More than 14,000 species of mushrooms have been identified and about 2,000 of them are edible.
Of 2,000 edible mushrooms, 270 species have potential therapeutic or preventative agents that ensure human health.
But of 270 medicinal mushrooms, only 6 are considered nootropics. And provide some type of benefit for your brain.
And then you’ll learn how to identify a genuine nootropic mushroom supplement. We’ll also cover how to avoid misleading marketing tactics that could trick you into buying bogus mushroom supplements.
Table of Contents
Top 6 Nootropic Mushrooms
270 species of edible mushrooms have been researched and tested as providing therapeutic or preventive benefits.
But so far, only 6 mushroom species have been identified with plenty of evidence to work as a nootropic and benefit your brain.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga mushrooms grow naturally on the bark of birch trees in northern Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Northern Europe, and Korea.
Traditional medicine in the Northern Hemisphere used Chaga Mushrooms to inhibit cancer progression, stimulate immunity, reduce inflammation, and liver protection.[i]
In the lab, Chaga has been shown to be antitumor, anti-mutagenic, antiviral, antidiabetic, antioxidant, and analgesic (pain relief).
Do not use Chaga Mushrooms if you’re on blood thinning medication, diabetes medication or if you have kidney disease.
Chaga is high in oxalates, which may prevent the absorption of some nutrients and can be toxic in high doses.
Chaga Mushroom is available in capsules, bottled tinctures, as an extract, in tea bags, and fresh raw mushroom. Dosages vary between brands.
Other than as an extract, Chaga is best absorbed in hot water, alcohol, or fermented. If you’re using Chaga powder or tea bag, let it steep in hot water for 5 minutes before using it.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)
In the wild, Cordyceps (sinensis) grows as a parasitic fungus on caterpillars. Cultivated Cordyceps (militaris) which is mass produced for the supplement industry has been found to have similar components as sinensis. And may yield higher quantities of active compounds.[iv]
Cordyceps mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fatigue, respiratory and kidney disease.
Over 200 clinical studies show Cordyceps mushrooms improves performance by increasing blood flow, boosts ATP synthesis for more natural energy, acts as an antioxidant, enhances lactate clearance, increases the release of catecholamines, and reduces oxidative stress, and fatigue.[v]
Cordyceps first gained attention in 1993, when world record-breaking performances of Chinese female athletes were attributed to a vigorous training and nutrition regimen that involved Cordyceps supplementation.[vi]
A study conducted in Japan showed significant increases in the concentrations of creatine, and all the catecholamines in men over of the course of 2 weeks who were supplementing with Cordyceps sinensis.
The researchers concluded that “during this prolonged exercise, ingesting with Cordyceps mushrooms might elicit the superior efficiency and the economical function on the energy metabolism”.[vii]
You will get the most benefit of supplementing with Cordyceps by using 4 grams per day for at least 3 weeks.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceu)
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is an ancient Chinese remedy for improving cognitive performance, and for overall health.
You’ll find my full review for Lion’s Mane Mushroom here.
Known for its powerful effects as a “brain tonic”, Lion’s Mane is said to have been used as a tea for thousands of years by Buddhist monks. To enhance brain power and heighten their ability to focus during meditation.
Lion’s Mane stimulates enzyme production that releases Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). In a study done in Kuala Lumpur in 2013, scientists showed that Lion’s Mane extract induced NGF synthesis and promoted neurite outgrowth.[viii]
Dosage of Lion’s Mane depends on the strength of the extract. Ranging from 300 mg to 3000 mg dosed 1 – 3 times per day.
My favorite pre-made nootropic stack Mind Lab Pro® contains the genuine fruiting body of Lion’s Mane Mushroom as well.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
The Maitake mushroom is native to northeastern Japan. Its rippling appearance with no caps is a bit like that of dancing butterflies. Hence its name is derived from the Japanese words Mai (dance) and take (mushroom).
Maitake mushrooms are used to support some cancer therapies, chronic fatigue, hepatitis, allergies, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Animal models show that supplementing with Maitake provides an antidepressant effect by sensitizing AMPA receptors. And the researchers concluded that “patients may just eat Maitake as a supplement for the treatment of depression.[x]
Recommended dosage of Maitake Mushroom extract is 250 – 500 mg per day.
Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Oyster mushrooms are of Asian origin, but first cultivated in Germany during the first World War as an alternative food source. It’s
now the 3rd highest in quantity of the commercially produced mushrooms worldwide.
