It is very possible many of you have seen, heard of, or tried a Reishi mushroom product before; but this seems to be a more recent occurrence in the western world. Today, functional mushrooms like these are becoming more sought after for their long history of medicinal use. In the case of Reishi, we have a man by the name of Shigeaki Mori to thank for the widespread use of this versatile fungus (5). He spent 15 years developing a new cultivation method using wild spores and a plum tree, resulting in a much more affordable mushroom, and new availability to the general population.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) grows naturally in moist and dimly lit forests, particularly on dried trunks of plum, oak, and pasonia trees (2). For every 10,000 trees, maybe 2 or 3 will host a Reishi mushroom making natural wild grown reishi very rare. Around 4,000 years ago, the Chinese emperor, Shen Nong tasted and catalogued over 365 plants to create the first book of Traditional Chinese Medicine (10). Each plant was evaluated on treatment capabilities, effectiveness, and side effect potential. Red Reishi mushroom was classified as the best of the “Superior” plants (10). Now, thanks to the work of Mr. Mori, we have the tools and resources to cultivate this mushroom for widespread use meaning far more people can enjoy the benefits of this rare, shiny, woody mushroom. In fact, Reishi is one of the most widely used medicinal mushrooms today (5)!
So why should we care about this mushroom in particular?
Reishi has been an important part of Chinese and Japanese medicine for nearly 4,000 years and is ranked in the same medicinal category as Ginseng and Astragalus (5). These mushrooms have been traditionally used for liver problems, heart conditions, asthma, high blood pressure, arthritis, and as a potential treatment for tumor growth. They have also been used in China to help mountain climbers cope with altitude sickness (1, 5, 6, 7, 9).
How can they be used today?
Since this mushroom has so much to offer, it is easier explained in categories: immune support, lung function, heart and circulation, sleep, nervous system, and skincare potential.
Reishi has long been touted to have anti-tumor properties, and even though many studies have come back with inconclusive or incomplete findings, it has continually been used as a treatment for this kind of ailment (6, 8, 9). Even though the “anti-tumor” claims may or may not be scientifically backed, the thought process behind it does have some validity. Reishi does have a positive impact on the overall immune system. Reishi mushrooms are comprised of polysaccharides, triterpenes, and sterols which have been shown to strengthen immunity cells and improve the immune system (2, 5, 7). Polysaccharides stimulate the immune system to combat infections and viruses, while sterols help to reduce inflammation as well as allergic reactions in the body (5). In addition to these benefits, Reishi has also been said to have antibacterial properties, specifically against Staphylococci, Streptococci, and Bacillus pneumoniae (7). This is potentially due to the increase in immune response. Reishi can also act as an antioxidant, by eliminating hydroxyl free radicals, and can have an antiviral effect, by inducing interferon production responsible for immune system regulation (5, 7).
Reishi has been reported as a treatment for asthma and bronchitis on many different platforms (2, 5, 7, 11). But how, you may ask, can a mushroom help your lungs? The answer and theory behind this use go back to the anti-inflammatory properties mentioned previously. Asthma is caused by an inflammation of the airways, as well as bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes (11). For this reason, several studies have been conducted to see if this mushroom would be effective as a preventive agent for allergic asthma. Unfortunately, most formal studies have been conducted on mice, so it is hard to say for certain if the same results would stand true in human lungs, but the general anti-inflammatory properties seem to stand true.
Heart and circulatory support
There are also many claims of Reishi’s ability to lower blood pressure and improve circulation, leading to lower risk of heart disease. This goes back to the compounds that can be found in Reishi mushroom: polysaccharides, triterpenes, and sterols. Triterpenes have shown to help lower blood pressure and improve circulation. Polysaccharides are said to have blood pressure reducing effects. The main goal when treating hypertension, or high blood pressure, is to bring blood pressure levels back to a normal range (5). Blood pressure is regulated by a series of enzymatic reactions in the renin angiotensin aldosterone system (RAAS). Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) is one of the members of RAAS, and its wide distribution throughout the body indicates that ACE plays an important role, in that system (1). Therefore it makes sense that the inhibition of ACE could be a target for the treatment of hypertension. A study conducted on Reishi mycelium (the network of string like “roots” of the mushroom) revealed that the mycelia obtained by liquid fermentation had the ability to inhibit ACE activity leading to a lowering of blood pressure (1). Various studies have come to the same conclusion that Reishi mushroom has a positive effect on blood flow. Some claiming lowered cholesterol, increased white blood cell count, and increasing blood circulation and flow through the heart(1, 5, 7).
