Dried Red Reishi + mycelium + substrate... 'Full-spectrum' ?
Considered a true natural BRM (Biological Response Modifier) beta-glucans are an exceptional powerful tool to gain and maintain good health and quality of life.
If you've ever visited an anti-quackery website, you might have noticed that one of the standards they use to define a 'snake oil' product is that it claims to help for a lot, if not all health problems. Our immune system, if we could bottle and sell it, would definitely be classified as 'quackery' using that standard, and it would probably never receive a FDA stamp of approval.
It lacks a so-called 'single identifiable active ingredient' which can define the 'mechanism of action‘. Since the main action of e.g. medicinal mushrooms is balancing the immune function and, by doing so, restoring health and quality of life, they are very suspect in the eyes of the anti-quacks. Too good to be true = snake oil = quackery. Although these anti-quacks are often right, they are wrong this time.
Let's see how the immune system operates.
A simplified overview of the immune system
We share the planet with countless pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. The immune system is the human body’s defence against these 'foreign invaders'. Consisting of a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs, the immune system involves a sensitive process of checks and balances within the body that produce an immune response that is prompt, accurate, effective and self-limiting. As a result, scientists believe that a healthy immune system can be compared both in scope and complexity to the workings of our brain and nervous system - and it is every bit as important for survival.
How does the body’s immune system function? What are the main factors that influence its ability to fight infection and disease? Here's a layman’s explanation.
The ability of the immune system to protect the body is based on an incredibly elaborate and dynamic regulatory-communications network. A complex network of cells, tissues and organs stationed throughout the body passes information back and forth, like clouds of bees swarming around a hive. This includes the lymphoid organs because they are concerned with the growth, development, and deployment of lymphocytes - the white cells in the blood that are the key operatives of the immune system. Lymphocytes come in several varieties -- we'll explain those below.
Lympocytes (orange) attacking cancer cells
Scanning Electron Microscopic image.
Apart from the blood and the lymphatic vessels that carry lymphocytes to and from the other structures in the body, lymphoid organs include the bone marrow, thalamus, lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, adenoids and the appendix. There are about 600 lymph nodes (or glands) most of them clustered around the neck, groin, and armpits. As lymph flows through the body, it filters the body of disease. During an examination, doctors often feel the lymph nodes in the neck to see if they are swollen. Swollen lymph nodes mean that the nodes are producing additional white blood cells because the body is fighting an infection.
Cells destined to become immune cells are, like all other blood cells, produced in the bone marrow, the soft tissue in the hollow shafts of long bones. Here, they develop into two major types of lymphocytes called B cells and T cells. While B cells complete their maturation in the bone marrow, T cells migrate to the thymus, an organ that lies high behind the breastbone, where they multiply and mature into cells capable of producing an immune response. Once they have matured, some lymphocytes congregate in immune organs or lymph nodes while others use the blood circulation as well as a body-wide network of lymphatic vessels to travel widely and continuously throughout the body.
Macrophage (orange) attacking E-Coli bacteria (green)
Scanning Electron Microscopic image.
Another type of white blood cells called macrophages (which can be translated as 'big eaters') reinforces the work of the lymphocytes because they engulf and digest micro-organisms and antigens.
Along with white blood cells, the immune system employs a complex system of small, bean-shaped lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, abdomen, and groin to create lymphatic routes for the body. Each lymph node contains specialised compartments that house platoons of B cells, T cells, and other cells capable of sparking an immune response. Clusters of lymphoid tissue can be found in many parts of the body, such as around the mucous membranes lining the respiratory and digestive tracts that serve as gateways into the body. They include the tonsils and adenoids and the appendix. Further, the immune system deploys the spleen, a fist-sized organ at the upper left of the abdomen, as a filter for the blood. In the spleen, B cells become activated and produce large amounts of antibodies. Also, old red blood cells are destroyed in the spleen.
The immune system has many different types of cells acting together to take care of unwanted infections and altered cells. Cytokines are the chemicals produced by these cells in order to communicate and orchestrate the attack. Binding to specific receptors on target cells, cytokines recruit many other cells and substances to the field of action. Cytokines also encourage cell growth, promote cell activation, direct cellular traffic, and destroy target cells.
Cytokines include interleukins and growth factors, but another cytokine - interferon - is considered especially important because it can boost the immune system’s ability to recognise foreign invaders.
In humans, there are three major classes of interferon: alpha, beta and gamma. Because interferon is considered an effective anti-viral agent, and is important both for orchestrating and stimulating the immune system response, it is used to treat Hepatitis C and other diseases. Moreover, researchers have shown that pharmaceutical interferon, given in daily doses, can prevent infection and illness.
Vials of Interferon.
However, pharmaceutical forms of interferon can cause side effects such as nosebleeds and are not considered useful in treating established colds.