Oyster mushrooms are high in protein and a good alternative to animal meat because they contain some of the same amino acids as found in animal protein. Making Oyster mushrooms a good protein source for vegetarians.
The nootropic benefits of Oyster mushroom extract are attributed to and include anti-bacterial, antiviral, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and works as an antioxidant by suppressing oxidative stress and as a free radical scavenger.
Trials are undergoing and testing Oyster Mushrooms ability to degrade plastic waste, crude oil, and even radioactive waste.[xii]
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi mushroom has been used for over 2000 years in traditional Chinese Medicine.
In China, G. lucidum is called lingzhi. In Japan, the name for the Ganodermataceae family is reishi or mannentake.[xiii]
Reishi mushroom benefits include blood sugar regulation, antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-tumor.[xiv]
A study at Mae Fah Luang University in Thailand recruited 50 volunteers suffering Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Each were given Reishi mushroom extract or placebo.
Each person was asked to respond to a questionnaire for quality of life score and level of fatigue before and 4, 8, and 12 weeks after the first dose.
At the end of the study, those who used Reishi mushroom extract reported a significant increase in quality of life compared to placebo with a decrease in fatigue.
The researchers concluded that “G. lucidum extract could be potentially effective in the treatment of fatigue and improve quality of life in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients.”[xvi]
Many ‘in-vivo’ studies demonstrate the benefits of Reishi mushroom to include boosting your immune system[xvii], preventing abnormal blood vessel formations, it’s anti-tumor, and helps reverse liver damage.
Another animal study showed that Reishi mushroom could play an important role in Alzheimer’s Disease treatment. And as a nootropic, it supports the growth of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).[xviii] NGF boosts learning, memory, and longevity.
Reishi mushroom is available in capsules, as a powder, and as an extract. Dosages vary depending on the strength or how concentrated the extract.
The Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China recommends 6 to 12 g reishi extract daily.
How to Buy Genuine Nootropic Mushrooms
The beauty of mushrooms as a food and the few that are considered for their nootropic cognitive benefit is that they’re natural, and free of pesticides.
But a word of caution here.
You can usually find any of the 6 mushrooms I detailed above in a vitamin shop or online for use as a nootropic supplement. But the challenge is choosing nootropic mushroom supplements that work as claimed.
How the mushroom is grown and processed as well as the part of the mushroom used will affect its value as a nootropic.
Just one of many examples, the processing method (oven-dried vs freeze-dried) for Lion’s Mane Mushroom has been shown to affect its neurite stimulation activity.[xix]
Here you’ll learn about the different parts of a mushroom. And depending on how its grown and the part used, which supplements will offer the most nootropic value.
Choose the wrong supplement and you won’t get its benefit.
Unfortunately, manufacturers often make it difficult to discern what method was used to make their mushroom supplement.
Once you learn how to read the label, you’ll have more confidence knowing you’re buying the best nootropic mushrooms.
Understanding the Market of Nootropic Mushrooms
What we call a “mushroom” is made up of two parts – the mycelium and the fruiting body. The top of the mushroom is the fruiting body. And its stem is the mycelium.
NOTE: mycelium and mushroom is not synonymous.
If the supplement label states that the contents are ‘mycelium’, you’ll know you’re NOT getting a mushroom supplement. More on that in the next section.
The active components in a mushroom are what dictate their benefit to your cognition and overall health.
Those active components are beta-D-glucans, triterpenoids and ergosterol.[xx]
Beta-D-glucans are the primary source of nootropic activity. They make up the natural structural component of the cell walls of the fruiting body of the mushroom.
Triterpenoids compliment beta-D-glucans in immune system activity. And along with Ergosterol offer antioxidant activity, reduced inflammation, liver protection and reduced histamine response.
Genuine Mushrooms vs Mycelium
What you refer to as a ‘mushroom’ is actually the ‘fruiting body’ of the mushroom. Which develops from a spore, grows into the mycelium, and then tops it off with a mushroom (fruiting body).
Mycelium is the underground network that acts like a root which feeds off of organic plant matter.
This plant matter is usually referred to as substrate. The mycelium becomes woven into whatever that substrate is and is inseparable from the substrate material.
If all goes well, the mycelium produces a mushroom (fruiting body). The fruiting body is the reproductive mechanism of this organism.
