Can mushrooms make you healthier? Ethos caught up with Forage Hyperfoods, a science-backed leader in the functional mushroom space, to learn more.
Mushrooms have never been hotter. From food to fashion to packaging and pharmaceuticals, it seems there’s nothing mushrooms can’t make better. But as versatile as they are, their natural state, their simplicity, can’t be overlooked. These little fungi are wonderful boosts to our brains, our immunity, and even our stress levels.
What are functional mushrooms?
Our love affair with mushrooms isn’t new. Functional mushrooms like what Forage Hyperfoods offers, including Chaga, Lion’s Mane, Turkey Tail, Cordyceps, and Reishi, have been in humankind’s medicine cabinet for thousands of years. Most notably, they played prominent roles in Eastern medicine, revered for their abilities to heal all manner of ailments.
But this new relationship with mushrooms is what Forage Hyperfoods’ president, Jonathan Murray, calls “a mushroom awakening.” The need for mushroom benefits has never been higher.
One mushroom in particular, chaga, has shown tremendous potential in our quest for immune health. Chaga has one of the highest antioxidant (ORAC) scores of any food; it’s more than thirty times as high as açaí berries, widely considered to be the most antioxidant-rich foods available. These antioxidants fight against free radicals and oxidative stress. It’s a key reason chaga is such an immune-enhancing food.
Chaga can also modulate immune response — calming it down if it’s overreacting, such as with allergies and autoimmune disorders, or help kick it into higher gear when it’s underperforming. There’s also research into its potential to regulate cytokines, which helps to stimulate blood cells to strengthen immune response.
Functional mushrooms, especially those that are adaptogenic, are believed to lower the production of cortisol. Consequently, they allow your body to manage stress more effectively. Given the nutrients functional mushrooms offer, they’ve been a popular food source for thousands of years. The website Mushroom Revival offers more information about mushrooms’ anatomical characteristics and their vast range of beneficial properties.
Forage Hyperfoods ensures its claims to this effect are accurate and based in science. The company is focused on personal and planetary wellness, promoting sustainable harvesting and protection of the world’s forests. It is also committed to inclusivity, with a range of wellness products for every body and the many modern challenges we all face. One of its best-sellers is a coffee-mushroom blend, making it easy (and delicious) to incorporate the benefits of mushrooms into everyday wellness rituals.
We sat down with Murray to learn more about Forage Hyperfoods and the benefits of mushrooms.
Ethos: You prominently display the origin of your mushrooms being Canadian, why is that so important?
JM: The mushroom industry is booming and in order to keep up with the demand, many brands are looking to China to fill the demand, which for a health product is sub-optimal. The Chinese have very strict requirements for products sold in China, however, exporting overseas to Canada and the US carries virtually no oversight. This means that what companies are putting in their powdered drink mixes or capsules, may not contain mushrooms at all! Additionally, many products from China have been known to contain higher levels of heavy metals. At Forage, not only do we harvest these mushrooms ourselves, but we have 3rd party lab testing of the active ingredients and minimize any harmful compounds such as heavy metals.
Ethos: You work with a few mushrooms. What’s so unique about them?
JM: Each mushroom has great functional properties that are unique. Chaga’s immunomodulating properties support a sluggish immune system to ward off illness. The Betulin, Betulinic Acid and Inotidiol are powerful anti-aging properties often found in high-end skincare. It is also extremely rich in antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals, a possible cause of some cancers.
Reishi’s adaptogenic properties provide a normalizing effect on the body to restore normal physiologic function and protect the body from stress-induced dysfunction.
Turkey Tail mushrooms are rich in prebiotics, a type of fibre that nourishes healthy bacteria in the gut to facilitate improved absorption of nutrients. It is also rich in antioxidants that combat the negative effects of oxidative stress, such as aging and the development of a range of health conditions.
Lion’s Mane protects and supports the regeneration of healthy neural pathways in the brain to combat cognitive symptoms we associate with aging, like memory loss and lack of focus.
Ethos: Is there any peer-reviewed research on its benefits? What have studies found?
JM: There are more than 140 peer-reviewed publications on PubMed on Chaga alone, it would be hard to walk through all of the findings. The best option would be to review our blog section, which includes references to peer-reviewed studies. If I were to recommend the most impactful study, it would be on Lion’s Mane:
A double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial was performed on 50- to 80-year-old Japanese men and women diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in order to examine the efficacy of oral administration of [Lion’s Mane]. At weeks 8, 12, and 16 of the trial, the [Lion’s Mane] group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group. The [Lion’s Mane] group’s scores increased with the duration of intake, but at week 4 after the termination of the 16 weeks intake, the scores decreased significantly.
Ethos: Why blend mushrooms with coffee?
JM: Forage is bringing mushrooms to the market in easy form factors that people can incorporate into their daily lives. The flavour of Chaga and its properties go very well with coffee. We’ve found a blend with our Chaga that not only tastes great but provides the daily recommended intake of this powerful substance.
Ethos: How does Forage formulate products?
JM: Our product formulations depend on the product. For example, our liquid extracts are formulated by reviewing scientific literature to understand the best practices when it comes to extracts. Through this research we learned of a novel method of extraction known as sonication, which we now use for all of our products. Sonication is the process of using high-frequency ultrasonic sound to breakdown the cell walls (composed of chitin, pronounced kite-in) to release the bio-active compounds. The combination of wild harvested and dual solvent extraction with sonication creates what we believe to be the highest potency products available. We have also elected to formulate our products on an individual mushroom level, as there has not been any research on the effects of combining products into one single ‘all-in-one’ product; furthermore, by creating a 10 or 11 in one product, the consumer will never truly know how much of each mushroom they are consuming.
Ethos: Do you actually forage your mushrooms?
JM: We do! Forage is fully vertically integrated, from forest to consumer. We have one of, if not the, largest network of foragers in the world that harvest and deliver our mushrooms to our cleaning facility—deep in the rural areas of Quebec, Canada. From there, after the mushrooms are cleaned and dried, they are brought to our production facility in Ottawa, Canada.
Ethos: Can you talk about you sustainability metrics a bit? Why is sustainability important for a wellness brand?
JM: Sustainability is a pillar of our business. Our biggest metric relates to water sustainability. Most mushroom products on the market right now either do not contain mushrooms at all, or they are grown on a substrate like rice or oat. Companies grow mycelium on these substrates and either grind this mycelium into a powder, or they allow the fruiting body to emerge before harvesting. For chaga, they use brown rice, in order to dupe the consumer into thinking that the product is real chaga. The water usage required for these substrates is astronomical – Oat = 2420L per KG, Rice = 2497L per KG. Our wild harvested products use 0L of engineered water, just natural rain and snow fall! Sustainability is critical for wellness brand for longevity and trust. We believe that it is possible to have a triple bottom line of People, Planet, and Prosperity.
Shop Forage Hyperfoods products here.
Related on Ethos: