Research: Majority of Reishi supplements sold in the US turns out to be useless

Last month (Aug 2017) a study called “Evaluation on quality consistency of Ganoderma lucidum dietary supplements collected in the United States” was published.

Nineteen Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) dietary supplements were purchased, in February or March 2015, directly from general e-commerce sites such as Amazon and eBay in the United States. One -authenticated- Reishi fruiting body was used as a control.

The outcome was unexpected – ah well, let’s just say it, it was shocking!

All products were tested for triterpenes, polysaccharides and beta-glucan, and on top of that for authenticity (is it really Reishi?).
Only 8 of the 19 products contained triterpenes that were actually Reishi triterpenes or something at least quite close to that.

Starch-like polysaccharides (alpha-glucans) are used a lot as excipients / flow agents or fillers in dietary supplements. They are also used to ‘spike’ mushroom supplements that use ‘polysaccharides’ as a potency marker. ‘Polysaccharides’ are not reliable as a quality marker – most polysaccharides are not bioactive and the percentages can be manipulated easily.

Starch is also present in large quantities if the a mushroom supplement is not produced from fruiting bodies but from mycelium grown on grains/rice (= substrate) – the undigested substrate is starch. It has no therapeutic potential.

Normally speaking a Reishi fruiting body is starch-free after having been extracted. However, it is no longer a secret that the majority of US-produced mushroom products are not based on fruiting bodies but on biomass (the combination of mycelium and the substrate it grows in). The outcome of this study seems to confirm that once again: only 6 of the 19 products were starch-free.

Beta-glucans are the other main bioactive ingredients in Reishi. The paper found only 5 of the 19 products contained beta-glucans. When tested for authenticity, the same 5 products tested as being authentic.

A final test was determining the molecular weight of the beta-glucan fractions and to use this as a quality marker. Previous papers have shown that these high molecular weight beta-glucans are the most bioactive fractions and are suitable to be used as a quality marker. Again, only 5 out of 19 products contained this marker compound.

This study shows the quality consistency of Reishi dietary supplements collected in the USA was extremely poor.

The full text can be read here:

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.

Mushroom Extracts: Oral or Sublingual ?

On the internet sellers of liquid mushroom extracts and tinctures usually recommend to take the product sublingual (under the tongue) instead of just swallowing it. If you have to believe them this is the best way to benefit from their product, and the main reason to choose a liquid mushroom product in the first place (why a liquid mushroom extract is actually not recommended at all you can read here).

Despite their convincing-sounding arguments they are wrong. Although for many drugs and supplements sublingual administration is indeed better, a mushroom product has unique properties that should be taken into account. This is science, not just an opinion.

First of all, the main bioactive compounds in mushroom extracts are beta-glucans. When taken orally, intestinal absorptive cells (enterocytes) facilitate the transportation of beta-glucans and similar compounds across the intestinal cell wall into the lymph, where they begin to interact with macrophages to activate the immune function.

Sublingual (under the tongue) or topic administration of beta-glucans is not effective because of the large size of bioactive beta-glucans. These are huge macro-molecules.

Compare it to trying to fit a foot size 9 in a shoe size 8 – it can’t be done. You would have to keep the glucan-containing liquid under your tongue for hours in order to get something in your system. Which is impractical, not to say undoable.

Second, beta-glucans and most other bioactive mushroom compounds found in properly extracted mushrooms are not affected by the stomach acid, and if you take them on an empty stomach (at least 30 minutes before meals) the therapeutic effects are just perfect. There is nothing to gain by sublingual administration.

Rhodiola rosea extract may improve anxiety, stress and mood

Daily intake of a Rhodiola rosea L. extract may improve various measures of mood in people with mild anxiety, says a new study from England.

depressionData from 81 mildly anxious students indicated that 14 days of supplementation with a Rhodiola rosea extract significantly reduced self-reported anxiety and stress.

Improvements in self-reported anger, confusion, and depression were also reported by the researchers.

“Although Rhodiola rosea has been used traditionally to relieve a range of symptoms of stress related disorders, to our knowledge this is the first study to demonstrate the efficacy of Rhodiola rosea  in the treatment of mild anxiety,” wrote Mark Cropley, Adrian Banks, and Julia Boyle from the University of Surrey in Phytotherapy Research .

Study details

Cropley, Banks, and Boyle recruited 81 students with an average age of 21 to participate in their 14-day study. The participants were assigned to receive two 200 mg doses per day of the Rhodiola rosea extract or no treatment.