While researching medicinal mushrooms, it became evident that some of them are immune-regulators, substances that can quiet or activate the immune system, depending on the particular circumstances. An immune-regulator quiets an overactive immune system, and it increases activity when the immune system is sluggish. Basically, an immune-regulator triggers the production of white blood cells when the system is under-active, and it lowers their number when the system is overactive (allergies, various auto-immune diseases, etc.).
Cordyceps sinensis e.g. was found to stimulate the production of interferon. More about the specific effects of medicinal mushrooms in a later article..
The immune system is considered one of the most sophisticated systems in the human body because it displays several remarkable characteristics. The central duty of the immune system is to distinguish between what belongs to the body - 'self' - and what doesn’t belong to the body - 'non-self'- .
For this reason, every cell that originates in the body has distinctive molecules - identification papers, so to speak - that mark it as 'self'. But when the immune system encounters an antigen - the substance that announces the cell or organism is 'non-self' - the immune troops move quickly to eliminate the intruders.
What happens is that the presence of the antigen signals interferon or another cytokine to trigger an immune response by either the B or T cells. When the foreign microbe presents an antigen on the surface of one of these cells, the B or T cells multiply and produce antibodies that specifically bind to that antigen.
Patient with psoriasis.
Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease.
This trigger response then leads to other parts of the immune system engulfing and killing the invading cells or to what is known as the 'complement destruction cascade', where serum proteins called 'complement' bind to the immobilised antibodies and destroy the bacteria by creating holes in them.
Whenever T cells and B cells are activated, some turn into 'memory-cells' that enable the immune system to remember previous experiences and react accordingly. Thus, if a person were to contract chicken pox, the immune system would produce memory cells for this disease, resulting in future immunity. Long-term or 'specific' immunity can be naturally acquired by previous infection or artificially acquired by vaccines made from infectious agents.
Problems in the immune system come in two varieties. When the immune system is under-active, it makes you susceptible to infections, cancer, and other illnesses. When it is overactive, it may create allergies and autoimmune reactions.
Auto-immune means the immune system is overstimulated and mistakenly attacks the body. Diseases such as diabetes, lupus, psoriasis and lymphoma are autoimmune diseases. AIDS, hepatitis, the flu, and colds, on the other hand, are associated with a weakened, under-active immune system.
A foetus already has an immune response and once born, he or she has a fully intact natural immune response. That system is stimulated after birth (more 'acquired' immunity) and reaches its peak at the onset of puberty, between ages 11 and 15 (sometimes later, if a child lives in a hygienic environment).
When we age our immune function starts to decline.
Many old age related diseases are related to this.
A well-functioning immune system is essential for a good quality of life.
Then, starting at age 35 or so, the immune system starts making mistakes. Some parts are active while others are lazy, and some parts may overdo it and perhaps cause autoimmune disorders.
After age 50 a steady decline sets in, leading to all kinds of old-age diseases.
While the elderly produce the same number of lymphocytes as their younger counterparts, their configuration is different leading to less vigorous and less effective infection-fighting cells.
To be blunt, the human body is not supposed to live long past that age. Nature wants you to make room for subsequent generations after your fiftieth birthday.
At the same time, research points to psychological stress, lack of adequate sleep, poor diet and lack of exercise as factors that affect the immune system.
Because stress produces many different effects on the endocrine systems, including the well-known fight or flight response, scientists hypothesise that the abilities of the immune system are diminished after frequent activation of the autonomic nervous system in the case of chronic stresses.
For example, a large study comparing the parents of children with cancer with parents whose children were relatively healthy showed that chronic psychological stress might reduce the immune system's reactions to hormonal secretions that were normally used to fight the inflammatory response.
Regarding the link between sleep and the immune system, research summarised by the National Sleep Foundation finds that sleep deprivation weakens the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and the flu (both caused by a virus). It is also not uncommon for people who suffer from sleep deprivation to suffer from other problems including diabetes, asthma or a second sleep disorder. Another example is the ulcer.
Helicobacter pylori bacteria on the surface of the human intestine
Scanning Electron Microscopic image
Many people believe ulcers are directly caused by stress. This is not true; ulcers are caused by the Heliobacter Pylori, a nasty bacteria (identified for the first time in 1982) that lives in our stomach, but is not causing problems in 80% of those infected with it. But if we are under stress of whatever nature, this stress might affect our immune system. Which can make a 'harmless' bacteria turn into a potentially life-threatening one (stomach cancer might also be caused by the Heliobacter Pylori). Another example of the importance of a well-functioning immune system.
The role of nutrition in determining the strength of the immune system has also been widely studied. According to a number of studies, both undernourished people and those who are overweight or obese are at greater risk from infections. At the same time, research suggests that reducing the amount of fat in the diet may increase immune activity. For these reasons, nutritionists recommend a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. In one placebo-controlled study of healthy elderly adults, daily consumption of a multivitamin- multi-mineral supplement already resulted in fewer days of infection-related illnesses.
Most people automatically assume that the daily dose as recommended by the supplier on the product label makes sense and is rooted in research.
