The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance

Sasha Williams

Updated

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It’s 3 PM. The brain fog is real.

All you want to do is curl up under the covers and zone out… but life has other plans for you.

As you force yourself to slog through the remainder of your day, you can’t help but wonder– Why do I feel so bad?

Brain fog, fatigue, and depression are serious, widespread problems in today’s breakneck-paced, over-stimulated, toxin-filled world. 

Even if you have the perfect healthy lifestyle, your brain may still need some more intensive support to function optimally in today’s modern environment. 

In A Hurry? Here Are My Recommended Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance

All these nootropic mushroom supplements contain organic 100% fruiting body mushrooms, extracted to maximize beta-glucans content:

The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 2Thrive 6 Mushroom Complex by FreshCap MushroomsMushroom Blend*Check Price on Amazon
The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 3Lion’s Mane Mushroom Extract Capsules by FreshCap MushroomsLion’s ManeCheck Price on Amazon
The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 4Reishi 415 by Real MushroomsReishiCheck Price on Amazon
The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 5Hero2 by FreshCap MushroomsCordycepsCheck Price on Amazon
The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 6Maitake Mushroom Capsules by Nootropics DepotMaitakeCheck Price on Amazon
The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 7Organic Siberian Chaga Extract Capsules by Real MushroomsChagaCheck Price on Amazon

Mushrooms are having a well-deserved moment. This extensively-researched superfood provides a host of nootropic, or brain-boosting, benefits– from mood enhancement to stress relief to improved learning and memory.  

This article will focus on the 5 most researched nootropic mushroom extracts that have been proven to enhance cognitive performance and emotional wellbeing, along with suggestions for my favorite high quality nootropic mushroom supplements. 

Disclaimer: This article is intended for general informational purposes only. Topics discussed are based on my own personal experiences and opinions, and are not representative of what your experience may be. There is no medical advice in this article, nor anywhere else on this website. Always check with your doctor before taking any supplement of any kind. 

What Are Nootropic Mushrooms?

The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 8

While most edible mushrooms are highly nutritious, offering antioxidant and immune support, nootropic mushrooms have been found to provide additional cognitive-enhancing benefits. 

Nootropic mushrooms benefit the neurological system in a variety of ways, including: 

  • Stimulating the repair and growth of nerve cells
  • Reducing inflammation in the brain that may lead to neural degeneration
  • Increasing oxygen availability to the brain and nervous system
  • Activating dopamine and serotonin pathways in the brain to improve mood and focus

It’s important to understand that scientific research into the nootropic effects of edible mushrooms on humans is still in its infancy. Most studies have been done on mice or in vitro, and many of the human studies have used methodologies considered imperfect.

Nonetheless, the evidence is clear that certain edible mushrooms have a great deal of promise when it comes to delivering nootropic benefits. This article will cover five of the most-researched nootropic mushrooms:

  • Lion’s Mane
  • Cordyceps
  • Chaga
  • Reishi
  • Maitake

What Makes A High Quality Mushroom Extract?

Mushroom Supplements

Are you wondering what to look for in a mushroom extract, and overwhelmed by the number of options out there? You’re certainly not alone. 

There are thousands of mushroom extracts available on the market, and they are not all created equal. 

Most mushroom supplements are powdered extracts made by grinding raw mushrooms and then cooking in water, and sometimes alcohol, to release the beneficial compounds. 

Cultivation and extraction techniques vary widely, which has a big impact on the final product’s efficacy and purity, so let’s discuss what makes a high quality mushroom supplement.

Mycelium vs. Fruiting Body Mushroom Extracts

The fruiting body is what most people think of when they think of mushrooms– the highly visible, nutritionally-rich mushroom itself, stem and cap. 

But did you know that mushrooms also have networks of root-like mycelium that connect fruiting bodies within a larger mushroom colony? 

Most mushroom supplements are extracted from mycelium, which is cheaper to produce but robs you of the highly concentrated active compounds found in fruiting body mushrooms. Simply put, fruiting bodies are more potent. 

For this reason, 100% fruiting body mushroom extracts are always recommended over mycelium-containing products. 