Self-reported measures indicated that Rhodiola group demonstrated a significant reduction in self-reported anxiety and stress. Secondary endpoints, including anger, confusion and depression, also improved over the 14 day trial. Self-reported “total mood” was also significantly improved in the Rhodiola group.

On the other hand, no changes to measures of cognitive function were reported by the researchers.

Apart from that, the safety and tolerability of the Rhodiola rosea supplements were found to be good.

rhodiola rosea, dried roots

Rhodiola rosea roots are chopped into slices and then dried. These dried raw slices as sold by ORIVeDA are used to prepare a tincture.

“Future research is needed to replicate the current findings, and it would be desirable to supplement the subjective nature of self-reports with more objective indices,” wrote Cropley, Banks, and Boyle. “Clinical interviews could be used to assess mood, and sleep could be assessed via wrist actigraphy or EEG.

“The lack of placebo control is another limitation of this study. It is unlikely that the findings were the result of placebo effects, as changes appeared gradual and were specific to certain measures. As this was a non-placebo RCT, however, we cannot determine a causal relationship, and we cannot exclude that some of the changes were because of time alone or other factors.”

“Overall the results demonstrated that Rhodiola rosea is effective in the treatment of mild anxiety and stress. It improved confusion, anger, and total mood, and was well tolerated.”

Source: Phytotherapy Research
“The Effects of Rhodiola rosea L. Extract on Anxiety, Stress, Cognition and Other Mood Symptoms”
Authors: M. Cropley, A.P. Banks, J. Boyle

An extensive review of Rhodiola rosea with an emphasis on human trials can be found here.

Clinical evaluation of purified Shilajit on testosterone-levels in healthy volunteers

Daily supplements of purified Shilajit, an Ayurvedic ingredient, may boost testosterone levels in healthy men by 20%, says a new study.

Shilajit, a herbo-mineral exudate, is derived from mountainous regions across Asia. It is also called mumijo. Ninety days of supplementation with purified Shilajit were associated with a 20% increase in total testosterone and a 19% increase in free testosterone levels, according to findings published in Andrologia .

Safety and efficacy

Sidney Stohs, PhD, Dean Emeritus at the Creighton University Medical Center in Nebraska, reviewed the scientific literature around Shilajit in 2014 in Phytotherapy Research (Vol. 28, pp. 475-9), and noted that: “The physiological and pharmacological effects of shilajit are attributed to the [dibenzo-alpha-pyrones] DBPs, DBP chromoproteins (DBPs conjugated to proteins), fulvic acid, and various polymeric forms of fulvic acid.

“In spite of the use of shilajit (mumijo, mumie) for many years, relatively few peer-reviewed, human, controlled, and published research studies have been conducted,” noted Dr Stohs. “Studies in both animals and humans indicate that the use of shilajit is safe and generally free of adverse effects. Published human and animal studies have indicated that shilajit increases spermatogenesis in infertile males. A human study demonstrated that shilajit when given at high (2000 mg/day) doses has beneficial effects with respect to blood lipids.

“It should [also] be noted that a plethora of products exist on the market that do not conform to the chemical composition of  ‘standard’  shilajit and may be either adulterated or counterfeit, which are both very common” wrote Dr Stohs. “As a consequence, caution must be taken with respect to shilajit acquisition, and only properly processed, authenticated and standardized products should be used. A need exists for further studies in animals and humans with processed and standardized shilajit preparations.”

Purified Shilajit-Mumijo resin

Purified Shilajit-Mumijo resin

Study details

The researchers recruited 75 healthy men aged between 45 and 55 to participate in their randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. The men were randomly assigned to receive either placebo or 500 mg of Shilajit per day for 90 days.  The Shilajit was standardised to contain not less than 60% w/w of total bioactives, which include not less than 50% w/w of fulvic acids, not less than 0.3% w/w of dibenzo-alpha pyrones (DBPs) and not less than 10% w/w of dibenzo-alpha pyrone chromoproteins (DCPs).

Results showed that supplementation with this Shilajit lead to a 20% increase in total testosterone levels and a 19% increase in free testosterone levels after 90 days. 

“The significant betterment of DHEAs [the main precursor of testosterone] with the treatment of purified Shilajit signifies its role on testosterone synthesis,” they wrote. “Other two gonadotropic hormones, viz. luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)], were studied in this present work, to rationalize the hypothalamo-pituitary–testicular axis, where both of these hormones were in maintained levels indicating their initial role of triggering of testosterone production. This was followed by downregulation of LH and FSH on one hand and maintenance of the hypothalamo-pituitary–testicular axis by means of elevated level of testosterone on 30, 60 and 90 days on the other hand.

