Common name: Reishi
Other names: Lingzhi
Latin name: Ganoderma lucidum
Affinities: Immune system, cardiovascular system, nervous system, digestive system, endocrine system
Actions: Adaptogen, vital energy tonic, immunomodulator, nervine tonic, cardiac tonic, immune tonic
Specific indications: Red hot inflamed tissues, cancer, fatigue, chronic infections, anxiety, reduce side effects of chemotherapy, insomnia
Diseases: Autoimmune diseases(2), high blood pressure(3), insomnia(3), cancer(2), asthma(2), chronic infections(2), allergies(2), type II diabetes(1), hepatitis B(1), Crohn’s disease(2), obesity(2), chronic fatigue syndrome(3), anxiety(3), insomnia(3)
Parts used: Fruiting body, mycelium
Energetics: Warming, neutral
Characteristics: A revered medicinal mushroom also known as the lingzhi mushroom, roughly meaning ‘herb of spiritual potency’ (Benzie, 2011).
History: Reishi mushroom has been recognised as a medicine in China for over 2000 years. It is traditionally used to replenish Qi (life force in TCM), ease the mind, and relieve cough and asthma, and it is recommended for dizziness, insomnia, palpitation, and shortness of breath (Benzie, 2011). It is known as the mushroom of immortality and was thought by Chinese doctors to increase the duration of lifespan (Babu, 2008). It is one of the Chinese supreme herbs and so thought by their medical system to be free of toxic side effects. For many centuries, it was on available to the wealthy elite in China because it was so rare, however in the 20th century in became easy to cultivate and now is available affordably around the world.
Current applications: Reishi is a powerful adaptogenic herb which is calming to the nervous system. Reishi is less stimulating than schisandra and more like ashwagandha. It is suited to people prone to insomnia, and may help treat it. Maria Groves mentions it strengthens immune function with applications in cancer, chronic infections, and chronic inflammation (Groves, 2016). It fights fatigue and decreases stress, it may be valuable in chronic pain, protecting liver and heart function, decreasing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and protecting nerve and brain function.
David Winston applies it in cases of ‘shen disruption’ or loss of emotional balance that result in anxiety, insomnia, bad dreams, and poor mood and memory (Winston, 2007). He applies it alongside other nervine, adaptogenic, or sedative herbs that are indicated for the patient. It is also useful for individuals with fatigue, weakness, short breath, neurasthenia, and dizziness. It may be helpful in allergies alongside tulsi.
Science: Reishi appears to have a wide range of pharmacological activities. These include anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, and anti-microbial properties (Babu, 2008). A recent PNAS paper (Liao et al., 2013) found that reishi polyscharrides stimulated antibodies against cancer cells in mice and also down-regulated tumour related inflammatory mediators. One study indicated that reishi increases the lifespan of mice (Wu et al., 2011). Another study found in Nature Communications observed reishi reduced weight gain in mice through acting as a prebiotic and modulating gut flora (Chang et al., 2015). These studies in experimental models point to the broad medicinal potential of reishi as traditional knowledge also indicates.
Some larger scale better conducted human clinical trials have been recently conducted on reishi which show promise for Reishi on reducing fatigue and insomnia (Tang et al., 2005), lowering blood glucose in type II diabetes (Gao, 2004), fighting chronic viral hepatitis B (Gao et al., 2002), and improving anti-oxidant status (Chiu et al., 2017). One study suggested Reishi may have use for reducing pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients alongside conventional therapies, however an anti-inflammatory effect was not observed (Li et al., 2007). Another study in late stage cancer patients observed up-regulation of the patients immune system with reishi treatment (Gao et al., 2003). A recent study found that reishi may reduce inflammatory cytokines in Crohn’s patients (Liu et al., 2015). Larger well controlled studies are required.
Safety: Reishi is a safe herb that may be taken by the young or old and during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding.
Dosage: Solid extract: 0.5-1g daily for health maintenance (for healthy person), 2-5g for chronic health conditions (e.g. asthma, infections), up to 15g daily for serious illness (e.g. cancer). Tincture: 5-60 drops of 2-4 times daily.
Form: The fruiting body of the mushroom (above ground), not the mycelium (roots), is the part of the mushroom traditionally used for medicine. To save money and speed up the process, some companies will grow the mushroom mycelium on a bed of grain, and then grind the two together and package it, before the fruiting body has a chance to develop.
I use a dual extract (hot water and alcohol) from the fruiting body of log grown reishi to maximise triterpenes. Good reishi extract has a bitter taste because of the triterpenes.
Research on models
Anti-microbial activity: Reishi has anti-microbial activity alone and in combination with antibiotics ex vivo (Yoon et al., 1994).
Anti-inflammatory activity: Reishi has been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity in an airway inflammation model in vivo (Liu et al., 2003).
Anti-tumour activity: Reishi has been found to have anti-tumour activity (Wang et al., 1997) and on breast and prostate cancer cells (Sliva et al., 2003), both ex vivo.
Anti-tumour activity(II): One study, published in PNAS, examined the mechanism of anti-tumour action of reishi in mice (Liao et al., 2013). A reishi polysaccharide fraction induced antibodies against murine Lewis lung carcinoma cells. This resulted in increased antibody-mediated cytotoxicity and also reduction of tumor-associated inflammatory molecules.
