#55 Medicinal Mushroom Superpowers & Supplements - with Jeff Chilton

The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast


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"To some degree, all mushrooms have medicinal compounds in them. What makes the difference between one of those mushrooms being highly medicinal and the other one not is the presence of beta-glucans in different species. Those beta-glucans are responsible for the immunological activity that makes the difference between a normal, edible mushroom and a medicinal mushroom."

Jeff Chilton | Founder of Nammex & Organic Mushroom Expert Tweet This!

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In Episode 55 of The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast, Natalie Douglas, Kate Callaghan, and their guest, Jeff Chilton (Founder of Nammex & Organic Mushroom Expert) discuss how do medicinal mushrooms work and medicinal mushrooms benefits for supporting your immune system.

  • What medicinal mushrooms are and how they are different to button mushrooms from the grocer
  • What mushrooms actually are and how they grow
  • Growing medicinal mushrooms at home
  • The main active ingredients in mushrooms producing their benefit
  • Why its important to know what your buying
  • The secret lingo of the mushroom supplement industry and how not to get caught buying an inactive product
  • Debunking concerns around mushrooms sourced from China
  • The importance of testing mushrooms for contaminants 
  • The health benefits and uses of some of Jeff’s favourite mushies
  • LOADS more 

Jeff Chilton
Founder of Nammex & Organic Mushroom Expert

Intro 0:00
Hello and welcome to The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast, with your hosts Natalie K. Douglas, Thyroid Healer, and Kate Callaghan, The Holistic Nutritionist. Nat and Kate are degree-qualified dietitians and nutritionists, certified fitness instructors, speakers, and authors. If you love unfiltered banter, unedited bloopers, and authentic heart-sharing, then we are your ladies! Now it’s time to sit back, relax, and get ready for our latest tips on living your healthiest life possible.

Natalie K. Douglas 0:36
Hey, guys! Welcome back to the podcast. This week, we actually have a very special guest for you guys. His name is Jeff Chilton, and Jeff has been in the mushroom industry since 1973. He has been heavily involved in both the study of mushrooms and the farming. He is a founding member of the World Society for Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products and a member of the International Society for mushroom science. Jeff co-authored the highly acclaimed book, The Mushroom Cultivator, which was published in 1983. Then in 1989, he started Nammex, a business that introduced medicinal mushrooms to the US nutritional supplement industry. He traveled extensively in China during the 1990s, attending conferences and visiting research facilities and mushroom farms. In 1997, he organized the first organic mushroom production seminar in China. Jeff’s company, Nammex, was the first to offer a complete line of certified organic mushroom extracts to the US nutritional supplement industry and Nammex extracts are used by many supplement companies and are noted for their high quality based on scientific analysis of the active compounds. So we are really really excited to have Jeff on the show with us today. We haven’t spoken to you guys about mushrooms before but I personally use them for many different reasons. And we’re excited to jump into the podcast and pick just brain about all things mushrooms because clearly, you’ve got a lot of experience Jeff.

Jeff Chilton 2:14
Yes, absolutely. Thank you. Thank you very much for having me on your podcast and I’m excited to be here and happy to help to educate some of your listeners.

Kate Callaghan 2:24
You’re welcome. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to being educated as well. Just listening to your bio then, I’m thinking wow, I mean magic but not magic.

Jeff Chilton 2:37
I get that question a lot.

Kate Callaghan 2:39
I don’t know if you listen to our podcast but we can waffle and banter and then awkward talk sometimes. So right off for that. There we go. Medicinal mushrooms, I didn’t know they’d been around for so long. So, yeah, very excited. So, thank you for coming on our podcast, Jeff. Now, we love to ask all our guests a question to start off the show and that is, what did you have for breakfast this morning?

Jeff Chilton 3:05
Well, let me say my breakfasts are very simple. I don’t believe in eating a lot in the morning. My breakfast consists of a couple of cups of black coffee with reishi mushroom extract added into it and I don’t really eat anything until maybe 10 or 11 o’clock. I’m kind of more into a brunch but I like to get my system a rest, so I don’t eat a big breakfast, and besides, I’m you know, I’m not out there burning off a lot of calories early. So, that’s my breakfast.

Kate Callaghan 3:41
What does coffee with reishi mushroom tastes like?

Jeff Chilton 3:44
Well, you know, here’s here’s the cool thing about it is that black coffee is bitter and reishi mushroom is bitter. So, what it does is it adds just another bitter note to that coffee so they they blend in really well.

Kate Callaghan 4:02
And I’m guessing that makes you feel amazing to start the day?

Jeff Chilton 4:05
Oh, does it ever. I can just go for it, you know, talk forever.

Natalie K. Douglas 4:12
I love it. I love it. All right. Well, as we kind of already ascertained, you have clearly studied mushrooms quite a lot. And you know for a lot of people listening this might actually be the first time they hearing about medicinal mushrooms. So, could you first explain the difference between like the regular button mushrooms that we’re all familiar with in the supermarkets compared to medicinal mushrooms? Like is there, is there a difference there?

Jeff Chilton 4:40
Well, yeah, and and and here’s here’s the thing. I started my career so to speak in 1973 on a button mushroom farm. I spent 10 years growing mushrooms on that farm, it was a big farm, 2002 million pounds of mushrooms every year. I literally lived with mushrooms during those 10 years, every crop that we had was 20,000 pounds. It was a very large farm. And that’s where I got my start. But what was really interesting was that while I was there, we had a Japanese scientist who is our head of research and development, and he was growing shiitake mushrooms, he was growing oyster mushrooms, and he was growing eno-kitake mushrooms, which I had a part in working with him. So, right off the bat, I got exposed to these other mushrooms, which at the time we called specialty mushrooms. And I didn’t even realize at the time that those specific species were actually medicinal mushrooms. So, so here’s really the difference between those button mushrooms and the others. All mushrooms in their cell walls contain compounds called beta-glucans, beta-glucans makeup 50% of the cell walls of most mushrooms. So, to some degree, all mushrooms have the medicinal compounds in them but the difference is is that those beta-glucans in different species can have different structure, a different architecture, and that architecture is what makes the difference between one of those mushrooms being highly medicinal and the other one not because it’s the beta-glucans that have the immunological activity that we look for in a medicinal mushroom and it’s that activity that makes a difference between a just a normal edible mushroom and a medicinal mushroom. So, so that that’s really the big difference right there. It’s just that beta-glucan architecture and some of the mushrooms have some other compounds but that’s the most important compound in the medicinal mushrooms. That’s what gives them their immunological activity.

