The authors are calling for improved quality control within the sector, particularly given that these best-selling botanicals are increasingly marketed towards consumers for their immune health benefits.
“The growing interest in mycotherapy requires a strong commitment from the scientific community to propose supplements of safe origin and genetic purity and to expand clinical trials to evaluate their real effects on humans,” they write.
A superfood consumed since earliest history
Mushrooms and their derivates are known to have important health benefits and have been used in traditional medicine since ancient times.
Not only are they important sources of bioactive compounds but they exhibit a range of pharmacological activities, including antiallergic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antiviral, cytotoxic, immunomodulating, antidepressive, antihyperlipidemic, antidiabetic, digestive, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective, nephroprotective, osteoprotective, and hypotensive properties.
In recent years, their use in dietary supplements has rocketed in popularity: the global functional mushroom market size was valued at $26.7 billion in 2021, and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 10.8% from 2022 to 2030, according to Grand View Research.
Lack of oversight of manufacturing practices
Many European companies that sell mushroom-based products are supplied by manufacturers in China: the leading grower of mushrooms worldwide, it accounted for more than 87% of production in 2013.
However, as the Italian study notes, many production facilities do not have internationally recognised good manufacturing practices and products sourced therein are not always of ascertained origin.
Similarly, in the US, the ingredients for most mushroom-derived supplements are sourced from China – but these are often subject to inaccurate labelling due to the addition, intentional or otherwise, of lower-grade ingredients, non-target plants, and synthetic compounds.
In Italy, products derived from medicinal mushrooms often fail to meet the required quality criteria, the study authors write in the journal Nutrients.
‘Traditional use’ case not enough to ensure safety
The researchers analysed 19 samples from six different producers to ascertain the mushroom species used; just six products displayed a composition in line with that stated on the label.
They also examined the active fungal ingredients for other components and contaminants, such as ergosterol, aflatoxins, heavy metals, nicotine, and total glucan, and found that the data were not in line with the information indicated on the labels.
Despite medicinal mushroom products generally being considered safe for their “traditional use”, the authors conclude that their analyses “suggest inconsistencies from a different point of view: the diversity of the mushrooms declared on the label and the real content in beta-glucans, as well as the presence of contaminants in concentrations higher than those required by law”.
“Greater controls relating to the qualitative and quantitative analysis of nutraceutical extracts, in addition to close dialogues between the scientific community and regulatory authorities, are urgent in order to regulate a market with strong legislative limits and protect the health of the consumer,” they conclude.