During our investigation of the available scientific research we found that this assumption is in general not justified. The majority of dose recommendations appears to be arbitrary.
The therapeutic potential of a mushroom product is based on the amount of beta-glucans, triterpenes, etc. that are present. These are known as "bioactive ingredients". Only high-quality extracts do list guaranteed levels/percentages of those bioactive ingredients. Apart from being informative this information is also an excellent valuation tool.
Non-extracted mushroom powders or tinctures are unfortunately indigestible for most people and therefore cannot guarantee therapeutic effects, nor can they guarantee bioactive ingredients because this is not possible in unprocessed non-standardized natural products.(1)
The dosage recommendation as given by the producer should ideally be based on the therapeutic potential of the product, just like with prescription drugs. After all, the main reason for a consumer to choose and to take a supplement is to achieve a certain therapeutic effect, and a therapeutic effect can only be achieved when the right amount (= correct dose) of bioactives is taken. Scientific research showed over and over again that the therapeutic effect of e.g. beta-glucans is dose-dependent, and the concentration of pure and bioavailable beta-glucan in a product and the dose show a strong relation to immunological effects.(2)
In one case the optimal dose for many immunological parameters was found to be around 5 - 10 mg of beta-glucan/kg/day, with the highest dose causing reductions in some immunological reactions (2 : Deng.).
Using this guideline, an 80 kg person needs 400 - 800 mg of pure beta-glucan per day. The effective dose of beta-glucan within a mushroom product is determined by the quality of the source and the purity of the extract, which in turn is based on the extraction method that has been used.
(Note: this specific research tested a highly purified Maitake extract. Supplements don't have this level of purity, so a higher dose is needed. Also, Maitake beta-glucan is structurally different from other mushroom's, therefore this dosage-indication cannot be extrapolated just like that to other mushrooms).
Unlike the example mentioned above, the majority of scientific research unfortunately does not check the details of the product they are investigating. They usually describe how they extract the mushroom and how much is given to the subject (people, animals) but fail to map the active ingredients present in the extract they are investigating.
This is truly a missed opportunity, because with natural products such as mushrooms the potency can vary significantly depending on where they are found / have been cultivated and in what conditions they’ve been developing. Also, it is a missed opportunity to establish a link between the type and amount of specific bioactives and the accomplished therapeutic effect.
That makes often seen dosing recommendations such as “2 teaspoons daily” in fact meaningless, since you have no clue how much active ingredients are in those teaspoons.
In an animal model using dogs with cancer: the dogs were given a purified Coriolus versicolor extract (similar to what we offer under the name PSP-50). The results clearly showed that the life expectancy increased with the dosage. The dosage used was 25, 50 or 100 mg/kg/day. The product-specs were 38 % polysaccharides (unknown percentage of beta-glucans).(4).
ORIVeDA mushroom supplements have a high purity and therefore a high therapeutic potential. Not much is needed for daily immune support.
Based on the existing scientific research and the level of purity of our products (all are fractionated) we recommend ± 1 gram mushroom extract daily (3 capsules @ 300 mg/350mg, or 2 capsules @ 500mg, with around 25 - 40 % beta-glucans) for standard immune support and when used as a prophylactic. Only our Reishi has a recommended dosage of 2 capsules @ 300mg daily, because of its unusual high purity.
For specific health conditions the dose should be significantly higher, up to 8 or even 12 grams daily. The instruction leaflets included with our products give more details about this. Some trial and error will always be involved, though; just like with prescription drugs.
Still, some people might need less and some might need more, depending on age, weight and their general health-condition. In general -healthy- people below the age of 35 need less (e.g. 2 capsules daily), while when you're over 50 more might be necessary for the desired effect (at least 2 grams daily). The reason behind this is that the immune function of humans is optimal before the age of 35, and declines significantly after 50, which can lead to all kinds of 'old-age related' ailments (5).
The most easy way to determine the daily dosage for the more common low potency extracts is to use ORIVeDA's products' potency as a benchmark. Why ? Well, all ORIVeDA products list a large spectrum of bioactive constituents, including beta-glucans, whereas other extracts in general only list polysaccharides, if anything at all. Although all beta-glucans are polysaccharides, not all polysaccharides are beta-glucans! Despite that, knowing the percentage of polysaccharides is still better than nothing.
(To keep it simple we are not taking into account other potency factors, such as dual extraction vs. hot water extraction only, or the level of purity).
As an example, the standard daily dose for a Chaga supplement with ≥ 15% polysaccharides should be ± 3.4 grams at least, to achieve similar therapeutic effects as the ORIVeDA Chaga extract ( ≥ 50% polysaccharides). 3.4 x 15 % = 51 %.
The producer of this specific product however recommends only 2 - 6 capsules (@ 400 mg) per day (0.8 - 2.4 grams), which will be too little for most people.
This does not even take into account that low potency products are per definition less pure. The percentage of polysaccharides that can be classified as beta-glucans will not be 25- 40 % (like in the ORIVeDA products); the crucial final step of fractionation (which makes the product more pure but also much more expensive) is not included in the extraction process of these crude extracts. If it was, the product would show a much higher percentage of polysaccharides as well.