When fully mature, the fruiting body produces spores that enter the substrate matter. To go on to produce more mycelium.
The bottom-line is a mushroom is not mycelium, and mycelium is not a mushroom.
The nootropic value of mushrooms: beta-D-glucans
Functional nootropic mushroom benefits come from their active compounds which are found primarily in the mushroom (fruiting body). And much less so in the mycelium.
The fruiting body contains Beta-D-glucans which modulate your immune system, reduce inflammation, control blood sugar, help reverse fatigue symptoms, and increase overall performance endurance.[xxi]
As the mycelium grows down into the substrate matter the two become interwoven. And cannot be separated during processing when manufacturing supplements.
Mushroom supplement manufacturers often claim their product is pure “mushroom” extract. But what you may be getting instead is a mycelium supplement combined with substrate matter.
Check the ‘Supplement Facts’ label on the back of a “mushroom” supplement to ensure you’re getting the “fruiting body” and not “mycelium” instead.
Polysaccharides does NOT Equal Mushroom Quality
Polysaccharides is another term you’ll come across on mushroom supplement labels.
Truth is they are a key component in nootropic mushrooms. And companies boast about their high polysaccharide numbers.
But here’s the problem with evaluating a mushroom supplement simply by measuring polysaccharides.
Polysaccharides are long chain carbohydrates made up of components like beta-glucans, chitin, cellulose, glucose, and fructose.
But polysaccharides also include alpha-glucans such as glycogen, dextran, pullulan, and starch.
Many so-called “mushroom” products are made up of alpha-glucans and not beta-glucans.
The thing is a lot of medicinal mushroom supplements on the market are just mycelium which is grown on grain. And the grain cannot be separated from the mycelium that it’s entangled with.
These grains are alpha-glucans, starches, and other fillers which are part of the grain substrate the mushroom is grown on. And are passed off as “mushroom” supplements to those who haven’t done their homework.
Alpha-glucans provide no nootropic benefit.
Unless you inspect the nootropic mushroom label carefully, you may be misled into believing that you are buying a genuine mushroom supplement.
When in fact, you could be buying a bottle filled with mycelium/grain powder.
Six researchers conducted and published a study in partnership with the US Pharmacopoeia to evaluate 19 Reishi mushrooms. The supplements were purchased online from Amazon and eBay.
Only 5 of the 19 supplements tested contained genuine Reishi mushroom. The supplements evaluated in this study included 6 fruiting body powders, 1 fruiting body powder with added polysaccharides, 1 reishi mycelium product and 11 extracts.
The researchers concluded that several so-called ‘Reishi’ mushroom supplements did NOT contain what consumers expected based on product information and labels.[xxii]
The big take-away here is just because you see a picture of a mushroom on the front of a supplement bottle does NOT guarantee any genuine mushroom fruiting body in the supplement.
To get the most potent nootropic mushroom supplement, look for extracts made from the mushroom (fruiting body) and which also specifies beta-glucan content.
Do NOT buy a mushroom supplement if the manufacturer neglects to state the part of the mushroom they use.
The bottle or package should say whether you’re getting the mushroom (fruiting body), the mycelium, or a blend of both. How much of each including the percentage (%) of beta-glucan content. If not, put it back on the shelf.
China is the leading grower worldwide of medicinal mushrooms accounting for 90 – 95% of world production.
China first began growing mushrooms for food and medicine in the 13th century. Many of the research centers dedicated to the study and development of mushrooms are in China.
Mushrooms grown in the United States or Canada are too expensive for nootropic supplement use.
If your supplement label states “Made in the USA” double-check and make sure that you are buying genuine mushroom. Because if it’s an extract and whole “fruiting body”, the mushrooms are grown China. Even if the extract was manufactured in the USA.
If the company insists their product was grown in the USA or Canada, you can be sure that the contents of that supplement are mycelium/grain powder and not genuine mushroom (fruiting body).
When choosing a nootropic mushroom it’s important to keep in mind that for you to get it’s nootropic benefit it needs to be 100% mushroom (fruiting body), with verified levels of beta-glucans, zero fillers, and preferably certified organic.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is one of the best nootropic mushrooms. Get it as a standalone supplement, or part of a pre-made stack like my favorite, Mind Lab Pro®.
Mind Lab Pro® contains 500 mg of Organic Lion’s Mane Mushroom (fruiting body) per dose.