Concentration of Beta-Glucans

Beta-glucans are responsible for the immunity-boosting properties of mushrooms (1). While not directly related to cognitive enhancement and other nootropic benefits, it would be remiss not to mention this critically important, extensively researched compound. 

The best mushroom suppliers test their products to verify high beta-glucan content, and are transparent about the exact percentage of beta-glucans present in the extract.  

Hot Water Extraction vs. Dual Extraction

In the mushroom community, there’s quite a bit of debate about the merits of hot water extraction compared to dual extraction (water and alcohol extraction.)

Hot water extraction is a safe and effective technique for distilling water-soluble compounds (like beta-glucans). However, while alcohol extraction does unlock compounds that are not water soluble (like terpenes and sterols), it can also reduce the efficacy of the extracted water soluble compounds. 

In general, it’s recommended to go with dual extraction for Reishi and Chaga supplements, because the terpenes and sterols found in those mushrooms are of medicinal importance. For other nootropic mushrooms, such as Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Maitake, hot water extraction is preferable.

Conventional vs. Organic Mushroom Extracts

Just as conventional produce can introduce harmful chemicals into your diet, non-organic mushroom supplements also contain traces of pesticides, fertilizer, and other artificial additives. Additionally, mycelium-based products contain the substrate upon which the mushrooms were grown (often sawdust or grain), potentially introducing more unwanted chemicals.

It’s important to always seek organic, non-GMO mushroom extracts made from whole, fruiting body mushrooms to ensure you are enjoying the nootropic benefits of mushrooms without putting damaging toxins into your body. 

Location and Labor Concerns

We should all care about where our food comes from and who worked to produce it– and that includes our nutritional supplements.

My favorite mushroom extract brand uses mushrooms harvested in China, but the owners of the company are very open and transparent about why they prefer Chinese farmers and how this results in a higher quality supplement for the consumer. They have a long, mutually respectful relationship with their partners in China, which means a lot to me as a consumer. 

The bottom line is to do your research on brand values and manufacturing operations before buying any supplement. Geographical origin does not guarantee quality. Global supply chains are complex, so it’s important to understand how the products you consume are grown, harvested, and processed.

Nootropic Mushroom #1: Lion’s Mane

Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus

The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 9

Cutting a striking silhouette with its full, shaggy white “mane,” Lion’s Mane has been consumed by Buddhhist monks for centuries, and offers a vast range of science-backed benefits– particularly nootropic benefits. 

What are the Nootropic Benefits of Lion’s Mane?

  • Lion’s Mane is neuroprotective. This mushroom contains erinacines, which have been shown to increase NGF (nerve growth factor) levels in the brain, encouraging nerve regeneration while delaying neural cell death (2).
  • Lion’s Mane improves focus and mood (3) for many people who consume this superfood, including alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety. 
  • Lion’s Mane may improve mild cognitive impairment (4), often considered a risk factor for more serious neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • Lion’s Mane offers a high concentration of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which helps protect all cells against oxidative damage– including brain cells (5), (6)

What is the Best Lion’s Mane Extract? 

My absolute favorite Lion’s Mane supplement is FreshCap Lion’s Mane Mushroom Extract Capsules!

FreshCap Lion's Mane Mushroom Extract Capsules

This supplement is extracted from organic, whole, handpicked fruiting body Lion’s Mane mushrooms. FreshCap rigorously tests their supplements for potency, and its Lion’s Mane extract does not disappoint– its composition has been verified to contain over 25% beta-d glucans, the most beneficial active compound in Lion’s Mane.

Nootropic Mushroom #2: Reishi

Scientific name: Ganoderma lucidum

The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 10

Reishi remains one of the most popular and mysterious nootropic mushrooms, and has been used by Buddhist monks for thousands of years. 

With promising data on anti-cancer properties(7) and immune modulation mechanisms(8), Reishi also offers impressive nootropic benefits. 

What are the Nootropic Benefits of Reishi?

  • Reishi may increase feelings of wellbeing in subjects with mood disorders. (9)
  • Reishi can help treat hypertension, reducing blood pressure and increasing blood flow to the brain (10).
  • Reishi improves learning and memory outcomes in lab mice (11).
  • Reishi is neuroprotective, encouraging the growth and longevity of nerve cells, especially in patients with neurodegenerative illness (12)

What is the Best Reishi Extract? 