Kate Callaghan 6:58
Can I ask? With that, so with the button mushrooms that we all can purchase from the supermarket and toast it fry. So, they aren’t medicinal. They don’t have those active compounds and the immunological factors. Are they detrimental to our health or are they still good for us in your opinion?

Jeff Chilton 7:16
Well, you know what? The fact is that those button mushrooms which the genus is Agaricus, those those actually do have a mid-level medicinal value. So, they are in fact medicinal but here’s the thing that a lot of people don’t really know. And finally, the marketplace is kind of waking up to this and that is that mushrooms are very nutritious. When I was growing mushrooms in the ’70s, nutritionists, classical nutritionists looked at mushrooms and said, you know, yeah they’ve got a nice flavor and they go in certain dishes and could be a garnish or something but they’ve got no nutritional value. The reason they said that was because mushrooms are low calorie, but mushrooms actually have a anywhere from 20 to 40% protein, good quality protein. They’re mostly carbohydrate but carbohydrate is man at all which is slow-acting, it’s a really good carbohydrate, and those beta-glucans are carbohydrates. They have also have high levels of phosphorus, potassium, and they have B vitamins in good amounts. They have riboflavin and niacin. So, from a nutritional standpoint, mushrooms are a really good food, and so this is something that finally people are starting to wake up to that fact and that’s just come from more nutritional information getting out there and the other thing about mushrooms, high in fiber, so they’re feeding the microbiome, that’s another very good quality about mushrooms. So, so really I consider mushrooms to be an excellent food and I even tell people, I said, look before you think about supplementing with a mushroom, put them into your diet. Mushrooms are wonderful not only are they good nutritionally but the taste is excellent. Do you guys see every shiitake mushrooms?

Kate Callaghan 9:19

Natalie K. Douglas

Jeff Chilton 9:21
Oh, shiitake mushrooms, my God. You know what? In China shiitake is called Xianggu and what that means is fragrant mushroom and the odor and flavor of shiitake, my favorite mushroom hands down.

Natalie K. Douglas 9:40
Yes, I do like those and oyster mushrooms? I think they’re the only two like quote-unquote fancy of mushrooms. I haven’t actually had too many more because I do find that it is quite difficult to find them. Like when you walk into a supermarket pretty much for the most part. All you’re seeing is button mushrooms. I mean, I don’t really shop at the supermarket but I assume that a lot of people would but even at the farmers’ markets I don’t often find a lot of kind of other varieties of mushrooms around but I’m not sure if, do like the mushrooms have seasons? Like and what’s their kind of natural growing cycle?

Jeff Chilton 10:24
Well, you know what? Actually, actually, certainly in Australia and North America, people who grow mushrooms all grow them indoors, climate control room, so they’re growing year-round. So so they’re not like wildcrafted and have to depend on the seasons outside, they’re growing all the time but I think I think what it is is that like in North America now. We have lots and lots of smaller growers of these different species of mushrooms and especially if you’re in a larger metropolis, you will have probably five or six different mushroom species to choose from. Now now that’s a huge deal considering that when I was growing Agaricus back in the 70s. That’s all there was in supermarkets and, and believe it or not, we grew enough shiitake on the farm there in that in 1978. We actually introduced fresh shiitake into our local market, and it completely bombed. Nobody wanted to buy them, and the ones that did complain that it was too strong. I was just absolutely shocked. And that was 1978. That was the first fresh shiitake that was sold in supermarkets in the United States at the time, that was 1978. But but, you know, in Australia, it may be that you just don’t have that mini small farms that have started up and are growing these other mushrooms, hey, in China, right now there are at least 12 to 15 different mushroom species that are in the marketplace that you can purchase any time of the day, they’re they’re out there. So, they eat lots of mushrooms. The other thing that’s really interesting about China is they grow 85% of the world’s mushrooms.

Kate Callaghan

Jeff Chilton
85% Kate, and it’s grown by thousands and thousands of small farmers, it’s really cool. They have some big farms too. They have some of the biggest mushroom farms in the world as you can imagine. And some of those farms are using the most advanced techniques that are available. But the majority of the mushrooms grown in China are grown with very appropriate technologies. And they’re actually are grown seasonally because they’ll grow them in shade houses with ambient temperatures, and fresh air, and light. They’re not putting a lot of those mechanical and expensive inputs into them like a controlled growing environment. So, they do grow most of those mushrooms naturally, which I really like. And most of our mushrooms are grown in that manner, the ones that we source out of China.

Natalie K. Douglas 13:17
That’s really interesting, and it kind of brings like, I guess I’m playing devil’s advocate here. But I know that a lot of people will have a bit of a concern around the pollution in China and fear around Chinese products generally. Do you feel that that’s a concern or what would your kind of response be to people who have that fear or that concern?