Most mushroom supplement sellers appear to be ignoring the scientific data or are unaware of them. As shown in the example, their recommended dosages are on average too low to achieve a significant therapeutic effect in most people. It will take more time and more capsules to get the same results you get with the ORIVeDA product. Or, there might be no effect at all, and you might mistake the placebo-effect that comes with all drugs and supplements for the desired effect.
In the end, it will just cost you significantly more money to get the desired results.
We are guessing here, but one reason might be marketing. Marketing means playing the customer's emotions. Oriveda is using science-based marketing (using hard verifiable facts only), but we are the only ones. Marketing aiming at basic sentiments and emotions is the standard. We still have to meet the first seller that is using the levels of active ingredients as a base for their dosage recommendations like we do in this article. Not surprising, considering the majority does not list or does not know the levels of active ingredients to start with.
"American made!" "In historic times reserved for the elite only...." "4600 years ago already highly valued..." "215 phytonutrients..." "supreme quality.." - these are all examples of "emotion-targeted" marketing. A person in a white coat or a celebrity might be recommending the product, most of the time automatically associated with "trust-worthy". "Patented" or "patent-pending" is another popular one - but most people are not aware of the fact that "patented" is never equal to "scientifically validated" - it is only indicating a unique way to do something.
It tells you nothing about the actual quality of the product, its intention is only to trigger positive associations in the potential customer that will make him/her decide to buy the product.
Having to choose between a $ 50 bottle with 60 daily servings of 1 capsule or one with 30 daily servings of 2 capsules and no further information to consider most people will go for the first one, because it appears to be a better value for money. Unfortunately, it's not that simple, as will be clear by now.
As an example, we came across an European producer that was marketing its 'XXXX' beta-glucan products as follows:
Despite their suggestion, there is no explanation why their products should be 100 - 1000 times better - it is just mushroom beta-glucan, extracted using generic methods (according to their own documentation).
In fact, in this particular case the EFSA (European version of the FDA) decided that this product could be considered completely safe (and was allowed to be sold without restrictions in the EU market as a food additive) 'because the potency was so low that it was likely more useful to just consume the mushroom itself'.
The daily dose as recommended by the producer was 0.0417 mg/kg/day. Compare that to the outcome of the scientific research mentioned before (5 - 7 mg/kg/day) - that is 144 times higher!!
A fine example of an arbitrary dose recommendation for a low potency product, marketed as being 'better' (and suggesting better value for money) but without any backup of why it is supposed to be better.
The dosage recommendations for mushroom products in general appear to be arbitrary and not rooted in scientific research. For the producers the deciding factor appears to be to give the customer the idea he's getting excellent value for money (so it will make him buy the product), not to help him normalize his health by providing him with good advice and good quality.
• Bioavailability of Medicinal Mushroom Supplements
• Harada T, Miura N, Adachi Y, Nakajima M, Yadomae T, Ohno N. Effect of SCG, 1,3-b-D-Glucan from Sparassis Crispa on the Hematopoietic response in Cyclophosphamide Induced Leukopenic mice. Biol Pharm Bul 2002;25: 931-9
• Carolyn J. Torkelson et. al. - Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor (= Coriolus versicolor) in Women with Breast Cancer. ISRN Oncology, Volume 2012, Article ID 251632
• Babineau TJ, Hackford A, Kenler A, Bistrian B, Forse RA, Fairchild PG, et al. A phase II multicenter double-blind ran- domized placebo-controlled study of three dosage of an immunomodulator (PGG-glucan) in high-risk surgical patients. Arch Surg 1994;129:1204-10.
• Dalia Akramienė et. al. - Effects of b-glucans on the immune system. Medicina (Kaunas) 2007; 43(8)
• Deng, G., et al. - A phase I/II trial of a polysaccharide extract from Grifola frondosa (Maitake mushroom) in breast cancer patients: Immunological effects. J. Canc. Res. Clin. Oncol., 135: 1215-1221
• Carolyn J. Torkelson et. al. - Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor (= Coriolus versicolor) in Women with Breast Cancer. ISRN Oncology, Volume 2012, Article ID 251632
Dorothy Cimino Brown and Jennifer Reetz - Single Agent Polysaccharopeptide Delays Metastases and Improves Survival in Naturally Occurring Hemangiosarcoma. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2012, Article ID 384301
• Burns, E.A. - Effects of aging on immune function. J Nutr Health Aging. 2004;8(1):9-18
• Aging changes in immunity
• The Immune System in the Elderly: A Fair Fight Against Diseases? • Suzanne C. Segerstrom, et. al. - Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004 July ; 130(4): 601–630
• Ann O'Leary - Stress, Emotion and Human Immune Function. Psychol Bull. 1990 ; 108(3): 363-382
• Firdaus S. Dhabhar - Enhancing versus Suppressive Effects of Stress on Immune Function: Implications for Immunoprotection versus Immunopathology. Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology, Vol 4, No 1 (Spring), 2008: pp 2–11
Stress is mostly based on ’perception’ and therefore it is subjective. In other words, what is perceived as ‘stressful’ is what causes stress. Most people will associate stress mainly with being very busy and feeling pressured, which causes mental anxiety. They’re right, but there’s more to it.
