Reishi Mushroom Benefits & Other Facts about Reishi

What is Reishi?

Reishi is no doubt the most famous of all medicinal mushrooms and it is one of very few with such a long history of use; some -though unverifiable- sources state it was probably already used 5000 years ago.

‘Reishi’, the name most people are familiar with, is in fact a Japanese interpretation of the oldest Chinese name; Ruizhi (meaning ‘auspicious mushroom’). The most common name used in China is ‘Ling Zhi‘.

Other Japanese names are ‘Mannentake’ (10.000 year mushroom), ‘Saiwai-take’ (good fortune mushroom) and ‘Sarunouchitake’ (monkey’s seat). However, as said, it is China where this mushroom has the longest history of use. It was first described ± 2200 years ago in the world’s oldest book about herbs and related medicinal subjects; the “Shénnóng Běncǎo Jīng” where it was placed in the category of most superior herbs.

Ling Zhi (or ‘Chih’) was considered the most important mushroom by the ancient Taoists, the founders of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In Chinese the word ‘Ling‘ is composed of the characters for ‘rain’, ‘shaman’ and ‘praying for’, which, when used together, can mean ‘spiritual potency’ or ‘a stirring of the soul‘ . ‘Chih’ means ‘tree fungus’ and ‘substances to concoct elixirs of immortality’.

In the west however, it is widely known Ganoderma Lucidum. All this combined can be poetically translated as: ‘The Herb of Spiritual Potency‘.

The Facts

The official Latin name is Ganoderma Lucidum (since 1881). The Ganoderma lucidum moniker is actually covering several species, and mycologists are still investigating the differences among these. Probably the most striking variation is the color; six colors (red, purple, black, white, green and yellow) are found in nature.

Red Reishi is the most researched variation of these six, and, according to research, the most potent one, therapeutically speaking. There are several other Ganoderma species with therapeutic properties, such as G. applanatum (artists conk), G. annulare, G. tsugae, G. resinaceum and G. oregonense.

Reishi is a polypore mushroom, meaning that instead of gills it has small tubes (like pores) through which it release its spores. It grows annually at the base and on stumps of specific hardwood trees, in particular maple and oak. Unlike Chaga, another medicinal polypore mushroom, which is growing on living trees only, Reishi, grows on both dead and living trees, which makes cultivation much easier to do.

Only two or three out of 10,000 trees in specific areas are infected with Ganoderma lucidum and show the typical fruiting bodies.

In N-America wild Reishi usually has no or only a small stalk, while in Asia Reishi usually has a long, rather narrow stalk. It takes a year for a spore to develop into a mature fruiting body.

Due to harsh environmental conditions, the instability of wild red Reishi in nature and its vulnerability to pollution, disease, and insect infestations, the number of high quality specimens that reach full maturity in the wild is limited. One of the most rare forms in nature is the ‘antler shaped Reishi‘. We now know that the antler shape is caused by high CO2 levels in the environment. In cultivation antler shaped Reishi is therefore easy to grow.

History

Reishi was used in China as the most important part of Fu Zheng therapy, a form of traditional Chinese herbalism that literally means ‘to restore normalcy and balance to the body‘. It can be compared to contemporary western ‘immuno-therapy‘.

Fu Zheng therapy does not specifically treat an infection or disease, but it helps to rebuild the body’s resistance and innate strength so that it may more effectively deal with all manifestations of disease. In the end, the body should heal itself. Ganoderma lucidum is like most medicinal mushrooms a true adaptogen and therefore perfectly suited for Fu Zheng.

Until recently, only the rich and privileged members of Asian society were able to benefit from Reishi’s therapeutic potential, because, as said before, wild-harvested Reishi of good quality is quite rare and Reishi requires a very specific environment to develop well.

In the 20th century, effective cultivation techniques were developed and now this mushroom is available to everyone. In 2000, China alone produced ± 13,000 tons annually but 3 years later it was already 49,000 tons, and since then the production has developed exponentially.

Around 30 years ago, Ganoderma lucidum products were introduced on the Western market in the form of dietary supplements.

Reishi is listed in the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium.

What are the types of Reishi? 

There are many varieties of Ganoderma lucidum, but the ones used for medicinal purposes are Black, Red and Deer Antler Red Reishi. Black Reishi is the most common and inexpensive variety. The vast majority of Reishi products made in China use Black Reishi (Lingzhi). Black Reishi is the least potent variety.