Jeff Chilton 13:41
Oh, you know what? I think that we should all be concerned about pollution, and chemicals and pesticides. But look, it’s not just a Chinese problem. Australia uses tons and tons of pesticides, and the United States tons of pesticides, and fungicides, and agricultural chemicals. I mean, that’s something that we all have to deal with in any country. The issue really is that ultimately, where that product is grown, is it susceptible to chemical pollution? Is it organically certified? And has it been tested to demonstrate that, that it is chemical-free? I purchase organic produce when I go to the market. How many people actually do that? I mean, a lot of people are just buying the standard stuff in the supermarkets and going oh yeah, this is just fine, despite the fact that it may have chemical residues because it’s not certified organic. I totally believe in certified organic products and all of our products are certified organic. Like you said in the intro, I went there in 1997 with a with a organic certification company from the United States, the very first organic certification workshop for mushrooms in China. All of the mushrooms that we grow there are certified by high-quality German certifiers before our products even leave China. They’re tested for pesticides, fungicides, heavy metals, microorganisms, and then when we land them in the United States, where we have our warehouse, they get tested a second time. And, you know, we’re not talking about in China, where they’re oh yeah, they’re testing and you know, who knows what, what kind of laboratories? Hey, look, China, if you haven’t been to China, let me tell you, it’s like first world when you get to those cities, and the labs that they’ve got in those Chinese cities are international labs, not just some run of the mill lab, it’s an international lab. I mean, these standards that they have there are very high. Plus we grow our mushrooms in China way, way back in the mountains and in very clean areas. We don’t we don’t grow them in the Shanghai right next door to you know, the pollution there anything like that. Nowhere near the the biggest cities, but here’s here’s something that your listeners really need to know. And that is that, that in Australia, or in the United States, or in Canada, you cannot grow an actual mushroom and sell it as a supplement. And the reason is that I can take my fresh mushrooms to the marketplace and they’ll pay me $5. Okay, great, that’s a business I can make money that way but supplements are sold dry. So, that mushroom, like most vegetables is 90% water, take the water away, and now you have to get 10 times as much money for that same pound of mushrooms. So all of a sudden, it’s like you have to sell that for $50. Well, the economics do not work. So supplement wise, and this is something we can talk about and that is supplement wise no one, there’s no company in the United States that grows mushrooms that are then used as supplements. They actually grow a completely different product but the key issue I’m trying to get at here is simply this is something I recognized in the 90s when I traveled throughout China and the fact that I am a commercial mushroom grower by trade, by profession. I realized I could not sell mushroom supplements if I were growing them in North America. The economics weren’t there but I could grow them in China and grow them properly, and grow them cleanly, and that’s what I set up over there. I’ve been working with my Chinese growers and processors now for 25 years.

Kate Callaghan 17:56
I think it’s also one of those things that they grow better in China. I mean, we know the different plants thrive in different environments, and China appears to be that for mushrooms.

Jeff Chilton 18:07
Well, you know what the mushrooms actually, you know, you can you can pretty much grow them in a lot of places in the world but the thing is, is that, you know, what’s interesting is that in China first started growing mushrooms, in fact shiitake mushroom in the 12th century.

Kate Callaghan

Jeff Chilton
Agaricus production first got started in Europe, this is the button mushroom in the early 1800s. So, so the Chinese have been doing this for a long, long time. And listen, traditional medicinal mushrooms come from traditional Chinese medicine. That’s where we know about the properties of these mushrooms and we know that they’ve been using these mushrooms for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. So, that’s really where it all comes from. That’s where when I look at, you know, the long list of mushrooms out there, and there’s thousands and thousands of species. Well, I look at traditional Chinese medicine, I say okay, what species have been used? And then maybe they have 10 or 12 species and then I’ll go out and I’ll go okay, what is the scientific research that has been done on these particular species and in the scientific research has, in fact corroborated what Traditional Chinese Medicine has been using them for, then I say, okay, great. This looks like a very solid medicinal mushroom and this is one of the species that I will grow, process, and sell.

Kate Callaghan 19:44
Now, you just said, I’m just jumping back to something you’ve said, you can grow mushrooms pretty much anywhere. I’ve just moved into a new house, we have a little landscaping too. Can I grow medicinal mushrooms here?

Jeff Chilton 20:01
You know what? That sounds like, like a common joke as hey, I’ve got a basement. Can I grow mushrooms at my basement?

Kate Callaghan 20:15
I might not going to but if someone wants to grow them at home, could they grow it?

Jeff Chilton 20:18
Well, yeah, listen, my book that I wrote 1983 is called The Mushroom Cultivator. You can find it on Amazon or wherever. It is a practical guide to growing mushrooms at home. Yes, of course, you can. I’m not going to say it’s easy. It’s not easy. It’s not you know, it’s like mushrooms aren’t don’t grow from seeds. You know, you can’t like take a seed and plop it in some dirt in a pot and up it comes. It’s not like that. It’s very different. In fact, let me just explain to you a little bit about this organism that we call a mushroom. Mushrooms don’t have seeds, they have spores. When those spores germinate and those spores are out there in the environment, they’re everywhere, they’re in the soil, they’re are all over the place. When they germinate, they germinate into a very fine thread-like filament, and that filament is called the hypha. And when multiple spores germinate and those hypha come together and fuse, they form a network, and that network is called mycelium. That mycelium is the actual vegetative body of this organism. And it’s out there, it’s out there recycling. Mushrooms and fungi are recyclers. They take all of that plant matter, all that organic matter and they’re breaking it down into humus for further used by plants to continue to grow. So, it’s really, they’re part of this big natural ecosystem and natural cycle. And so that mycelium is out there, and it’s growing, its recycling. When it when conditions change, where I am when the temperature goes down. When it starts to rain, mushrooms love moisture, fungi need moisture, they do not like dry conditions. That’s why they’re in the ground or embedded in wood that protects them. When the conditions are right, up comes this mushroom. Now, the mycelium is perennial, as long as it’s got food out there, it will continue to grow but that mushroom is just like an up and down, it comes up and maybe in two or three weeks it basically rots back down into the ground. So, there’s a short and that mushroom is called the fruiting body. The mycelium is called the vegetative body and that mushroom comes up, it matures, it produces spores, and now we have a complete life cycle. So, it’s what we would call, the mushroom is what we call a plant part. So, this organism that we think of as a mushroom is like, got three plant parts. It’s got spores, it’s got mycelium, and it’s got the mushroom itself, and each one of those plant parts have been utilized medicinally, and each one of those parts is being sold out there in the market as a supplement. So, and this gets back into a little bit what I was talking about earlier, which is that sometimes those supplements that are called mushroom are not really mushroom at all. There are a lot of companies out there that sell the mycelium. Now, the mycelium does not have the same level of medicinal compounds that a mushroom does but what these companies do, which is the big problem, are you familiar at all with tempeh?