Stress at its core is a defensive response to external factors. Physical, mental and environmental triggers all can and do cause stress or symptoms of stress. Stress is a constellation of events, consisting of a stimulus (the stressor) that causes a reaction in the brain (the perception of stress; anxiety) which in turn activates physiologic fight-or-flight systems in the body (the stress response).
Acute stress (defined as lasting minutes to maybe a few hours) can actually have beneficial effects on the immune system, but chronic stress (defined as lasting several hours daily for weeks, months or years, even) can create havoc in our body and mind. If the stress is chronic the stress response will get exhausted, and eventually will lead to unpredictable and unbalancing effects on our health and well-being. The physical side-effects of stress are mainly caused by chronic -mental- stress.
Physical stressors have been defined as external challenges to homeostasis (homeostasis is, simply put, the healthy balance between all bodily functions; this balance should be as constant as possible for optimal health and well-being) and mental stressors can be defined as ‘the anticipation, justified or not, that a challenge to homeostasis looms’. This ‘anticipation’ is what triggers several fight-or-flight systems in the body; this is what we call the ‘stress response’.
Chronic stress is everywhere. It has become a part of our life to such an extent that we no longer notice it as such.
In general chronic stress was found to suppress and dysregulate natural and adaptive immune responses through a wide variety of mechanisms.
Science associates stress with increased arousal or anxiety, increased blood pressure, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and suppression of the immune response (also see the publications listed earlier in this newsletter). It has also been linked to seasonal and general depression, the postpartum period, chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia syndromes, allergies, ulcers and even cancer, to name just a few.
Some common examples of stress:
As mentioned earlier, stress is for a big part rooted in ’perception’; what is perceived as ‘stressful’ by one individual is perceived as ‘nothing special or everyday routine’ by another.
Wouldn’t it be great if this subjective experience could be controlled, preferably in a natural way ?
Meditation, T’ai Chi and yoga are examples of traditional do-it-yourself stress-control, but they take time. Paradoxically, that same feeling of stress and anxiety one is trying to reduce can be a barrier when trying to get in the mood for doing these exercises.
If stress is starting to affect your physical health, you are entering a potentially dangerous spiral. Probably the first people to look into the subject were the Soviets in the 1940s, although their goal was formulated somewhat differently. It started with Order No 4654-p of the People’s Commissars Council of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (March 4, 1943).
It concerned research work ‘with the purpose of finding […] tonic substances’ for both soldiers and persons working in the Russian defense industry during the Second World War.
Tonic substances that would increase ‘the state of non-specific resistance’ under conditions of stress. They wanted to improve the ability of people to adapt quickly and easily to external triggers of whatever nature, turning them into super-soldiers.
That’s when the term ‘adaptogens’ was coined.
Stalin himself ordered the research that would lead to the discovery of adaptogens
As originally defined, an adaptogen was a substance that had to:
Adaptogens are part of a new class of metabolic regulators that increase the ability to adapt to and avoid damage by external/environmental -stress- factors. Since 1997, the term ‘adaptogen’ has been used as a functional term by Russian health-regulatory authorities, and in 1998 this term was allowed as a functional claim for certain products by the United States’s FDA. The primary site of action of adaptogens appears to be the HPA (the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) which is responsible for the release of cortisol as a reaction to stress; and their secondary sites of action are the liver and specific components of the immune and cardiovascular systems.
Medicinal mushrooms as a class are without exception adaptogens. They meet in general all requirements; they are all:
Stress Protection and Reducing Fatigue
Rodiola rosea is a true adaptogen and is used to enhance mental and physical performance – especially reducing mental fatigue and stress related to the challenges of daily life and dealing with 'fight-or-flight' responses.
Focused Attention and Retention of New Information
Global information overload is challenging our cognitive functions and stressing our brains to retain new information. Taking Bacopa on a regular basis, as the clinical trials suggest, will help reduce cognitive stress and anxiety caused by the overwhelming demands on our memory in daily life. Bacopa may also facilitate the processing of new information by improving the functionality of memory and a more focused attention.
L-Theanine induces alpha brain waves which help by increasing mental focus during challenging tasks and activities that require greater concentration and attention – and most importantly accomplishing this goal without paying the price of becoming edgy, hyper or tense.
The combination of ORIVeDA CCCE® with ORIVeDA CONSCIO® is no doubt the best toolset currently on the market to manage chronic stress and the destructive and unbalancing effects this chronic stress has on our general health and our quality of life.
It is recommended in particular for those people that experience chronic stress and have no easy or functional way to escape it.
