Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Immunity Effects of Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms. Podcast with Jeff Chilton

The marketing term “superfood” is often applied to foods that are purported to offer health benefits due to their remarkable nutrient density. When you hear the word superfood, what do you think of? Probably kale. Goji berries. Green tea. Turmeric. Countless others.

But what about mushrooms? 

Mushrooms have historically not held a prominent place among the list of superfoods. But if you take a closer look, I think you’ll find that the humble mushroom actually has a lot going for it.

A single cup of whole white mushrooms – like the kind you usually see at grocery stores – contains just 21 calories, but around 16% of the recommended daily value of selenium and 33% of the daily value of vitamin D. They are relatively high in potassium and low in sodium, and they are a decent source of essential amino acids given their caloric density. 

But of course, the most compelling benefits of mushrooms do not show up on a nutrition label.

Edible mushrooms are rich in polyphenols, including flavonoids and phenolic acids, and their power to fight oxidative stress has been shown to compare favorably to many other health-promoting foods. The antioxidant-promoting and anti-inflammatory properties of these dietary compounds are well-established, and of course have been addressed previously on this show. Higher intake of flavonoids in the diet have been linked to substantially reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.

Mushrooms are a good source of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant and detoxifying agent that has been linked to improved insulin sensitivity. They also contain ergothioneine, an amino acid that appears to protect DNA from oxidative damage and may help inhibit the development of plaques in arteries

Finally, research suggests that polysaccharides, or long-chain carbohydrates, in mushrooms may have some intriguing health effects, particularly with respect to the immune system.


Mushrooms and Immunity

One class of polysaccharide that is of growing medical interest is glucans. Glucans are basically just long chains of glucose, commonly found in oat bran, brewer’s yeast, and of course mushrooms. Beta glucan in particular is widely known for its propensity to bind to bile acids, which has been shown to lower levels of LDL and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. This, by the way, is a major reason why oatmeal is so good for you.

But we are now learning that glucans can also regulate the immune system, and this is where mushrooms really shine. Glucans, oddly enough, are actually constituents of the cell walls of certain pathogens. Due perhaps to this resemblance, dietary glucans are able to boost our immune defenses. They appear to make our innate immune system more responsive to pathogens (and cancer cells) by activating macrophages and natural killer cells. And they even seem to help the adaptive immune system generate more antibodies to fight specific infections.

For instance, children who were given a supplement with beta-glucan from mushrooms showed significantly higher levels of natural killer cells than those given placebo, and were also significantly less likely to develop a respiratory infection.

And if you give mice a really awful case of the flu, groups that eat mushrooms show higher survival rates. Upon dissection, you can see that the animals eating the mushrooms have a reduced number of the virus in all their organs including their thymus, heart, and their lungs. 

Importantly, the amounts administered in these studies are between 200-900 mg of beta-glucans per day, which is actually what you’d get in a serving or two of mushrooms. So this is not some unattainable pharmaceutical dose – just eating mushrooms will probably work just fine!

Additionally, while plain old white button mushrooms are great, other types of mushrooms, such as shiitake, maitake, reishi, and chaga may offer unique health-promoting properties. And some research suggests that a combination of glucans from different mushrooms may stimulate the immune response to viral infections more potently than just one.

So what makes mushrooms different from one another? And where can you find them?

That brings me to our guest for this episode.



On this episode of humanOS Radio, Dan speaks with Jeff Chilton

When it comes to mushrooms, Jeff is kind of a trailblazer. He recognized the unique value of mushrooms to human health long before most people. Jeff studied ethnomycology  – historical uses and sociological impact of fungi – at the University of Washington in the late 1960s, then went on to work on a commercial mushroom farm in 1973. 

Over the following decade, he became the production manager, responsible for the cultivation of over 2 million pounds of agaricus mushrooms per year. He was also involved in the research and development of shiitake, oyster, and enoki mushrooms, which ultimately resulted in the earliest sales of fresh shiitake mushrooms in the US in 1978. The presence of multiple varieties of mushrooms in grocery stores is something many of us kind of take for granted now. But they weren’t always readily available in American stores, and we have Jeff to thank at least in part for that shift.

Fast-forward to 1989: Jeff founded Nammex, a business that introduced medicinal mushrooms to the US nutritional supplement industry. Jeff’s company was the first to offer a complete line of Certified Organic mushroom extracts to the US nutritional supplement industry. Nammex extracts are now used by many supplement companies, and are noted for their high quality based on analysis of the active compounds.

Given his background, it is hard to think of a more qualified person to speak to about the mushroom industry, and the health-promoting power of mushrooms. Check out the interview below to learn more!



