The Increasing Popularity of Mushroom-based Dietary Supplements
Consumer demand for mushroom-based dietary supplements have been increasing in popularity. Of course, that’s not to say that interest in the use of mushrooms hasn’t existed for a much more extended period. In fact, for more than two thousand years mushrooms have been used as medicines. Furthermore, in September of 1991, a 5,300-year-old mummy was found in the Tyrolean Alps, and his medicine kit contained Piptoporus betulinus, a mushroom he probably used as a natural worm-killer and laxative.[i]
There are many different species of mushrooms used in Chinese and Japanese natural medicines. This article covers the various health properties of these mushrooms and the ways you can formulate with them to create a high-quality dietary supplement product.
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Let's start with Cordyceps sinensis This mushroom's beneficial effects on the immune system seem to be a function of its ability to increase the number of T helper cells [ii], increase natural killer cell activity [iii] [iv], stimulate blood mononuclear cells [v], increase levels of interferon-gamma, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and interleukin-1 [vi], and prolong the survival of lymphocytes.[vii]
The History of Cordyceps sinensis
Cordyceps sinensis is a mushroom found on the high plateaus of western China, and its Mandarin name literally means “winter bug, summer herb”. This accurately describes the fact that the worm dies in the summer, and a mushroom grows on it. It was discovered 1,500 years ago when Tibetan herdsman found that their yaks were much livelier after eating this worm-mushroom from mountain pastures.[viii] Eventually, Cordyceps found its way into the hands of the Emperor’s physicians who considered it to have ginseng-like properties.[ix]
Research Completed on CordycepsThere are a number of studies supporting the effectiveness of Cordyceps, particularly for liver, kidney, and immune problems. Some of these studies have shown distinct immune-enhancing, and antioxidant effects.[x] [xi] [xii] [xiii] [xiv] Supplementation with Cordyceps in human subjects showed that it could promote cellular immune function and quality of life.[xv] In other research, supplementation with Cordyceps had a beneficial effect on liver function and immunocompetent.[xvi] [xvii]
The next mushroom is Agaricus blazei, which has also been shown to have immunostimulant effects.[xviii] In vitro and animal research suggest that it enhances the production of cytokines such as interferon and interleukin.[xix] [xx]
The History of Agaricus blazei
Interestingly, Agaricus was first discovered in Florida in 1944, although its main natural habitat is a mountainous region in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It has been suggested that the high rate of good health in that region is a result of the people using Agaricus as a part of their regular diet. The mushroom was brought to Japan in 1965. An artificial cultivation process was established in 1978, and since then this mushroom has been well evaluated in terms of biochemical and medicinal properties.[xxi]
Agaricus blazei research
Extracts of Agaricus mushroom, especially beta-glucan extracts, have profound immunostimulant effects in animal research.[xxii] [xxiii] [xxiv] [xxv] [xxvi] Use of Agaricus by human subjects in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that it promoted healthy insulin sensitivity.[xxvii] In addition, a clinical study[xxviii] found that Agaricus extract was able to promote healthy liver function.
Grifola frondosa - AKA: Maitake
Grifola frondosa, commonly known as maitake, has immunostimulant effects and activates natural killer cells, cytotoxic T-cells, and interleukin-1. Maitake contains beta-glucan, the D-fraction of which appears to be the most active and potent form.
Grifola frondosa History
Maitake is a mushroom which is famous for its taste and health benefits. It is also known as the “dancing mushroom”, since legend holds that those who found it began dancing with joy.[xxix] In any case maitake has been used historically as a tonic and adaptogen; that is a substance that invigorates/strengthens the system and helps it adapt to stress. Along with other “medicinal” mushrooms, such as shiitake and reishi, maitake is used as a food to help promote wellness and vitality.
