[01:31] About Tero Isokauppila
[07:08] Grocery Store Mushrooms & Medicinal Mushrooms
[13:19] Four Sigma Mushrooms
[16:16] On Reishi & Chaga
[22:40] On Cordyceps & Mushroom Packets
[31:52] What Cordyceps Does
[35:45] On Lion's Mane
[38:41] Shiitake & Maitake
[41:35] Turning Mushrooms into Powdered Extracts
[45:57] Ben's Favorite Flavor & How to Make The Blend
[52:15] End of the Podcast
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast:
“So there's a big difference between mushrooms, and from a roughly about 1.5 million mushrooms around the world. Now we know that there's a little bit over 300 mushrooms that have the health beneficial, medicinal purposes, and actually half of the topics on drugs in the world are derived from fungi.” “But they would only take this one compound, betulinic acid out of it, and the reason being is that they want a patent for it obviously to protect themselves and their innovation, and we should kind of get the whole foods.” “And actually the funny part is that people who have candida, reishi is really good against candida, so they're actually anti-fungal.” “We try to avoid sweeteners in this case. Like you said mushrooms have been used against things like cancer and other things like that, and they feed on sugar, so as adding sugar to our valued products would become a counterproductive.”
Ben: Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield, and as it happens to me quite often, I'll often get packages in the mail with different combinations of supplements and herbs and essential oils, and you name it. Two nights ago, I actually received just such a package in the evening as I was getting ready to drive to tennis. And so, I was actually opening this package as I'm driving to my tennis match, and I open it and I basically see the word cordyceps, and it was this powdered cordyceps extract, so I'm thinking great, and it's actually made by this company called Four Sigma Foods, and I've tried some of their stuff before.
We're going to be talking about their stuff, about mushrooms, about things of that nature on today's call, but I popped a couple of packets of it, and it tastes kind of like mushrooms and kind of like coffee. And then I took a little bit of a closer look and noticed that it was in fact mushroom coffee. And since I'm a guy who typically doesn't really drink coffee after about 9 AM in the morning, and this was about 6 PM, I have to say I was on fire for my tennis match. But I also had to have some magnesium and some things to calm me down later in the day. So one warning I can give to folks as you're listening in, before you try anything that you're about to hear and talk about, make sure that you read the label carefully.
So that being said, the guy who I have on the call today, his name is Tero. Tero, I'm not even going to try to pronounce your last name dude because it's Isokauppila? Is that correct?
Tero: Yeah, close enough. It's a Finnish name, and I think even Finnish get it wrong, so you're all good. (laughs)
Ben: I was kinda close. Anyways, so Tero is the co-founder and he's the president of Four Sigma Foods, and Four Sigma Foods, what they say is that they're dedicated to democratizing the healing power of mushrooms by making them accessible to everyone, and they basically have these super food mushroom teas and mushroom coffees and mushroom chocolates and all sorts of things that I've actually been trying and liking. I'm not quite sure how they work, so I'd thought I'd get Tero on the call to actually talk about it. Most of my experience with mushrooms has actually been trying to figure out as I'm walking through the forest, if something is going to kill me or not, and so this is certainly a different experience to have it arrive packaged in a powder format. So, Tero, before we get into this stuff and how it actually works, can you fill me in how you actually got interested in mushrooms, or as the kids say these days, shrooms?
Tero: Yeah, totally. So I grew up in Finland, at our family farm. So we've had this family farm since 1619, and growing up there, obviously in Finland. The ecosystem is close to things like Vermont and Maine, and there's a lot of mushrooms there, and my dad is an economist, and my mom teaches physiology. So we were foraging early on, and I went to things like environmental school. My great granddad helped to found, and that's where the basis is found for edible mushrooms. Now as we're tuning into a lot of the mushrooms being edible tree mushrooms, so they're a little bit of a different story. But that's where it started from, and about ten years ago, I started my first mushroom venture when I was in college for another culinary mushroom called shiitake, but it's where it all begins. Just like with everything, you're just constantly learning, and the more I've been learning about health and wellness, the more amazed by the properties found from mushrooms.
With you as well, you like to read a ton of stuff and it's sometimes hard to find research on whole foods. You can find more research on individual compounds or minerals, but found in their whole food form, it's difficult to find really good research on them. Even if you believe that they work and you feel them in your own body, with mushrooms I just found so much research every year, so I'm convinced that part, hence the mission of popularizing these foods, and I think obviously there's good and bad kind of mushrooms, but I just find that they've suffered from food races.
Ben: Did you ever eat the bad kind of mushroom? Have you ever been poisoned in your journeys into wild edibles and trying out mushrooms? Does that just kind of happened?
Tero: I'm kind of fortunate learning from my parents, and in my own ecosystem, where I grew up, I really hadn't had that problem at all. And there's been some that had to have a bit of a mold and having a little headache or something like that, more bought from the store actually. To forage myself, I've never been poisoned, and obviously when I go into new area, like today, I'm going to Big Basin in California, foraging, and then tomorrow to Sonoma. California is not my expertise, so I'll be extra careful on picking up mushrooms. But when we talk about these inedible mushrooms. For example in Finland, there is no toxic tree mushrooms, but there are a lot of toxic ground mushrooms to just oversimplify things, but I've been lucky enough. No poison actually so far.