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Jeff Chilton: 00:06 Eating mushrooms will give you that beta glucan in the fiber. The thing with beta glucans is that they will potentiate our immune response, so they’re actually called biological response modifiers and potentiation actually means strengthen.
Kendal Kendrick: 00:24 humanOS. Learn, master, achieve.
Dan: 00:33 When we think about the concepts of super foods, what do we think of? Things like kale, goji berries, green tea, turmeric, but what about mushrooms? If you take a closer look, you’ll see that the humble mushroom actually has a lot going for it. A single cup of whole white mushrooms, the kind you typically see at grocery stores contains just 21 calories but is relatively high in selenium and potassium and amino acids. But the most exciting benefits of mushrooms don’t show up on the nutrition label. Edible mushrooms are rich in polyphenols, including flavonoids and phenolic acids. The antioxidant promoting and anti-inflammatory properties of these compounds are well established. Mushrooms contain glutathione, a powerful antioxidant and detoxifying agent that has been linked to improved insulin sensitivity and reduced cancer progression. They also are a source of ergothioneine, an amino acid that appears to protect DNA from oxidative damage and may help inhibit the development of plaques in arteries.
Dan: 01:40 Finally, research suggests that polysaccharides or long chain carbohydrates in mushrooms may have remarkable health benefits. One class of polysaccharides that is of growing medical interest is glucans. What’s really cool about glucans is how they regulate our immune system. They appear to make our innate immune system more responsive to pathogens and cancer cells by activating macrophages and natural killer cells, and they seem to help the adaptive immune system generate more antibodies to fight specific infections. If you give mice a really bad case of the flu, groups that ate mushrooms have a far greater chance of survival, and you see that the animals that get the mushrooms have a reduced number of the virus in their organs, including in their thymus and their heart and their lungs, et cetera. Meanwhile, humans who ate mushrooms or took a mushroom supplement got sick less frequently, and when they did fall ill, it was less intense and they recovered more quickly.
Dan: 02:42 Importantly, all the amounts administered in these studies are between 200 and 900 milligrams of beta glucans per day, which is what you’d get in a serving or two of mushrooms. So this is not some dietarily unattainable pharmaceutical dose, and plain old white button mushrooms are powerful, although other types of mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, reishi and chaga may offer unique health promoting properties too and a combination might be best, in that there is new evidence that there is some additive nature of different mushrooms taken concurrently in strengthening the immune response to viral infections. Now, today on humanOS Radio, I am talking with Jeff Chilton. Jeff recognized the unique value of mushrooms to human health very early on. He studied ethnomycology or the historical use and sociological impact of fungi at the University of Washington in the late 1960s, then went on to work on a commercial mushroom farm in 1973.
Dan: 03:37 Over the following decade, he became the production manager responsible for the cultivation over two million pounds of agaricus mushrooms per year. He was also involved in the research and development of shiitake, oyster and enoki mushrooms, which ultimately resulted in the earliest sales of fresh shiitake mushrooms in the US in 1978. Fast forward to 1988, he founded Nammex, a business that introduced medicinal mushrooms to the US nutritional supplement industry. Jeff’s company was also the first to offer a complete line of certified organic mushroom extracts to the US nutritional supplement industry as well. Nammex extracts are now used by many supplement companies and are noted for their high quality based on analyses of active compounds. It’s hard to think about a more qualified person to speak to about the mushroom industry and health promoting powers of mushrooms. So without further ado, Jeff, welcome to the show.
Jeff Chilton: 04:28 Dan, thank you so much for having me and the information you just provided was fantastic. You really have a excellent understanding of mushrooms. I’m very impressed.
Dan: 04:38 Thank you. I was so interested to have you on, given the global pandemic of COVID-19 coronavirus. Many people around the world are thinking of ways to keep their immune system strong and, as we dig a little bit deeper, mushrooms seem to have this impressive impact to help us fight infection. Tell us about some foundational information on mushrooms.
Jeff Chilton: 04:55 First of all, let me just say, have you ever been to a mushroom farm?
Dan: 04:59 I have not.
Jeff Chilton: 05:00 Very few people have. And the reason is that in North America mushrooms are all grown indoors, so we’re driving out in farm country you see lots of fields of different corn or wheat or something like that, but we drive right by the motion farm. We have no idea what’s going on there. So just to give you an overview of these particular organisms that we call mushrooms, they’re part of a kingdom of fungi and that kingdom lies between animals on the one hand and plants on the other. And interestingly enough, we share some basic attributes with the mushroom. It breathes like us, so it will take in oxygen, breathe out carbon dioxide, and also it’s got, as its storage carbohydrate, glycogen just like us. Plants produce starch, the mushroom produces glycogen.
