What are Polysaccharides, Triterpenes, and Antioxidants?

What are Polysaccharides, Triterpenes, and Antioxidants?

Key Takeaways

  • Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates that boost immune function and provide energy.
  • Triterpenes have anti-inflammatory and adaptogenic properties, helping the body manage stress.
  • Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, potentially slowing aging processes.
  • These compounds are found in high concentrations in many medicinal mushrooms.
  • Each compound offers unique health benefits, contributing to the overall therapeutic effects of mushrooms.
  • The synergistic action of these compounds may enhance their individual benefits.
  • Mushroom Works offers high-quality supplements harnessing these beneficial compounds.


In the fascinating world of functional mushrooms, three key groups of compounds often come up when discussing the effective compounds within them: polysaccharides, triterpenes, and antioxidants. These natural substances form the backbone of many mushrooms' therapeutic effects, working in harmony to support various aspects of human health. But what exactly are these compounds, and how do they contribute to the myriad benefits associated with medicinal mushrooms? Let's embark on a deep dive into the chemistry, mechanisms, and potential health impacts of these powerful fungal components.

Polysaccharides: The Complex Carbohydrates

What are Polysaccharides?

Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates composed of long chains of monosaccharides (simple sugars) linked together by glycosidic bonds. Unlike simple sugars that provide quick energy, polysaccharides offer a range of health benefits beyond basic nutrition. In medicinal mushrooms, polysaccharides, particularly beta-glucans, are some of the most studied and beneficial compounds.

Chemical Structure and Types

The structure of polysaccharides can vary widely, leading to different types with unique properties:

  1. Beta-glucans: These are the most well-known polysaccharides in medicinal mushrooms. They consist of glucose molecules linked by beta-glycosidic bonds.
  2. Alpha-glucans: Similar to beta-glucans but with alpha-glycosidic bonds, these are less common in mushrooms but still present in some species.
  3. Heteropolysaccharides: These contain different types of monosaccharides and are often found alongside glucans in mushrooms.

How do they work in mushrooms?

In medicinal mushrooms, polysaccharides are primarily found in the cell walls. They serve several functions for the mushroom:

  1. Structural support
  2. Energy storage
  3. Protection against environmental stressors

When consumed by humans, these polysaccharides interact with our immune system in various ways.

Benefits of Polysaccharides:

  1. Immune System Support: Beta-glucans are known as biological response modifiers. They can:
    • Activate macrophages and natural killer cells
    • Enhance the production of cytokines
    • Stimulate the proliferation of T-lymphocytes
  2. A comprehensive review published in the journal Nutrients in 2020 highlighted the immune-modulating effects of mushroom beta-glucans [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7146414/].
  3. Gut Health: Some polysaccharides act as prebiotics, feeding beneficial gut bacteria and supporting digestive health. A 2019 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences explored this connection [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521775/].
  4. Blood Sugar Regulation: Certain polysaccharides may help stabilize blood sugar levels. A 2015 review in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules discussed this potential [https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S014181301500263X].
  5. Anti-tumor Properties: Some studies suggest that mushroom polysaccharides may have anti-tumor effects. A 2018 review in Frontiers in Pharmacology explored this topic [https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2018.01352/full].

Mushrooms Rich in Polysaccharides:

Triterpenes: The Adaptogenic Compounds

What are Triterpenes?

Triterpenes are a class of organic compounds composed of three terpene units, with the molecular formula C30H48. They're found in many plants and fungi and are known for their bitter taste and medicinal properties.

Chemical Structure and Types

Triterpenes have a complex structure based on six isoprene units. Some common types found in medicinal mushrooms include:

  1. Ganoderic acids: Predominantly found in Reishi mushrooms
  2. Lucidenic acids: Also found in Reishi
  3. Betulinic acid: Present in Chaga mushrooms
  4. Inotodiol: Another compound found in Chaga

How do they work in mushrooms?

In medicinal mushrooms, triterpenes contribute to many of the adaptogenic properties - helping the body adapt to stress and maintain balance. They're particularly abundant in certain mushroom species like Reishi and Chaga.

Benefits of Triterpenes:

  1. Stress Reduction: Triterpenes can help modulate the body's stress response, potentially reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. A 2019 study in Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy explored this effect in Ganoderma lucidum triterpenes [https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332218345657].
  2. Anti-inflammatory Effects: Many triterpenes have potent anti-inflammatory properties. A 2018 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences discussed this aspect [https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/19/4/1114].
  3. Liver Support: Some triterpenes have been shown to support liver function and may help protect against liver damage. A 2013 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology examined this property [https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278691513001038].
  4. Cardiovascular Health: Certain triterpenes may help lower cholesterol levels and support heart health. A 2016 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences explored this potential [https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/17/12/1987].
  5. Neuroprotective Effects: Some research suggests triterpenes may have neuroprotective properties. A 2017 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences investigated this [https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/18/8/1659].

Mushrooms Rich in Triterpenes:

  • Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
  • Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
  • Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
  • Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)

Antioxidants: The Cellular Protectors

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are molecules that can neutralize harmful free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells, leading to aging and various diseases.

