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Mushrooms as Medicine? Supplement Makers Promise Major Health Benefits

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(Bloomberg Businessweek) —

Robin Miller practiced internal medicine in traditional settings for a decade, but got frustrated by the short amount of time she spent with patients and the poor tools at her disposal. She says it felt as if most doctors were treating symptoms and not root problems. “So I stopped the regular practice,” she says, “and decided to do integrative medicine.”

Miller did a two-year fellowship in 2000 with alternative medicine guru Andrew Weil at his namesake center at the University of Arizona. Weil has written more than a dozen books on the subjects of healthy living, and mycology (the study of fungi) is a passion: Since 2005 he’s teamed up with Origins cosmetics, which sells a Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom skin-care collection.

Mycology inspired Miller, too. In 2006 she opened Triune Integrative Medicine in Medford, Ore., where she combines conventional medical care with mushroom supplements, yoga, acupuncture, and other complementary therapies to treat conditions such as menopause and diseases including cancer.

One early patient was diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare skin cancer. “The local dermatologist wanted to cut her finger off,” Miller says. “Which made no sense because by the time a tumor is there it has spread.”

Miller gave the patient Stamets 7, a blend of mushrooms and other fungi including royal sun blazei, cordyceps, reishi, maitake, lion’s mane, chaga, and mesima to support immunity. (The mix was formulated by Paul Stamets, who’s considered a rock star by many in the mycology world.) She also recommended turkey tail to soothe the nerves causing back pain.

Six weeks later, Miller received a call: When the woman’s doctor removed the tumor, the cells were dead. Miller notes that mushrooms may not work for everyone, but this patient’s chemo-resistant cancer responded well, and she went into remission. Several studies in the past decade have shown evidence of what Eastern medicine has long believed: That reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail, maitake, and other mushrooms can assist the body’s immune response.

Mushrooms and what they’re good for

Chaga: Antioxidant, digestion, energy, immunity, inflammation
Cordyceps: Stamina, stress
Lion’s mane: Memory, digestion, stress
Maitake: Immunity, balancing blood sugar
Reishi: Digestion, energy, immunity, mood, antioxidant, recovery
Turkey tail: Immunity, digestion, vitality

The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked a renewed interest in such supplements. Spins, a wellness-focused data technology company, reported mushroom sales in the natural retail space grew by 16.1%, to $420 million, in 2021 from the previous year. In November 2021, Allied Market Research reported that the global functional mushroom market generated $7.98 billion in 2020 and expects it to swell to $19.33 billion in 2030.

The mushroom category at nutrition chain the Vitamin Shoppe Inc. grew 25% from 2019 to 2020, says Executive Vice President Muriel Gonzalez, and more than half the sales were driven by interest in immune support. Other sought-after benefits include memory, stress, and energy boosts. Among the top-selling longtime brands are Host Defense Mushrooms (founded by Stamets), Om, and the Vitamin Shoppe’s Plnt.

But there’s also a growing number of entrepreneurs harboring a passion for the possibilities of fungi and an eye for design. Here are the companies to know.

THE MULTIVERSE

In 2020, friends Alli Schaper and Brian Friedman began this marketplace in an attempt to rebrand functional mushrooms (ones that are beneficial but nonpsychedelic) to prioritize mental health. On the bright, colorful website there are 65 brands and 500 easily searchable products, including Maya Moon Co. chaga chai cacao truffles, Popadelics mushroom chips, and the pair’s own SuperMush, a trio of mouth sprays to promote immunity, energy, and relaxation.