Jeff Chilton: 05:51 How do we grow mushrooms? What is actually going on? Mushrooms have no seeds, so how are we supposed to plant them? A mature mushroom will produce spores. The spores fly out in nature. They will land on the ground, they’ll land on wood, they’ll land everywhere. And when conditions are right, those spores will germinate into a very fine filament. And when multiple of those filaments come together and fuse, they will form a network. And that network of these fine filaments is called mycelium. And that mycelium is what we consider the body, it’s the vegetative body of the organism. And what’s really cool about it is, it is breaking down all of the organic matter out there that accumulates every year and without the mushroom and other organisms like bacteria and bugs and things like that, that organic matter would just build up and pretty soon we’d be buried in it.
Jeff Chilton: 06:50 So leaves, branches, any sort of woody material, the mycelium will actually be consuming that and ultimately it’s going to turn it into humus for plants to use. So it’s repurposing all that organic matter. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, in the fall, when the rains come and the temperature goes down, up comes a mushroom. Wow. Where did that come from? Actually it’s been growing for the last couple of weeks, but you don’t really notice it because when it starts out as small and then it gains in size until it reaches a size where all of a sudden there it is. It’s a mushroom. Well it’s been developing over two weeks and so as it matures, the cap will expand at a certain point. Their underside has gills and these gills are where the spores are produced and that is the culmination of this cycle. So think about it in terms of what I like to call plant parts, because in the whole herbal industry, when we go out and look for a supplement or take some herbs, are we taking the root? Are we taking the leaves, the flowers, the leaves?
Jeff Chilton: 07:58 So a mushroom will have three plant parts that are important for us to remember, spores, this mycelium and the actual mushroom itself. And when we think about the mushroom, which is what we utilize. We’ve never really utilized by mycelium because it’s always been buried in its substrate or in the ground or something like that and we’re really kind of unaware of that. The mushroom we’ve been using as food, as medicine, and for shamanic purposes for thousands of years, it is an interesting source of all of these different attributes.
Dan: 08:37 Do mushrooms grow in all sorts of conditions or very specific conditions are needed in order for mushrooms or fungi to grow?
Jeff Chilton: 08:43 All over the world in every kind of condition you can imagine. And again, when we’re talking about mushrooms, we’re just talking about one relatively small grouping of this much larger kingdom of fungi.
Jeff Chilton: 08:58 So just to break it up into two simple parts. One is called perfect fungi, which are the mushrooms. These are the organisms that will produce this fruiting body, this mushroom. And then there are imperfect fungi that do not. And those imperfect fungi are what we would consider molds, and we’re all familiar with molds. Oftentimes we’ll see them on bread. That’s a very common mold that we could see. Also people will talk about, oh, I’ve got an issue with molds because it’s growing in their house or something like that. Speaking about those molds, and a lot of them can be very deleterious to our health, what it is is they will grow in a moist condition and in a house somewhere and when we see a mold, even when you first see it on bread, it will actually be kind of whitish, but then all of a sudden it’ll turn green, it’ll turn black, and that’s when it’s producing spores.
Jeff Chilton: 09:50 So what actually is affecting people, mold wise, are the spores. Those spores, we breathe them in and then we either have an allergic reaction or they’re just irritating our lungs. The molds we really have to be concerned about are the molds that produce aflatoxins. That’s something that the grain industry is very concerned about because that particular mold species grows in grains, and so the grain industry is constantly testing the grains that are being stored because if there’s any moisture that gets in there, these molds will start growing and this particular mold will produce this toxin and it’s a very poisonous toxin. It’s very lethal.
Dan: 10:31 Aflatoxins are the reasons that we can’t have peanuts on airplanes anymore.
Jeff Chilton: 10:35 Yes, exactly, and that’s why a lot of people say stay away from peanuts in general because of the aflatoxins. There may be small amounts in there. But yes, we’re focusing on the positive side here, which are the mushrooms that we consume as food or as supplements or there’s a lot of research these days on these psychedelic mushrooms as well, and that’s a whole nother theme.
Dan: 10:57 I am interested in all things that can make our existing systems as strong as possible. What else do mushrooms contain that have some health benefits?
Jeff Chilton: 11:07 I think the most important compound in mushrooms are beta glucans and beta glucans make up up to 50% of the cell wall of all mushrooms. Why would one mushroom then be more medicinal than another? The beta glucan has a structure that varies, so each mushroom will have a little bit varied beta glucan structure, and that’s the difference between one mushroom being highly medicinal and the other one not. The beta glucan is in the fiber of the mushroom because it’s in the cell wall. So eating mushrooms will give you that beta glucan in the fiber and I still think it’s very positive, even in that form because it’s ultimately feeding our microbiome.