Natalie K. Douglas 23:57

Kate Callaghan

Jeff Chilton 23:58
Okay, you know what tempeh is, right? Do you know how tempeh is made?

Natalie K. Douglas
Fermented soybeans?

Kate Callaghan

Jeff Chilton

Natalie K. Douglas

Kate Callaghan
Fermented soybeans?

Jeff Chilton
Well, tempeh, tempeh is actually, it’s cooked soybeans, right? It’s cooked soybeans, and then it has a fungus grown on it. So, do you know people say it’s a fermented food, yes. This fungal mycelium grows over those cooked soybeans and forms a cake. And when you buy it, it’s like it looks white. And you slice it and it’s like, okay, is this white cake you slice and go oh yeah, look at all the soybeans in there. Companies now in the United States they will grow mycelium on cooked grain, like rice, or oats, and they will do it in sterilized grain inside a laboratory. And what they do is they take a piece of mycelium and they will inoculate that sterilized grain, they will grow out that mycelium over the sterilized grain to where they end up with a cake-like product just like tempeh, but at that point what they do, they will slice it, they will dry it, they will grind it to a powder, no mushrooms involved, they haven’t grown any mushrooms, it’s just myceliated grain. They will dry it to a powder, they will not remove the grain. So they will, and then they will sell it and call it mushroom.

Natalie K. Douglas

Jeff Chilton
So, a lot of mushroom products that are on the market are actually nothing more than myceliated grain like tempeh and the issue is that when you analyze it, and in 2015, I did a very, very large study with 95 different sample. We tested 40 samples that were myceliated grain products, and we tested these samples for beta-glucans, which again is the primary immunological compound in mushrooms. A mushroom has 25 to 60% beta-glucans, it has very low levels of what’s called alpha-glucan, which includes starches. Now, when we tested these products, okay, mushrooms 25 to 60% are less than 5% Alpha-glucan, which are the starches. These myceliated grain products were exactly the opposite. They were on average 6% beta-glucan, and they were anywhere from 30 to 60% starch. Well, of course, because they’re mostly grain powder. And so, right now, today in the US market, probably 75% of the products out there are this tempeh-like product. This myceliated grain and when you look at the label, the label says, reishi mushroom, shiitake mushroom, it has a picture of a mushroom but there is no mushroom in that product.

Natalie K. Douglas 27:27
Wow. And that’s, that’s really confusing because I mean, how would anyone know any better unless, you know, they’ve been educated on it. And if the companies aren’t forthcoming with that information, then that makes it really difficult. So how, like if someone’s listening, and they’re currently taking a mushroom supplement, but they’re not sure, you know, whether it’s the mycelium or whether it’s an actual mushroom or all this all this kind of things that we need to check for. How do you find out, like, is this information that companies must disclose or is it, can it be written in any other ways that people can go oh, okay, that’s, that’s actually not the product that I should be buying?

Jeff Chilton 28:09
Well, here’s a, there’s a, there’s a number of issues about this that are really egregious, one of which is you are, you are obligated with a nutritional supplement, molasses. You have to put plant part on that supplement. So you have to identify, for example, a lot of herbs there, you know, you have herbs where it’s the root, you have some herbs where it’s the fruit, somewhere it’s the leaves. So, those are all what are called plant parts. So, what I’ve talked to you earlier about spore, mycelium, mushroom, well, we have plant parts, you’re supposed to say which plant part. Now, some companies when you turn over into the supplements facts, some companies will actually say mycelium and then there’s also a little thing down below that says other, which means other ingredients that happen to be in that product. Sometimes they will put myceliated brown rice, or myceliated oats. Now, if you see that, that’s an automatic tell. Yes, indeed. Now, I do not have a mushroom. I have myceliated grain in this product. The other one is if it says product of USA, myceliated grain, it is not mushroom. Now if you go well, you know, how do I know? Maybe it really is, you know, what good whatever. Well, all you have to do is empty out one of those capsules. Taste it. It will taste this kind of like flower, kind of Swedish. It will not, like the reishi if you, if you have a reishi product like that, and you dump it out and you taste it. It will not be bitter in any way. And so so you have these things that you can look for. And if you’re really like well, you know, I’m still kind of skeptical. Well, there’s a real simple test you can do which I love, it’s called the iodine starch test. Mushrooms, mushrooms do not have starch in the mushrooms. This is kind of cool. Mushrooms, you know, I don’t know if you ever heard the thing? Well, where mushrooms are kind of more like humans than plants. Well, the reason they say that is that these fungal organisms, they breathe in oxygen, and they give off co2 like humans, whereas plants, it’s just the opposite. So, and they also, mushrooms also as their storage carbohydrate, they have glycogen like humans, whereas plants, they have starch. And that’s why we eat plants, we eat plants for that starchy, immediate calories, energy, and so on. Well, this iodine starch test is really great because all you have to do is go to the store, buy a little cheap bottle of iodine, and you come back and you take a couple of capsules from that product and you dump it into a quarter of a cup of water, you stirred up really good, let it kind of settle, stir it up, put in 10 drops of iodine. If there is starch, it will turn black. You can take, you can take a mushroom, you can take a mushroom, a dried mushroom, crumble it up, put it into that same glass of water, let it get wet it up really good. Put in the drops of iodine, it will not turn color, it will be the color of iodine, same with a good mushroom product. Now, some products, you know mushroom products, maybe they’re black to begin with, like we have a reishi extract, it’s already black so the test is not going to work with it. But with others that are not dark, you just put that capsule in there and you stir it up, you put the iodine in, and if it’s a real mushroom, it will not change color. So, that’s another test that can be, that can be used but you know, the thing is, is that I’m really into analysis. I really believe in being able to guarantee that what I sell has got the active compounds in it. So, we do a lot of analysis. We analyze every single batch that we produce for beta-glucans that also has the alpha-glucan. We analyze for ergosterol, which is the fungal sterile. And we analyze for ergothioneine, which is another active compound in mushroom. So, we analyze for the active compounds, because we believe that’s important as a quality control standard. And most of these companies do not analyze for anything like that, because if they did, it would completely expose them.