It is also recommended for those that want to age gracefully, taking into account that after the age of 50 the immune function and our cognitive functions start declining quite quickly, which can have an enormous impact on the quality of life.
These supplements are part of a new class of premium dietary tools. They are true natural biological response modifiers, designed using science but rooted in tradition.
When we decided to add Reishi to our product line, we asked ourselves the following questions:
The first two questions could be answered quickly.
We discovered that what makes Reishi stand out from other medicinal mushrooms is the combination of bioactives; polysaccharides (both ((1>3)(1>6) beta-d-glucans and protein- and peptide-linked polysaccharides) and triterpenes, many of which are unique for Reishi. (see our Reishi monograph for all details - here)
These ingredients appear to have a powerful synergistic effect when combined, so it was obvious our product should be a full-spectrum dual extract with optimal percentages of these bioactives in a bioavailable form.
In order to achieve that, the source material should be red Reishi fruiting bodies, cultivated on wood logs (also known as 'duanwood': meaning 'original wood', the same wood Reishi grows on in nature). Research showed that this combi produces the highest level of bioactives.
It was not easy to come up with a Reishi product that outclasses all others, because there are literally 100s of them, with prices ranging from a few to hundreds of dollars. Even more confusing: suppliers' prices for Reishi products with almost identical specifications could vary as much as 600% (!) from one supplier to the other. How was that possible ?
To get an answer to these questions and to ensure we would get the best and most pure product, in line with our other mushroom extracts, we had to do a lot of research. This took considerable time, but it was worth it - not only did we learn a lot but we can now supply our customers with the best Reishi product for a reasonable price.
Reishi being cultivated in bags with wood chips and sawdust. For superior Reishi cultivation on wood logs is the only option, though.
Example of a Reishi tincture supplement facts label. There is no indication of bioactive ingredients, so the consumer has no idea what he is buying.
Our first step while researching the competition was to separate the extracts from the non-extracted products and tinctures.
Non-extracted mushroom products are mostly indigestible for humans, so their therapeutic potential is minimal. (See this article for the details about this.)
Tinctures without a specification of bioactives on the supplement facts label can also be classified as having limited therapeutic potential - most, if not all of them are just non-extracted Reishi powder in alcohol and/or water with an unverifiable therapeutic potency.
Unverifiable, because the producer cannot and does not guarantee any bioactives. There is not a single Reishi tincture that has specifications of the bioactives on the supplement facts label. In terms of therapeutic potency tinctures are the worst, right after non-extracted products. A detailed explanation why mushroom tinctures are best avoided in general can be found here.
The main idea seems to be that extraction will happen in the bottle over time. This won't work well - see this link for an explanation and also see the description of extraction, elsewhere in this article.
Hot water extracts
In line with our other mushroom extracts, we wanted a full-spectrum Reishi product, in particular because, as said before, our research showed that what sets Reishi apart from other medicinal mushrooms is the combination of bioactive polysaccharides and triterpenes, several of which are only found in Reishi.
Triterpenes are non-water soluble, so all hot-water-only extracts could be discarded as well - hot water extracts do not contain the non-water solubles (triterpenes, sterols) in a bioavailable form.
Filtering these out took care of a lot of the remaining (mostly cheaper) extracts but, surprisingly, also included all Japanese Reishi products. Japanese Reishi products are without exception all very expensive but offer surprisingly little value for money (for more info about how to determine the value for money, go here).
For some reason the Japanese only use hot water extraction. On top of that many add additives and fillers - more about that later. Despite their reputation (the result of good marketing), Japanese Reishi products do not live up to the expectations.
Supplement containing hot water extracted Reishi - the Reishi fraction is standardised at 10% polysaccharides
None of these sellers pointed out the limitations of their hot water extract (no triterpenes). Many were actually emphasising the Reishi triterpenes on their websites as a reason to choose a Reishi product.
In fact, the sellers offering non-extracted or biomass products were doing exactly the same - more proof that reading the -governmentally supervised- supplement facts label is essential if you do not want to be fooled. Even better: ask for a Certificate of Analysis !
Dual -full-spectrum- extracts
With the non-extracted products and the hot-water-only extracts filtered out there were still quite a few Reishi extracts left in the competition.
One of the best competitors (probably the best - we were not able to find a more potent product) was a product called ReishiMax ($ 1.25 -1.48 per gelatin capsule). The specifications are 20:1 extract, with 13.5% polysaccharides and 6% triterpenes. (None of the competitors are specifying the beta-glucan fraction, like ORIVeDA does).
ORIVeDA's specifications (35:1 extract, over 30% polysaccharides -(incl. 90% beta-glucans)- and over 6 % triterpenes) are significantly better in comparison, and the value for money is just amazing: $0.63 per vegetarian capsule.
On top of that ORIVeDA's Reishi Primo is GMP and ISO certified and shipping is included in the price.
The HongKong Consumer Council compared 26 Reishi supplements several years ago (Choice magazine #286, August 15, 2000), to determine their value for money.