Jeff Chilton: 11:51 But the thing with beta glucans is that there is a tremendous body of research out there that supports the fact that these beta glucans will potentiate our immune response. So they’re actually called biological response modifiers. And potentiation actually means strengthen. So, what it will do ultimately is it will activate macrophages, T lymphocytes, NK cells and essentially enhance our immune response. So consuming mushrooms as food, which I recommend for everybody, we will be getting some of that potentiation, especially if you’re eating mushrooms like maitake, shiitake, a lion’s mane.
Jeff Chilton: 12:35 What I love about this whole category of mushrooms is that we’re talking food is medicine. We want our food not only to be nutritious in general, and you touched on that in the intro, but also to have other properties that can benefit us in another way than just nutrition in the sense of potentiating our immune response and strengthening it and when we talk about whether it be antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, it really gets back down to primarily these beta glucans and essentially if your mushroom product doesn’t have beta glucans, then it’s not really a true medicinal mushroom. That’s really the key to a medicinal mushroom having a good amount of these beta glucans.
Jeff Chilton: 13:21 People out there will say, okay, mushrooms, oh yeah, really high in vitamin D. No, they’re not high in vitamin D at all, but they’ve got this sterol in there, ergosterol, which is similar to our cholesterol, but it’s a fungal sterol, ergosterol, and when it’s exposed to UV, it will turn into vitamin D too.
Dan: 13:41 We also of course know that vitamin D has an important role in the immune system and there’s more chatter on [crosstalk 00:13:47] too.
Jeff Chilton: 13:48 Absolutely. the whole vitamin D thing really came to our knowledge, so to speak, back in the 1800s in England during the industrial revolution when all of a sudden children in these cities that were industrialized and lost their sunlight started coming down with rickets, and so they ultimately figured it out quickly and they started supplementing with vitamin D and that cleared the whole thing up.
Jeff Chilton: 14:17 And what was interesting is that what they used back then, because yeast is also part of this kingdom of fungi, they found out that they could expose yeast, which was very cheap to produce to UV and, that’s what they started supplementing in milk and all sorts of products.
Dan: 14:35 We can now look at things like vitamin D supplementation or the ingestion of more mushrooms and think of them as health boosting. We are actually simply replicating more natural conditions that the body evolved in. The closer we get to that, the healthier the body functions. Eating more mushrooms is a behavior that we did more of historically than we do now. So we put mushrooms back in our system, we get our vitamin D levels back up to something that’s higher than what you would spending 90% of your time indoors. The body performs better.
Jeff Chilton: 15:04 A couple of hundred years ago, everybody was outside. Agriculture and all that. And then today everybody’s inside in an office under artificial lighting and covered up half the time, especially in a colder climate. So sure. And I like to say that in my life I’m going back to the future.
Dan: 15:20 Yeah.
Jeff Chilton: 15:20 And I look back at simpler lifestyle and slow food movement. And I tell my friends in the city, I say get out of your car. Walk more. Take public transportation. I view mushrooms as something that we use for prevention and I tell people, are you eating mushrooms? If you’re not, get them into your diet. Eat them two or three or four times a week. They’re so versatile, cook them properly. That’s a big problem. Have you ever heard people say, oh, slimy, terrible things. And it’s like, no, no mushrooms, if you cook them properly on a high heat and Brown them up, they’re not fly me at all and they go with just about anything.
Jeff Chilton: 15:59 So the first thing is just get them into your diet and then after that, think about supplementing with a specific mushroom species and they can be very helpful to you. They work in the background, they’re not something like you’re taking an aspirin and your headache is gone in a couple of hours. Make them part of your whole regimen of food and supplement and just stay with it. It’s interesting because we’ve got a couple of clinical trials done in Japan with control groups, 30 people, 70 year olds and they take a battery of tests and then one group takes 3 grams of lion’s mane a day, which is not a lot, 3 grams is hardly anything. I weighed up a button mushroom that was just a medium size button mushroom. Dan, it weighed 40 grams. Can you imagine? 40 grams. That one medium mushroom, that’s nothing, 4 dried grams.
Jeff Chilton: 16:54 So these folks took 3 dried grams of lion’s mane, just straight lion’s mane powder, for 90 days. At the end of the 90 days, they tested them again. The group that took the lion’s mane did much better on the tests. After 30 days of not taking them, they dropped back down to baseline. That just to me says put these things into your diet, supplement with them. Dietarily you’re getting the benefits not only of those beta glucans and all the other compounds in there, you’re also getting this wonderful food product and we’re way behind Asia in this realm. When I’m traveling in China, we’re eating mushrooms every day, whether it’s meals, a lunch or a dinner. Mushrooms are just part of the cuisine over there and they’ve got at least 12 different edible mushrooms in their market. You can even get fresh cordyceps in their food markets and it is delicious.
