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75% Of Reishi Supplements Don't Actually Contain Mushrooms

By Dennis Buckley

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Almost one year ago to the day we published a controversial article called The Truth About Medicinal Mushroom Supplements.

In the piece we revealed how the vast majority of medicinal mushroom supplements sold in North America are bogus... yet nobody was talking about it.

Mushroom supplements alone form the basis for an $18 billion global market as of 2014 -  a staggering increase from the $6 billion that the market was worth in 1999. 

There's big demand for mushroom supplements, with major big box retailers like Whole Foods flaunting the holistic benefits of mushrooms. And while this trend is showing no signs of slowing down, a recent study done on reishi mushrooms provides shocking new evidence about the shaky integrity of the medical mushroom supplement industry, and potentially reflects the supplement industry as a whole.

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Up To 75% Of Mushroom Supplements May Not Contain Actual Mushrooms

The tests were done using a “reliable and scientific toolkit” and executed by scientists from the United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) and the University of Macau in China. 

The study determined that only 5 out of the 19 products that were tested, which were taken off of shelves in the United States, actually tested positive for reishi mushrooms. This is indicative of a massive quality control issue, and poses a threat to consumers of medical supplements like these.

Fake Reishi Supplements

The tests revealed that 75% of the products tested did not contain the listed ingredients that are characteristic of reishi mushrooms.

  • Triterpenoids are compounds that plants release in self-defense, and are often the sought-after phytonutrients that are responsible for numerous health benefits. The reishi supplements that failed the test didn’t contain significant amounts - or any - of the triterpenoids that are present in reishi mushrooms.

    • The triterpenoids present in reishi mushrooms are no different. Among such compounds is a potent substance called beta-glucan, an important triterpenoid that gives reishi mushrooms their characteristic health benefits like supporting the body’s histamine system, our ability to produce enzymes, our ability to fight off pathogens, and the overall health and function of our immune system. 

  • Reishi mushrooms also contain polysaccharides. These are complex carbohydrates that are slowly digested and provide the body with long-lasting energy that doesn’t negatively impact blood sugar. The tested supplements also contained a starchy polysaccharide, but not one that lined up with the reishi mushroom.

The results of this study have provided some much-needed insight into the quality of the supplements being marketed for medical health in the US.

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The Medical Mushroom Supplement Industry

The medical mushroom industry has already been the subject of a bit of controversy merely because of the way that mushrooms grow.  There is a huge difference between the two main parts of a fungus.

  • The mushroom, or the fruiting body, is what you would generally recognize as a mushroom. This part contains the spores and grows above the surface of its host. The stem, caps, and gills can be the sites where many phytonutrients are produced; the spores themselves can also offer benefits depending on the type of mushroom. The fruiting body is the richest source of the health-promoting compounds of medicinal mushrooms.

  • The mycelium, or the vegetative body, is an underground, spiderweb-like network and feeding membrane of a fungus. It’s also the part that takes in nutrients and processes them.

  • When naturally-grown, mycelium is a rich source of nutrients, however, commercially-grown mycelium is grown on nutrient-poor grain.

    And that same mycelium is being sold under the label of "mushroom". 

    Many of the samples tested in the Nature study, which were sold and labeled as mushrooms, we in fact mycelium on grain. One would hope that, if the mycelium was the part containing the medicinal nutrients, a supplement would contain only the mycelium. Unfortunately, that's not the way that a deceptive marketer will think. 

    In some cases, companies will even mislead the consumer into believing mycelium on grain is superior to the fruiting body and all the health benefits that come with it.

    The FDA actually set a requirement for any company producing foods or supplements to mention whether the mycelium or fruiting body was used:

    “Mushroom mycelium… is regarded as suitable for food use. Any food in which mushroom mycelium is used should be labeled to state that fact. Labeling should not suggest or imply that the food contains mushrooms… a soup in which mushroom mycelium is an ingredient should not be labeled or sold as "mushroom soup" since that name by long consumer understanding and usage is preempted by soup containing real mushrooms.”​

    Unfortunately, this requirement has not been upheld in recent years. Recently, the American Herbal Products Association released a list of guidelines that supplement companies can use to properly label their mushroom-containing supplements. Until that guideline is commonplace and enforced, there is often no way for you to tell what part of the mushroom that you're getting.


    The Future of the Medical Mushroom Industry

    Jeff Chilton, the founder of Nammex Organic Mushroom Extracts, is one of the top advocates for the quality and legitimacy of medical mushroom supplements. In a recent interview, he said:

    “The time has come for supplement companies to embrace the new analytical standards and testing protocols that I have presented in my 2015 White Paper, Redefining Medicinal Mushrooms​.

    ​“Now that USP has published their study with analytical data that supports my findings, there is no longer any excuse for companies to ignore this problem. Those who choose to carry on with business as usual will find themselves increasingly isolated in a marketplace that now requires increased transparency and higher quality standards based on scientific analysis.”​

    This suggests that concerned researches and advocates are finally getting their word across to the manufacturers of supplements. Jeff, and other leaders in the industry, will not stand for companies that produce illegitimate and potentially dangerous products in the name of promoting good health.

    To ensure that quality is met for future supplements, other members of the industry are proposing more comprehensive methods of analysis and testing. Anton Belinsky, scientific liaison at USP and a co-author of the paper Jeff quoted, suggests that more advanced technologies are needed to accurately analyze the contents of medicinal mushroom supplements:

    “Adequate characterization of mushroom extracts should rely on a suite of techniques targeting complex carbohydrates; in the absence of those, it may be difficult to detect substitution and adulteration.”

    He goes on to explain difficulties in measuring and analyzing the components of medical mushrooms due to their complex nature and the interactions between the mycelium and the fruiting body. These complexities are part of the reason that the medical mushroom industry is so ripe for fraud - the mechanisms for testing products properly just haven't been put into place on a large scale yet.

    In this video we show you how to test the quality of your mushroom supplements in the comfort of your own home.

     

    Natural Stacks proudly uses Nammex mushroom extracts in all of our premium mushroom products.

     

    Do you take a mushroom supplement? What steps do you take to make sure you're getting a high quality product?

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