In my opinion, the clear winner here is Reishi 415 by Real Mushrooms.

The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 11

Using the dual extraction method to unlock abundant beta-glucans, terpenes, and sterols, this supplement is made from whole fruiting body organic reishi mushrooms. With the final product independently tested for beta-glucans and triterpenes, you can be confident that you’re receiving maximum benefits from this extract.

Reishi is known to have a bitter taste that many consider unpleasant. For this reason, capsules are a bit easier to take than the raw powder. Only you know your own personal preferences– so choose wisely. (Luckily, Reishi 415 is available in both forms.)

Nootropic Mushroom #3: Cordyceps

Scientific name: Cordyceps militaris, Cordyceps sinensis, etc.

The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 12

Many people don’t realize that “Cordyceps” is actually a genus containing over 400 fungi species!

The two most popular Cordyceps mushrooms for nootropic supplements are Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.

Lab-cultivated Cordyceps militaris has been shown to contain higher levels of Cordycepin, the unique bio-active compound responsible for the anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective benefits of Cordyceps.

What are the Nootropic Benefits of Cordyceps?

  • Cordyceps has anti-depressant properties, and has reduced depression-like behavior in mice (13).
  • Cordyceps improves memory and learning, particularly in situations of temporary cognitive impairment (14).
  • Cordyceps reduces fatigue and inhibits stress responses (15).
  • Cordyceps enhances ATP generation, resulting in increased energy and endurance (16).
  • Cordyceps regulates sleep, increasing theta (θ) waves power density during nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Theta waves are considered essential for the brain to process information and make memories (17).
  • Cordyceps is neuroprotective, preventing neural cell death caused by ischemia (inadequate blood supply), resulting in improved memory outcomes (18)

What is the Best Cordyceps Extract? 

This was a difficult choice… so it’s a tie between Hero2 by FreshCap Mushrooms and Cordyceps-M by Real Mushrooms!

Both of these products are exceptional, made from organic whole fruiting body cordyceps militaris mushrooms, and offering verified beta-glucan levels of over 25%. Cordyceps-M promises slightly more Cordycepin per serving, at over 0.3% (versus over 0.2% for Hero2).

You really can’t go wrong choosing either of these cordyceps extracts. While I prefer capsules, Cordyceps powder is revered by many as a flavorful coffee substitute and versatile mix-in ingredient for many other recipes.

Nootropic Mushroom #4: Maitake

Scientific name: Grifola frondosa

Wild maitake mushrooms

Also called “hen of the woods,” Maitake mushrooms are considered a culinary delicacy, in addition to being a medicinal powerhouse.

Much of the hype around Maitake mushrooms focuses on immune support, blood sugar regulation, and cholesterol regulation. However, Maitake also offers promising nootropic benefits that are still in the early stages of research.

What are the Nootropic Benefits of Maitake?

  • Maitake promotes neurite outgrowth, helping regenerate damaged nervous system tissue and forge new neural pathways (19)
  • Maitake protects against aging-related memory impairment (20).
  • Maitake has long-lasting anti-depressant effects (21).

What is the Best Maitake Extract? 

While standalone Maitake extracts are a bit rarer than other mushroom supplements, the Maitake Mushroom Capsules by Nootropics Depot certainly checks all the boxes for quality.

The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 15

Made from 100% organic whole fruiting body mushrooms, this product has been verified to contain over 30% beta-glucans!

Nootropic Mushroom #5: Chaga

Scientific name: Inonotus obliquus

Wild chaga mushroom

While not the prettiest mushroom on the list, Chaga is one of the most potent medicinal mushrooms available as an extract.

Chaga is unique because it does not have a fruiting body; it is comprised of a mycelium growth that forms on birch trees in cold climates.

What are the Nootropic Benefits of Chaga?

  • Chaga protects cells from oxidative stress and aging-related damage, including in the brain (22).
  • Chaga improves learning and memory, particularly during temporary impairment (23)
  • Chaga supports your gut microbiome (24), believed by some experts to be closely tied to your overall mood and cognitive capacity (25).

What is the Best Chaga Extract? 

My favorite Chaga supplement is the Organic Siberian Chaga Extract Capsules by Real Mushrooms.