Maitake Mushroom Research
Maitake contains complex polysaccharides which act as immunomodulatory.[xxx] Animal studies suggest maitake may promote healthy serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels already in a normal range.[xxxi] [xxxii] Also of interest, Japanese scientists undertook an in vitro experiment to see what effect maitake had on a certain type of cell that has the potential to balloon and turn into a fat cell. The results of the experiment showed that maitake inhibits the conversion of the cell into fat cells.[xxxiii]
Human case studies have shown that maitake mushroom polysaccharides promote healthy blood sugar levels already within a normal range.[xxxiv] Research in women maitake mushroom powder may help promote healthy ovulation.[xxxv] In unrelated research, thirty-two overweight subjects were given 10 grams of maitake powder for two months. Without changing their diets, all subjects lost an average of 12 pounds.[xxxvi]
Trametes versicolor - AKA: Coriolus
Trametes versicolor, also known as Coriolus, contains several polysaccharides, including polysaccharide peptide and krestin, shown to have immunomodulating effects. Polysaccharide peptide seems to improve immune function by increasing white cell, natural killer cell, and antibody levels.[xxxvii]
Trametes versicolor History
Trametes versicolor has a long history of medicinal use in China and Japan and is one of the most researched and respected of the medicinal mushrooms from Europe to the Far East.[xxxviii] It grows on tree trunks throughout the world in many diverse climates, including North America.[xxxix]
Trametes versicolor Research
Several essays have reported that Trametes polysaccharides have significant immune modulating effects, and also exhibit antioxidant properties, with strong scavenging effects on superoxide and hydroxyl radicals.[xl]
Ganoderma lucidum - AKA: Reishi
Rounding out this conversation is Ganoderma lucidum or Reishi. Ganoderma lucidum have a long history in folk medicine, but researchers are just beginning to isolate and identify medicinal constituents. Active constituents from reishi mushrooms are primarily polysaccharides including beta-glucans and triterpenes.[xli] [xlii] [xliii]
The History of Reishi Mushrooms
Reishi mushrooms, grow wild on decaying logs and tree stumps in the coastal provinces of China.[xliv] Reishi has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for at least 2,000 years.[xlv] The Chinese name translates as the “herb of spiritual potency” and was highly prized as an elixir of immortality.[xlvi] Its Traditional Chinese Medicine indications include treatment of general fatigue and weakness, sleeplessness and more.[xlvii]
Reishi Mushroom Research
Reishi constituents seem to have a variety of effects including antioxidant, immune modulating, and cardiovascular benefits.[xlviii] Research has shown that human subjects treated with reishi polysaccharide fractions enjoyed enhanced the immune responses.[xlix] Other controlled clinical trials have shown that reishi promoted healthy blood pressure, triglycerides and HDL-cholesterol already within a normal range.[l] [li] [lii]
Additional research with reishi combined with two other herbs demonstrated effectiveness in promoting healthy joint function and comfort. Also, a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study [liii] found that reishi extract was effective for men with lower urinary tract symptoms.
Popular Delivery Forms for Mushroom-based Supplements
So now that we've established the health value of these mushrooms, what are the delivery forms that a brand owner should consider when planning to formulate a mushroom-based supplement?
The answer is that depends on what you’d like to have in the formulation. The flavor of mushroom extracts can range between earthy/nutty to slightly bitter. So, if you’d like a powdered product, you’ll need to choose those mushrooms with a relatively neutral flavor profile, or those only requiring a low dose so that any undesirable flavor qualities can get lost among the other ingredients. If you’re good with a capsule, then the mushroom flavor won’t be an issue. You may also want to consider a combination of two or more mushrooms since they tend to have complementary effects.
How Can NutraScience Labs Help You Create Mushroom-based Supplements?
If you want to make sure to make the right mushroom choices regarding delivery forms and combinations with other mushrooms and nutraceuticals, you’ll want to make sure to work with an experienced contract manufacturer like NutraScience Labs. We’ve helped over 2,300 dietary supplement brands around the globe manufacture and bring customized, high-quality nutraceuticals to the market, so we can help guide you in making the right choices for your mushroom product.
For more information on how to get started or to speak with one of our production specialists, request a free supplement manufacturing price quote or call 855-492-7388.
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