The differences between a reishi extract (food supplement) and whole reishi (food) is huge. To start to understand them, we’ll use bread as an example: bread extract made from hard bread.

Someone can boil wholemeal bread in a pot, put the bread out when it is well cooked and continue boiling the water until everything dissolved concentrates in a brownish crust. If we grind this, we will have a “baguette” extract. It will concentrate group B vitamins which are soluble in water: B1 and B2 (B6, which is present in bread, will be missing because it will be destroyed by heat), concentrated starches (carbohydrates), concentrated gluten (proteins) and concentrated minerals: selenium, calcium, potassium, magnesium…

Is it better to have the aqueous extract of the bread than eating the whole bread?
Well, that depends on the aim wanted. If someone has a deficiency in vitamin B6, this extract will not help at all, as it has been completely degraded. But for someone who needs vitamin B2, the extract will be better than the starting bread.  Ah! And for intolerants to gluten, the extract will cause severe damage to their intestinal epithelium because a few grams of extract will contain the gluten of a whole baguette.

An extract concentrates some substances, others are damaged during the extraction process, and the good ones can be harmful if highly concentrated.

Reishi extracts production

Almost all the extracts on the market are processed to obtain beta-glucans concentrates. The latter are extracted with sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and hydrochloric acid (HCL), highly reactive substances and therefore capable of separating the beta-glucans chains from the glucan matrix of the mushroom, at a high temperature. What happens there? First, the beta glucan itself is affected and loses some of its triple helix conformation (similar to the winding structure of DNA). This makes the beta-glucans lose activity, since in the group of active beta glucans, with 1-3, 1-6 bond, the ones that show this winding structure are the ones that have biological activity (see explanation in detail here). Besides, aggressive treatments with soda, used to extract beta-glucans, chemically change lots of molecules with biological activity, making them lose their activity. In this case, bases (NaOH) and strong acids (HCL) are used, which at a home level corrode metals, hurt living tissue (they shouldn’t be touched by hand!), and react with almost everything, including reishi substances.

I have given an example of making an aqueous extract from wholemeal bread. But let’s prepare another extract: If we boiled the baguette in ethyl alcohol (extremely dangerous at home, because it can catch fire), and remove the bread from the liquid again and evaporated the alcohol until we obtained a crust, as we did in the previous process, we would obtain what would be called a “baguette” alcoholic extract. This would have zero B vitamins, since they do not dissolve in alcohol, and would lack almost all minerals: selenium, calcium, magnesium, which do not dissolve either… Besides, it would present residual proteins and, among the few substances that it would contain, we would find oils added to bread and some fat-soluble vitamins and other nonpolar compounds. The chemical composition of the extraction will be totally different from the extraction in water and therefore its activity in the organism would be completely different.

Is this the same thing?

Photomicrograph of Reishi mushroom powder (400X): we can see mushroom cells chopped by the grinding.Photomicrograph of Reishi extract (400X): agglomerations of concentrated chemical compounds are observed.

And going back to reishi:

Each extract concentrates different molecules and thus have different activity in the body. Consequently, there are medical studies conducted with very active chloroform extracts, which are not prepared commercially because the chloroform is very easily degraded and very dangerous too; also with ether extracts, extracts in methanol and, of course, in water and ethanol. Of the approximately 700 medical studies about reishi which have been published to date, there is only one kind of reishi that shows all the activity of all the extracts and, therefore, all properties: the pure reishi, not extracted! It will have less concentration of everything (the natural concentration), but it will have everything.