Ben: So is there a difference, when I go to the grocery store, I can find button mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms and portobello mushrooms that I can use in recipes. What’s the difference between those mushrooms and the kind of things that you use as medicinal mushrooms, aside from the fact that the medicinal mushrooms have much cooler names like cordyceps and reishi?
Tero: (laughs) Yeah, they're really some rad names though. First and foremost the first thing that people not always realize, and I didn't realize this even growing up 'cause shrooms are their own kingdom. They're not a supplement plant. Sometimes we think that a sub group of plant. Just like animals and plant and bacteria, fungi are a whole kingdom. So just like there are really cute animals like puppies and bunnies, there's also really cool animals. Of course human beings basically could kill us. So there's a big difference between mushrooms, and from a roughly about 1.5 million mushrooms around the world. Now we know that there's a little bit over 300 mushrooms that have the health beneficial, medicinal purposes, and actually about half of the topics on drugs in the world are derived from fungi. People know penicillin, but if you've ever been on that antibiotic it's very likely that you've been on mushrooms, or on shrooms.
Ben: So are they are like pharmaceutical companies, growing mushrooms in laboratory conditions, or are they also out like you are, foraging in the hills of California with a burlap sack? How does that work?
Tero: (laughs) Yes, the pharmaceutical companies have to. They don't necessarily grow them in laboratory environments, but they process them in laboratory environments. And then there's big difference on what kind of pharmaceutical is it, but it's very controlled and they don't use the whole food form. Say a mushroom would have, take the case for example chaga. There might be hundreds of active ingredients in the chaga. Plus it's one of the highest sources of multiple different minerals and trace minerals, but they would only take this one compound, betulin or betulinic acid out of it, and the reason being is that they a patent for it obviously to protect themselves and their innovation, and we should kind of get whole foods. So one branch of cordyceps is used for the only official cure for [9:36] ______ disease. There's a drop called Gilenya, I know of this.
Ben: Now doesn't that make when you isolate the compound from the mushroom, couldn't that theoretically make it more powerful and efficacious? I mean yeah, it allows it to patent it too, but doesn't it make it more effective?
Tero: Absolutely, so you can take this into any supplement basically. Once you standardize, extract or you isolate a compound, it's definitely stronger. But at the same time if you isolate it enough, there comes side effects. So the risk in broad ratio, and even though it's not a linear line, it's still exist. So lots of these stuff we have, very strong side effects to them. That's the game you play. I'm a believer that as long as you can, you use whole food form.
Ben: Can you give me an example of a patented pharmaceutical compound based on a mushroom and then how you could achieve the same effect by using a whole food?
Tero: Legally, I'm not going to tell you those claims personally, but if you want fungi-based drugs. Penicillin is the household name. There are four over billion dollar selling pharmaceutical fungi right now in the world. In one of the suppressions, things like a lot of them are related to actually the immune system and related to that. So a lot of the research on mushrooms is based on the immuno function. So it's their kind of human immunitory, so they either suppress the immune system. If you have alternative disorders, we talked about gilenya made out of a part in one cordyceps species, so that's kinda calming the immune system, but it can also work like an immune stimulant. So if you have a flu or cough, you can activate your immune system in your response. So very particularly, there's these type of sugars, polysaccharides, so they're not the type of sugars that will raise your blood pressure. Actually it's the opposite, but they feed your immune system. So your internal cops, natural killing cells and things like that, they're going to feed them, so they will be active but not hopefully stimulated, so that's what they do.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. And you can achieve the same effect with just a whole food mushroom extract?
Tero: Yeah, I mean again, I'm not going to make health things, in the US and that, but also we have international. You can look into the research, and just nothing else, they've been used for several thousands of years, so at one point, those indigenous cultures would have probably said that I don't think this is working. So that's my food input, but they are the most researched whole foods probably in the world. So if you look at the amount of research on reishi and chaga and especially these polysaccharides, it is overwhelming in the whole foods space.
Ben: Yeah, it is. One of my friends actually gave me a book. It's not in my office, it's over at my book shelf in the wreck room, but it's a big book. And it' just basically all of the different researched and referenced scientific studies that have been done on the use of mushrooms for these immunomodulatory effects that you're talking about, and also I know you can make health claims, but I can say stuff. The research that has been done on things like cancer for example, it's through the roof. It's pretty amazing as far as suppression of tumor cell growth and some really interesting stuff with these mushrooms, so I certainly see where you're coming from.
Now, I want to ask you about the different kinds of mushrooms that you were with 'cause you said there were millions and then there's 300 that actually have some kind of a beneficial effect on the human body. What are the type of mushrooms that you're using at Four Sigma? What are your flagship shrooms?
Tero: Yeah, just before we dive into that, I just want to again, emphasize the fact that there's also a lot of bad mushrooms, and I think there's a lot of mycophobia around people especially because of bad mushrooms like candida and in a way cancer.
Tero: Yeah, people are scared of things that we consume for a long time that are very natural like bacteria. I think a lot of people are spooked out about bacteria, even though it's vital to our health. Same way as a lot of people are scared of mushrooms because of molds and other things that are bad for our body, and this is mostly because we humans are super close to the mushrooms. So depending on the mushroom, they're 30 to 50% same DNA as mushrooms. So if you look at the mushroom next time where you're in a forest, think that that mushroom actually breathes oxygen. So it's actually breathing oxygen, expelling CO2, just like we humans, whereas plants are the opposite. So these guys are very close to us, so if they get attacked by fungal diseases, so mushrooms get attacked by other mushrooms as well. So we're very prone to those same illnesses, but at the same time, the best of the best have to vibe for a long time, and the mechanisms protect themselves. And because we're so close to them, we can utilize the mechanisms they found for themselves for our own health.