Natalie K. Douglas 32:50
And so is with that, with that analysis of the different kind of active constituents or parts that you’re analyzing, is there for example a certain minimum that people should be looking for in a mushroom product? Like say, if someone’s buying a mushroom product, and it standardized to a certain percent of beta-glucans. Like is there a certain percent beta-glucans, it needs to be in a product in order for listeners to have an actual medicinal benefit from it as opposed to just eating starch?

Jeff Chilton 33:23
Well, yeah, and here’s the thing is, is when we do our measuring, we’re not, like when we make our extracts, we’re not like trying to build up the beta-glucans. We have a baseline. So, well, we have analyzed just a straight dried shiitake, let’s say, or a dried reishi. So we know what the beta-glucan level should be in every species that we sell. And so then when we process the mushrooms into our extracts, we want those extracts to end up with okay, if it’s the processes, the processing is done properly, with essentially the same level as what’s in there naturally. So and, and every single species will have a different amount of the beta-glucan in it. For example, what’s really interesting is that the two mushrooms with the highest level of beta-glucans are turkey tail, and reishi. And that’s so interesting to me because reishi is the most highly revered of all the medicinal mushrooms in traditional Chinese therapy and in China generally. Reishi is just like, reishi is there’s there are mythologies that have been created about reishi. Reishi is in art, it’s in, you can see it in some of their architecture. I mean, reishi is just part of that whole culture and that may be why because it has higher levels for beta-glucans which give it higher activity. It also has other compounds, which are the bitter compounds called triterpenoids and that’s the other thing that makes reishi a stand out from every medicinal mushrooms. Reishi is really the primary, the major. I would say if you’re going to take one particular mushroom as a supplement, reishi would definitely be my choice.

Natalie K. Douglas 35:19
And what kind of benefits in terms of like, like, are there for reishi? Like is it immune-supporting, is it helping to support energy? What are the kind of key, I guess, benefits people can expect from taking reishi?

Jeff Chilton 35:38
Well, immune support, number one. And the way it does it is that these beta-glucans, we actually have receptor sites in our small intestines for specifically for beta-glucans. So, those that supplement or when you eat mushrooms, it doesn’t really get digested well in our stomachs, it essentially that all happens down in the lower intestine, but those beta-glucans will hit those receptor sites, and then that will stimulate the production of macrophages, T cells, NK cells. And, you know, the way to look at medicinal mushrooms in my opinion is that they are something that we can look at as preventive medicine. I like to think of them as food is medicine too but prevention. There, there’s something that we would take, they sit in the background, mushrooms are not something where you’re going to take a few capsules today and tomorrow, you go, wow, this feels fabulous. No, or my headaches gone or anything like that. That’s not how they work. They are more slow acting. Long term. They sit in the background, they essentially give you to some degree what you might have been called a shield. They’re working to maintain a higher level of immune competence. And a lot of the way they depict that is what they would call immunological modulation. So, they were, they’re kind of something where it’s almost what people like to talk about when they talk about adaptogens, they’re a harmony herb. They’re something that provides balance, keeps you healthy. That’s what mushrooms are there for. Now, having said that, there are certain mushrooms that go a little bit beyond that, for example, are you familiar at all with Lion’s Mane?

Natalie K. Douglas

Kate Callaghan

Jeff Chilton
Lion’s mane, we can’t keep it stock. Everybody wants it because everybody’s losing their memory, including me.

Natalie K. Douglas
My husband needs it.

Jeff Chilton
Yeah, here’s some lion’s mane, please take a lot of it. It’s, you know, a big category right now in North America, or what are called nootropics. And nootropics are like anything that stimulates you to give you a better performance. You know, what a classic nootropic is coffee, the caffeine there, that’s a nootropic, because that allows me to like get up in the morning, have coffee, and just go crazy. So, anyway, it’s Lion’s Mane has demonstrated the ability to stimulate what’s called a nerve growth factor. And nerve growth factor is a compound that, that induces and is important for the production of neurites. And, you know, our nerve cells are constantly being destroyed, constantly being created. As we get older, the destruction keeps going, but the creations close down.

Natalie K. Douglas

Jeff Chilton
So, so at any rate, and but these days, you know, it’s like with the whole nootropic movement, sort of people don’t care what age they are. They’re just like, I need more stimulation of my brain, I need something to give me that edge. And so, so, Lion’s Mane has demonstrated even in clinical trials, which is really interesting. One of the clinical trials was two groups. It was done in Japan, which, you know, I like Japanese clinical trials, they have a lot of credibility for me, much more so than Chinese clinical trials. The Japanese clinical trials, I think are a little higher level, 30 older folks around 70 or so, 30 in one group, 30 in the control group. The group that took the lion’s mane, everybody took a test to start off with, they took some battery of different cognitive tests. And so after 90 days, the group that took the lion’s mane, they tested them all again and that group did much better than the control group. And, and so here’s the, here’s the thing that’s kind of interesting about that study, after 30 days, when the group taking the Lion’s Mane stop taking Lion’s Mane after 30 days, they drop back down to the same level as the control group. So, you’re kind of like, wow, that’s, that’s pretty interesting. And they’ve had another couple studies using Lion’s Mane and for depression because that’s the other thing. It’s been used for depression and also, for dementia. And so, yeah, it’s really interesting. Well, and everybody is brought three years ago, I think we probably sold, I don’t know, 50 kilos of Lion’s Mane all year long, three years ago. This last year, we probably sold five tons of Lion’s Mane.