“All these modus operandi of purified Shilajit on synthesis and stimulation of testosterone are found to be better than placebo-treated group in healthy male volunteers in age group of 45–55 years, who may undergo andropause in normal course.”

ORIVeDA is selling standardized Shilajit-Mumijo resin in 25 grams containers. The fulvic acid content is 11-12%. The product has been authenticated by a patented process and meets the requirements of the Russian Pharmacopeia for Mumijo and the GOST standards for safety and quality.

ORIVeDA is selling purified natural Shilajit•Mumijo resin in 25 grams containers. The fulvic acid content is 11-12%.

This product is unique because it has been authenticated by a patented process and meets the requirements of the Russian Pharmacopeia for pure Mumijo and the GOST standards (equal to GMP) for safety and quality.

Sexual health category

Dr Kalidindi told us that the male sexual health supplement industry is growing as the baby boomer generation is now reaching retirement age. “More older adult males are turning to nutritional supplements to support and maintain their lifestyles. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, the natural supplement market for promoting sexual health products is poised to reach an estimated worth of $905 million by 2020.”

While the sexual health market has received a lot of attention from the regulators, it is not the only category to have suffered from criticism, said Dr Kalidindi.

“Solid science is critical in every category of the dietary supplement industry especially after what happened with the NYAG. Natreon, the company that supplied the Shilajit used in the study has achieved a reputation within the industry as a company that backs up every ingredient with multiple efficacy and safety studies.”

More details about Shilajit, its history, background and a comparison of 25 commercially available Shilajit resins (including authenticity, quality/safety control and active ingredients) can be found here.

FDA Approves Bastyr Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor) Trial for Cancer Patients

FDA Approves Bastyr Turkey Tail Trial for Cancer Patients

Researchers study how a traditional Chinese mushroom helps cancer patients strengthen their immune systems in a $5.4 million investigation.

It’s been brewed for thousands of years as a Chinese medicinal tea. Now Bastyr University researchers are closer to discovering whether the turkey tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor / Coriolus versicolor) can help cancer patients boost their immune systems during chemotherapy.

Turkey tail, named for its colorful stripes, is the humble fungus at the center of a $5.4 million collaboration between Bastyr, the University of Washington and others, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The mushroom grows widely in forests around the world, but its health potential has never been fully measured in scientific trials.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a clinical trial for a turkey tail extract, allowing patients with advanced prostate cancer to take it in combination with conventional chemotherapy. Another trial pending FDA approval will test the effects of taking the extract along with a vaccine treatment in women with breast cancer. These will help researchers gather safety data and continue their development of potentially transformative cancer therapy.

“We didn’t discover turkey tail,” says lead investigator Leanna J. Standish, PhD, ND, LAc, FABNO, medical director of the Bastyr Integrative Oncology Research Center. “It’s been used in Asia for thousands and thousands of years, and it turns out to be a really potent immune therapy. The significance, I think, is that we’re bringing a new medicine to cancer patients in the U.S.”

Previous research by Bastyr and the University of Minnesota found a turkey tail supplement may support conventional breast cancer therapies by strengthening a patient’s immune system. That study was published recently in the peer-reviewed journal ISRN Oncology.

Now that researchers have approval from the FDA, they plan to begin prostate cancer clinical trials in early 2013. The ultimate goal is to develop a cancer therapy without the debilitating side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.

“One of the things chemotherapy does is suppress the immune system, so our question is whether patients taking the extract can maintain healthier immune function,” says Masa Sasagawa, ND, a senior project manager at the Bastyr University Research Institute.

Strengthening Immunity

Study participants recruited at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance will take oral doses of a Japanese turkey tail extract along with docetaxel chemotherapy. Others will take a placebo and chemotherapy. Along with determining safety, lab researchers will measure the levels and activity of natural killer (NK) cells and other immune cells, which protect the body from tumors and viruses. NK cell counts and activity typically plummet after chemotherapy, leaving the body vulnerable to new diseases.

“Our hope is that docetaxel plus the turkey tail extract can create a strong enough immune response to lead to significant tumor regression,” says lead investigator Cynthia A. Wenner, PhD, a Bastyr research associate professor. “That’s what happened in our previous mouse trial.”

Participants in the breast cancer study will also take a cancer vaccine under development.

Nature’s Complexity

Bastyr University Researchers Masa Sasagawa, ND, and Cynthia Wenner, PhD, are helping lead a $5.4 million collaboration on the immune-boosting potential of PSK, a mushroom derivative.