And in that case, a lot of them are growing in trees. The one you mentioned before, shiitake is an edible mushroom that also has these medicinal properties, but even then you would even want to cook it. Just fry it in the pan with butter or whatnot, or I'll make a soup out of it. A lot of these have been consumed in peas or soups in the history. So a lot of them do grow on trees, and I think that's one way how we can utilize the health beneficial compounds from the tree. Same way as we eat plants, because we cannot eat soil. It's like a medium, so have to get the minerals from the soil through the plant. It's a way of off getting some of the properties just like we use sap, bird's sap or maple sap. We can use mushrooms to get energy, the health benefit compounds from the trees. But from the top if you want to look at it. It's often reishi which is the queen of mushrooms. It's like you said, a very fancy name. It's for example, a Japanese name, and there's chaga, the king of mushrooms. These are probably the two most researched ones. Chaga then is a Russian name, and then most sold mushrooms supplemented in the US I think is cordyceps which is very popular among athletes. It became blooming in the running and triathlon's pace.
Ben: Yeah, you hear about cordyceps a lot. I want to actually ask you about cordyceps in a second 'cause I hear it comes out like the ass of a larvae or something like that. But before I do, you also mentioned reishi, and you mentioned chaga. As far as reishi and chaga are concerned, what would be the biggest benefits in your opinion to consuming something like that? Is it more of a smart drug? Is it more of a pre-workout? Is it something for sleep? How do you use reishi, and how would you use chaga? What would you say are the biggest benefits?
Tero: They're kind of like the Ninja Turtles. All of those four guys are turtles and they're ninja. And in this case, the ninja and the turtle means that they are good for immune system and in that way, to support you from getting sick, also preventing immunological issues. People don't realize, but immunological issues are a basis for a lot of things, and they're related to for example, allergic reactions and other things. That's what they all do, but they all have a special weapon.
And in the case of reishi, I would say that the biggest for what I've seen over the years is that for a modern person is stress reduction. It is an adaptogen, but especially it works this endocrine system, and I've seen over and over people who are really stressed out or are busy at work or maybe overtrained. Just take reishi, and calm down. Just not in a sedative way if somebody used things like valeriana or kava. It's not going to prevent you from driving a car and knock you out, but it's just going to calm you down. Yogis used to say that it opens up your crown chakra. A little hippier version of saying it just brings you to the moment. The chaga on the other hand is very high in antioxidants, very high in certain trace minerals that are otherwise very difficult to get. So anti-inflammatory properties are pretty interesting in my books because of the antioxidants as well. If you are about to get sick, it's probably your best weapon, and it is very safe. All of these are foods. They're not supplements per say, so they're very tonic. So you're safe to use them, just rotating different kind of mushrooms incorporating to your diet. Doesn't matter if you're Paleo, vegan, whatever. Just incorporating some mushrooms to your diet will probably reap a lot of benefit, but reishi for anti-stress, and chaga for anti-inflammatory purposes.
Ben: Now, if I'm going to take reishi because I want to have a calming effect on the mind or I want anti-stress, is there going to be a difference in taking something like that on an empty stomach, or should it be taken with food?
Tero: Well, the interesting thing about in general supplement and food industry, certain things are not always supported by evidence, and certain things are used for marketing purposes. You often read labels and they say take it on an empty stomach, and I just noticed the fact that then almost everything is more powerful when you take it on an empty stomach. So for example, if I noticed that if something doesn't work in my body…
Ben: Not like fish oil or vitamin D, not like fat soluble vitamins for example.
Tero: Yeah, well those are exceptions. Those are, by the way, also one of the things that we've studied, but I think if you looked at the label or the lot if you go chicken feed or vitamin shell or whatnot, almost every product says you have to take it on an empty stomach or early in the morning because that's where you breathe the most efficacies. It doesn't mean that it's the only time when you should use it. So a lot of health use, a lot of use in the evening as well. That's when at least my body is the most sensitive in the morning. And then after a meal or afternoon, I can take more without noticing it. So in the morning, you are definitely more sensitive.
Ben: Well I can tell you, when I've been using this 'cause you sent me some chaga tea, and I've tried that. I also tried this reishi. I've tried both, and the cordyceps actually, you sent me that too. I've tried all of those in the mid-afternoon, in the mid-afternoon on an empty stomach, and I've also tried them after breakfast, after I have what I call my big ass morning smoothie, and I've noticed that I feel them within ten minutes. When I take them in the afternoon on an empty stomach, I barely feel anything when I've been taking them with a stomach full of smoothie. So to me, I feel better taking this stuff on an empty stomach.
Tero: Yeah, I mean then definitely digestively. It's the first thing that gets often digested. So for example, the old trick is if you're on a drinking contest, you eat a lot of bananas on the go, and then you drink as much, and you're not going to absorb alcohol because the bananas are there until they get digested, and then something is going to hit you itself in the head with a hammer.
Ben: Wait, can you say that again? You use bananas for a drinking contest?