Kate Callaghan
Oh, God.

Natalie K. Douglas

Kate Callaghan

Jeff Chilton
I mean, I mean, it’s just like it came out of nowhere and driven a lot by this whole nootropics industry where, I mean, we go to a couple of trade shows occasionally. And one of them is really all about these types of things, anything that can enhance performance. Another mushroom that’s maybe you’ve heard of is called cordyceps.

Natalie K. Douglas

Kate Callaghan 41:24
We’re about to ask you about cordyceps.

Natalie K. Douglas 41:28

Kate Callaghan
And chaga? Is it chaga?

Natalie K. Douglas
Chaga mushrooms.

Jeff Chilton 41:30
I know chaga. We can talk about chaga too but cordyceps, cordyceps is is really cool because it’s it traditionally it’s been wildcrafted up in the foothills of Tibet, people are out there on their hands and knees, combing the pastures for these things. Cordyceps, is something that grow traditionally, and the wildcrafted cordyceps grows from a caterpillar, and that caterpillar has essentially crawled down into the earth in the fall hibernating. Because of course, that’s what you know, moths and butterflies do. They have a caterpillar that hibernates and then they, you know, when summer comes, all of a sudden they turn into a butterfly or a moth and fly away. In this case, what happens is that while it’s sleeping, cordyceps is spores are on it, they germinate, and they as consume the whole inside of the caterpillar, and then in the springtime instead of, instead of that Caterpillar waking up and flying away. No, it’s nothing but a food source now and a little cordyceps grows off the top of it. And it in the last 10 years it has become the most expensive urban China at one point as much as 20,000 US per kilogram.

Kate Callaghan 42:49

Natalie K. Douglas

Kate Callaghan
The cordyceps eats the caterpillar.

Jeff Chilton 42:51
Cordyceps eats the caterpillar but the cool thing about it is that the caterpillar, you can still see the caterpillar. Caterpillar still there but what you don’t understand is the whole inside of that caterpillar is consumed and it’s nothing but the mycelium that has consumed the inside and then the little blade-like fruiting bodies coming off the head of the caterpillar. And they call this winter worm, summer grass because the fruiting body little mushroom is like a blade of grass. So so that has traditionally used, been used for neurasthenia, which is weakness coming out of a illness. And so people are trying to get better, but they’re just kind of stuck and they’re feeling weak. And they’ll give them cordyceps that something to help them with their energy and overcome the fatigue that they’re feeling. Well, you know, fatigue, energy, and the next thing you know, a lot of people who are into athletics are thinking, okay, this sounds pretty good. So, that’s where a lot of these days, a lot of people are taking cordyceps. Although I’m sure you could use it for the same thing that they have done, which is again, weakness, and just a feeling of malaise and lack of energy. Cordyceps would be something that you’d want to take. And today, here’s the coolest thing of all, is it today for the first time ever, in the last 10 years, they have learned how to grow cordyceps. So we, you know, when I first was introduced cordyceps in 1990, I would take it around to one of the trade shows and I’d show it to people say hey, you know, have you heard about cordyceps and wouldn’t be interested and they look at me like, nobody that we sell who’s going to eat those caterpillars, come on? It’s like our audience is vegetarian. They don’t eat meat, come on, or insects. So, that was like, okay, so much for cordyceps.

Natalie K. Douglas

Kate Callaghan 44:56
I wonder if vegan’s know about that.

Jeff Chilton 45:01
Well, but see, here’s the thing is that none of those caterpillar fungi are sold into the supplement industry because it’s too expensive. Now, that was the other side of it, back then, in 1990, I could buy a kilo of cordyceps for $1,000. But today 20,000, nobody, even at $1,000 a kilo, which I would have to mark up to sell. Nobody was going to buy that really, it just wouldn’t work. So, just in the last 10 years they have learned how to grow cordyceps and it’s called cordyceps militaris. It’s a beautiful orange blade-like fungus. It is amazing looking. It’s on the homepage of our website, there’s a photos that we have there. It is beautiful and the powder that we make, the extract powder that we make of it is orange. It is so so cool and here’s the other thing about that cordyceps is beside it being inexpensive, so it’s great. We can sell it as a supplement. They also sell it fresh in China. When I was there a couple of years ago, I was served. As one of the dishes in our dinner, they had this platter of fresh cordyceps that they had cooked up. I mean and again, no insects involved everybody, fresh. It was it was delicious. It was so good. So and then finally talking about chaga and chaga is really interesting right now. And that is if you go out on the inner webs, and if you see people selling chaga, it’s like the king of mushrooms. There’s nothing that this mushroom cannot do. It is the power of the new universe and you know and it hyped so much, and I just hate that. It really bugs me to know and first off because look, I’ve seen four king of mushrooms out there. Shiitake was the king in the 70s, reishi took over in the 80s to be king, at 90s it was maitake who became the new king, and now it’s chaga, it’s like God come on, this is just. So, I’m, and plus, you know, when people taken and they start to talk about an herb as being a panacea. This will cure everything. That’s what they’re saying about chaga. It’s just absolute BS and untrue. Aye, chaga is not the king of mushroom, no way. Not only that, it won’t cure everything. No, it will absolutely not. Don’t even think about it that way. Chaga’s got, traditionally, it hasn’t been used for stomach illnesses. So that’s one of the major benefits from chaga and that’s what they’ve used it for a lot in folk medicine all across Russia and Eastern Europe. And also it was a folk remedy for cancer but hello everybody, it is not going to cure your cancer, don’t think about it that way. Mushrooms do, however, help your immune system as it is battling a lot of these types of diseases. So, yes, immunity but chaga, chaga again, I would say stomach. You know the other thing people say is oh, it’s like got the highest level of antioxidants of anything in the world. It’s like what according to ORAC, which has been so discredited as any kind of a measure. The ORAC, they’ve come out and said it does, it’s meaningless. And so, I don’t even subscribe to that. And here’s what’s interesting about chaga. Chaga is not a mushroom. Chaga is not mycelium. Chaga is actually a canker. It’s a fungal disease, and the manifestation of that disease is this gnarly looking black thing that grows off the side of a birch tree. And when you cut that off, and if you really examine it, what they found is it’s about maybe 10% mycelium. It’s got that black rind on it, which is melanin, and then a lot of it is just woody tissue. So, it’s really an oddball fungus but you know, let’s face it, there’s a lot of oddball fungus.