Jeff Chilton: 17:51 Fortunately, like in the metropolitan centers, you will be able to get certainly shiitake, normally maitake. If you’re lucky, in some places, like especially on the West Coast, you might get lion’s mane fresh, which is really cool. I mean even the button mushroom has demonstrated medicinal properties. So even that is good. As somebody who spent 10 years on a mushroom farm, this big agaricus farm, I literally lived with mushrooms for that period of time and I never got tired of eating them. I still eat them. I still buy them along with my shiitake and any other mushrooms that I can find in the market that particular day. But at least shiitake and agaricus, I’ve got in my very small little coastal community.
Dan: 18:32 Do you eat them every day?
Jeff Chilton: 18:33 I eat them probably every other day. I will always eat them if I have a steak or something like that, I’ll definitely eat them. If there’s eggs, I’ll put them in that. There’ll be one of the vegetables that I put into the stir fry. They’re not a vegetable, but that’s where you buy them, in the vegetable section of the marketplace. When you’re cooking a mushroom, they shrink down to half the size, so I will easily consume 100 grams of fresh mushrooms in a sitting, no problem.
Dan: 19:00 The research that I looked into prior to our show together, the biological effects that we care to see, thwarting on infections, faster recovery, getting sick less often seemed to be at an amount that you would consume if you consumed mushrooms regularly.
Jeff Chilton: 19:16 You can use them in so many different ways. There’s a ton of recipes out there. So I just tell people before you even supplement, start eating mushrooms. The lion’s mane right now has been so popular. You know the whole nootropics category that’s out there and everybody wants anything that can help enhance performance in some way.
Dan: 19:35 Yeah.
Jeff Chilton: 19:36 I think four or five years ago, my company was selling maybe a hundred kilos of lion’s mane extract a year. Today we sell 10 tons a year.
Dan: 19:45 Wow.
Jeff Chilton: 19:46 It’s our number one seller, so it is unbelievable. And again, I’m talking about raw materials, raw straight powder, because that’s … Nammex sells raw materials to other companies, so they will put it out under their brand in capsules or something like that. The other one that’s really come on strong, of course, is cordyceps, and traditionally the wild cordyceps, which is what they used for the most part, was wild [inaudible 00:20:10] up in the foothills of Tibet, out in the pastures. And it’s this Caterpillar that hibernates and unfortunately during hibernation it’s got spores of this fungus on it and those spores germinate while this caterpillars overwintering and come spring time, early summer, up pops this cordyceps off this caterpillar and the cordyceps mycelium has basically consumed the whole inside of that caterpillar, so all that’s left is a shell and people are down on their hands and knees in the pastures looking for these things. And it’s one of the most expensive herbs in the world right now. It’s worth $20,000 a dried kilogram.
Jeff Chilton: 20:50 The way they consume it is actually with the caterpillar, and it’s interesting because I tried to introduce cordyceps to the natural products industry, to the herbal companies back in the early 90s and everyone looked at it and said, “Well that’s great, but my customers are not going to eat caterpillars.” Yeah, of course not. Today we have cordyceps that we’re actually growing just the mushroom itself, not any insects involved. It’s a different species than the one that grows on the caterpillar, but it has been used interchangeably for a long time. And that’s something that was used for fatigue, lack of energy. That just kind of goes right back to this whole idea of your immune system is weak and you can’t quite cope with all of the challenges that are going on, whether it’s to your diet or your daily life or whatever it is. So oftentimes people who are coming out of a longterm disease, they’re just trying to climb out of it and they’re feeling much better, but they just can’t make it over the hump, they would give these people cordyceps. And due to that whole fatigue type of idea, now a lot of people use cordyceps in athletics and things like that, and whether or not that actually helps them out or not, I don’t know.
Jeff Chilton: 22:03 But that’s where a lot of people are using it and it’s going into a lot of sports products and things like that. But the other thing about this is what you were just talking about, which is how much to take and are you taking enough” and that’s also very important because all too often with herbal products you have a bottle and the bottle is like 60 capsules. Why is it 60 capsules and they tell you to take two a day? That’s a month’s supply, right? And not only that, two capsules a day, is that the same for a 100 pound person versus a 200 pound person? There’s all these things that you have to consider.
Dan: 22:39 Do you have thoughts about taking too high of a dose or are more of your concerns around whether or not people aren’t getting enough of the active compounds to have the effect that they would want?
