Mushroom Extract: What Is It Used for?

Recently, functional mushrooms have been a popular research subject, for good reason. Medicinal mushrooms such as lion’s mane and reishi/lingzhi are full of compounds that have medical properties. Even some edible mushrooms, like shiitake and oysters, have been well-studied for their health benefits. Here we discuss mushroom extracts and their benefits.

Mushrooms and their health benefits

Mushrooms are an integral part of our diet. In 2020, the global mushroom market was estimated to be approximately 14 million tons, and it has kept growing ever since. Humans eat over 2,000 different varieties of mushrooms. As more and more people adopt a heart-healthy diet, the popularity of mushrooms will continue to grow. Due to this growing demand, 35 varieties of mushrooms are now commercially grown.

Sometimes mushrooms are described as a superfood because they have a high nutritional value. Mushrooms such as shiitake mushrooms contain high amounts of protein that are useful in enhancing various biological processes in the human body, such as building muscles. As compared to milk or meat, mushroom-derived protein has several amino acids.

Apart from edible and non-edible varieties, mushrooms can also be classified into wild and medicinal types. Since the cultivation conditions of wild mushrooms are not controlled, some varieties of wild mushrooms may be harmful to humans. On the other hand, humans have used medicinal mushrooms for centuries to cure various diseases, including to kill parasites.

Mushrooms have been a part of folk medicine in several Asian countries, such as Japan, China, and Korea. Mushrooms were not only used for diseases that affect the body but also those that impact the mind. Mushrooms have been used for their hallucinogenic or psychedelic properties too. Approximately 200 varieties of mushrooms are considered medicinal and are prescribed in powder or extract form.

Researchers define functional foods as food items that include nutraceuticals "to achieve specific target functions such as improving the well-being as well as the quality of human life by reducing the risk of disease beyond its nutritional value." Mushrooms are often added to food items to make them functional foods. For instance, manufacturers often add mushroom powder to fortify cereals.

But does this trend have any real benefits? Today we look at the properties of mushrooms, the benefits of mushroom extracts, and some challenges while using mushroom extracts.

Medicinal properties of mushrooms

The medicinal properties of mushrooms depend on the species of mushroom, the conditions or environment where it was cultivated, and the degree of its maturity at harvested. Here we list some common mushroom varieties and their medicinal properties:

  • Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). This is a well-known medicinal mushroom. Due to the vitamins and minerals present in reishi mushroom, it has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-viral properties. It protects vital organs in the body, such as the heart, liver, and kidney.
  • Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus). Lion's mane has active compounds such as various sterols, beta-glucans, and fatty acids. These mushrooms show antioxidant, anti-aging, and immunity-boosting properties. They are beneficial in reducing blood sugar, and blood cholesterol, and enhancing the function of the nervous system.
  • Chaga (Inonotus obliquus). This mushroom has active compounds such as polyphenols and sterols. It shows antimicrobial activity and anti-inflammatory effects. It reduces sugar levels and lipid levels in the blood. Due to these properties, it is considered to protect the heart and is also anti-tumor.
  • Shiitake (Lentinula edodes). This is an edible mushroom variety commonly used in various dishes, a good source of vitamin B. It helps in reducing elevated blood pressure and blood cholesterol. It also boosts the immune system and has anti-aging properties.

Mushrooms have a pleasant earthy taste described as an "umami" taste. Mushrooms can be used in various dishes that are sauteed, boiled, or roasted. For instance, mushrooms can be added to chicken patties to enhance flavors. However, mushrooms have a fibrous texture, and adding mushrooms to certain food items (e.g., cookies, cereals, etc.) may not be feasible. Mushrooms would make these food items less desirable or less palatable.

Adding liquid mushroom or mushroom extract to foods can help enhance their medicinal properties without compromising taste or smell. Mushroom extracts include organic solvents and supercritical fluids from the mushroom.

Challenges in using mushroom extract

Scientists need to address a few concerns before mushroom extract gains further popularity. Depending on their cultivating conditions, mushrooms may include undesirable chemicals and toxins. Further testing and research are necessary for using mushroom extracts safely.

Now that we can isolate bioactive ingredients from mushrooms and include them in various nutraceuticals, more research on liquid mushrooms is necessary. It will help us determine the physiological effects and toxic adverse effects, if any, of mushroom extracts. It will also help us determine the dosage of mushroom nutraceuticals.

Mushrooms have been a part of the human diet for centuries. Due to phytosterols, minerals, and vitamins in mushrooms, it is an excellent diet choice for persons with cardiovascular disease. Liquid extract of mushrooms helps in using mushrooms for medicinal purposes. However, we are only beginning to understand the therapeutic effects of liquid mushrooms. Talk to your doctor before you include mushrooms or mushroom extracts in your treatment plan.

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