Reishi – the mushroom of immortality
Ganoderma lucidum has a long history of promoting health and longevity in China, Japan and other Asian countries. The Latin word lucidus means “shiny” or “brilliant” and refers to the varnished appearance on the surface of the mushroom. In China, G. lucidum is known as lingzhi, whereas in Japan the name for the Ganodermataceae family is commonly known as reishi. For centuries, this fungus has been a staple in Eastern medicine, revered as both a tonic and Shen herb that protects us physically as well as psychologically. In ancient times, reishi was referred to as the “divine fungus” and recognized as a symbol of enlightenment and mastery.
Regarded as the “herb of spiritual potency” in China, lingzhi has always symbolized success, well-being, divine power and longevity. In ancient times, it was believed that the sacred fungus grew on the “three isles of the blessed” (P’eng-lai) – legendary Taoist home of the immortals – off the coast of China. Once only consumed by royalty and nobility, its revered reputation for improving health and extending life earned lingzhi its fame as the “mushroom of immorality.”
Lingzhi has been recognized as a medicinal mushroom for over 2000 years, and its powerful effects are well-documented in ancient texts beginning with the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, the first book wholly devoted to medicinal herbs, written in the Eastern Han dynasty of China (25-220 AD). Over the centuries, the therapeutic properties of this medicinal mushroom have come to include: tonifying effects, enhancing vital energy, strengthening cardiac function, increasing memory, and anti-aging effects. Modern day updates to the Chinese materia medica extend reishi’s actions to: replenishing Qi, easing the mind, relieving cough and asthma, and addressing insomnia and palpitations.
Reishi is a large, dark fungus with a glossy exterior that thrives in the hot and humid locations. It has a woody, hard, bitter texture / flavor and is used strictly a medicinal mushroom, not a culinary one. Its shining cap is saucer-shaped – often growing up to a foot wide and an inch or two thick – and can range in color from red to black to green to purple, and even white. Red reishi, the most commonly studied variety, contains over 900 bioactive constituents to help support healthy aging. Reishi is, perhaps, the rarest mushroom to find out in the wild, with a ratio of only 1 in every 4000 mushrooms being a species of reishi. Not surprisingly, the Japanese refer to it as the “phantom mushroom.”
Reishi – first among adaptogens
Adaptogens represent an elite class of herbs that help make us more resilient to the damaging effects of stress across all aspects of our life — mental, physical, emotional and environmental. By improving our ability to adapt to stress, adaptogens work with our body to help us regain our strength, stamina and endurance, as well as improve mental clarity and focus. They have the unique ability to help us re-establish balance and restore energy when stress disrupts our equilibrium, depletes our vitality, and drains our resilience.
Of the 20,000 medicinal plants on the planet, only a handful qualify as true adaptogens. Reishi has been used as a foundation adaptogenic herb for thousands of years in Chinese medicine – nourishing the heart, preserving liver health, slowing aging, and enhancing vitality, stamina and strength. Reishi also helps the body deal with the negative effects of stress, such as increased inflammation, depleted energy levels, damaged blood vessels, and various types of hormonal imbalances. Considerable research shows that reishi possesses potent anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant action to enhance immune function, fight infection, heal leaky gut, and potentially suppress the growth of several cancers, including breast, prostate and colon. Finally, reishi help promote calmness and relaxation and often used to supplement spiritual practices.
Health benefits of reishi / lingzhi
The powerful array of antioxidants and health-promoting compounds such as polysaccharides, beta-glucans, plant sterols and triterpenes are what drive reishi’s remarkable healing potential. Over the past several decades, research conducted in Asia, the United States and Europe has demonstrated reishi’s ability to protect against numerous diseases or illnesses, including:
· fatigue (including chronic fatigue syndrome)
· frequent infections (urinary tract, respiratory, bronchitis)
· food allergies and asthma
· digestive problems, stomach ulcers and leaky gut syndrome
· tumor growth and cancer
· autoimmune disorders
· viruses (flu, HIV/AIDS)
· heart disease, hypertension, high blood and high cholesterol
· sleep disorders and insomnia
· anxiety and depression
Due to its “immune modulator” effects, reishi can help restore hormonal balance and bring the body back to homeostasis. Research shows that it delivers a normalizing benefit, regulating various cellular functions and systems, including the endocrine (hormonal), immune, cardiovascular, central nervous and digestive systems.
The 10 most remarkable benefits of the reishi mushroom include:
1. Possesses anti-cancer properties
Research indicates that some of the most beneficial components of reishi are its polysaccharides that have anti-tumor abilities. These compounds help reishi protect DNA and block cell mutations while preserving healthy cells in the body. Recent research suggests that the bioactive compounds within reishi may actually seek out and eradicate existing cancerous cells within the body.
Additionally, studies suggest that the triterpenes found in reishi inhibit tumor formation and metastases by limiting the attachment of cancerous cells to endothelial cells. Beta-glucans can also help fight off cancer by blocking the growth and spread of cancer cells and increasing the activity of the immune system.
Finally, research suggests that reishi has chemo-preventive effects which can also help alleviate some of the side effects of chemotherapy – low immunity and poor gut health – as well as enhance the efficacy of radiotherapy.
2. Boosts the immune system
Reishi has long been recognized as a “supreme protector,” and is acknowledged as a profound immune tonic. Research reveals that reishi is beneficial to immune-modulation – helping to optimize the immune system regardless if it is excessive or deficient. Consequently, if your immune system is overactive (such as in the case of an autoimmune disease) or if your immunity is suppressed (and you frequently getting sick), reishi helps restore balance to the function of the immune system. In Korea, reishi’s immune boosting properties are used in combination with antibiotics – results show this combination is much more effective at eradicating infections than antibiotics alone.