Natalie K. Douglas 49:49
Yeah. So what do you say, then that the main like, chaga, like isn’t the king of mushrooms or whatever. But the main benefits would be in relation to more stomach illnesses, and they wouldn’t be benefit in using it in that situation but not using it, as you’re saying is a panacea for everything and anything.

Jeff Chilton 50:07
Absolutely. In fact, you know, what I would say is that people who have maybe irritable bowel syndrome, or Crohn’s disease or something like that, Nat, get on it, try it out, see if it helps you because I’ve seen some studies that look promising. And that’s what, that’s where I would go with it, I would, I would see if that doesn’t help people with those conditions. And boy, you know, they need help that those are serious conditions that are very unpleasant.

Kate Callaghan 50:34
That’s awesome. And I’m just aware that we’re running out of time, I want to ask you because a lot of our listeners deal with hormone imbalance. What are your thoughts on using medicinal mushrooms for hormone imbalances?

Jeff Chilton 50:48
Um, you know what? They are, this gets back to the definition of adaptogen and mushrooms as being an adaptogenic type of herb. So, I would say, that is something that they would do. But you know what? I haven’t seen that much specific research on there. So, I don’t really subscribe to that. 100% I’m not sure. So, I couldn’t really say one way or the other. Other than that isn’t something that I’ve seen a lot of research on. So, I would be, again, I don’t think I would, I would say, oh, yes, absolutely. No, I really don’t know. I don’t think, again, I haven’t seen enough research for me to be able to say, yes, indeed, that’s something that it does.

Kate Callaghan
Cool. Nice thinking.

Natalie K. Douglas 51:43
Yeah. And the other thing we kind of I mean, I specialize in thyroid health and deal with a lot of people who have Hashimoto’s, which is a type of autoimmune thyroid condition. And I, I definitely have stayed in my clinical practice experience that using mushrooms as kind of just like you’re saying, adaptogen or just, I kind of think of it as a gentle hug for the immune system that’s just there as kind of backup. I really, I really like using that. And I’ve definitely found it beneficial for myself and for a lot of my clients. So, yeah, I would encourage people to think of them as modulating to your immune system. And kind of like, as you said earlier, Jeff, the adaptogens of the immune system very much in that way. One other thing I wanted to quickly ask you, well, there’s a couple of other things, sorry. So, there’s a lot of talks and also some research around, particularly, trametes and also maitake, in relation to cancer. And while we are definitely not treating a disease or making any specific recommendations, have you seen any research in relation to that? I know, I’ve seen some in your relation to breast cancer and maitake but what’s your experience with that? Because I know in, I think it’s in Korea, there’s it’s actually they actually use some mushrooms alongside conventional therapy to enhance its effects.

Jeff Chilton 53:18
Well, you know what? There’s, there’s a number of a couple of products that have been used that way, certainly the turkey tail, they’ve, they’ve made a couple of what I would call drug products in Japan, and there’s a drug called PSK, that has an approved drug in Japan, and it comes from tametes, it’s not just a tremendous extract, which is what we deal with but it’s something that is much more refined. So, it actually is more drug-like. In China, they have a similar product called PSP like that. And so so, you know, I think there are certain products, drug-like products out there that come from mushrooms or fungi that have been used in that way. And I would say, a good solid extract can also be used in that way, in terms of, you know, a lot of what they do is they, somebody’s going through chemotherapy, going through radiation, or something like that, they give them that as an adjuvant just to, hopefully, to help keep the immune system a little bit stronger, you know while being torn to pieces. So, so yes, I think, you know, there are relatively good data. That’s one of the reasons why naturopaths, for example, are very sort of they’re like, for example, PSK or PSP something like that, because there is a lot more clinical data on it. Data that seems to be fairly positive. Now, that doesn’t say that, you know, I mean, a lot of it is okay, it people live longer, for example, and but it’s not going, it’s certainly not a cure but it is, and I highly recommend it to somebody who’s going through something like that. Anything that can help your immune system I think is positive when you’re in a situation where your immune system is being, you know, pretty much destroyed.

Natalie K. Douglas 55:12
Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. I think that using it as an adjunct to, you know, other therapies that you’ve been prescribed to, under a practitioner it can be helpful. And, and I think you’re right in that because there’s also the other advantage of there being so much research around, you know, PSK and PSP is that oftentimes, you’re like someone who’s going through chemotherapy, or who has an oncologist on board is going to be more comfortable with using something that has that kind of evidence behind it but then I, yeah also agree on the flip side that, you know, using mushrooms generally are going to be an immune support. And that’s, that’s not a bad thing. So, I just wanted to touch on that, because I know that that would be a question that people would have.

Jeff Chilton

Natalie K. Douglas
Before we kind of wrap up, I do, I’m very keen to ask you because I know this is a question will get asked if we don’t ask you. How can people actually access your products in Australia and New Zealand because that’s where most of our audience are from Australia and New Zealand, where, how can they get access to your products?

Jeff Chilton 56:19
Well, we actually have a retail line that we put out. I mean, my company is primarily sells raw materials to other companies. And then they put out the products and capsules, bottles, their label and all of that. So, we supply lots of different companies out there, what happens is sometimes they will formulate and they won’t put out our products in its full, whole form. They’ve got other things that they blend with it and so so we decided we put out a line that is just 100% of our different mushroom extracts. And the place you can get them is online at RealMushrooms.com. And I think you might also try Amazon Australia because the products are also sold on Amazon.