The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 16

Unlike other mushrooms, Chaga must be extracted from its mycelium (sclerotia), which grows naturally on birch trees and contains a high concentration of Chaga’s bio-active compounds. For this reason, it’s essential to use wild Chaga to ensure optimal nutrient density, and that’s exactly why Real Mushrooms uses wild Siberian Chaga in this extract.

You may notice this product is not dual-extracted. In this case, hot water extraction is sufficient because Real Mushrooms also includes the raw Chaga material– so nothing is lost. This product has been independently verified to contain over 8% beta-glucans, which is the industry standard for Chaga.

And the #1 BEST Nootropic Mushroom Extract Is….

Let’s be real– Not everyone wants to take 5 separate mushroom supplements in order to enjoy the myriad nootropic benefits listed above.

While blended supplement products can sometimes be hit-or-miss, I strongly believe the following mushroom extract blend is a world-class product, offering the best physiological and nootropic benefits of several medicinal mushroom varieties.

And the winner is…. Thrive 6 Mushroom Complex by FreshCap Mushrooms!

The 5 Best Mushroom Extracts for Cognitive Performance 17

Containing extracts from Lions Mane, Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, Maitake, and Turkey Tail mushrooms, Thrive 6 is held to the same stringent quality standards that FreshCap maintains for all their products. Made from 100% organic whole fruiting body mushrooms (except for the Chaga, as we learned above), Thrive 6 is guaranteed to contain over 28% beta-glucans.

Available in capsule and powder form, this potent nootropic mushroom blend can help relieve brain fog, improve symptoms of depression, increase energy and endurance, and regulate immune functions.

Taking the product has changed my life and exceeded all my expectations. Within a few weeks of consistent dosing, I stopped feeling drowsy and slow in the afternoons. I’ve been consistently able to be more productive, present, and engaged throughout the day. And I personally have experienced zero negative side effects.

It’s safe to say– I’m in love with Thrive 6!

Common Questions about Nootropic Mushroom Extracts

Do mushroom extracts taste bad? 

Actually– many people think mushroom extracts taste quite good!

Lion’s Mane has a chocolate-y flavor, while Reishi can be a little more earthy and bitter. Overall, mushroom powders tend to have a savory, umami taste. Nootropic mushroom powders are often mixed into coffee, smoothies, and soups.

If you’re concerned about not tolerating the taste of mushrooms extracts, you can do what I do and take mushroom supplements in capsule form. Not only am I a picky eater, but I’m often moving quickly and traveling a lot for work. Mushroom capsules are perfect for my type of lifestyle.

How quickly will I experience benefits after I start taking nootropic mushroom extracts?

Mushroom supplements are not a magical wonder drug. It takes time to experience the full nootropic benefits of these mushroom extracts– usually around 6 to 8 weeks.

However, many people begin noticing a subtle difference in the very first week of taking mushroom supplements! The bottom line is, if you want to enjoy the full spectrum of benefits, plan to take mushroom extracts consistently over a long period of time.

What are the side effects of nootropic mushroom extracts? 

Some have reported that reishi mushrooms, when consumed in high concentrations over a long period of time, can lead to liver damage in some subjects. More research is needed, but to be on the safe side, feel free to avoid reishi or use sparingly until the scientific evidence is more clear.

With regards to the other mushroom extracts mentioned in this article, while there have not been widely documented negative side effects, treading carefully is wise when trying any nutritional supplement. Always check with your doctor before taking new mushroom supplements.

Will nootropic mushroom extracts get me high? 

“High” is a very subjective term. It can certainly be argued that the subtle cognitive and mood enhancements offered by nootropic mushrooms are an “altered state.” However, commercial mushroom supplements will not produce any strong hallucinations or mood swings. 

Why mushroom extracts, and not fresh mushrooms? 

Many medicinal mushrooms only grow in remote areas, and cultivating them in a lab often reduces the efficacy and concentration of beta-glucans, terpenes, and other bio-active compounds.

For this reason, most reputable mushroom extract brands choose to work with traditional mushroom cultivation partners based in Asia and Russia.

Unfortunately, raw whole mushrooms are very delicate and spoil easily once harvested. For the average Western consumer, it’s best to consume high quality mushroom extracts, either in powder or capsule form.