Tero: Yeah, that's the old trick. If you're on a drinking contest, you can build yourself a one-hour window by eating a lot of bananas in the beginning, and you build a layer. And then all the alcohol will be sitting in your stomach 'cause a lot of the actual absorption will come in the colon, and that's why things like probiotics are important and whatnot. So if you take your smoothie in the morning, that's going to first build in a layer of something that the stomach will first digest, and then while you take the last, that's probably the thing that absorbs the last.
So if you take it on an empty stomach, that's the only thing that you absorb. So for example, if you have stomach problems, you often usually go on a mono-meal. You just have one food because it's just the easiest way of body to digest it. If you have stomach issues, that's usually easier than putting fifty different ingredients in a smoothie and then chucking that down 'cause your body might get a little confused at that point. So taking them on an empty stomach is the most powerful way just like with any supplement. That doesn't mean you have to take them on an empty stomach. They will get absorbed, and while we build the recipes as we add synergistic things like rosehip which has a lot of vitamin C in it. Vitamin C will enhance their absorption of these active ingredients, especially these polysaccharides, like crazy amounts, like six to nine times. So we're already building a synergistic recipe, so you're already getting that bang for your buck, but at the same time, if you combine it with other things, you might get more or less synergistic benefits out of it.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So we've got reishi that's for the calming and the stress, and then chaga which is good for the immune system. How about cordyceps? First of all before we talk about what cordyceps is good for, is it true that it comes out of the butt of an insect or something like that?
Tero: (chuckles) Yes and no. So the thing is, it's like a species of cat animals. There's a whole pussy cat and then you have the lion, so the same that there's a lot of different kinds of cordyceps. Now while people often know that the BBC doctor where that you see how it comes from the ants. Ants are not actually the most common species where it likes to grow. There's like moths and other things, but when you buy these, almost none of them would be this wild, wild cordyceps because it's not sustainable getting them because there's a very lack of them, and they would also cost a lot. So my good friend, they grow in Bhutan and Tibet, and my friend had known and loved the Bhutan agricultural minister. Even through his personal contact that hotel price would be something like $40,000 per pound for the wild variety.
So almost all the cordyceps that you ever bought and probably will ever buy is what you call Cs-4 cordyceps. This is if it's high quality at least, it's the Cs-4 version which is basically as a similar strain as the wild one, but it's not in a tank where you put the cordyceps in a tank, and you feed it a lot of protein, and you put them fighting against each other, and then will become strong and will have that power and health benefits to it. So if you ever buy cordyceps, it will not come out of the butt of an ant or a moth, but in theory there is varieties that do grow on animals, but they will not affect human beings and those varieties that come from those animals, probably you will never see because there's multiple different kinds of cordyceps, not just one.
Ben: Got it, now when it comes to the way that these mushrooms are grown, I'm relatively familiar with the supplement industry and that there's a lot of compounds out there that either don't have in them what they say they have in them or have lower amounts of the active ingredients, or they’re basically tainted with things that shouldn't be in there. When it comes to mushrooms and screening programs for the active compounds and mushrooms or whether or not mushrooms actually have what in them what they say they have in them, how do you ensure that the stuff that you got in these powdered packets is actually pure or does actually have in it what it's supposed to have in it? What should you be looking for when it comes to mushroom extracts?
Tero: Well, I think it's the same what you use for mushrooms and screening methods and any supplement or health food. You'll look at the efficacies, you'll look at the purity, and then you look at the actual formulation-slash-amount of fillers that what we add during the functions of putting them into capsules or packets. So I'll start with efficacies. With mushrooms, there's a hundred of things that affect your body, but most commonly, they're measured against two types of health benefits. Polysaccharides which we've briefly mentioned, especially like these beets or glucogens and things like that. Those are for the immune system, and for example, for every batch we do, we measure how much polysaccharides we have.
Then there's the other one, there are these steriles and tricerpines which are more for the hormonal balance. So overly simplified, they are the parts that make it more adaptogenic. Those get measured as well. So that's kind of the efficacy part, so mushrooms, the bigger part is that is it grown on a lab? Now cordyceps is an exception, but they would be like we would always get them from nature. Either grow them on tree stumps or grounds, or just force them from living trees, but a lot of products on the market are grown on laboratories which is way cheaper, but the amount of active ingredients, the one that I mentioned before is like three is to five grams less because they're grown on pile of rice rather than nature. So for example, chaga which grows ten, twenty years in the harsh climates of Siberia obviously have built more resistance to it than something that grows in a laboratory for a few months in a medium that is not naturally grown. So getting them some what you call fruiting bodies which is from the nature, actually living part which the indigenous cultures also use versus getting them from mycelium which is kind of newer thing, always off products that are having the fruiting body is possible.
Ben: So just to back up a second, the actual mushroom themselves, you would want to make sure that's grown on what you called a mycelium?
Tero: So you want to make sure that the product’s fruiting body is possible. If you want a strong efficacy product, mycelium products, they can be good for you. They have less of these active ingredients, they're less bitter, so that gives you when you use the original, natural version, you would use the fruiting body.
Ben: Okay, the fruiting body. Okay, gotcha.
Tero: Yeah, the fruiting body is like eating the apple from the apple tree, and eating the mycelium is like trying to eat the tree itself. It's less good for you.
Ben: And for a lot of these mass produced stuff, the actual mycelium is grown on some kind, did you say a grain or a rice?
