Arsenic in wild ‘organic’ Cordyceps sinensis products

The highly prized ‘caterpillar fungus’ has been declared a danger to health by China’s FDA
Alice Yan – South China Morning Post – Feb. 5, 2016

Products derived from Ophiocordyceps sinensis from Tibet were found to contain up to 10 times the national limit of arsenic, officials say.

Ophiocordyceps sinensis, or the caterpillar fungus, is one of the most sought-after and expensive ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.
It has been deemed a danger to human health by China’s main food and drug regulator, mainland media report.

A recent examination by the State Food and Drug Administration showed that products derived from the fungus, such as powders and tablets, contain excessive arsenic, reports. The national standard limit for the toxic chemical is 1 milligram per kilogram, but the level found in the supplements ranged from 4.4-9.9 mg pr kg, so up to 10 times higher.

Consuming the products over a long period will increase the risk of the element, a common poison, accumulating in the body, the State Authority said. Cordyceps are the fruiting bodies formed after the fungus parasitises the larvae of ghost moths found in mountainous regions of Tibet and Nepal.

They make expensive gifts, often given to old people, and are believed to strengthen a person’s immune system and restrain the development of cancer cells.

6 thoughts on “Arsenic in wild ‘organic’ Cordyceps sinensis products

  1. Our FDA’s proposed “Action Level” (ie: unsafe level) on Arsenic is 100 ppb (Parts Per Billion), or 0.1ppm. If my calculations are not mistaken, China’s limit is 1.0ppm, so that makes the assessment even more concerning.

    As a reference, Arsenic levels in infant rice cereals were found to be on average 103ppb of INORGANIC Arsenic. This level did not include the “Organic” form (ie: Arsenic bonded to Carbon). Inorganic Arsenic has been foiund to be more closely associated with harmful effects.

    • Less is always better, but levels of heavy metals should be seen in relation to the size of a serving (of a dietary supplement or another food) and the bodyweight of the individual consuming that serving. For a baby 1ppm of whatever compound might be toxic, whereas for an adult man it is perfectly safe.

      Here are the official EU and World Health Organisation / Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (WHO / JECFA) guidelines. The amounts are in mcg (micrograms).

      Arsenic: (Adult, 70 kgs: 150 mcg = daily limit)
      Cadmium: (Adult, 70 kgs: 70 mcg daily = daily limit)
      Lead: (Adult, 70 kgs: 250 mcg daily = daily limit)
      Mercury: (Adult, 70 kgs: 16 mcg daily = daily limit)

      Of course it is also interesting to know how much heavy metals are present in common everyday foods.

      To compare, in 2007 the FDA conducted a survey to determine levels of heavy metals such as lead in typical foods. The majority of foods was free or almost free of any heavy metals, but not all.

      Their most striking results (levels per serving, per day):

      – fresh collard greens: 30 microgram of lead
      – dry roasted mixed nuts: 20 microgram of lead
      – Brussels sprouts 15 microgram of lead
      – Sweet potatoes : 16 microgram of lead
      – Spinach: 15 microgram of lead

      These are all considered normal and safe levels, apparently. Indeed there is also a difference in organic and inorganic arsenic; in food the inorganic type is the most common.

    • Natural Cordyceps is not used for dietary supplements, so there is zero connection with Oriveda Cordyceps.

      We want to point out -again!- that one of the most popular quality markers is completely unreliable. It is just marketing. We are talking about ‘organic’ which can be a quality marker for many things, but not for mushroom products.

      Mushrooms have certain unique properties, one of which is that they absorb and accumulate heavy metals from the soil. It is probably an essential part of their metabolism, who knows.

      Heavy metals are present in all soil (even in the pristine industry-free all-natural Tibetan high-lands) and therefore even a mushroom product with the ‘organic’ label cannot be classified as ‘a better choice’ and ‘safe’ just like that, unless it has also been tested for contamination. Be aware that the majority of mushroom dietary supplements has not been tested at all, not for heavy metals nor for active ingredients.

      Easy to verify; ask for an independent lab report and see what you get. (Ignore those ‘spec sheets’ some are using, that’s something everybody with a computer can make..)

    • I mean ‘natural’ as opposed to ‘cultivated’. The tested products were natural/uncultivated.

      The Cordyceps used for dietary supplements is always cultivated to ensure a consistent quality level. Natural products show a huge variation in quality and are often contaminated with heavy metals they absorb from their environment.

      In the case of Cordyceps the ‘natural’ Cordyceps is also way too expensive – it is a very rare commodity.

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