Choice magazine is the leading publication dedicated to consumers' interests in Hong Kong
The amount of polysaccharides (excluding starch and dietary fibers) was used as a basis. All products were tested in an independent laboratory, because only 4 out of 26 actually listed the percentage of polysaccharides on their label. None of the supplements mentioned triterpenes as their focus.
Two of these four contained only around 3/5 of the indicated amount. The supplements ranged in price from $2.84 to $89.
Using the determined percentage of polysaccharides as a guide, the price differences were just baffling; ranging from a modest $ 4.39 to a whopping $ 365.10 per gram polysaccharides, meaning a price difference of about 83 times!!
In case you are interested: you'll need ± 9-10 capsules of ORIVeDA's Reishi Primo to get 1 gram of polysaccharides. The cost per gram would be $ 6.32, and you can count on a good amount of triterpenes as well.
The majority of the remaining Reishi products (that might be dual extracted - this is not always clear) are not specifying bioactives on their supplement facts label, but are using statements like '15:1 extract' instead. This can be considered a potentially deceiving 'quality marker': it only indicates a reduction in mass or volume, nothing more.
There is also no way to verify a claim like this. Simply drying and powdering a mushroom can already achieve a 10:1 ratio, because the main component (up to 90%) of many mushrooms is water. Common sense tells us that unless it is backed up with further specifications this is no reliable indication of quality.
The reason why this 'ratio-indicator' is nevertheless used a lot soon became clear to us, though, when we were looking for a reliable supplier and investigated their extraction procedures - see below.
Example of a 'ratio' extract. If you read this label fully it also tells you (but does not guarantee you: the statement is not in the 'facts' box!) that it is a 10% polysaccharide extract.
It also -deceivingly- suggests the presence of other constituents like triterpenes, but these are not bioavailable because this is just a basic hot water extract.
Most suppliers do cut some corners while trying to find a balance between quality and price. Their main motivation is usually 'the cheaper the better', not the therapeutic quality of the product.
Instead of using Reishi fruiting bodies grown on wood logs (considered the best method) they use fruiting bodies grown on sawdust or bioreactor-grown mycelia (mycelia = the mushroom's 'roots'). Some actually do use the wood log method ('duanwood Reishi') but then use a flawed extraction method to cut costs (see the 'Extraction' paragraph; below).
The products resulting from these methods are at best a compromise both in terms of active ingredients and therapeutic potency. However, they are cheap, in particular the bioreactor-method (aka 'deep layer cultivation') produces cheap source material, because mycelia develop exceptionally fast. Combined with hot water extraction you'll get a product similar to the majority of what is currently available. A cheap compromise of what it can be. Smart marketing is then used to make up for the lack of verifiable therapeutic quality.
More details about cultivation can be found in our monograph - here.
This Reishi is cultivated on wood logs, which are buried in nutrient-rich soil.
Reishi has a very low yield of triterpenes, much lower then e.g. Chaga, a similar 'woody' mushroom. To get a good percentage of triterpenes AND a good percentage of polysaccharides, lengthy, labor intensive and therefore expensive multi-step extraction procedures are needed. (We leave hot water-only extracts out of the discussion - these are a compromise per definition, as explained before.)
Many producers of dual extracts, however, also make compromises during the extraction phase to keep the production costs low: they use e.g. a mix of water/ethanol to perform the extraction - the higher the percentage of ethanol in the mix, the higher the percentage of triterpenes and the lower the percentage of polysaccharides, and vice versa.
This single-step extraction works reasonably well but it results in a relatively crude extract with low purity. These 'dual extracts' are usually marketed as 'xx : 1' extracts - the actual percentages of polysaccharides/triterpenes are low and fluctuate significantly between production batches, so for competitive and legal reasons it is better to leave those details out.
Instead, a lot of emphasis is placed on the fact that this is 'duanwood Reishi' or a similar property.
Chinese engineers at work in an extraction room
Determining polysaccharide and triterpene percentages is not expensive at all and a high level of those on the supplement facts label is an unbeatable selling point. Logic tells us the only reason not to mention those percentages is because the outcome is less than impressive. The supplement seller chooses to keep it vague, for marketing reasons.
The best (but also the most expensive) option is a three step extraction process, with hot water and ethanol extraction executed separately, followed by alcohol precipitation. The first two steps step can be repeated several times, if necessary.
The hot water extraction should ideally be performed under pressure, because extended exposure to heat will cause disintegration of the polysaccharides' molecular chains over time, rendering them therapeutically useless. Performing the hot water extraction under pressure (16-20 kg/cm2) prevents this from happening, resulting in a high yield of bioactive polysaccharides (beta-glucans). A third step (essential for a high grade of purity) is alcohol precipitation, removing low molecular weight polysaccharides, useless protein, etc.
ORIVeDA is using this proprietary multi-step extraction protocol, followed by spray-freeze-drying to ensure no ethanol/alcohol residue is left and a finely powdered extract with a high bioavailability and purity will be the result.