Natalie K. Douglas

Jeff Chilton
You can even look at Amazon, generally, but they’re. So, that they’re sold on Amazon and also at RealMushrooms.com. Certainly, you can go to RealMushrooms.com first, and you can review the products there and see which ones you might be interested in. And there’s also Real Mushrooms has practitioner accounts. So, for practitioners that want to use the products in their practice, they can sign up with RealMushrooms and get the products at a discount for resale to their customers, which is another way of doing it as well.

Natalie K. Douglas

Kate Callaghan 57:46
At that site now and international shipping is only $8. Very cheap.

Jeff Chilton 57:51
Wow. Wow. I’m impressed.

Kate Callaghan 57:56
I think that’s 8 dollars US but it’s still pretty cheap.

Natalie K. Douglas
Yeah, that is. Usually, it’s yeah, much more that.

Jeff Chilton

Natalie K. Douglas 58:01
Well, that’s fantastic. Like I, you know, honestly, I’ve learned a lot from just listening to you talking and we can hear how passionate you are. So it’s, it’s really good to be able to share your passion with our listeners and also your knowledge. And you know, it gives us a lot more education and knowledge going into purchasing products because it can be very overwhelming when you don’t know how to navigate the industry. And there’s a lot of marketing and hype in different messages. So, thank you for really breaking it down for us and making it accessible for us to understand into action if we want to get our hands on some mushrooms. I certainly know what I’m googling after this. But yeah, thank you. And just before we wrap up, how can people get your book? You mentioned earlier, is it on Amazon? Is it on your website? How do people access that?

Jeff Chilton 58:51
Well, The Mushroom Cultivator is on Amazon. It’s funny because the book was published in 1983. We still sell five thousand copies a year of that book.

Natalie K. Douglas

Jeff Chilton
It just is just refuses to go away. People still use it. So, they can get that on Amazon and look, come to our website Nammex.com, NAMMEX.com. We have a ton of information there. We’ve got slideshows that I’ve put together on how we grow our mushrooms, slideshows on the differences between our products, and these myceliated grain products. We have a lot of very good information, very deep level of information there. So, part of what I try to do, and what we try to do is just educate people because whether they buy our products or not, or whether they buy mushroom products out there or not. The key thing is to be educated. So, when you go in there, and you look and you’re sort of like looking at the shelves, and there’s like, you know, 30 different products, you’re like, oh my God, where do I even start? Right? And, and unfortunately, today, oftentimes it is people start by going oh, gee, I saw this celebrity and he was talking about this, that and the other, and he said his products were the greatest and then I’ll buy his product, right? So, this is like, you know, I’m just trying to help educate people so they can make an educated decision.

Natalie K. Douglas 1:00:10
Yep, we love it. That’s always our aim. So, thank you so much and we might have to have you back if we get some follow-up questions on all of that information because I know my mind was just going a million miles an hour thinking oh, I have so many more keys to ask. So, thank you so much and.

Kate Callaghan
Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff Chilton 1:00:28
You are very welcome, Natalie, Kate. Thank you very much. It’s been, I had a fun time here talking to you both and I’m happy to come back anytime.

Natalie K. Douglas 1:00:39
Wonderful. Have a lovely day, Jeff.

Jeff Chilton
You too.

Kate Callaghan 1:00:41
Thanks, Jeff. Bye.

Jeff Chilton

Outro 1:00:44
Thanks for tuning in to The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast. Remember, we love to make the show relevant to you. If you have any questions or topics you’d like us to discuss, just submit them to [email protected] and we’ll get them answered for you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on iTunes and share it with your friend. And if you’re looking for more info about how we can accelerate your journey to your optimal health, you can find me, Nat, over at NatalieKDouglas.com and Kate at TheHolisticNutritionist.com. See you next time!


The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast - with Natalie K. Douglas and Kate Callaghan

Welcome to The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast!

If a professional, polished, well-edited podcast is what you’re after…then we’re not for you!

But if you love unfiltered banter, unedited bloopers and authentic heart sharing then we are your ladies.

We also have the most practical tips on holistic and alternative health care too 😉

Have a question that you want answered on the podcast or want to be interviewed? Get in touch!


Natalie K. Douglas | Thyroid Healer

Natalie K. Douglas | Thyroid Healer

Natalie K. Douglas ("Nat") is a Holistic Dietitian and Nutritionist dedicated to Thyroid, gut and hormone healing.

Nat shows stressed, burnt out, overwhelmed women how to value their worth again, change their mindset habits, prioritize healing, and reclaim their vitality. Guaranteed.

Her clients say she’s the right girl to see if you’ve tried the conventional approach and nothing has worked.

Kate Callaghan | The Holistic Nutritionist

Kate Callaghan | The Holistic Nutritionist

Kate Callaghan is a Holistic Nutritionist, Personal Trainer and Lifestyle Coach who specializes in women's hormone healing.

She recognizes that there is no “one size fits all” diet or “magic bullet” which is going to cure all illnesses.

She focuses on having a thorough understanding of your personal goals, needs, likes/dislikes, support networks and lifestyle in order to create a food and lifestyle approach that suits YOU.


Jeff Chilton | Founder of Nammex & Organic Mushroom Expert

Jeff Chilton | Founder of Nammex & Organic Mushroom Expert


Jeff Chilton has been in the mushroom industry since 1973. He has been heavily involved in both the study of mushrooms and their farming. He is a founding member of the World Society for Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products and a member of the International Society for Mushroom Science. Jeff co-authored the highly acclaimed book, The Mushroom Cultivator, which was published in 1983.

Then in 1989, he started Nammex, a business that introduced medicinal mushrooms to the US nutritional supplement industry. He traveled extensively in China during the 1990’s, attending conferences and visiting research facilities and mushroom farms. In 1997 he organized the first organic mushroom production seminar in China.

Jeff’s company, Nammex, was the first to offer a complete line of Certified Organic mushroom extracts to the US nutritional supplement industry. Nammex extracts are used by many supplement companies and are noted for their high quality, based on scientific analysis of the active compounds.


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