Beta glucan - the most important polysaccharide in functional mushrooms

1.    Introduction
2.    What are polysaccharides?
3.    What are beta glucans?
4.    The problem of standardization for the polysaccharide - alpha glucans
5.    What to pay attention to?  
6.    Examination of our Lion's Mane

One of the most confusing areas in the context of mushroom products is the issue of standardizing the extract for polysaccharide content. People who start their adventure with supplementation with functional mushrooms often mistakenly believe that it is the amount of polysaccharides that proves the quality of the raw material. The declaration of the level of polysaccharides without specifying the content of beta-glucan does not prove the quality of the extract, and in some cases may even indicate its poor quality. In this article, we'll break down the polysaccharide issue, explain why not all polysaccharides are created equal, and what to look for when choosing a mushroom supplement.

2. What are polysaccharides?

Polysaccharides are long chains of sugars (poly means "many", saccharide "sugar") linked by glycosidic bonds. In the world of plants and fungi, they play both a building role, e.g. fungal cell walls, and a backup - plants store energy (starch) in this way.
Depending on the configuration, polysaccharides form various compounds, e.g. cellulose, starch, glycogen, chitin. It is the structure of the polysaccharide that determines its role, and in the context of fungi, its specific type, beta-glucan, shows the greatest health-promoting potential.

3. What are beta-glucans?

Beta-glucans are a type of fiber belonging to the group of polysaccharides. In mushrooms, we find them mainly in fruiting bodies, in which they play a building role - they form cell walls. The term beta-glucan refers to the specific configuration of the sugars in the polysaccharide chain. Beta glucans characteristic of fungi and yeasts have configurations of the type (1-3), (1-6) beta-D-glucan and a higher molecular weight, and it is they, next to such compounds as terpenes, sterols or polysaccharide-peptide complexes, show the strongest biological activity . It is believed that the greater the complexity of beta-glucan structure and branching, the greater its potential for action.

Mushroom beta-glucans are referred to as biological response modifiers – they improve the functioning of the immune system by activating the surface receptors of its basic cells, such as macrophages, leukocytes, and NK cells. They act as prebiotics supporting the intestinal microflora, as antioxidants, show anti-cancer activity, inhibit aging processes and have antiinflammatory properties. Beta-glucans are the subject of the widest amount of research on the beneficial effects of fungi on the human body.

In contrast, it should be noted that products such as oatmeal and grains also contain betaglucan, but of a different configuration. It is (1-4) beta-glucan, which does not exhibit similar activity to the aforementioned 1,3, 1,6 glucans. This is very important because most of the research on functional mushrooms focuses on (1,3), (1,6) beta-D-glucans.

4. The problem of standardization for polysaccharides: alpha-glucans - redundant fillers in mushroom products

Each beta-glucan is a polysaccharide, but not all polysaccharides are beta-glucan. This is where things get complicated. Beta-glucan is not one polysaccharide found in mushroom products - we can also find alpha-glucans in them, such as starch, dextran or glycogen.

Where does the starch, or plant carbohydrate, come from in a mushroom product? We deal with it mainly in the case of preparations based on mycelium, mushroom biomass - a mixture of mycelium and fruiting bodies, and in the case of fillers added to mushroom products.

How does it happend ? During the growth process, the fungal organism uses a starch medium such as rice, corn or grains (which are starchy alpha-glucans) as a food source for the developing mycelium. When the mycelium has fully colonized the starchy medium, it begins to produce fruiting bodies. The fruiting bodies themselves contain traces of starch, but on average it is less than 3% of their dry weight.
Although the mycelium contains a variety of active compounds, the problem is that it is not possible to separate the mycelium from the medium it has grown on.

The mycelial products are ground into a powder, thus obtaining a mixture of grain and mycelium. As a result, the final product contains a blend of superfluous starch filler, the volume of which can be as high as 50% of the total product, and a relatively small amount of mycelium per se. The method of using ground mycelium emerged as a cheap and quick alternative to the long-term process of mushroom cultivation until the body produces fruit bodies.

5. What to pay attention to?

As we mentioned earlier, starch is a type of polysaccharide. When testing the content of polysaccharides without taking into account the content of beta-glucan, despite the high results at the level of 40/50%, they may be almost entirely starch alpha-glucans, which do not show biological activity attributed to fungi. Therefore, in order to be sure of the purity and effectiveness of mushroom supplements, you should choose preparations obtained only from mushroom fruiting bodies and check the content of beta-glucans, and not only all polysaccharides.

Polysaccharides in mushrooms - beta-glucans
Polysaccharides fillers - alpha-glucans

The declaration of the polysaccharide level without specifying the beta-glucan content does not prove the quality of the extract, and in some cases may even indicate its poor quality.

6.  Examination of our Lion’s Mane

Taking care of the quality of our products, we have tested our flagship products Lion’s Mane Mushroom Extract 10: 1 for the content of beta-D-glucans, the concentration of which reached as much as 45%. This is a very high score. The current high standard of beta-glucan in mushroom supplements is> 25%.

Disclaimer – Each batch, depending on the mushroom fruiting conditions, may differ in terms of beta-glucan content, and currently available measurement methods do not ensure 100% repeatability. The test result is a benchmark, giving an overview of the quality of the mushrooms used to produce the extract.


Chilton, J. Nammex: Redefining Medicinal Mushrooms, 2015 -

Novak M, Vetvicka V (2008). Beta-glucans, history, and the present: immunomodulatory aspects and mechanisms of action. J Immunotoxicol. 2008 Jan;5(1):47-57. doi: 10.1080/15476910802019045.

β-Glucans: An Important Bioactive Molecule of Edible and Medicinal MushroomsSanem BULAM1*, Nebahat Şule ÜSTÜN2, Aysun PEKŞEN3 2018


Friedman, M. (2016). Mushroom Polysaccharides: Chemistry and Antiobesity, Antidiabetes, Anticancer, and Antibiotic Properties in Cells, Rodents, and Humans. Foods, 5(4), 80.

Opublikowany dnia 07.10.2020 Jakub Jezierski 1319

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