teas and in rituals since at least the 13th century. Typically found growing on the bark of birch trees, its visible portion is actually a mass of mycelia, with the fruits hidden and growing parasitically into trees. Known in science as inonotus obliquus, these types of medicinal mushrooms contain high amounts of betulinic acid and melanin, which boost the immune system and help with healing. Medical claims also include their anti-aging effects, ability to regulate blood sugar, and cancer treatment.
- Cordyceps mushrooms are part of a family with over 400 varieties, with cordyceps Sinensis and militaris two types of medicinal mushrooms used to help athletes maintain their blood glucose levels while exercising. They are parasitic fungi that grow on insect larvae. Along with claims they assist in fighting cancers like leukemia, these mushrooms augment endurance, blood oxygenation, and cellular performance, along with decreasing recovery times.
- Lion's mane mushrooms have structures similar to lions’ manes, thus the name. These medicinal mushrooms are known by many other names, including bearded tooth, bearded hedgehog, satyr's beard, pom pom, or monkey head. Hericium erinaceus, their scientific name, feature shaggy white manes and grow naturally in Asia, Europe, and North America. According to the National Institute of Health, they can rebuild nerve cells and slow cancer growth, though also support brain functions and cognitive abilities.
- Maitake mushrooms or “dancing mushrooms'' have large fruiting bodies with overlapping caps. One of the many types of medicinal mushrooms that are also edible, maitake mushrooms are popular in many East Asian dishes. These mushrooms are native to China, North America, and Europe. Known also as hen-of-the-woods, sheep's head, or ram's head mushrooms, their scientific name is grifola frondose. Medicinally they help adjust immune response, assisting in HIV and cancer treatments, and are recognized as a significant source for polysaccharide compounds, which help the body store energy.
- Reishi mushrooms were known as “mushrooms of immortality” in ancient China and were used for promoting longevity there as well as in Japan and other Asian nations. With many health benefits attributed to these mushrooms anecdotally, they taste bitter and have tough textures. Ganoderma lucidum – their scientific name – is used in medicinal teas, powders, and dietary supplements, using not only the fungi’s fruiting bodies but also mycelia and spores as well. Among their benefits, these types of medicinal mushrooms exhibit anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, along with boosting immune response.
- Shiitake mushrooms are common in East Asian cuisine, especially in soups and stir-fries, and they are still used in traditional medicines. Rich in vitamin B, they can boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, reduce blood sugar levels and improve blood circulation. Known scientifically as lentinula edodes, several studies have also shown that these medicinal mushrooms may decrease cancer risk.
- Turkey tail mushrooms look like the tails of multi-colored turkeys, with several studies showing their usefulness in cancer treatment. Approved for clinical use in Japan, they have been found to offer relief for those experiencing nausea and hair loss due to chemotherapy. Scientifically known as trametes versicolor, they are also used in Chinese traditional medicine.
Documented research suggests that these and other types of medicinal mushrooms have active properties that assist with immune response and other health conditions, such as cancer, as well as enhancing athletic and sexual performance. However, the industrial micronization of mushrooms, which involves reducing dried mushrooms into a powdered form for supplements or health drinks, is a more recent development.
Processing Medicinal Mushrooms
With growing evidence of the beneficial properties found in various types of medicinal mushrooms, mushroom supplements and other health-related products have appeared on the market. Though mushrooms were used medically for thousands of years, many countries have few controls or standards on how these health products are marketed and sold.
How Micronization of Mushrooms Improves Bioavailability
Micronization reduces the average particle’s diameter, traditionally using mechanical means like grinding or milling. The term usually refers to reduction into the micrometer range. It is a process commonly used with chemical ingredients, foods, and pharmaceuticals. As with medications, the micronization of mushrooms can increase their effectiveness.
Full-Spectrum Extraction for Mushrooms
Full-spectrum extraction from medicinal mushrooms involves micronizing and processing them – often with their mycelia and spores – into an extract that contains the full spectrum of beneficial elements within the fungi so that the human body can readily absorb it. Micronization of mushrooms is an essential part of this process.
Bioavailability & Extraction Process
To enable the full therapeutic effects of medicinal mushrooms, fungi must undergo an extraction process. Properly extracting therapeutic compounds usually requires the use of water and alcohol. An alternative method involves fermenting the fungi in an organic substrate, such as rice or sorghum, in order to extract therapeutic elements. This process results in separating substances within the fungi that are both soluble and insoluble in water.
Extraction concentrates therapeutic compounds while removing a substance called chitin, which is indigestible for the majority of people. Most mushroom products on the market do not utilize these extraction methods, which are necessary to ensure a full spectrum of bioactive properties in the end products. Genuine extracts from different types of medicinal mushrooms use solvents like ethanol to isolate these bioactive compounds.
Micronized Mushrooms & Mycelia
A variety of mushroom supplements and powders – many used for teas and other drinks – can be found at health food stores and online. Micronized mushrooms are also widely used to provide the body with collagen, a common protein needed by the body, especially for those on vegan diets. The micronization of mushrooms is also used to produce various skin-care products.
While some advice suggests mushroom supplements are most effective if made only from the mushroom fruiting body, recent research indicates that products made from the mycelia “root” systems also have health benefits, particularly when it comes to boosting the immune system. Tests by NIS Labs – which specialize in laboratory research that evaluates how natural products impact the human body – confirmed this in a 2017 test.
It found that mycelia:
- Activates white blood cells to improve immunity.
- Increases growth of innate immune cells that identify and eliminate pathogens.
- Regulates compounds in immune cells to provide a balanced immune system response.
The study grew turkey tail mycelia on a substrate made from finely ground brown rice powder, which created a matrix of mycelia in the cultured rice. The tests not only verified that the mycelia and rice substrate had active immunological properties, but showed that the mycelia and rice culture had differing immune benefits that complemented each other.
How Prater Industries Can Help
With its vast experience in the manufacture of reduction and other processing equipment and systems, Prater Industries can facilitate the micronization of mushrooms into powder form for supplements, capsules, powdered drinks, and other health products made from all types of medicinal mushrooms.
Prater has a range of reduction equipment for micronizing fungi that includes:
Prater is currently testing its processing equipment on full spectrum extraction of certain types of medicinal mushrooms for one of our clients.