Small clinical trials have shown reishi can enhance immune response in cancer patients by increasing the activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells that fight infections and cancer in the body. Another study has found that reishi can increase the number of other white blood cells (lymphocytes) in patients fighting colorectal cancer.
3. Improves liver function
The liver is one of the most vital organs in the body, responsible detoxification and helping clean, store and circulate healthy blood and nutrients. Reishi helps improve liver function as well as prevent liver disease by helping the body flush out toxins and bacteria. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that reishi induces hepatoprotective on acute liver injury with its antioxidant properties and fights harmful immune responses that slow down liver function.
4. Promotes heart health
The triterpenes found in reishi are believed to have blood pressure-lowering abilities in addition to benefiting blood-clotting and cholesterol. This is likely because they help lower inflammation within blood vessels and arteries while also restoring hormonal balance. Reishi also helps restore optimal hormonal levels to strengthen the cardiovascular system, which can otherwise cause high blood pressure/cholesterol when out of balance. In one study of patients with Stage II hypertension, the vast majority of people saw improved blood pressure within two weeks of reishi supplementation (approximately 220mg daily).
In addition to lowering blood pressure, research indicates that reishi extract can improve overall circulation, lower inflammation that worsens heart problems, and prevent clogged arteries by keeping cholesterol under control. One small 12-week study of 26 people revealed that reishi has the potential to increase “good” HDL cholesterol and decrease triglycerides.
5. Balances hormone levels
As an adaptogen, reishi helps the body cope with stress and regulates cortisol levels (known as the “stress hormone”) to balance hormones levels. Studies also show reishi can protect and positively impact the endocrine system which is responsible for the production of hormones. This could have far-reaching effects on many aspects of health, as the endocrine system has a direct impact on metabolism, growth, sleep, mood and sexual function.
6. Stabilizes blood sugar
Sustained high levels of blood sugar are detrimental to our overall health. Research shows that reishi may have anti-diabetic properties, delivering hyperglycemic effects that help maintain normal blood sugar levels. In particular, research reveals that the polysaccharides in reishi help reduce blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. Reishi also helps modify levels of certain enzymes involved in blood sugar control and improves the way that the body uses insulin to transport sugar from the bloodstream to the tissues to be used as fuel.
7. Fights allergies and asthma
The triterpenes in reishi are tied to the reduction in allergies and histamine reactions associated with asthma. They are capable 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.
8. Calms the mind and improves mood
Since antiquity, reishi has been respected for its ability to combat stress, calm the mind, ease tension, and strengthen the body. As an adaptogen, it also helps increase concentration and focus, preventing the mind from wandering. Reishi may also increase brain plasticity to improve memory and strengthen nerves.
There is also some evidence to suggest that reishi supplements can help ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Research has found that reishi helps improve feelings of irritability and may act as a mood booster. As an added bonus, this study suggests that reishi helps with pain relief as well.
9. Promotes Sleep
Small clinical studies have found that reishi helps you to relax and may help to support the body’s sleep cycles.
10. Potent prebiotic
Rich in polysaccharides as well as terpenoids, phenols and fiber, reishi is an important prebiotic that helps to feed / grow healthy gut bacteria. When reishi is fermented it contains even higher levels of prebiotics, which promote an increase of bifidobacteria in the digestive system.
Adding reishi mushrooms to your diet
Because reishi has a rather bitter, woody taste, it is usually prepared in a tea or as an extract. Indeed, for most of history in TCM, fully grown reishi mushrooms were dried, cut into slices, boiled in hot water and then steeped to make a healing tea/soup. Today, manufacturers of reishi products use a processing technique in which reishi is boiled multiple times at a high pressure, allowing the active ingredients to be extracted to form a tincture.
The recommended dosage of reishi mushroom dosage varies based on the type of supplement that you choose to use. When eaten fresh, the dosage can range between 25 –100 grams daily, depending on the size of the mushroom. More commonly, reishi capsules, powders and extract forms will contain concentrated doses that require smaller amounts to achieve the same results. Most studies have found that 2 – 9 grams of mushroom extract in the form of reishi mushroom powder, capsules or tinctures is enough to positively impact health. However, supplements can contain varying amounts of reishi extract, so it’s best to follow the instructions of your herbalist / Doctor of Chinese medicine. When buying resihi mushrooms, or any herbal medicine, you must always make sure to use a trusted source – depending on where you purchase them, they may contain additional ingredients or unknown substances.
Risks and precautions
Reishi mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in all kinds of patients with very few side effects have ever been recorded. While reishi mushrooms are generally safe, effective and well-tolerated by most people, there are several precautions to keep in mind before taking reishi mushrooms.
Reishi supplements can cause anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs to become more effective, which increases the risk of bleeding. Therefore, patients scheduled for surgery and individuals with bleeding disorders should not take reishi mushrooms.
Because these supplements might also lower blood pressure, people with pre-existing low blood pressure, or who are taking blood pressure medication, should avoid reishi mushrooms. Additionally, since reishi can increase the risk of bleeding, it should not be taken by people who have any type of bleeding disorder; recently underwent surgery; use blood thinners such as warfarin; take chemotherapy drugs or immunosuppressant medications; or have trouble with blood clotting.
Finally, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not consume reishi mushrooms.
Valued for its many health benefits, reishi has long been revered by sages and spiritual seekers for its support and promotion of intelligence, perspective, emotional and mental balance. Modern research supports the historical claims for health protection, including its benefits supporting and balancing the immune system, while enhancing the functions of the lung, heart and liver – all essential activities for long-term extended health. Finally, the well-documented physical support of this renowned herb also provides optimal mental functioning and intelligence enhancement while stabilizing emotional balance and health.