Tero: Yeah, exactly, so you can even see it sometimes. It's grown on either a husk or a brown rice, and then the end for some product is only 50 to 30% mushroom, and 50 to 70% is actually the brown rice. So it has a lot of filler from the get-go. So that's a huge quality they decreased there. Already if you would only get the mycelium, it would have less of these polysaccharides and triterpenes, the version of getting it from nature.
Ben: So you've got fewer bioactive compounds, and you also have a mushroom that was basically grown on grain instead of in its natural environment.
Tero: Correct, which is often a tree. So that's the efficacy part, the other one is purity. I think same as for a lot of supplements for other products. You want to make sure that it doesn't have e-radiation, it doesn't have pesticides, it doesn't have what Dave Asprey has brought to consciousness is the mold, so the bad kind of mushrooms. So for example wheat has R mushrooms to make sure that they don't have these mycotoxins, so we test our mushrooms so that they don’t have mushrooms in them.
Ben: You test your mushrooms for mushrooms?
Tero: Yeah, and actually the funny part is that people who have candida, reishi is really good against candida, so they're actually anti-fungal.
Ben: Interesting, that's kind of ironic that you can take a mushroom to control the growth of a fungi.
Tero: Well that's the nature of making jokes, I think. And then heavy metals, that's a huge thing as well. It obviously depends on what kind of supplement it is, but nature has minerals and heavy metals, and you just want to make sure that, I guess the big topic lately has been certain protein products and things like that where heavy metals have been too high, and we've known from eating fish and other things before. There are certain thresholds you don't want to cross, so I think testing against those is pretty important. And then finally, understanding the process of it. A lot of supplements would have fillers, certain capsules in order for the capsule machine to build those kales. It has things like magnesium stearate and other binders and fillers, so the machine would run smoothly, or jut purely what we've seen lately in the press with the GNC, Whole Greens and those cases in New York. They just add fillers, so they could get the cost down.
Ben: Yeah, that's what I heard that a lot of mushroom extracts are mostly starch or dextrose and not actually what you call the beta-glucans?
Tero: Yeah, exactly. And that's absolutely a funny thing, well if you take these adaptogens or herbs and you take them in powdered material, but they've been extracted… Extraction means that they're been boiled or put into alcohol for a while, but then some of that liquid extract, you make it into a powdered extract, requires that you plow it through a high-pressure wall. It's like you spray it in a very high pressure in high temperature to make this powder, but it's certain green leaves and other things require binders that often is a maltodextrin and not with the highest quality maltodextrin, and it ends up that you're actually buying a toolsy extract where 30% is the toolsy and 70% is the maltodextrin which is not always the best quality sugar available. That happens as well during that process, and as a consumer, it's a bummer because unless you get it in your life to herbals and botanicals and health and wellness, how would you know this right?
Tero: It's definitely a challenge in this industry like transparency and getting this information and finding the product that is pure and works for your body.
Ben: Yeah, so that was a complete segue as we were talking about cordyceps, but what is it that cordyceps actually does? ‘Cause you see both cordyceps and reishi as a primary ingredient in a lot of these compounds that are sold to athletes and specific like endurance athletes or people competing at altitude. Is that their primary benefit? Is VO2Max or lung function, or why is it that someone would take cordyceps or cordyceps reishi blend?
Tero: Yeah, overly simplify these, reishi is a downer, and cordyceps is an upper. Nothing that cordyceps is a stimulant, but still that's how you use them. Cordyceps before a workout, have reishi in the evening or after their workouts, calm down the body that received the stress. So that's the overly simplified, but cordyceps used for a long time for lungs, people who have asthma or lower back problems in the oriental world and sexual desire. But once we researched it in the western world, we've seen two major things that are quite special, and you mentioned the other one. The other one is the VO2Max, the maximum oxygen intake. On unshowing individuals, we've seen 9 to 15% increase in VO2Max which is huge. Basically you don't need caffeine or sugar to be energized if you can increase the oxygen intake if you're just going to be more energized.
Ben: What percentage did you say for VO2Max?
Tero: 9 to 15% increase on untrained individuals.
Ben: Was that a study that you guys did?
Tero: No, no, a lot of the studies are out. Actually in the endurance world, it came out. I think it was '93 when the Chinese ladies won the 10K run. The first time, they ran below 30 minutes, and people were like, “oh, that's doping for sure”, and then they tested them and nothing came out, and the trainer just contributed their success on cordyceps. Obviously we will never know if it was doping or cordyceps or why, but that was when it came out. Later there's been a lot of studies. We've had a lot of actually users, and for example, one of our team members and partners is an Olympic-level cross country skier, so he also tested it on his own body. It's interesting, but obviously differs on per person and how high is your VO2Max already. ‘Cause if you're already plowing 65…
Ben: Yeah, 9 to 15% would be huge for a trained athlete.
Tero: Yeah, I mean for him as a cross country skier, if he can bump it up one or two milliliters, that's already huge 'cause he's already pushing the limit as a pro athlete. Athletes for a normal untrained individual, you can reap benefits a little more.
Ben: How about at altitude? I guess you hear a lot of Sherpas for example using mushroom extracts to help them when they're guiding people up Mount Everest. That's the fabled story. Is there any studies that have looked at difference in altitude performance when on versus not on something like cordyceps?