Chemical Structure and Types

Antioxidants found in medicinal mushrooms include:

  1. Phenolic compounds: These include flavonoids and phenolic acids
  2. Ergothioneine: A unique antioxidant found in high concentrations in some mushrooms
  3. Glutathione: A potent antioxidant produced by the body but also found in some mushrooms
  4. Selenium: A mineral with antioxidant properties present in some mushroom species

How do they work in mushrooms?

Medicinal mushrooms produce antioxidants as part of their defense mechanism against environmental stress. When consumed, these antioxidants can offer similar protective benefits to humans.

Benefits of Antioxidants:

  1. Cellular Protection: Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, helping to prevent cellular damage that can lead to various health issues. A 2017 study in the journal Molecules explored this aspect in medicinal mushrooms [https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/22/2/196].
  2. Anti-aging Effects: By reducing oxidative stress, antioxidants may help slow certain aspects of the aging process. A 2021 review in Nutrients discussed this potential [https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/7/2244].
  3. Cognitive Support: Some antioxidants have been linked to improved cognitive function and may help protect against age-related cognitive decline. A 2019 study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease investigated this connection [https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad180959].
  4. Skin Health: Antioxidants can help protect the skin from damage caused by UV radiation and environmental pollutants. A 2016 review in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity explored this topic [https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2016/7432797/].
  5. Cancer Prevention: While more research is needed, some studies suggest that antioxidants may play a role in cancer prevention. A 2020 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences discussed this potential [https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/21/3/938].

Mushrooms Rich in Antioxidants:

  • Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
  • Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
  • Shiitake (Lentinus edodes)
  • Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
  • Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

The Synergistic Effect: More Than the Sum of Their Parts

One of the most fascinating aspects of medicinal mushrooms is how these compounds work together. The combination of polysaccharides, triterpenes, and antioxidants often produces effects that are greater than what each compound could achieve individually. This synergistic action is thought to be a key reason for the broad-spectrum health benefits associated with medicinal mushrooms.

Examples of synergistic effects:

  1. Enhanced Immune Modulation: The immune-boosting effects of polysaccharides may be enhanced by the anti-inflammatory properties of triterpenes, leading to a more balanced immune response.
  2. Comprehensive Stress Support: The stress-reducing effects of triterpenes could work in tandem with the cellular protection provided by antioxidants to support overall well-being and resilience.
  3. Improved Bioavailability: The antioxidant effects might help protect and preserve the beneficial polysaccharides and triterpenes, enhancing their bioavailability and effectiveness in the body.
  4. Multifaceted Disease Prevention: The combination of immune support, anti-inflammatory effects, and antioxidant protection may offer more comprehensive disease prevention than any single compound alone.

A 2018 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences explored this synergistic effect in medicinal mushrooms [https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/19/9/2538].

Comparative Table of Compounds in Popular Medicinal Mushrooms





Key Benefits





Stress relief, immune support, sleep aid

Turkey Tail




Immune boost, gut health

Lion's Mane




Cognitive function, nerve health





Antioxidant powerhouse, immune support





Energy, stamina, respiratory health





Heart health, immune support





Blood sugar regulation, immune support

Key: + Low, ++ Moderate, +++ High, ++++ Very High, +++++ Exceptional

How to Get the Most Benefit from These Compounds

To maximize the benefits of these powerful compounds in medicinal mushrooms:

  1. Choose Whole Mushroom Products: Look for supplements that use the whole mushroom or full-spectrum extracts, as these will contain the full range of beneficial compounds.
  2. Consider Hot Water Extraction: For mushrooms high in polysaccharides, hot water extraction can help make these compounds more bioavailable.
  3. Look for Dual Extraction Methods: Some products use both water and alcohol extraction, which can capture a wider range of compounds, including water-soluble polysaccharides and alcohol-soluble triterpenes.
  4. Pay Attention to Standardization: Look for products that standardize the content of key compounds like beta-glucans or triterpenes.
  5. Combine with a Healthy Lifestyle: The benefits of these compounds can be enhanced when combined with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress-management techniques.
  6. Be Consistent: The effects of these compounds often build up over time, so consistent, long-term use is typically recommended for best results.
  7. Consider Combination Products: Given the synergistic effects of different mushroom compounds, products that combine multiple mushroom species may offer enhanced benefits.

Harnessing Nature's Pharmacy with Mushroom Works

Polysaccharides, triterpenes, and antioxidants represent the trifecta of health-promoting compounds found in medicinal mushrooms. These powerful substances work in concert to support various aspects of health, from boosting immune function and managing stress to protecting cells from damage and supporting overall well-being.

Mushroom Works harnesses the natural power of medicinal mushrooms to boost health and vitality. Our premium supplements deliver a potent blend of compounds like polysaccharides, triterpenes, and antioxidants, promoting a range of benefits from immune support and stress management to enhanced cognitive function.

Whether you're looking to improve memory with Lion's Mane, sleep soundly with Reishi, increase energy with Cordyceps, balance blood sugar with Maitake, or support heart health with Shiitake, we have the perfect mushroom supplement for you.

Experience the transformative benefits of medicinal mushrooms for yourself and start your journey to optimal health with Mushroom Works today.

Back to blog