Gaining FDA approval — required for federally funded clinical trials — proved challenging because of the complexity of a natural product. Unlike a synthetic drug, a mushroom contains thousands of elements, each with a potential effect on the immune system.

“The FDA wants to know what the ‘mechanism of action’ is,” says Dr. Sasagawa. “But it’s very difficult to determine, because turkey tail is a natural product and not a single compound.”

More challenges: Natural products vary slightly from harvest to harvest, in the same way wines from the same vineyard vary year to year. Precise research requires consistency. Also, mushrooms grown in contaminated soil collect toxins and heavy metals, making safety a concern.

To search for consistency and safety, the research team looked to a pharmaceutical-grade turkey tail product made in Japan, where turkey tail has been a widely used cancer treatment for more than 30 years. They found a solution in protein-bound polysaccharide K (PSK), a powdered turkey tail derivative produced in Japan using a hot-water extraction method.

Turkey tail’s traditional use means derivatives are probably not patentable, which has dissuaded pharmaceutical companies from funding clinical trials. It’s a research dilemma that NIH seeks to address through its National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). NCCAM has helped fund research, such as the Bastyr/UW collaboration, that integrates traditional naturopathic medicine with modern empirical standards.

“There is a lot of knowledge accumulated by naturopathic doctors over the years, and with the help of NCCAM we’ve been able to investigate howsome of these medicines operate,” says Mark Martzen, PhD, CIP, senior director of research development at Bastyr. “It’s given us critical insight into how things work at the molecular level.”

In 2010 NCCAM awarded the $5.4 million grant, known formally as the U19 Bastyr/UW Oncomycology Translational Research Center. A portion of the funding has allowed Bastyr to offer research training to students. Naturopathic medicine student Joshua Goldenberg published turkey tail-related research in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Naturopathic medicine student Katie Strobe won a $24,000 scholarship for her work on PSK immune responses.

Mushroom-Human Relations

Finding a disease-fighting agent growing on trees, stumps and fallen logs may sound unlikely. But it wouldn’t have surprised our ancestors, who relied on plants for their health-giving properties. Mushrooms were particularly important, says Dr. Standish.

Co-lead investigator Leanna Standish, PhD, ND, LAc, FABNO, helped build a research collaboration among Bastyr, UW and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

“They’re incredibly important as nutrition and also medicine,” she says. “Humans co-evolved with mushrooms. They are probably far more important in our biology than we imagine. North America is kind of fungi-phobic, and it may be contributing to our lousy health.”

Dr. Standish believes the modern focus on disease-fighting drugs will ultimately give way to a return of plant-based medicine.

“The difference between natural medicine and conventional medicine is the dependence of conventional medicine on the single-molecule approach,” she says. “Drugs are typically very potent, but quite deadly in the end, because nature doesn’t work like that.

“Natural products have multiple mechanisms of action, and it is very difficult scientifically to figure out all those mechanisms. But our bodies have evolved to rely on them.”

Bringing clarity to time-tested but little-understood medicines requires combining traditional wisdom and modern science, says Hailing Lu, MD, PhD, research assistant professor of oncology at UW. That’s the point of the turkey tail study.

“We’re excited about this,” Dr. Lu said recently. “Japan and many other Asian countries have been using this [mushroom extract] for a long time. For me, it’s a great combination. I come from China, so the use of herbal products is not new for me. This is a bridging of Eastern and Western medicine.”

Extensive background about Coriolus versicolor and its PSP compound can be found here.

More information: “Polysaccharopeptide enhanced the anti-cancer effect of gamma-tocotrienol through activation of AMPK.” Liu J, Lau EY, Chen J, Yong J, Tang KD, Lo J, Ng IO, Lee TK1, Ling MT. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Aug 16;14:303. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-303.

PSP – mushroom compound with vitamin E suppresses prostate cancer tumors

Mushroom compound with vitamin E suppresses prostate cancer tumors

A QUT research team has discovered that two naturally occurring compounds, one from mushrooms and the other from palm oil, when used together can significantly reduce the growth of tumours in prostate cancer models.

Dr Patrick Ling from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and the Australian Prostate Cancer Research Centre-Queensland said the two compounds induced a drastic activation of the cancer fighting protein, AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK).

“AMPK is a key player in suppressing cancer cell growth – and the mushroom compound works together with the Vitamin E to activate AMPK to much higher levels,” said Dr Ling, who is based at Brisbane’s Translational Research Institute.

Dr Ling’s previous research confirmed that the compound, polysaccharopeptide (PSP), found in the turkey tail mushroom, or yunzhi as it’s known in China, prevented prostate cancer development in pre-clinical investigations.