If you’d like to try a pre-made stack containing all the nootropic mushrooms detailed in this review, I suggest trying the Mushroom Complex by HR Supplements.
Their Harvest Naturals Mushroom Complex includes 11 different medicinal mushrooms species including our 6 nootropic mushrooms. With a minimum 30% beta-glucans from whole fruiting body.
And their label includes a QR Code you can scan to get a Certificate of Analysis for that supplement batch.
[ii] Mishra S.K., Kang J.H., Kim D.K. “Orally administered aqueous extract of Inonotus obliquus ameliorates acute inflammation in dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis in mice.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Sep 28 2012;143(2):524-532 (source)
[iii] Hu Y. Sheng Y., Yu M., Li K., Ren G., Xu X., Qu J. “Antioxidant Activity of Inonotus Obliquus Polysaccharide and Its Amelioration for Chronic Pancreatitis in Mice” International Journal of Biology & Macromology 2016 Jun;87:348-56. (source)
[iv] Kim H.O., Yun J.W. “A comparative study on the production of exopolysaccharides between two entomopathogenic fungi Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis in submerged mycelial cultures.” Journal of Applied Microbiology. 2005; 99(4):728-38. (source)
[v] Hrisch K.R., Smith-Ryan A.E., Roelofs E.J., Trexler E.T., Mock M.G. “Cordyceps militaris improves tolerance to high intensity exercise after acute and chronic supplementation” Journal of Dietary Supplements 2017 Jan 2; 14(1): 42–53. (source)
[vii] Nagata A., Tajima T., Uchida M. (2006). Supplemental anti-fatigue effects of Cordyceps sinensis (Tochu-Kaso) extract powder during three step wise exercise in human.” Japan Journal of Physical Fitness in Sports 5:s145–52 (source)
[viii] Lai P.L., Naidu M., Sabaratnam V., Wong K.H., David R.P., Kuppusamy U.R., Abdullah N., Malek S.N. “Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia.” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2013;15(6):539-54. (source)
[ix] Duric V., Banasr M., Stockmeier C.A., Simen A.A., Newton S.S., Overholser J.C., Jurjus G.J., Dieter L., Duman R.S. “Altered expression of synapse and glutamate related genes in post-mortem hippocampus of depressed subjects.” International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Feb; 16(1):69-82. (source)
[x] Boa H. Ran P., Sun L., Hu W., Li W., Xiao C., Zhu K. Du J., “Griflola frondosa (GF) produces significant antidepressant effects involving AMPA receptor activation in mice” Pharmaceutical Biology 2017; 55(1): 299–305. (source)
[xii] Gosh T., Sengupta A., Das A. “Nutrition, Therapeutics and Environment Impact of
Oyster Mushrooms: A Low Cost Proteinaceous Source” Journal of Gynecology and Women’s Health Volume 14 Issue 1 - February 2019 (source)
[xiv] Wachtel-Gator S. Yuen J., Buswell J.A., Benzie I.F.F. “Chapter 9 Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi)” Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. (source)
[xv] Tang W., Gao Y., et. Al. “A Randomized, Double-Blind and Placebo-Controlled Study of a Ganoderma Lucidum Polysaccharide Extract in Neurasthenia” Journal of Medicinal Food Spring 2005;8(1):53-8. (source)
[xvi] Soksawatmakhin S., Boonyahotra W. “Preliminary study of the applications of
Ganoderma lucidum in chronic fatigue syndrome” Journal of Asian Association of Schools of Pharmacy Volume 2, January - December, 2013 Pages: 262-268 (source)
[xviii] Zhou Y. Qu Z. et. Al. “Neuroprotective effect of preadministration with Ganoderma lucidum spore on rat hippocampus” Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology Volume 64, Issues 7–8, November 2012, Pages 673-680 (source)
[xix] Wong K.H., Sabaratnam V., Abdullah N., Kuppusamy U.R., Naidu M. “Effects of Cultivation Techniques and Processing on Antimicrobial and Antioxidant Activities of Hericium erinaceus (Bull.:Fr.) Pers. Extracts” Food Technology and Biotechnology, Vol. 47 No. 1, 2009. (source)
[xxii] Wu D.T., Deng Y., Chen L.X., Zhao J., Bzhelyansky A., Li S.P. “Evaluation on quality consistency of Ganoderma lucidum dietary supplements collected in the United States” Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 7792 (2017) (source)
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