Red Reishi is a much rarer and more potent variety, and can contain much more of the precious polysaccharides that give Reishi its numerous health benefits. Of course, products made from Red Reishi are much more expensive, especially ones that are made in Japan.

Deer Antler shaped Red Reishi, however, is in a class by itself. It starts out as Red Reishi, but due to a combination of air quality, temperature, humidity and other growing conditions, instead of forming the familiar mushroom cap shape, it instead takes a form resembling the antlers of a deer.

Cultivation of Ganoderma lucidum

Many people, especially in Asia, are under the impression that because wild Reishi is rare and very expensive it must be of better quality than the cultivated version, therapeutically speaking. A common mistake this is, mixing up price and value. The opposite is true, however. Wild Reishi is easily damaged and contaminated by insects, molds, environmental pollution and the overall amount of bioactive is very inconsistent, resulting in an unreliable quality. It rarely reaches full maturity in perfect condition. Cultivated Reishi on the other hand is usually based on strains selected for their therapeutic potency and it can be grown under well controlled circumstances. This results in a more uniform and reliable product.

The first recorded attempts at cultivation were made in 1937, but mass production was not possible until 1971, when the Japanese developed a cultivation method using pots with sawdust. Cultivation techniques have developed further since then.

Currently the most commonly used are the following three cultivation methods:

Wood log cultivation:

This was found to be the most effective method, resulting in superior quality Red Reishi with significant and uniform levels of the desired bioactive constituents. Indoor cultivation gives the maximum level of control over contamination. It is expensive, because it requires specific types of wood, which have to be seasoned and prepared. Extensive time is required for fruiting body harvest (5-12 months), during which the developing mushrooms have to be sprayed and maintained daily. Maintaining the correct humidity levels and temperature is very important. In combination with high quality Reishi strains, this is the best option for growing therapeutically potent Reishi.

Saw dust / wood chips in bags:

The mushrooms are cultivated in bags or bottles filled with wood chips and saw dust.  Much cheaper than the wood log method, but the resulting Ganoderma lucidum fruiting bodies are smaller and were found to have a lower level of bioactive, even when high quality Reishi strains were used as a base.

Bioreactor cultivation using liquid substrate:

Reishi mycelia are grown in tanks in liquid substrate (also known as ‘deep layer cultivation’). Much research has been done to define the best strain/substrate combinations, because this is by far the cheapest method, in particular because it does in general not rely on fruiting body development, which takes a lot of time.

Bioreactor cultivation can be controlled 100%. However, so far the resulting Ganoderma lucidum products are not of the same quality as the sawdust method and not even close to the level of wood log cultivation.

The levels of therapeutically interesting constituents increase as the mycelia are about to develop into the fruiting stage. During bioreactor cultivation, this stage is never reached, because of the time involved, and the more time is needed, the more expensive the final product will become. The main reason for a producer to choose bioreactor cultivation is that it is fast and therefore cheap. The poor quality Reishi it produces is taken for granted and usually masked with smart and deceiving marketing tricks.

Potential Health Benefits of Reishi

The benefits of Ganoderma lucidum are so well known and proven that you can get them in forms that are much convenient that slicing them up and cooking with them. You can buy them dried, in concentrated tablets, capsules, or even as an extract. In any of these forms, Reishi can be used as a dietary supplement. Here is a list of the benefits that Reishi have as a daily dietary supplemented or in helping to treat certain medical conditions:

1. Fights Allergies and Asthma

Reishi mushrooms consist of good amount of triterpenes, a type of ganoderic acid that is tied to a reduction in allergies and histamine reactions related with asthma. Because of this reason reishi mushroom is an asthma natural remedy. Triterpenes have the capacity of lowering allergic reactions because of the way they affect the immune system, strengthen the digestive organs, protect the gut lining, lower inflammation, inhibit a histamine release, improve oxygen utilization and improve liver functions.

2. Anti-inflammatory

Reishi have anti-inflammatory properties and are therefore used occasionally for patients who have Alzheimer’s and heart disease. This is based on the idea that inflammation plays a part in each of these conditions. The pain that accompanies other inflammatory conditions like neuralgia and arthritis may also be decreased by ganoderma supplements.