Specifications of a Japanese Reishi product. A 13:1 'extract'.
Additives are listed, but surprisingly none of the bioactive Reishi ingredients, such as triterpenes, polysaccharides or glucans are specified
Triterpenes are oily and a high percentage (over ± 8%) will cause problems when the desired result is a powdered extract.
To prevent this and/or to increase the percentage of polysaccharides suppliers add e.g. dextrin, malt-dextrin or starch to the product, usually just before the drying phase. These additives are also polysaccharides but without therapeutic value.
Most of the time they are not specified on the label.
We've come across Reishi products where up to 30% of dextrin had been added. The supplement facts label stated "35% polysaccharides" which is accurate in itself but leaves out the fact that these are mostly non-mushroom polysaccharides and therapeutically worthless.
A specific Japanese -hot water- extract (Toi Reishi) contains only 25% of Reishi extract and 75% of dextrin! At ± $ 1 per capsule (@ 250mg) not really good value for money, at least in our opinion.
There is a simple DIY-test for those that want to test for this adulteration themselves: open a capsule and mix the extract powder with a bit of boiled water to make a liquid solution. Then add a few drops of iodine. If the solution changes color (blue, red) it contains non-mushroom polysaccharides.
Another additive found in Reishi is Maltitol, a mild sweetener, which is probably added to mask the intensely bitter taste of a Reishi extract. Many if not all of the cheaper Reishi extracts (but also all Japanese Reishi products we know of) contain dextrin and/or Maltitol or some other sweetener. Lactose, sucrose and rice powder are also very common.
Synthetic acids are sometimes added to increase the level of triterpenes in Reishi. The determination of triterpenes is done in a laboratory using spectrography (UV/VIS) and specific synthetic acids will show up in the same spectrum as the Reishi triterpenes when tested.
We know this is done by several producers to improve their product specifications and their profit margin - although this is pure fraud. Their low price is usually a giveaway - it is impossible, even in a low income country like China, to produce a good quality Reishi extract for only a few dollars.
Some producers will even admit it when asked directly.
We had to conclude, again, that 'cheap supplier' or 'cheap product' usually means a significant compromise when it comes to quality and potential therapeutic potency. On the other hand, 'expensive' is not a guarantee for quality either - as the Japanese products proved. And don't forget the 'value for money test' done by the HongKong Consumer Council…
For more general information about mushroom extracts, how to choose the right one and how to determine the value for money please read this link.
Broken spore and the spore oil products are relatively new Reishi products.
They are described as containing 'the essence of Reishi's therapeutic power', so these were one of the first options we investigated when we started to look for a Reishi product.
Reishi spore oil capsules
A Reishi spore is tiny: 5-8 microns in size, only visible with a microsope. Each spore contains a microscopic amount of 'spore oil', mostly triterpenes.
You'll need about 1000 kg Reishi mushrooms to collect 1 kg of spores. The spores are 'cracked' and the oil extracted using something called 'supercritical CO2 extraction'. This is an expensive process and the yield is very very low. Around 20,000 kg of Reishi is needed for 1 liter of spore oil.
Spore products are therefore always very expensive. Three to four dollars for a small capsule is about the absolute minimum. If you're charged less, it is most likely a non-pure or plain fake product.
We decided not to include Reishi spore products in our product line, the main reason being that the bioavailability of isolated triterpenes is very low. The solubility is almost zero, making absorption by the body (and therefore an actual therapeutic effect) questionable when taken orally. Questionable, also because almost no research has been done so far with spore oil products (we couldn't find anything at all, to be honest) and in both China and Japan these products are therefore frowned upon.
Another reason to be cautious is the amount of fraudulent products on the market, because so far there is no objective quality standard for spore products.
A Reishi spore (magnification ±40.000) and, on the right, after it has been 'cracked'
using supercritical CO2 extraction
The Hong Kong Consumer council tested 16 Reishi spore products (Choice magazine #375, January 2008). All claimed over 99% of broken spores (higher is better) but half of them had only a fraction of the indicated broken spore rate - the lowest was 5% instead of 99.9%.
Six of the samples claimed to be 100% Reishi spores without any additives, but when analysed were found to contain Reishi mycelia, fillers and vitamin E(!), none of which were listed on the label. Furthermore, several samples contained much less than the indicated quantity per capsule. One sample was spoiled and contained oxidized oil.
Also, already in 2005 the Consumer Council issued a report describing among others the case of an eldery patient that developed liver poisoning after daily consumption of a Reishi broken spore product for a month. This is most likely just an incident and one does not know what exactly did happen and whether or not this connection is justified, but despite that, we believe it's better to be safe than sorry.
In the interest of our potential Reishi customers ORIVeDA decided to stick with a therapeutically proven useful, well-researched, time tested and reliable full-spectrum product that provides significant more value for money and covers a broader therapeutic spectrum than a broken spore product.