Tero: I haven't seen it, but it's really funny. I love to read about herbs and whole foods and kind of myths and lore and the old studies around them 'cause it gives you a little bit of an indication how you could potentially use them for your own body, and the story of cordyceps is that they originally found cordyceps as a good mushroom by looking at these yaks behind altitude grazing, and they were grazing and sluggish. But when they've been in the cordyceps high in the mountains, they would get all crazy and have this energy, and that's how the Sherpas learn how that they should incorporate the cordyceps into their diet when they're high in altitude. So that's where that comes from. If somebody knows a research about it, please let me know, but I haven't seen a western credible research on altitude, but I heard a lot of athletes use it when they go high up, but I haven't seen any systematic studies myself.
Ben: Gotcha, so in addition to reishi, chaga, cordyceps, a couple of others that I've seen in some of your products in particular, one is lion's mane, and it a pretty cool name. My kids love the name, by the way. They saw me drinking the lion's mane tea, and they wanted some, and I don't even know if I haven't given it to them 'cause I just want to ask you about its safety for children, but first, what is lion's mane and how would you use that?
Tero: Yeah, lion's mane is again growing on trees. You can find it in Maine, in Vermont. They have a lot of different names. It could be called Bearded Tube mushroom or whatever, Monkey Head mushroom, but it has one rare skill that the others don't have. Actually almost no food has a certain nervous system and memory support that it has. So it's obviously used for people who have Parkinson's and Alzheimer's type of things, but also for an athlete, it's actually interesting that recovering from muscular stress or lactic acid is pretty fast. You can do it in one to two days, but once you hit nervous system related damage or you overtrain or you do too many strains, it could last for months when you're just feeling lethargic. So I actually heard this from Dave Asprey that when you work out a lot, it's sometimes good to use lion's mane for the nervous system support.
Ben: Yeah, but he doesn't work out a lot, he works out five minutes a week.
Tero: I know, exactly. So I think a lot of brain workers use it, it's like a safe nootropic, so it's a safe smart drug, if you may. There's a really cool sixteen-week placebo, double-blinded studies on how it increases your memory on a memory game. It's very interesting for the brain.
Ben: So you could basically use lion's mane similar to a nootropic or a smart drug?
Tero: Exactly, so it's a safe version. Again as a whole food, it's not as strong as if you take one of those synthetic ones, but it's definitely something I as well noticed. I was calm and sustained, mental focusing clarity. I would use it more of brain function, and if you're truly doing a lot of strength and other things that doesn't probably hurt to use that to support your nervous system as well.
Ben: Is that stuff safe for kids, like any of these mushrooms that we're talking about?
Tero: Yeah, they're food. They're not actually even supplement, they're genuinely recorded as safe though I would tell you especially things like lion's mane, shiitake, reishi are very safe for kids. Obviously kids are smaller human being, so dosages might be smaller at the same way as you want to be mindful of how much they eat anything. You want to be mindful of this, and you maybe use them and rotate them a bit more. So have different kinds of, I don't like to use the word superfood per say, but these superfoods be it goji berries or schisandra or whatever, just have them take smaller dosages and rotate them a bit more, but yes. Kids could definitely use mushrooms as well.
Ben: What’s the difference 'cause there's two other mushrooms that you have? So we talked about cordyceps and chaga and reishi and lion's mane. What's the difference between shiitake and maitake for mushrooms?
Tero: They all are Ninja Turtles which is my way of saying, they're all for the immune system. What's interesting about shiitake and maitake is maitake is used for a lot of people who are diabetics. They do the hard work, but it's an Alpha Glucosidase inhibitor, so basically helps to balance your blood sugar. So if you're eating a lot because of your training or XYZ, your blood sugar might go up and down, and keeping its balance has a lot of health benefits to it.
Ben: Have you ever tested that? Have you ever done a postprandial blood glucose to see if it actually keeps your blood glucose low?
Tero: I actually haven't, I've heard people do it, but I haven't personally done it. All I've seen is the research on it, but that would be very interesting to do it on myself as well.
Ben: Yeah, I've done that before with bitter melon extract, and I've noticed my postprandial go down by fifteen to twenty points when I take bitter melon extract a half hour before carbohydrate-containing meals. So I know some of this stuff can work. I'd be interested, it's shiitake that we're talking about right now, right?
Tero: Now this is maitake.
Ben: Okay, so maitake would be for balancing blood sugar?
Tero: Yeah, and shiitake is very interesting as far as, we by the way combine the shiitake with schisandra berries and dandelion, but one and two phases of liver stalks, liver being a mirror to our skin health and natural beauty, so having cleansing the liver is good for your skin health and natural beauty as well.
Tero: Yeah, I mean liver has multiple function as burning fat is one, but also cleansing your body from toxins, and if you have a cleaner liver, you're probably going to have cleaner skin as well. So you should look into things like schizandra and dandelion and shiitake as well, but it is obviously more of a detox mushroom. It's also yummy in soups, and maitake is ridiculously tasty if you fry it in a pan with butter, or ghee or something like that.
