Supplement companies dealing in botanicals or mushrooms have to figure out how best to deliver active beneficial compounds in their products. One of the most pivotal decisions in this process is the extraction method.
Some nutrients that support immunity are better collected from the whole herb by using one extraction method over another. Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc., medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic and founder of ecoNugenics, Inc., Santa Rosa, CA, says that herbs contain hundreds of compounds, and some are water soluble (hydrophilic) while others are primarily fat soluble (lipophilic).
The proper solvent needs to be used to most efficiently extract each type of compound, says Eliaz. The extraction method must be selected with careful consideration for which active ingredients are to be emphasized in the end product. He says that his company conducts extensive research when formulating products to ensure that the extracts being used contain the appropriate active compounds. Many extracts available on the market are standardized to a particular concentration of active compounds to ensure consistency, Eliaz notes.
“Hot water extraction is a traditional method for processing mushrooms and we follow this procedure for the majority of our mushroom extracts,” says Jeff Chilton, president and founder of Nammex, Gibsons, BC, Canada. Some mushrooms, like reishi and chaga, have important compounds for which water extraction is not ideal. Chilton says that in those cases, water extraction is followed with ethanol extraction. Using this dual extraction method assures the complete removal of the active compounds from the fibrous cell walls. Chilton believes shoppers should look carefully at supplement facts panels to see which plant part has been used and how the active compounds stack up to those in other products.
Beyond alcohol vs. water solubility, Sandra Carter, MPH, Ph.D., founder of Mushroom Matrix, Carlsbad, CA, notes several other characteristics of the active compounds in mushrooms that supplement makers must consider. Some compounds prove to be insoluble, while others have varying degrees of sensitivity to temperature.
“In the world of medicinal mushrooms and herbs, there are two basic approaches as to how to best process and use the products,” says Carter. One involves isolating and concentrating one or two active ingredients. As a consequence of the extraction process, other compounds not deemed necessary to the formula are discarded.
The other approach, Carter says, focuses on harvesting and preparing the whole herb or mushroom and all of its nutritional compounds. The goal is for the acids, enzymes and probiotics in our digestive tracts to carry out the “extraction” and for the body to select the nutrients it needs. Carter says her company embraces the “whole food” concept with its mushroom products. There are compromises involved in either approach, she says. For example, unextracted mushroom products require larger daily doses than extracted products.
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