“In China people have put the mushroom in soups to boost health and immunity for millennia and in the past few decades have been studying its effects on cancer,” he said.

“We then studied the effects on of a form of natural Vitamin E called gamma-tocotrienol or gamma-T3 which is extracted from .

“There has been interest in gamma-T3 for the past 20 years and a rapid increase in research on its anti-cancer effects for the past five years.

“This natural form of gamma T-3, which can also be extracted from rice bran oil is much more potent than the synthetic form at reducing .”

Dr Ling said the team’s latest research also indicated that PSP actually sensitised the cancer cells to gamma-t3 cytotoxicity in models

He said the two compounds’ synergistic effect could potentially enhance chemotherapy and mitigate its side effects.

Extensive background about Coriolus versicolor and its PSP compound can be found here.

More information: “Polysaccharopeptide enhanced the anti-cancer effect of gamma-tocotrienol through activation of AMPK.” Liu J, Lau EY, Chen J, Yong J, Tang KD, Lo J, Ng IO, Lee TK1, Ling MT. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Aug 16;14:303. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-303.

Mushroom compound may boost cancer survival: Animal data

Coriolus versicolor

The Coriolus Versicolor, growing on dead wood. Its mycelium has very powerful therapeutic properties

More proof that the Coriolus Versicolor and its main therapeutic component are worth considering when battling cancer and the side effects of the common treatments.

Led by, Dorothy Cimino Brown from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, the researchers said the ‘promising findings’ offer hope that the compound may one day offer cancer patients — human and canine alike — a viable new ally in the battle against cancer.

“There have been a series of studies looking at groups of people with cancer,” Cimino Brown said. “The issue with those studies is that they weren’t necessarily measuring what most people would think is the most clinically important result, which is, do people taking PSP live longer?”

Based on the ultimate endpoints of how quickly the tumors progressed and how long dogs suffering from a natural form of cancer survived when given the supplement, the research team suggests that PSP supplementation may be effective in fighting the tumors.

“We were shocked,” Cimino Brown said. “Prior to this, the longest reported median survival time of dogs with hemangiosarcoma of the spleen that underwent no further treatment was 86 days. We had dogs that lived beyond a year with nothing other than this mushroom as treatment.”

Dog study

To address this critical question, Cimino Brown and her team began research in dogs suffering from naturally occurring hemangiosarcoma (an aggressive, invasive cancer that arises from the blood cells and typically affects the spleen.)


The results of the researchers’ trial suggest that the PSP supplement was effectively fighting the tumors.

The full article can be found here:

Mushroom compound may boost cancer survival: Animal data.

Extensive background on PSP and the Coriolus versicolor medicinal mushroom can be found here.

Chaga tea

Introduction to Chaga tea

  • Supports your immune system
  • Balances your metabolism
  • Re-vitalizes, enhances your concentration
  • High in anti-oxidants, anti-aging power

Chaga tea does not have the potency of a highly concentrated extract. But sometimes you don’t need that amount of power. Or maybe you just prefer to drink a healthy herbal tea during the day instead of popping capsules. Chaga tea is an excellent prophylactic.

In most countries, tea is made by steeping tea leaves in hot water until the brew reaches the desired strength. However, in Russia, a lot of tea leaves are steeped in little water to create a powerful, highly concentrated brew called zavarka (заварка), which often will be simmering all day. This brew is then diluted with hot water to taste when it is served.

The traditional samovar was designed to do just this: on the top there was a tea pot with brewing tea (zavarka), and inside was hot water, with a little tap to dilute your cup of zavarka to the desired strength. See the picture, below.

Description of a traditional samovar
This is an excellent way to prepare a really potent Chaga tea – in fact, you are performing a hot-water extraction this way, setting the active components free (beta-glucans, phenols) and thus increasing the therapeutic potency.

Chaga tea, when put in a filter bag, can be used a few times before losing its flavor if you choose the short (15 – 30 min. of steeping) method.

Russians also enjoy mixing different types of tea – for example, black tea with herbal tea. You can do the same with Chaga tea. You can also add small amounts of cinnamon, kardamom or nutmeg to vary the taste – feel free to experiment! Some mix it with instant-coffee (ratio 1:1) or drip-coffee. There are also people that put Chaga in an espresso-machine!

For sweeteners, Russians use sugar, honey, or even jam. Instead of dissolving sugar into the tea, some Russian tea drinkers prefer to hold a sugar cube in their mouths as they drink – a recipe for tooth decay, but an interesting idea nonetheless.

More background on Chaga and other medicinal mushrooms can be found, free for download, here.