Ben: Yeah, I've never cooked with maitake before. I've cooked with shiitake, and I've put that in mushrooms, and it's pretty dang tasty stuff. Now this stuff that we're talking about with you, it's not the actual mushrooms, it's powdered. That actually gives me a little bit of pause because usually if I see something powdered in most cases it's been heated or it's been heat dried or it's been basically had the crap blasted out of it to actually get it into this dense powdered form from its whole food form. And what I'm curious about is when… you were telling me before we recorded that you're going out to the park in California, and you're going to be looking for mushrooms and when you get a mushroom and you turn it into a powdered extract like this, how are you actually doing that? How is it going from a mushroom to getting into this packet?
Tero: I thought that was a very good question, so I'm a believer in whole foods which I've already told fifteen times on this call. So whole foods need a little bit, minimally processed. Obviously whatever you eat, you need some kind of processing, be it an animal product, bone broth, whatever. Chopping a tomato requires some processing to it. So in this case, mushrooms, especially these polypores, these tree mushrooms, they have these Titin layer which is basically this extremely hard substance.
Ben: Titin, like T-I-T-I-N?
Tero: Yeah, and it's also in shrimps or crab fish in the shell. It's like the hard substance, and our body cannot penetrate that. So eating chaga or reishi raw is totally not bioavailable. So if there's one non-raw food that raw food people and raw food experts always eat, it's these mushrooms. So they don't eat the mushrooms raw because they have no biovailability. So raw mushrooms, unless they're edible mushrooms like portobello and whatnot, these have no real nutritional value. So these medicinal mushrooms require breaking this titin layer out, and you can break it in two ways, and both of them have their pros and cons. One is boiling it in hot water. This is what most indigenous cultures would do, and there's a lot of old writings about it, but you would take the mushrooms from the forest, you would take the fruiting body, you put it in a pot and you would boil it, and you would have this black dark tea that looks a little bit like coffee. And you would drink it, and that boiling extract into the water from the actual mushroom are the health beneficial polysaccharides mostly.
So most of the immune system support comes from boiling in hot water, and then you could put it in alcohol, so a tincture. I'm sure everybody's seen whole foods and whatnot. Tincture bottles, they're group also breaking down this titin layer and extracting more of these fats soluble compounds like the triterpines that I mentioned before, and those are also good. Now what we do is we do a similar extraction, so we do both and we combine it, and the end result doesn't have any alcohol. It gets evaporated, but it's good to understand that in this case, the mushrooms would not be bioavailable without doing something to them. And obviously, anybody could go for chaga themselves, trying to eat it and see how it feels, but it's like tree. It's like hard matter.
Ben: You see that a lot in nature, and I've had people on the podcast before talking about Paleo for example and how the problem is not eating wheat or consuming dairy. It's consuming for example dairy that hasn't been fermented, or wheat that hasn't been soaped and sprouted or fermented or dried, and so you look at a lot of these things that appear to have bioactive compounds like you talked about how mushrooms have these beta-glucans and some of these other components that can potentially be anti-carcinogenic or help out with immune system, but what you're saying is that when they're protected with this tightened compound that they're actually kind of similar to how wheat can be indigestible, either indigestible or unabsorbable.
Tero: Absolutely, so whole foods doesn't mean no processing. All the foods need to be processed the minimal amount to get the bioavailability, and I think we can learn a lot from, in this case, the Paleo community on looking how indigenous cultures have used. Particularly the grains or mushrooms and learn about that, and obviously the modern science supports that used case. So you would look mushroom extracts versus raw mushroom powder. Unless you're eating nutritional mushrooms, portobello and all those things. Then you're eating more for the protein or the carbohydrates whereas the lot of these mushrooms, you'd eat for more medicinal health supporting benefits outside of macronutrients.
Ben: I want to ask you a question, more of a flavor and product question because like I've already mentioned a few times, I've tried a lot of your guy's stuff that you've just basically sent to me to try, and one of them was my absolute favorite, and it was chocolate. I'm a sucker for just about anything that's chocolatey, and this was a chocolate shot that had herbs and mushrooms added to it. I think it's called Zoko or Coco? How's it pronounced?
Ben: Zoko, okay, so what did you put in this stuff?
Tero: Like you actually said in the beginning, our point is to democratize or popularize or normalize the consumption of mushrooms for modern people, so one of the challenges is they're hard to use, so you would actually have to boil them for twelve to twenty-four hours, and put it in this alcohol for six weeks and whatnot. So we treat on that for people. The other problem with it is what you just raised now which is flavor. Once you use the real fruiting bodies on the wild crafted or lab formed products, it's extremely bitter. And we as modern citizens, have taught ourselves not to enjoy bitter flavors that much. We've removed a lot of bitter things from our diet and replaced it with sugary stuff, right? But the two bitters that people still love is coffee and hot chocolate. So while we already started making these products for more of the hardcore consumer, some of them is like a total whole foods fanatic, but then we realized that it's actually if you want to help people get excited about this, we need to work on the flavor, and here we've combined the product that you mentioned, Zoko.
We combine it with hot chocolate, so we basically made an upgraded Swiss Miss, if you may, were you just add hot water and you have an on-the-go hot chocolate where we've hidden these mushrooms and bigger than the cacao is a stronger bitter flavor. It tastes like a hot chocolate, but you're still going to get the benefits of the mushrooms. And now the product that you just got in the mail, the mushroom coffee. Another bitter thing that our society likes and actually mushrooms like chaga has been used as coffee substitutes during the Second World War where there was lack of zesty coffee beans, so they have synergistic benefits with cacao and coffee and lower in acidity of the coffee or supporting adrenals, but also it's a great way of hiding them from people who are not yet used to drinking things. How would you describe the flavor of the chaga, cordyceps and reishi that you tried separately versus the hot chocolate?