3. Lowers cholesterol

Ganoderma lucidum mushroom improves the flow of blood to the heart and reduce the amount of oxygen the heart consumes. It can help to lower cholesterol and some of the ingredients may help combat high blood pressure.

4. Helps Balance Hormones and Fight Diabetes

Research suggests that several antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds found in reishi mushrooms change the way that nerves transmit messages to the brain, improving various functions within the endocrine and central nervous systems and balancing hormones naturally. Reishi mushroom supplementation is used to lower symptoms of diabetes, fatigue and hormonal imbalances, while improving fertility and reproductive health

5. Reishi Improves Anxiety and Depression

Breast cancer patients reported reduced anxiety and depression, as well as increased quality of life when they received reishi along with their cancer treatment. The group not receiving reishi did not report these effects.

6. Reishi Benefits the Heart

An extract of its protein has been shown to potently lower blood pressure with effects lasting up to 8 hours. It also reduced damage to the cells that line blood vessels. In people with diabetes, Ganoderma lucidum can help reduce both cholesterol and insulin resistance

7. Reishi Helps Prevent Cancer

It has significant benefits for multiple types of cancer including prostate and breast cancer. It does this via various mechanisms: inflammation reduction, and inhibition of cell and tumor growth. Ganoderma lucidum is useful for both prevention and possible treatment. Reishi suppressed cell adhesion and cell migration of highly invasive breast and prostate cancer cells, which means it, can be potent at reducing tumor growth.  This is a similar approach to the current medical trend of immunotherapy, which is to stimulate the immune system to combat cancer cells.

In addition, it is an alternative way to aid the treatment of leukemia. Reishi has been found to significantly decrease fatigue, anxiety, and depression and improve the subjective well-being of breast cancer survivors and patients. Treatment with Reishi for 13 weeks showed reduced tumor growth and weight by roughly 50% and potent inhibition of things like mTOR which promote cancer.

Preclinical studies have shown that Ganoderma lucidum has potent anti-tumor activity and strengthens the immune system in advanced-stage cancer

Side Effects of Taking Reishi

As anything with so many good qualities, there is almost inevitably another side. As it happens, extended use of reishi mushrooms (1-2 months) has been connected with certain minor side effects throughout history. Some of them include:

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Nosebleeds

  • Dry mouth

Although these side effects seem mild, it is still a good decision to speak with a medical professional or trained herbalist before adding reishi mushrooms to your health plan.

Recent Research and Clinical Trials of Reishi

Ganoderma Lucidum wasn’t just known in the history book.  In fact, western medicine and researchers have been constantly fascinated with this gift from nature.  Thousands of research studies have been performed all over the world.  Below are few of the latest findings on Reishi Ganoderma Lucidum effect on our organism.

1. The lifespan-promoting effect of acetic acid and Reishi polysaccharide

Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism, various natural substances and commercial health-food supplements were screened to evaluate their effects on longevity. Among the substances tested, acetic acid and Reishi polysaccharide fraction 3 (RF3) were shown to increase the expression of the lifespan and longevity-related transcription factor DAF-16 in C. elegans. We have shown that RF3 activates DAF-16 expression via TIR-1 receptor and MAPK pathway whereas acetic acid inhibits the trans-membrane receptor DAF-2 of the insulin/IGF-1 pathway to indirectly activate DAF-16 expression. In addition, a mixture of acetic acid and RF3 possesses a combined effect 30-40% greater than either substance used alone. A proteomic analysis of C. elegans using 2-DE and LC-MS/MS was then carried out, and 15 differentially expressed proteins involved in the lifespan-promoting activity were identified.

2. Apoptotic and Immune Restoration Effects of Ganoderic Acids Define a New Prospective for Complementary Treatment of Cancer.