Jeff Chilton: 22:48 Absolutely. The beauty of the mushroom is that most of them have been used as foods for thousands of years, so they’re very, very safe. You don’t really have to worry about overdosing or taking too much or anything like that. To me, the last thing you want to do is take too little because then you will probably not see any real benefits. My rule of thumb on them actually is 2 to 5 grams of dried mushroom or equivalent extract. So let’s just say you go the higher end, you say, okay, 5 grams of dried mushroom and then a 10 to one extract, you’d be taking 500 milligrams.
Jeff Chilton: 23:25 So, that’s how I look at it. And that’s something that was brought to my attention by a friend of mine who is a doctor, but he grew up in Hong Kong and he’d learned traditional Chinese medicine over there. And then he studied Western medicine and became an MD and he practices in New York and he researched very deeply the use of mushrooms and in this case it was reishi mushroom, and to see what traditional Chinese medicine was using and he came up after his research with 2 to 5 dried grams or extract equivalent. And I use that for pretty much all the mushrooms. I think that’s a good rule of thumb for any of the species.
Dan: 23:59 Different mushrooms have different polysaccharides. We’re consuming these from a variety of different sources. How do these affect the immune system? Is our intestinal tract sensing them? What’s going on there?
Jeff Chilton: 24:10 First of all, let me just make sure that people understand how important the structure is. For example, you have beta glucans in grains and the fact is the beta glucan in a grain is what we would term a beta 1,3/1,4, and what that means is that as a polysaccharide, it’s a chain of these different glucose molecules together and at certain points it will branch off. So a beta 1,4 will have a branching at that 1,4 position. A beta 1,3/1,5, which is the mushroom beta glucan, will have this branch at the 1,6 position. So that is super important because you don’t get anywhere close to the same immunological activities with oat bran, for example. Oat bran, when they talk about beta glucans, they talk about it in terms of its use as fiber, because beta glucans are part of the fiber of the grains. They’re part of the fiber and the mushrooms. But again it’s this very important branching that makes the difference.
Jeff Chilton: 25:10 So a beta 1,3/1,6 which is what we find in mushrooms is totally different from what you would find in cereal grains. In the cereal grains, it’s really the bran that’s giving you all that to fiber and everything. The rest of the grain is going to be mostly starch. So what happens with a beta glucan is it gets digested down in our intestines and all the cellular organisms have receptors and some of them are called pattern recognition receptors and the whole idea is they can detect in this case non cell structures that we have and those would be pathogen associated molecular patterns or PAMPs, pattern recognition receptors are PRRs. The basic idea here is that we have specific receptors and when a fungal beta glucan comes down there, they see it as a possible pathogen. So they recognize it and they will initiate an immune response. These receptors down there, they now see as being very specific to beta glucans. So the beta glucan will come down, it will hit that receptor site and then that’s where the activation of the immune cells will happen at that point.
Dan: 26:21 Let’s switch gears to ergothioneine. Do all mushrooms have ergothioneine? And is there a different amount of this substance in different types of mushrooms?
Jeff Chilton: 26:32 That’s so interesting because we initiated ergothioneine testing about three years ago. I’m not kidding you when I say we’ve got more data on the ergothioneine levels in mushrooms than anybody in the world right now, and yes, certain species do produce more ergothioneine than others. One of the species that produces the highest levels is actually shiitake. So consuming fresh shiitake, or even taking a shiitake extract, you’re going to be getting a reasonable amount of ergothioneine. Again, ergothioneine is something that we have in a lot of places in our body in places where there’s a very high oxidative stress and that’s where it seems to be accumulating and we don’t produce it. We have to get it from outside and fungi and mushrooms are some of the organisms that produce high amounts of it.
Jeff Chilton: 27:20 So it’s really … Is there anything else that this mushroom doesn’t produce that’s going to help us out? It’s just so many things. But the ergo, there have been lots of studies with it and they’re still not really exactly sure what its role is, but they do know that in these areas it’s accumulating there must be something that we’re using it for and shiitake, the other one that’s pretty high in it would be lion’s mane. If I remember correctly, I don’t think the polypores produced a lot of ergo. So reishi or turkey tail would not be producing a lot. It seems to me more of the fleshy fungi, like your shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane that we’ve seen are producing higher amounts of ergo. So that’s kind of interesting, especially considering that those are edible in the sense that we can use them as food, not necessarily as just a tea or something like that. So, ergothioneine, it’s just another one of those create compounds that you’re going to be getting when you are consuming mushrooms.