Ben: Oh yeah, I mean it's bitter. That's one of the first things I look for, right? When I'm looking at a compound is how much cane sugar has been added to it to make it taste good. It doesn't seem like you're using a lot of sugar. This coffee is just coffee, it's Arabica coffee, chaga and cordyceps, there's only three ingredients.
Tero: Yeah, it doesn't have any sweetener in it. Obviously if you want to add, some people do drink their coffee.
Ben: Well I have to admit, I actually added chocolate stevia. (laughs)
Tero: Yeah, I mean, so that's fine. The mushroom drinks that are straight up super bitter, we've added a couple of the product stevia. Some don't have it, some do have it, and then all the chocolate shots, we've added few grams of coconut palm sugar, so that would be a quarter of an apple worth of low GI sweetener because the cacao and the coconut otherwise work so well, but we've tried to find product for any diet, any flavor preference for people. And obviously, you can add it to your smoothie or your cooking, so if you want a flavor. We try to avoid sweeteners in this case because like you said, mushrooms have been used against things like cancer and other things like that, and they feed on sugar. So us adding sugar to one of these products would be counterproductive to the functional purposes that we're trying to reach by using them.
Ben: Plus I wouldn't even have you on the show if you were adding a bunch of sugar to stuff. Like I said, that's one of the first things I look for. I've been taking a lot of notes as we're talking. If you're listening in, you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/mushrooms, and if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/mushrooms, there's a few things. First of all, there's all the show notes and all the links and everything that I've been keeping as I've been talking with Tero, but then the other thing is that Four Sigma is giving anybody who listens in 15% off any of this stuff. So if you want to try the Zoko chocolate cordyceps chaga stuff, or you want to try this mushroom coffee or you want to try maitake and do the blood sugar experiment or cordyceps, lion's mane, reishi, chaga, it's all there. They're just these tea packets, and actually Tero, do you have to mix them with hot water or do they still work if you just like a few times, I've put it in cold water with ice. Are they not efficacious if you do that?
Tero: No, the same health benefits would apply and they're bioavailable, but the thing is just like any powder in cold water requires shaking, so either use a shaker bottle or a blender or something like that.
Ben: I've just been stirring it up crazy with a spoon, and I just like stuff cold sometimes especially in the afternoon or after workout. I don't really like to drink hot stuff, so you can mix it up hot or cold. Alright, well cool, so bengreenfieldfitness.com/mushrooms is where you can check this stuff out. You can get a big, fat 15% discount on the stuff from Four Sigma Foods. It's definitely got my stamp of approval. I've been digging it, I've been using it. I actually was drinking right before this instead of my usual morning dark, black cup of aero-pressed coffee. I drank this powdered blend of Arabica and chaga mushroom and cordyceps, and I've not experienced any explosive diarrhea during today's podcast episode, so that's always a sign of approval.
Ben: So that's a perfect note to end on huh. Tero, thanks for coming on and sharing this stuff with us, man. This is really cool.
Tero: My pleasure, and hopefully people will get excited and give mushrooms a chance as well.
Ben: Yeah, give those mushrooms a chance. Alright, well this is Ben Greenfield and Tero from Four Sigma Foods signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com/mushrooms. Have a healthy week.
Before I recorded today's podcast, I skipped my usual morning dark, black cup of aero-pressed coffee, and instead opted for something called “mushroom coffee”, which is a powdered blend of arabica coffee, chaga mushroom and cordyceps extract.
So could drinking a tea made out of a specific mushroom lower your stress levels? Or even choosing to top your risotto with champions help prevent you from cancer? Out of the 150,000 known species of fungi about 300 have shown a wide variety of medicinal properties. Some “‘shrooms” have a hormonal balancing effect and some enhance the immune system, just to give a few examples.
So today, with Tero Isokauppila, the Co-Founder and President of Four Sigma Foods, we take a deep dive into these type of medicinal mushroom extracts, and you'll discover…
-The story behind Four Sigma Foods and how Tero got so interested in mushrooms…
-The important difference between a medicinal mushroom and a regular mushroom…
-How big pharmaceutical companies use mushrooms (and the mistake they make)…
-The best mushroom extract to use for stress…
-The best mushroom extract to use for immune system…
-The best mushroom extract to use for balancing blood sugar…
-The best mushroom extract to use for liver detox…
-The crazy story of where cordyceps mushroom extract actually comes from…
-Why most mushroom products are ineffective because they are grown on grain or rice and are simply full of starch rather than the beneficial bioactive compounds…
-Whether you should take mushroom extracts on an empty stomach or take with a meal…
-If adaptogens and mushrooms are safe for kids…
-The process via which a mushroom is harvested and then turned into something like a powdered extract or a tea…
-Whether you need to heat mushroom extract, or if you can simply add it to cold water…
Tero Isokauppila is the Co-Founder and President of Four Sigma Foods. Four Sigma Foods is a startup dedicated to democratizing the healing powers of mushrooms by making them accessible to everyone. The company currently sells superfood teas, mushroom-infused coffees and mushroom chocolates, and you can use discount code “ben-greenfield” to get 15% off anything from Four Sigma Foods.