Is mushroom powder better than mushroom capsules?

There’s no significant difference between mushroom powder and mushroom capsules.

Mushroom powder tends to be a little less expensive, as the extra step of putting the powder into capsules is not required. However, some consider mushroom powder inconvenient, as it needs to be mixed into food or drinks in a sanitary setting.

Mushroom capsules, while a bit pricier, offer a lot of flexibility for someone with a fast-paced lifestyle. I take a big shot glass of vitamins and supplements before bed each night, including mushroom extract capsules.

Choose the product that’s best for your lifestyle, and rest assured– if it’s one of the products on this list, you are enjoying a world class mushroom extract optimized for potency, purity, and quality.

Conclusion

As more people embrace natural solutions in pursuit of holistic wellness, mushrooms are now recognized as a powerful tool for showing up as your best self in this life.

Nootropic mushrooms in particular offer the cognitive, energetic, and mood support needed to thrive in today’s fast-paced, stressful world.

If you are tired of living with persistent brain fog, fatigue, or stress, I highly recommend that you consider incorporating nootropic mushroom extracts into your holistic wellness routine.

Your future self will thank you.

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  1. Volman, J. J., Helsper, J. P., Wei, S., Baars, J. J., van Griensven, L. J., Sonnenberg, A. S., Mensink, R. P., & Plat, J. (2010). Effects of mushroom-derived beta-glucan-rich polysaccharide extracts on nitric oxide production by bone marrow-derived macrophages and nuclear factor-kappaB transactivation in Caco-2 reporter cells: can effects be explained by structure?. Molecular nutrition & food research, 54(2), 268–276. https://doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.200900009
  2. Li, I. C., Lee, L. Y., Tzeng, T. T., Chen, W. P., Chen, Y. P., Shiao, Y. J., & Chen, C. C. (2018). Neurohealth Properties of Hericium erinaceus Mycelia Enriched with Erinacines. Behavioural neurology, 2018, 5802634. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/5802634
  3. Nagano, M., Shimizu, K., Kondo, R., Hayashi, C., Sato, D., Kitagawa, K., & Ohnuki, K. (2010). Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomedical research (Tokyo, Japan), 31(4), 231–237. https://doi.org/10.2220/biomedres.31.231
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  5. Noorlidah Abdullah, Siti Marjiana Ismail, Norhaniza Aminudin, Adawiyah Suriza Shuib, Beng Fye Lau, “Evaluation of Selected Culinary-Medicinal Mushrooms for Antioxidant and ACE Inhibitory Activities”, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2012, Article ID 464238, 12 pages, 2012.https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/464238
  6. Lee, K. F., Chen, J. H., Teng, C. C., Shen, C. H., Hsieh, M. C., Lu, C. C., Lee, K. C., Lee, L. Y., Chen, W. P., Chen, C. C., Huang, W. S., & Kuo, H. C. (2014). Protective effects of Hericium erinaceus mycelium and its isolated erinacine A against ischemia-injury-induced neuronal cell death via the inhibition of iNOS/p38 MAPK and nitrotyrosine. International journal of molecular sciences, 15(9), 15073–15089. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms150915073
  7. Gao, Yihuai & Zhou, Shufeng (2003). Cancer Prevention and Treatment by Ganoderma, a Mushroom with Medicinal Properties. Food Reviews International, 19:3, 275-325, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1081/FRI-120023480
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  9. Tang, W., Gao, Y., Chen, G., Gao, H., Dai, X., Ye, J., Chan, E., Huang, M., & Zhou, S. (2005). A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract in neurasthenia. Journal of medicinal food, 8(1), 53–58. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2005.8.53
  10. Shevelev, O. B., Seryapina, A. A., Zavjalov, E. L., Gerlinskaya, L. A., Goryachkovskaya, T. N., Slynko, N. M., Kuibida, L. V., Peltek, S. E., Markel, A. L., & Moshkin, M. P. (2018). Hypotensive and neurometabolic effects of intragastric Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) administration in hypertensive ISIAH rat strain. Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology, 41, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2018.01.013
  11. Khatian, N., Aslam, M. Effect of Ganoderma lucidum on memory and learning in mice. Clin Phytosci 5, 4 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40816-019-0101-7
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