To avoid the pitfalls of the cannabidiol space, the marketplace requires makers to meet product requirements. “What happened with CBD is everyone made a CBD product but didn’t use the right part of the plant, and the products were ineffective,” Friedman says. Brands must have high milligrams of mushroom per serving size, have sustainably sourced ingredients, not be genetically modified, and be made from the mushroom fruiting body (stalk and cap). User reviews steer shoppers to the best products. $16 (truffles), $56 (chips), and $27 (mouth spray); yourmultiverse.com

NOOCI

Founder and Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Tan tapped into her heritage for the plant-based line Nooci. “Growing up, I would see my grandparents take reishi mushroom as part of their wellness routine,” she says. “Reishi is viewed as the elixir to longevity in Asia.” And it’s a critical part of her Noo Air nasal allergy supplement. “It helps balance qi, or vital energy, in the head, which soothes allergy symptoms and provides a great immunity boost in general.” $45; mynooci.com

RAINBO

A personal health journey led Tonya Papanikolov to become a holistic nutritionist and launch Rainbo, a line of mushroom tinctures, in 2019. She is considered a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, which means Papanikolov is easily overwhelmed by her environment. “I have a nervous system that responds instantaneously to my surroundings and that has manifested in my physical body as a lot of allergies and digestive issues,” she explains. In 2011 she attended a seminar and became friends with David Wolfe—a controversial figure who pushes conspiracy theories and pseudoscience—who introduced her to the world of mushrooms. When the mushrooms shifted her body from constant discomfort, pain and cramping to digestive normalcy she wanted to help others. Her Cordyceps Energy Super-Mushroom tincture aims to stabilize stress and energy levels, improve athletic performance, and even heighten libido. $40; rainbo.com

THE HAO LIFE

William Li, a former publisher at Condé Nast, and business partner Danielle Chang, founder of Asian food festival LuckyRice, opened their line of herbal supplements in 2021, with the help of David Melladew, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who’s developed wellness programs for resorts around the globe. The goal: Update traditional herbal blends—including mushrooms—into pill form.

“Over the last couple of years, non-Asian people have been trying to claim herbal medicine, whether it’s Ayurvedic, traditional Chinese, Native American, or Indigenous medicine, in a way that felt like appropriation,” Li says. Hao Life’s Breathing Room supplement blends astragalus root, reishi, and ginseng to enhance immune systems and alleviate seasonal allergies. $88; thehaolife.com

RENUDE

Brandon Mizrahie credits his wellness journey to meeting the hippie parents of a then-girlfriend when he was in high school. “They lived off the grid near Burning Man, and their house looked like it was in The Hobbit,” he says. They taught him to extract nutrition from plants into tinctures, and he began tinkering, eventually discovering a homemade chaga mushroom tea that helped stop the stomach pains plaguing him since the third grade. His asthma also cleared up, he says, and brain fog disappeared.

In his Renude powder, the natural sweetness of the chaga is enhanced by cinnamon, Peruvian cacao powder, Madagascar vanilla, and monk fruit. When added to coffee, it tastes like a Frappuccino. The powder packets were released in 2018, and within a year and a half, the “Chagaccino” was available in more than 1,500 cafes across the US. Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Kourtney Kardashian are fans. $30 for a box of 10; drinkrenude.com

RASA

For Lopa van der Mersch, in “an unbelievably stressful year” that included raising a newborn and leaving a cult, it was downing coffee that took her over the edge. “I went into full-blown panic attacks,” she says. As an herbal enthusiast for many years, she began Rasa with Ben LeVine, a former herb buyer for tea company Celestial Seasonings and an alumnus of the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism and Maryland University of Integrative Health.

Their nine blends and creamer combine mushrooms and herbs to boost energy without the caffeine shakes, but the brand’s Magnificent Mushrooms is a multibenefit powerhouse that combines cordyceps, lion’s mane, poria, reishi, tremella, and turkey tail to boost immunity, ease the mind, and plump skin. The earthy powder may overwhelm a fruit smoothie, but it adds a boost to savory soups and scrambled eggs. $30; wearerasa.com

(Adds Rainbo product blurb at thirteenth paragraph.)

To contact the author of this story:
Aja Mangum in New York at ajasmangum@gmail.com

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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