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Increasing the D-mand for mushrooms with vitamin D.

Research sponsored by the Mushroom Council and some growers (see the May 2006 issue Mushroom News) shows that exposing mushrooms to ultraviolet light can make them a rich source of vitamin D by converting a naturally occurring constituent called ergosterol into nutritionally active vitamin [D.sub.2]. This discovery holds great potential for the industry because the health benefits of vitamin D are receiving increased attention by the public health community.

Mushrooms would be the only nonanimal, natural source of this vitamin in the food supply. The purpose of this article is to highlight the emerging good news about vitamin D, discuss some of the unique advantages for mushrooms and offer suggestions on how growers can begin to leverage this opportunity.


One of the most important functions of Vitamin D is to promote bone health by helping the body absorb calcium from the diet. These nutrients are important to achieve maximal bone density during childhood and early adulthood and to maintain bone strength thereafter. A diet with insufficient vitamin D and calcium can eventually lead to osteoporosis--a disease that greatly increases the risk of fractures in the elderly. The best strategy to avoid osteoporosis is to consume an adequate diet throughout life. However, these nutrients are also important for older individuals. For example, a recent study found that postmenopausal women given 400 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg calcium per day for seven years had significantly increased bone density compared to women given a placebo (Jackson el al. 2006).

Bone health will be an increasingly visible issue in the United States because the incidence of osteoporosis is approaching epidemic proportions. The data in Table 1 show that more than 40 million women and over 20 million men are expected to develop osteoporosis or low bone mineral density by 2020. Escalating death and disability rates associated with this trend are likely to prompt increasing awareness of the need for adequate vitamin D and calcium throughout life. The U.S. Surgeon General (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004) has already called for a concerted effort to fight this emerging public health crisis.


Many other benefits of vitamin D are beginning to emerge. For example, vitamin D appears to contribute to muscle strength. A recent study showed that elderly nursing home residents who took 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day for two years (after an initial dose of 10,000 IU) had fewer falls than residents given a placebo (Flicker et al. 2005). This study confirmed an earlier analysis that found vitamin D supplementation is associated with a 20 percent reduced risk of falling based on an analysis of pooled data from existing studies (Bischoff-Ferrari et al. 2004).

Other studies have shown that people who have relatively high blood levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D (a marker of vitamin D nutritional status) have a lower incidence of breast, prostate and colon cancer compared to people with lower vitamin D status (Garland et al. 2006). Living in a sunny climate is also associated with reduced risk of these forms of cancer--possibly because vitamin D can be manufactured in the skin when exposed to sunlight. On the other hand, a recent seven-year study (Wactawski-Wende et al. 2006) did not show that postmenopausal women given 400 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium per day had a lower incidence of colon cancer compared to placebo-treated controls. However, the researchers who conducted this study suggested that the dose and duration of vitamin D supplementation used may not have been sufficient to cause a significant effect. The participants in this study will continue to be monitored for any longer-term benefits.

Experts also believe that vitamin D may help protect against a wide range of other diseases including juvenile onset diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia (Holick and Jenkins, 2005). As new scientific information in these areas emerge, the interest in vitamin D among health professionals and the public will almost certainly increase.

The potential of vitamin D to have a positive impact on public health has prompted a distinguished body of researchers to call for the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to convene a committee of experts to increase the Daily Reference Intakes (DRIs) for vitamin D and calcium (LA Times 2006). The current DRIs range from 200 IU/day for adults under 50 years of age to 600 IU/day for those >70 (IOM, 1997). However, these values are nearly 10 years old and new data suggest that higher intakes are needed to maintain optimal vitamin D status (Dawson-Hughes et al. 2005). An increase in the DRIs for vitamin D would also receive extensive media coverage.


The intake of vitamin D in the states is far below even the current DRIs. A recent analysis of the U.S. government's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that only four percent of adults more than 51 years of age met the DRI for this nutrient (Moore et al. 2005).

Mushrooms are well positioned to help close this vitamin D gap. As noted earlier, UV light-exposed mushrooms would be the only significant natural, nonanimal food source of this nutrient. The only other sources of naturally occurring vitamin D are fish, eggs, organ meats and cod liver oil. Most of the current dietary sources of vitamin D in the U.S. are from fortified foods including milk, cheese, yogurt and (most recently) some 100 percent juice products. However, it is unlikely that new fortified foods will be introduced in this country because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly limits the foods to which vitamin D can be added (see Table 2).