Dan: 28:16 Two interesting properties about mushrooms that specifically relate to longevity strategies are ergothioneine and only a few organisms make this amino acid, so fungi and then some of the bacteria found in our guts, like actinobacteria and cyanobacteria. It seems to have a propitious effect in our physiology and of course more to learn there. Thank you for the comments about which mushrooms have the highest amounts. And then the other one is chitin. We think of chitin typically for the exoskeletons of bugs and not as much from this type of organic matter, but that is calorie restriction mimetic, so it inhibits glycolysis. We know glucosamine is a glycolysis inhibitor and Michael Ristow has done some work on that where that seems to extend lifespan just by making your mitochondria work a little harder and therefore keeps them healthy.
Jeff Chilton: 29:03 Wow. Chitin is an interesting subject because I think, okay, chitin, it’s in the exoskeleton of crustaceans. Well, yeah it is, but ultimately what they’re doing is they’re incorporating calcium carbonate to make that hard shell. Whereas with fungi and mushrooms, of course they don’t have that hard shell, but they still … that chitin is part of their structure. It’s part of what helps them stand up. Without it, they might just be laying on the ground relaxing or something, but it does bind a bit and makes mushrooms a little bit less digestible and that’s one of the reasons why mushrooms are so high in fiber and that’s why, when we’re producing our supplement products, we will grow the fresh mushrooms and then we will dry them out and on the drying process really more a matter of just, okay, how do we get them from farm to processing factory?
Jeff Chilton: 29:58 You really need to dry them out and not be taking the chance that they’re going to spoil on the way there or anything like that. So we dry them out, take them to the processing factory and then we’ll grind them to a powder and put them into large tanks of hot water and we’ll do a hot water extract, but we will not remove that fiber. We’ll keep that powder with the fluid, send it all off to a spray dryer to be dried into a fine powder and that’s what we would call our one-to-one extract. So there’s absolutely nothing that’s been removed. It’s all still there, the fiber, any compounds, they’re there. We analyze, we see profiles, we know what we’ve got in there at the end. We don’t try to build anything up or take anything out or anything like that. We really want our extracts to be as close to the profile of the raw material as possible. And that’s really what I believe in when it comes to manufacturing an herbal product. I want to see a profile that’s pretty much the same.
Dan: 30:53 Your approach, which is delivering food in a more accessible package, that’s what I seek myself.
Jeff Chilton: 30:58 We haven’t touched on it, yes, but I think it would be really important to let your listeners know that there are a lot of products out there on the market that are not actually mushroom and they’re being sold as mushroom. And I like to let people know about that because for one, no mushrooms are grown in the United States and sold as supplements, and this is absolutely the case. The reason is simple. It’s just economics. A mushroom is 90% water. So you take a fresh mushroom to market, you sell it for $5 a pound, you dry that out. Now you have to get $50 a pound for that same pound of mushrooms and the economics don’t work, which is why we produce all of our mushrooms deep in the mountains of China and I’ve been doing that since the 1990s and actually in 1997 I took OCIA, the largest organic certifier in the US at the time, over there with me, and I had the first organic certification workshop for mushrooms in China in 1997.
Jeff Chilton: 31:56 So what happens is in the United States, companies will grow out that mycelium in a laboratory, on sterilized grains and at the end of the process, after 30 to 60 days where that mycelium will grow out, it will colonize the grain, grow all over the outside of the grain. They will essentially dry it, grind it to a powder, grain and all, and then they’ll sell it as a mushroom. We do beta glucan testing, which also does alpha glucan testing at the same time. Alpha is the starches or glycogens. We’ve tested normal mushrooms and then we’ve tested these myceliated grain products and those products end up being 30 to 60% grain starch and very low levels of beta glucan, like on average about 6% beta glucan. In fact, some of them have next to no beta glucans in them and they’re being sold as mushrooms.
Jeff Chilton: 32:47 And this is something that people really need to know because when you’re going out there, look at the shelves and you’ve got 50 different brands there, and 60 to 70% of what’s on the shelf there will be this myceliated grain product. And the way I like to describe it, which is exactly what it is, is you’re familiar with tempeh?
Dan: 33:06 Yeah.
Jeff Chilton: 33:07 Tempeh is cooked soybeans. Do you know what ferments tempeh? A fungus. One of these imperfect fungi that I was talking about earlier. They will inoculate these cooked soy beans with this fungus. The mycelium colonizes. It grows over those soybeans very rapidly, because it’s out in tropics where it happens. So when you’re eating tempeh, that white that you see that holds all those soybeans together, that’s fungal mycelium. So if anybody’s been eating tempeh, I’ll tell them, “You’ve been eating mycelium.” This is what companies are producing in the United States, but what they’re doing is they dry it out, grind it to a powder and then put it in a capsule and they sell it to you as a mushroom.
Dan: 33:49 Any mushroom that you buy, you should look for it having some validation around the percentage of beta glucans and other compounds that are in it?