Longevity: One study on normal mice found they lived longer if taking reishi, they used a patented extract called ReishiMax (Wu et al., 2011). This was a preliminary report as the study was not finished.
Obesity: A study published in Nature Communications showed that mice on a high fat diet fed with reishi actually gained less weight than those without reishi (Chang et al., 2015). Reishi appears to act as a prebiotic modulating the gut flora to exert this effect.
Research on humans
Health support: A study (n = 42, double blind placebo controlled) found an increased total anti-oxidant capacity in healthy individuals and liver protective effect (Chiu et al., 2017). Dose was 225mg per day.
Neurasthenia: This is defined as fatigue, irritability, emotional disturbance. A study (n = 123, randomised placebo controlled) found a significant decrease in symptoms of neurasthenia (Tang et al., 2005). Dose was approximately 6g per day.
Diabetes (type II): A study (n = 71, randomised placebo controlled) which found a significant decrease in blood glucose in type II diabetes patients (Gao, 2004). Dose was 6g per day.
Rheumatoid arthritis: A study (n = 65, double blind placebo controlled) did not find Reishi effective in reducing inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients, but they did find it was safe, well tolerated, and may well reduce pain after 6 months (Li et al., 2007). Dose was 4g per day, but was used together with other TCM herbs and western medicines (DMARDS). No harmful interactions were noted.
Chronic hepatitis В viral: A study (n = 90, double blind placebo controlled) found Reishi effective against chronic hepatitis B over six-months (Gao et al., 2002).
Advanced stage cancer: A study (n = 34, observational study) found a patented extract of Reishi appeared to enhance immune activity in advanced stage cancer patients. While conclusive evidence is yet to be presented, a recent review of several studies (Gao et al., 2003), suggested Reishi could be administered as a complement to conventional treatment in consideration of its ability to stimulate host immunity. Reishi is often recommended by Naturopaths and Asian Physicians as a complementary therapy for cancer patients.
Crohn’s disease: A study (n = 27, open label, no control group) found an extract of reishi inhibited expression of inflammatory cytokines (inc. TNF-alpha) in both PBMCs and inflamed Crohn’ disease colonic mucosa (Liu et al., 2015). A well controlled study is required.
Babu, P.D. and Subhasree, R.S., 2008. The sacred mushroom “Reishi”-a review. The American-Eurasian Journal of Botany, 1(3), pp.107-110.
Benzie, Iris FF, and Sissi Wachtel-Galor, eds. Herbal medicine: biomolecular and clinical aspects. CRC Press, 2011.
Chang, Chih-Jung, et al. “Ganoderma lucidum reduces obesity in mice by modulating the composition of the gut microbiota.” Nature communications 6 (2015).
Gao, Yihuai, et al. “A phase I/II study of Ling Zhi mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (W. Curt.: Fr.) Lloyd (Aphyllophoromycetideae) extract in patients with type II diabetes mellitus.” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 6.1 (2004).
Gao, Yihuai, et al. “A Phase I/II Study of a Ganoderma lucidum (Curt.: Fr.) P. Karst.(Ling Zhi, Reishi Mushroom) extract in patients with chronic hepatitis В.” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 4.4 (2002).
Gao, Yihuai, et al. “Effects of Ganopoly®(A ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract) on the immune functions in Advanced‐Stage cancer patients.” Immunological investigations 32.3 (2003): 201-215.
Groves, Maria. Body into Balance. Storey Publishing, 2016.
Liao, Shih-Fen, et al. “Immunization of fucose-containing polysaccharides from Reishi mushroom induces antibodies to tumor-associated Globo H-series epitopes.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110.34 (2013): 13809-13814.
Liu, Y. H., et al. “Effectiveness of Dp2 nasal therapy for Dp2-induced airway inflammation in mice: using oral Ganoderma lucidum as an immunomodulator.” Journal of microbiology, immunology, and infection= Wei mian yu gan ran za zhi 36.4 (2003): 236-242.
Liu, Changda, et al. “Anti-inflammatory Effects of Ganoderma Lucidum Triterpenoid in Human Crohn’s Disease Associated with Down-Regulation of NF-κB Signaling.” Inflammatory bowel diseases 21.8 (2015): 1918.
Sliva, Daniel, et al. “Biologic activity of spores and dried powder from Ganoderma lucidum for the inhibition of highly invasive human breast and prostate cancer cells.” The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 9.4 (2003): 491-497.
Tang, Wenbo, et al. “A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract in neurasthenia.” Journal of medicinal food 8.1 (2005): 53-58.
Wang, Sheng‐Yuan, et al. “The anti‐tumor effect of Ganoderma lucidum is mediated by cytokines released from activated macrophages and T lymphocytes.” International Journal of Cancer 70.6 (1997): 699-705.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.
Wu, Zimei, et al. “ReishiMax extends the lifespan of mice: A preliminary report.” The FASEB Journal 25.1 Supplement (2011): 601-2.
Yoon, Sang Yeon, et al. “Antimicrobial activity of Ganoderma lucidum extract alone and in combination with some antibiotics.” Archives of pharmacal research
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