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Which is better... Mycelium or the Fruiting body?

Experts have looked into mushrooms for their potential therapeutic benefits, including immunity strengthening and synergistic effects with cancer treatments.

 

However, research is still on the fence about whether consumers would benefit more from supplementing with the mycelium (the vegetative part) or the fruiting body. 

We know by now that not all fungi products are equal, and this also greatly depends on the mushroom extract itself. And to truly benefit from any medicinal mushroom, you need to know what you’re getting.

The problem is, with so many products on the market, it can be challenging to understand what can support our health and wellness needs. 

 

Continue reading to learn how to make an educated decision and choose the supplements to get the most functional health support from fungi.

Which is better: The Fruiting Body or the Mycelium?

Generally, a mushroom extract would contain either the fruiting body, the mycelium of the mushroom, or a combination of the two in varying amounts or potency. But, what’s actually the difference between the two?

 

Mycelium - The “hair-like” part of the mushroom

The mycelium is a mass of tangled threads that form the vegetative part of a fungus. It’s similar to a plant’s roots in how it grows beneath the mushroom's surface. Here are a few facts about it:

1. The mycelium can grow and develop for years, competing in a hostile environment of bacteria, viruses, and other fungi ready to consume it. It creates and produces compounds that directly harm its predators to protect itself.  

One example of a common predator of mushrooms is larvae. 

Suppose a larva injures the mycelium. In that case, specific compounds are secreted by the fungus that would inhibit pupation, essentially preventing the larva from growing into its second phase and rendering it a larva forever. When larvae are unable to reach their final stage, they’re unable to reproduce and lay eggs that would harm fungi.

1. The mycelia have thin cell walls that enable enzymes to go in and out and absorb nutrients. This makes the mycelia easier for human consumption. 

2. Some mycelia contain beneficial nutrient compounds not found in their fruiting bodies. This is because most of a mushroom’s immune and digestive processes occur in the mycelium. 

Of note, mushrooms fight harmful microorganisms by secreting chemicals that have antimicrobial properties, explaining why mushrooms have these properties innately. [1]

 

3. The mycelial biomass is composed of the mycelium and its supporting substrate that contains extracellular compounds. These compounds are your enzymes, polysaccharides, and protective secondary metabolites that may provide therapeutic benefits. 

 

Fruiting Body - The one above ground

The fruiting body is the most recognizable part of the mushroom, as it’s often the one used in food recipes and the kind sold in supermarkets. Contrasting mycelium, the fruiting body is the part that rises above ground or on tree trunks; this would be the mushroom's stalk, cap, and gills. 

 

1. They are referred to as fruiting bodies because they only appear when the mushroom releases spores, making them visible for reproductive purposes. 

 

2. Fruiting bodies contain vital nutrients (protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals) as well as bioactive compounds (polysaccharides, indoles, polyphenols, and carotenoids) that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. [2]

 

3. The fruiting body is more nutritious than the mycelium because it’s where the mycelium sends the food it absorbs to form spores. It’s especially rich in beta-glucans, about 10x more than the mycelium. Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fibre known to exert heart-healthy properties. [3]


Mycelium vs Fruiting Body: Which one is better?

Before we dive into this matter, it is crucial to understand that, in essence, both mycelia and the fruiting body provide you with potent health benefits. Hence, one is not actually better than the other. 

 

In fact, in some instances, it is imperative to use a formula that utilizes both the mycelium and the mushroom’s fruiting body for a more “complete” nutritional supplement. 

 

One caveat: If you’re after any specific benefit, one may be more beneficial than the other. We’ll break it down for you and make it easy to understand, so you can make the best possible decision.

 

Let's start by looking at the vital medicinal compounds in mushrooms.

 

Beta D Glucans


The key benefits in taking mushroom supplements are due to their active compounds. These components, in most cases, are found in abundance in the mushroom (fruiting body) itself, and less so in the mycelium. 

 

As explained earlier, it’s because the mycelium essentially delivers nutrients to the fruiting body, since the fruiting body is the one in charge of reproduction. 

 

One of the most critical key compounds in fungi is called beta-glucans. Research shows that beta-glucans can improve overall immunity (mainly by making it more “sensitive” in detecting foreign invaders), reduce inflammation, improve fatigue, and increase overall endurance.

 

According to research, the fruiting body has been shown to contain 10x more Beta D Glucan than the mycelium of a mushroom. [4]

 

Triterpenes

 

Triterpenes, essential components found in mushrooms such as Reishi and Chaga, have been found to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and pro-immunity properties. Moreover, the compound has also been found to help manage diabetes, particularly regarding complications such as insulin resistance and impaired wound healing. [5] 

 

While both the mycelium and fruiting bodies contain beneficial polysaccharides supporting a healthy immune system, only the fruiting body contains potent phytonutrient ganoderic acid. [6] 

 

Ganoderic acid has been studied for its potential to treat cardiovascular health benefits—including lowering elevated blood pressure.

 

All that is good, but just a note: Ganoderic acid is extremely bitter. 

 

Just like most extracts, concentrating specific compounds found in fungi can leave a not-so-pleasant taste and aftertaste. It’s why we recommend masking the bitterness by adding them in smoothies or to simply opt for encapsulated ganoderic acid supplements. 

 

Hericenones & Erinacines 

 

Hericenones & Erinaceus are components unique to Lion's mane mushroom, and responsible for its cognitive health benefits. In particular, hericenones are found in the fruiting body, whereas Erinaceus is found in the mushroom's mycelium.

 

Fun Fact: Studies have shown that Erinacines are a much more potent brain stimulator than Hericenones. [7]

 

Choosing between the mycelium and fruiting body of a fungus is not a case of one being better than the other. The idea is to know what benefit you’re looking for and to maximize it. More importantly, you also have to take the mushroom itself into consideration and closely determine which parts have the benefits you want.



References:


1. Künzler M. How fungi defend themselves against microbial competitors and animal predators. PLoS Pathog. 2018;14(9):e1007184. Published 2018 Sep 6. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1007184


2. Elsayed EA, El Enshasy H, Wadaan MA, Aziz R. Mushrooms: a potential natural source of anti-inflammatory compounds for medical applications. Mediators Inflamm. 2014;2014:805841. doi:10.1155/2014/805841


3. Chen J, Raymond K. Beta-glucans in the treatment of diabetes and associated cardiovascular risks. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2008;4(6):1265-1272. doi:10.2147/vhrm.s3803


4. Barry V McCleary, Anna Draga, Measurement of β-Glucan in Mushrooms and Mycelial Products, Journal of AOAC INTERNATIONAL, Volume 99, Issue 2, 1 March 2016, Pages 364–373, https://doi.org/10.5740/jaoacint.15-0289


5. Wińska K, Mączka W, Gabryelska K, Grabarczyk M. Mushrooms of the Genus Ganoderma Used to Treat Diabetes and Insulin Resistance. Molecules. 2019;24(22):4075. Published 2019 Nov 11. doi:10.3390/molecules24224075


6. Wachtel-Galor S, Yuen J, Buswell JA, et al. Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/


7. Li IC, Lee LY, Tzeng TT, et al. Neurohealth Properties of Hericium erinaceus Mycelia Enriched with Erinacines. Behav Neurol. 2018;2018:5802634. Published 2018 May 21. doi:10.1155/2018/5802634


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