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Mad About Mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine.
The Ancient Egyptians associated mushrooms with immortality and considered mushrooms a special food for royalty. And in Asia, mushrooms were thought to promote health and longevity.

Today, more than 14,000 mushrooms have been identified in the world. Of that number, approximately 3,000 are edible by humans and about 700 of those have shown health protective benefits. And while mushrooms and their beneficial properties have been used by a number of cultures for generations, Americans are beginning to see the benefits beyond the dinner table.

“Over the past two decades, there has been a steady supply of articles on various mushrooms and their healing properties,” said Vincent Hackel, CEO of California-based Guzen Development. “This stream of information has increased considerably, and the demand for mushroom supplements has risen, with increasing numbers of mushroom products (now numbering in the hundreds) appearing on the market each day.”

Immunity & Beyond

Medicinal mushrooms are best known for the benefits they can provide the immune system. In fact, research is showing that a compound isolated from a wild, poisonous mushroom growing in a Southwest China forest appears to help a cancer-killing drug fulfill its promise, researchers report. The compound, verticillin A, sensitizes cancer cells to tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL), a drug which induces cancer cells to self destruct, according to Dr. Kebin Liu, cancer immunologist at the Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) Cancer Center and corresponding author of the study in the journal Cancer Research.

While most types of mushroom are good sources of potassium, niacin, selenium and riboflavin, maitake and reishi mushrooms are also known to be high in beta glucans. According to Morten Sundstø, founder, chairman and president of ImmunoMedic AS in Norway, beta glucans are mostly indicated for enhancing and strengthening the immune system and helping it to fight with various infectious illnesses. “A weak immune system makes the body an easy target for various pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi). This is where the beta glucan help,” he said. “By getting the immune system to work in optimal way, the body is more resistant to these illnesses and also, is able to recover from them more quickly.”

California-based Super Beta Glucan’s patented mushroom beta glucan ingredient, Immulink MBG® was recently launched at IFT 2012. A soluble beta glucan extracted from Ganoderma lucidum, Immulink MBG is a unique dietary ingredient that activates the body’s natural defense mechanisms through a scientifically validated mode of action, according to the company. Immulink MBG is generally recognized as safe (GRAS), halal, non-allergenic and GMO-free.

Betox-93™ is ImmunoMedic’s most successful active ingredient. Betox-93 is a high purity beta glucan isolated from oyster mushrooms, with purity of 93 percent. It contains no fat or proteins, and can now be supplied also with a fine food grade, as well as a bio-ecological grade, according to Sundstø.

“As allergies and autoimmune diseases become a major health concern in the world due to the factors such as environmental pollutants and genetically modified (GM) food, manufacturers will soon need an ingredient that can help support the immune system without over-stimulating it, and beta glucan is a natural polysaccharide that is equipped by Mother Nature to do so,” said Sherwin Chen, vice president of operations with Super Beta Glucan Inc.

While medicinal mushrooms have garnered the most attention for their immune system benefits, the market is now beginning to widen. For instance, cordyceps is toted for its ability to increase energy and endurance levels. According to a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers at the Peptide and Proteomics Division, Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Delhi, India, found that cordyceps supplementation at doses of 200 mg/kg of body weight daily for 15 days increased exercise capacity in laboratory animals by a third.

And shiitake mushrooms may help protect the liver. Published in the journal Molecules, researchers at the Institute for Research in Molecular Medicine at the Universiti Sains Malaysia gave doses of 200 mg/kg of body weight administered to laboratory animals for seven days protected against liver damage from acetaminophen by decreasing activity of liver enzymes. Researchers concluded that antioxidant effects of the mushroom were responsible for the liver-protective benefits.

“The markets for medicinal mushroom supplements have been primarily on supporting the immune health instead of other categories, due to the lack of clinical evidences; however, as there are more researches done on the medicinal mushroom related compounds, the key ingredient responsible for the beneficial effects have been identified (beta glucan), and products have been developed to target different markets,” said Chen.

Additionally, mushrooms contain vitamin D, which aids in bone and joint health. According to the Mushroom Council, mushrooms naturally produce vitamin D following exposure to sunlight (mushrooms’ plant sterol, ergosterol converts to vitamin D when exposed to light). The fact that mushrooms contain vitamin D is important because many Americans have low levels of the sunshine vitamin. In fact, The American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) reports that Americans have low vitamin D levels that go undetected because of lack of testing. A study presented at the conference showed that only 23 percent of Americans have vitamin D levels over 30 ng/mL, a level that many experts agree is needed for optimal health.

Guzen Development’s High Vitamin D Mushroom Powder is an organic, whole-food supplement ingredient that provides a pure vegetable source of vitamin D in the form of vitamin D2. A study published in the journal Genome Research reported that vitamin D was found to influence more than 200 genes; the researchers found 2,776 binding sites for the vitamin D receptor along the length of the genome.

“The content of vitamin D in our High Vitamin D Mushroom Powder product is very effective and economical for formulators who want to provide valuable levels of this super vitamin,” explained Hackel. “Furthermore, High Vitamin D Mushroom Powder is suitable for the vegan market, as it contains vitamin D2 (the only naturally derived form of vitamin D, free of animal by-products).”

In addition, High Vitamin D Mushroom Powder provides viable levels of riboflavin, niacin, copper, beta glucans and the antioxidant ergothioneine, which has been shown in various studies to protect against damaging effects of UV rays, protect mitochondria from degradation, help conserve circulating levels of other antioxidants, and also scavenges ROS (reactive oxygen species) and RNS (reactive nitrogen species), according to the company.


ImmunoMedic’s Sundstø offered that there are several aspects that finished product manufacturers should consider when making decisions on any particular medicinal mushroom ingredient because credibility of the ingredient as well as the finished product is key. With more educated and savvy consumers searching for information on an ingredient and/or finished product, it is vital that claims are backed up by research and documentation.

“Safety and efficacy of the ingredient should be the first things to consider.

The purer the ingredient is, the better for the customer/user, as the chance to have side effects is lower,” he said. “Also the purer the ingredient is, the better efficacy and also the formulation is easier, as smaller amounts of the active ingredient can be used. The [most] appealing are those ingredients that are purer, safer and have a variety of applications in finished products, be it solid forms (capsules) or gels or syrups.”


■ Guzen Development, (925) 938-2728
■ ImmunoMedic AS, +47 950 61860
■ Super Beta Glucan Inc., (949) 264-2888