Sleep and nervous system
Reishi is also commonly referred to for its sleep boosting abilities. These mushrooms have been traditionally recommended by Chinese and Japanese herbalists as a treatment for insomnia for what they refer to as its “sleep-promoting factor” (2, 5). Some have found that this sleep promotion is due to a reduction in stress which has been shown to decrease sleep quality or have related the sleep boosting potential to its calming effect on the central nervous system helping to relax the muscles (2, 5, 7). Others have described this sleep promotion as a tranquilizing agent with sedative effects which is what led to being used for insomnia patients (4). Unfortunately, one study showed it has no effect on REM sleep, but it does have evidence of shortening the sleep latency, length of time that it takes to transition from being fully awake into sleep and increase sleeping time. Most of this increased sleep time was observed to be non-REM sleep or light sleep, which is a necessary phase in the transition to full REM sleep (4). This evidence shows that Reishi can be useful in the preliminary stages of sleep, the initial suppression of motor activity and relaxation, to lead into natural REM sleep, or to be used in conjunction with other natural sleep aids like Wulinshen mushroom for a fuller effect on sleep quality.
Reishi has been used as an anti-aging tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine but is also starting to show up in more recent cosmetic formulations (12). In fact, many facial masks currently on the market contain extracts from this mushroom (3). Its polysaccharides content helps to regulate gene expression in aging skin cells, and also protects fibroblasts from UVB-induced skin damage (12). It was found that the antioxidant ability of this fungus could be the cause of this fibroblast protection (12). Further looking into the skincare applications of this mushroom, it has been shown to have skin lightening capabilities (3). One study found that this mushroom has tyrosinase inhibitory activity which is the enzyme responsible for melanin production in the skin. Although it is currently unknown which compound in Reishi is responsible for its tyrosinase-inhibiting activities, it has been found useful for skin lightening through this pathway when added to a skin care formulation (3). Other research has concluded a reduction of MMP-1 expression responsible for collagen breakdown through the MAPK signal pathway (12).
Altogether this is one functional mushroom indeed with a wide range of healing potential to offer. From anti-inflammation to better sleep and circulation and even skincare possibilities this is one mushroom to keep in mind.
1. Ansor, N. M., Abdullah, N., & Aminudin, N. (2013). Anti-angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) proteins from mycelia of Ganoderma lucidum (Curtis) P. Karst. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine,13(1). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-256
2. Babu, P. D., & Subhasree, R. S. (2008). The Sacred Mushroom “Reishi”-A Review. American-Eurasian Journal of Botany,1(3), 107-110.
3. Chien, C., Tsai, M., Chen, C., Chang, S., & Tseng, C. (2008). Effects on Tyrosinase Activity by the Extracts of Ganoderma lucidum and Related Mushrooms. Mycopathologia,166(2), 117-120. doi:10.1007/s11046-008-9128-x
4. Chu, Q., Wang, L., Cui, X., Fu, H., Lin, Z., Lin, S., & Zhang, Y. (2007). Extract of Ganoderma lucidum potentiates pentobarbital-induced sleep via a GABAergic mechanism. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior,86(4), 693-698. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2007.02.015
5. Dupler, D., & Frey, R. J. (2005). Reishi Mushroom. In J. L. Longe (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 1721-1723). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com.lib-proxy.fullerton.edu/apps/doc/CX3435100659/GVRL?u=csuf_main&sid=GVRL&xid=4c988b18
6. Gao, P., Hirano, T., Chen, Z., Yasuhara, T., Nakata, Y., & Sugimoto, A. (2012). Isolation and identification of C-19 fatty acids with anti-tumor activity from the spores of Ganoderma lucidum (reishi mushroom). Fitoterapia,83(3), 490-499. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2011.12.014
7. Guide to Reishi Mushrooms. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.reishi.com/what-is-reishi.htm
8. Jin, X., Beguerie, J. R., Sze, D. M., & Chan, G. C. (2012). Ganoderma lucidum(Reishi mushroom) for cancer treatment. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd007731.pub2
9. Liao, S., Liang, C., Ho, M., Hsu, T., Tsai, T., Hsieh, Y. S., . . . Wong, C. (2013). 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), 13809-13814. doi:10.1073/pnas.1312457110
10. Nature’s most powerful adaptogen: History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://mikei.ca/en/history.html
11. Pi, C., Wang, H., Lu, C., Lu, F., & Chen, C. (2014). Ganoderma formosanum polysaccharides attenuate Th2 inflammation and airway hyperresponsiveness in a murine model of allergic asthma. SpringerPlus,3(1), 297. doi:10.1186/2193-1801-3-297
12. Zeng, Q., Zhou, F., Lei, L., Chen, J., Lu, J., Zhou, J., . . . Huang, J. (2016). Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides protect fibroblasts against UVB-induced photoaging. Molecular Medicine Reports,15(1), 111-116. doi:10.3892/mmr.2016.6026