Considering the fact that a key factor in tumor development is the evasion of immune detection, the search for natural products, which have reduced toxicity towards normal tissues as well as immunostimulatory capabilities has received growing interest. One attractive source of antitumor products is the Ganoderma lucidum mushroom, which has been used for centuries as an herbal medicine for the prevention and treatment of a variety of diseases, including cancer, and has been shown to improve immune function. Interestingly, its methanol soluble triterpenoid extracts, namely Ganoderic Acids (GAs), have been the subject of several recent investigations on their chemotherapeutic effects. While current research has revealed GAs' role in inducing apoptosis of cancer cells with a much lower toxicity to healthy cells, little information is available on their in vitro and/or in vivo immune activities. In this review, we aim to discuss the current knowledge on GAs, and their potential as apoptosis inducing as well as immune activating molecules that could be a potential alternative approach for designing novel chemoimmunotherapeutics against malignant diseases. We also discuss other new approaches for exploiting the advantages of using a nanoparticle polymer-GA conjugate as a tool for a sustained and targeted delivery of drug in vivo.

3. Spore Powder of Ganoderma lucidum Improves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical Trial

The fatigue prevalence in breast cancer survivors is high during the endocrine treatment. However, there are few evidence-based interventions to manage this symptom. The aim of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of spore powder of Reishi for cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing endocrine therapy. Spore powder of Ganoderma lucidum is a kind of Basidiomycete, which is a widely used traditional medicine in China. 48 breast cancer patients with cancer-related fatigue undergoing endocrine therapy were randomized into the experimental or control group. FACT-F, HADS, and EORTC QLQ-C30 questionnaires data were collected at baseline and 4 weeks after treatment. The concentrations of TNF-α, IL-6, and liver-kidney functions were measured before and after intervention. The experimental group showed statistically significant improvements in the domains of physical well-being and fatigue subscale after intervention. These patients also reported less anxiety, depression, and better quality of life. Immune markers of CRF were significantly lower and no serious adverse effects occurred during the study. This pilot study suggests that spore powder of Reishi may have beneficial effects on cancer-related fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients undergoing endocrine therapy without any significant adverse effect.

4. Ganoderma lucidum ('Lingzhi'); acute and short-term biomarker response to supplementation.

The aim of this study was to investigate in vitro antioxidant capacity of Lingzhi, absorption and systemic distribution of Lingzhi antioxidants, and effects of short-term (10 days) supplementation on biomarkers of antioxidant status, coronary heart disease (CHD) risk and DNA damage. In this double-blinded, placebo-controlled, cross-over intervention study, blood and urine samples were collected from 10 healthy volunteers at 0 (fasting) and 45, 90, 135 and 180 min post-ingestion of a single dose (1.1g) of Lingzhi. Repeat fasting samples were collected after 10 days' supplementation with 0.72 g/d Lingzhi. The acute response (up to 3 hours) was also investigated with a larger dose (3.3 g) of Lingzhi (n=7). Results showed that the total antioxidant capacity (as the FRAP value) of an aqueous suspension of Lingzhi was 360 micromol/g. Ingestion of Reishi caused a significant post-ingestion increase (mean+/-SEM 23+/-3 micromol/L; P<0.05) in plasma antioxidant capacity, with peak response at 90 min. Average increase of 29+/-11% (P<0.05) in urine antioxidant capacity was seen within 3 hours of ingestion. After 10 days' supplementation with 0.72 g per day of Lingzhi, fasting plasma lipid standardized alpha-tocopherol concentration and urine antioxidant capacity increased (P<0.05). Fasting plasma ascorbic acid and total alpha-tocopherol concentrations and erythrocyte SOD and GPx activities increased slightly but non-significantly with supplementation. Plasma lipids and uric acid tended to decrease, but changes were not statistically significant. No discernable differences were seen in other variables measured. Results indicate that Ganoderma lucidum intake causes an acute increase in plasma antioxidant capacity. No deleterious effects on measured variables were seen. The pattern of biomarker response after supplementation indicated possible benefit in terms of antioxidant status and CHD risk, but further study is needed to elucidate the nature and longer-term effects of the absorbable antioxidants from Lingzhi.

Conclusion

Ganoderma Luciudm reishi has shown many promises and facts about its health benefits and value.  History and current clinical studies have proven the effectiveness of this supplement on many aspects of our health.

If you are looking for a natural herbal product to improve your overall health, you should consider Reishi as your first choice.

*Disclaimer: The information and statements on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA. We do not suggest that anyone should replace conventional medical treatment with our products, but rather as a complementary option. If you are under a physician's care, it is very important that you do not discontinue or reduce any prescription medication without consulting your physician first. This website is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. If you are allergic to mushrooms, do not take reishi. 

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