Jeff Chilton: 33:58 We have a retail line in all of our retail products will have a beta glucan number on it not less than … and when we sell the bulk products to our customers, we’ve got the beta glucan percentage of that particular lot on the certificate of analysis and they’re free to use that in their marketing as well. So I would say definitely if you’re looking for a product, look to see whether it’s tested for beta glucans and whether they have something like that on it. That’s one.
Jeff Chilton: 34:24 The other thing is, if it says made in the US, it’s definitely one of these myceliated grain products, and let me tell you, it’s just mostly starch. And one of the clear ones, mushrooms, that you can do that with is reishi. Reishi is bitter, so take your reishi out of the capsule and taste it. If it’s not bitter, it’s not reishi.
Dan: 34:45 What should we look for as consumers to make sure that we’re getting a better product?
Jeff Chilton: 34:50 Okay. Number one, if it says made in the US, 90% certain that it’s going to be this tempeh like product. If it gives you amount of beta glucans and gives you the amount on the bottle or in the supplement facts panel, that is probably going to be a mushroom. The other thing too is look in the supplement facts panel. Some of them will actually say mycelium, and then if you look in the other ingredients, which is the really fine print at the bottom, if you look there, some of these parts will say myceliated rice, myceliated oats, but basically in the other they will list that in the other and that’s the tell right there, too.
Jeff Chilton: 35:36 If you see that absolutely can be certain that’s what those products are. And the unfortunate part about it is I know very intelligent people that have been taking those products thinking they were getting a mushroom product. So those are the real keys. Look at the other ingredients, look at whether it actually says mycelium. The problem is that the people that manufacture those, oftentimes they’re the ones that will put out the product that will have the proper labeling on the supplements facts in terms of saying mycelium and saying … and the other myceliated grain of some sort. But when they sell those raw materials to other companies, they sell the raw materials as mushroom, and the other companies think they’re selling mushroom. And so they don’t even put the fact that there’s grain in there or the mycelium in that model. So that’s the real difficult part of it because a lot of companies are just absolutely unaware, because a lot of these big herbal companies, they’ve got botanists on staff that know green plants, but they know nothing about fungi and they’re very easy to bamboozle.
Dan: 36:42 Is there any wisdom you can impart to us? If we’re dabbling with the medicinal mushrooms, these are good to take earlier in the day because they’re energizing. These are ones that might relax you. What do we know about that?
Jeff Chilton: 36:53 Everybody out there is so different. Their body makeup and their dietary regimen and if there was anything I would say it’s that you might be better off taking these before you had a big meal.
Dan: 37:04 Okay.
Jeff Chilton: 37:04 But otherwise just take them according to when it suits you and when it fits in and where you can remember to be taking these things. I’m kind of the worst one in the world when it comes to supplements and I don’t take very many supplements. I put reishi in my coffee in the morning because reishi is nice and bitter. I drink black coffee. I really like to stir in and it has an extra bitter note that it adds to that black coffee flavor. So that’s really great for me in terms of how I do it. And then I’ve got reishi working for me just in a regular way. But every morning … For example, reishi helps people with calming, with stress and with sleep. They’ve used reishi a lot for people with insomnia, so some people will take it an hour before bed or something like that. So those things would be something to consider for people that are going to be supplementing in a regular way.
Dan: 37:50 Yeah, so mileage may vary, but people can drive these on their own and see what kind of effects they have. If anything, take them before a meal because you’ll have less diluted exposure or competitive exposure from other foods that you’re eating.
Jeff Chilton: 38:02 It’s not going to be irritating you in some way. I think that’s a great way to look at it.
Dan: 38:07 Jeff, it’s been a delight to talk to you. I know this show will be very popular given the state of the world and people’s heightened interest in this subject at the moment. Thank you for all the great work that you’ve done and spreading the word. It’s really nice to meet you and talk with you.
Jeff Chilton: 38:20 Thank you, Dan. Thank you for having me on and for me, I’m just really interested in educating people about mushrooms. Having been in the mushroom industry since 1973, knowing how great a food and all the benefits from mushrooms, I’m just kind of like cruising along going, okay, yeah, things are moving slowly. All of a sudden, about three years ago, the whole thing just explodes. Everybody in the world wants mushrooms and they’re, what we used to say in the industry, the flavor of the month. But I think it’s going to be more than that because when you look at the use of mushrooms in other parts of the world, we’re just laggards there. And so mushrooms are going to be a much bigger player out there in our food and our supplements, so I’m really encouraged by it and feel good about it.
Dan: 39:01 I’ve been including them in my diet much more frequently than I used to. Now I’m more cognoscente of the health benefits, so I’m making sure that they’re a part of my daily nutritional plan.
Jeff Chilton: 39:12 Yeah. Right on.
Speaker 3: 39:15 Thanks for listening and come visit us soon at

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