Adequate exposure to sunlight can virtually eliminate the need for dietary vitamin D. However, this source is not reliable from a public health perspective. People who live in northern latitudes are incapable of synthesizing adequate amounts of vitamin D in the winter. In addition, people with dark skin, people with limited mobility and those who use sunscreen (as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology) are dependent on dietary sources of vitamin D.


Mushrooms are well positioned to take advantage of the growing awareness of the health benefits of vitamin D. Steps that growers interested in pursuing this opportunity may wish to consider include:

Choose a target amount of vitamin D

The Daily Value (DV) of vitamin D used for nutrition labeling purposes is 400 IU (10 [micro]g). Research sponsored by the Mushroom Council and some growers has shown that it is possible to generate high concentrations of vitamin D (>100 percent DV) with exposure to UV light. However, the amount of newly created vitamin D decreases during storage. FDA regulations specify that the product must contain at least 80 percent of the nutrition label declaration throughout retail distribution. Mushrooms with at least 10 percent DV of vitamin D per 84 g serving would qualify for a "Good Source" claim while those with 20 percent DV would be eligible for an "Excellent Source" claim. There are no claims for foods with higher concentrations of vitamin D, but it is permitted to declare the actual vitamin D content on the front of the package (e.g., "50 percent DV of Vitamin D per Serving"). A relatively conservative target (e.g. 10-20 percent DV) has the advantage of helping to ensure compliance with the nutrition labeling regulations and allows use of a defined claim.

Develop a standardized process to expose your product to UV light

The research noted above has also shown that the vitamin D concentration of UV-exposed mushrooms is dependent on the time and intensity of exposure as well as several other factors. Growers will want to develop a process that ensures the target level of vitamin D will be maintained throughout distribution of the product.

Nutrition label your product

Unless the product has a nutrition fact label, FDA does not permit nutrient content claims.


New research shows that mushrooms have an opportunity to be one of the few foods in the marketplace to help consumers meet their nutritional requirement for vitamin D. Vitamin D's classic role of ensuring bone health will become increasingly important as fracture rates caused by osteoporosis continue to increase. Evidence that vitamin D has other important health benefits, and increasing grassroots support among experts calling for an increase in the DRIs of this nutrient will also attract attention. Mushrooms are well positioned to take advantage of these developments by providing consumers with great-tasting ways to help meet vitamin D needs. Adequate controls should be in place to ensure that UV light-exposed mushrooms remain in compliance with nutrition labeling regulations throughout retail distribution.



American Academy of Dermatology. (2006). The Sun and Your Skin. Accessed June 22, 2006.

Bischoff-Ferrari, HA et al. (2004). Effect of Vitamin D on Falls. Journal of the American Medical Association 291:1999-2006.

Dawson-Hughes, Betal. (2005). Estimates of Optimal Vitamin D Status. Osteoporosis International 16:713-716.

Flicker, L el al. (2005). Should Older People in Residential Care Receive Vitamin D to Prevent Falls? Results of a Randomized Trial. Journal of the American Geriatric Society 53:1881-1888.

Garland, CF et al. (2006). The Role of Vitamin D in Cancer Prevention. The American Journal of Public Health 96:9-18.

Holick, MF and Jenkins, M (2005). The UV Advantage.

Jackson, RD et al. (2006). Calcium Plus Vitamin D Supplementation and the Risk of Fractures. New England Journal of Medicine 354:669-683.

Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2006.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2004). Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD.

Wactawski-Wende, J. (2006). Calcium Plus Vitamin D Supplementation and the Risk of Colorectal Cancer. New England Journal of Medicine 354:684-696.

Guy H. Johnson, Ph.D.

Johnson Nutrition Solutions
 2002 2010 2020

Women with osteoporosis 7,800,000 9,100,000 10,500,000
Women with low bone density 21,800,000 26,000,000 30,400,000
Men with osteoporosis 2,300,000 2,800,000 3,300,000
Men with low bone density 11,800,000 14,400,000 17,100,000

Table 1: Projected Incidence of Osteoporosis and Low Bone Mineral
Density in U.S. Women and Men

Food product Amount permitted

Breakfast cereals 350 IU/100g
Grain products and pastas 90 IU/100g
Infant formula 40-100 IU/100 kcal
Calcium-fortified juices and drinks 100 IU/serving
Milk 42 IU/100g
Milk products 89 IU/100g
Margarine 1,500 IU/lb

Table 2: Foods Permitted to be Fortified with Vitamin D in the United
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Title Annotation:industry news
Author:Johnson, Guy H.
Publication:Mushroom News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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