Medicinal Properties of Reishi Mushrooms

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Although directly active as an antimicrobial (Suay et al. 2000), according to most studies reishi mushrooms do not act directly as an tumoricidal against cancers as do many other mushroom species (Ooi et al. 2002). Reishi primarily functions as a biological response modifier, stimulating production of macrophages (often a consequence of the effects of interleukins-1, -2, -6, -10), activating the host's production of natural killer cells, T cells, and tumor-necrosis factors. More than 100 distinct polysaccharides and 119 triterpenoids from this species have been isolated, from both the mycelia and fruitbodies (Zhou and Gao 2002). Of those that have been identified thus far, many triterpenoids and polysaccharides demonstrate immunomodulatory properties.

Triterpenoids are steroid-like compounds that inhibit cholesterol synthesis, allergenic response, and histamine release. These compounds are thought to be more concentrated in this species' fruitbodies than in the mycelium, a fat of significance for those choosing medicinal mushroom extracts for relief from bronchitis, asthma, and allergies (Hirotani and Furuya 1986; Han et al. 1998; Zhou et al. 1999). Lanostanic-type triterpenoids from spores of G. lucidum have been shown to limit the in vitro growth of meth-A and LLC tumor cell lines (Min et al. 2000) and cervical HeLa cells (Zhu et al. 2000).

early carLiu and others (2002) found that germinating or fractured spores produced more antitumor agents than dormant spores. Gao and fellow researchers (2002) discovered a new cytotoxic lanostanic triterpene aldehyde from the fruitbody of G. lucidum showing activity similar to that in a study by Min and others (2000). An ethanol fraction isolated from spores strongly stimulated the activity of T-lymphocytes (Bao et al. 2002). In response to hot water extracts of reishi mushrooms preserved in ethanol, versus saline controls, natural killer cell activity was significantly augmented when cancer cells were co-cultured with human spleen cells (Ohtomo 2001). Slivova and colleagues (2004) reported that G. lucidum inhibited breast cancer cell adhesion, reducing motility and migration of highly metastatized cancer cells.

Studies by Wang and others (1997) ascertained that the primary antitumor effects of G. lucidum are from biological response modification of the host. Reishi's polysaccharides cause a 5-to 29-fold increase in the tumor-necrosis factors, interleukins-1 and -6, an a substantial augmentation of T lymphocytes. G. lucidum has also been shown to help restore T-cell function in the spleen of gamma-irradiated mice (Chen et al. 1995). Lieu and others (1992) reported that polysaccharides of G. lucidum significantly inhibited the growth of leukemia (U937) cells The antioxidant properties of reishi have been well established (Chang and But 1986; Chen and Zhang 1987; Wang et al. 1985; Yang et al. 1992; and lee et al. 2001). Zhui and others (1999) found that several triterpene fractions, higher in the fruitbodies than in the mycelium, scavenge superoxide anions, interrupting the associated chain reaction of free radials, thus providing a strong antioxidant effect. Similarly, Lee and others (2001) found that reishi inhibits hydroxyl radicals and prevents oxidative damage from the effects of cancer chemotherapies. A unique beta-glucan from the mycelium enhanced the production of nitric oxides from macrophages but decreased other free radicals and the collateral harm they cause to healthy cells. (Han et al. 1998; Li et al. 2000; Zhou and Gao 2002). This mechanism was further elucidated by Kawakami and others (2002), who showed that tumor necrosis factors (alpha TNFs) were released by macrophages 8 hours after exposure to derivatives of mushroom polysaccharides targeting cancerous cells, followed four hours later by a burst of nitric oxide, which then killed all the diseased cells.

Constituents -- including lanostanic triterpenoids -- from the fruitbodies of this remarkable species have been shown to be anti-inflammatory (Ukai et al. 1983) in the treatment of arthritis (Stavinoha et al. 1990, 1996; Lin et al. 1993; Mizuno and Kim 1996; Lee et al. 2001). In one study, reishi extracts compared favorably with prednisone but had few if any negative side effects (Stavinoha et al. 1990). In a small clinical study involvin 33 patients, an aqueous extract of this mushroom inhibited platelet aggregation and gave positive results in treating atherosclerosis (Tao and Feng 1990). Another limited clinial study (Gau et al. 1990) of 5 HIV-positive hemophiliac patients likewise showed no adverse effect on platelet aggregation from extracts of G. lucidum, which was of concern due to the high adenosine fractions found in this mushroom. G. lucidum may prove useful for treating inflammation of the brain (Stavinoha 1997). Significant results were obtained recently in a clinical study using reishi components in the treatment of prostate inflammation (Small et al. 2000).

early carConcurrent with the well-known anti-inflammatory properties of G. lucidum is the production of interleukins-2, -6, and -8, which are typically associated with an inflammatory response of the immune system. This apparent contradiction--an immune enhancer being an anti-inflammatory--may be further explained by the fact that the effects of reishi can be bidirectional at different dosages. Bidirectionality of the anti-inflammatory and immunostimulatory effects, as measured by cytokine production, was found to be dose dependent when using polysaccharides from the closely related G. tsugae in a study by Gao and others (2000). The possible inflammatory influences may be ameliorated by the production of steroidal triterpenoids, which are typically anti-inflammatory (Stavinoha et al. 1996). The end result of many studies is that G. lucidum is an anti-inflammatory agent and yet an immunity enhancer. D. Kim and others (1999) found that ganoderenic acid A in G. lucidum was a potent inhibitor of beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme closely related to liver dysfunction, and that ganoderenic acid A may be helpful for those developing cirrhosis from hepatitis.

Lin et al. (1995) determined the water extract of fruit bodies of G. lucidum induced free-radical scavenging activity. Han and others (1998), Zhou and Gao (2002), and Li and others (2000) concurred that reishi polysaccharides potentiate the release of nitric oxide while enhancing the scavenging of free radicals by peritoneal macrophages, thus making them less inflammatory while enhancing interleukin, natural killer cell activity, and tumor necrosis factors.

The studies mentioned in the preceding paragraph underscore that reishi may play an important role in minimizing the effects of aging by reducing damage from oxidative stress associated with free radicals. Cao and Lin (2002) found that polysaccharides from this mushroom regulate the maturation of function of dendritic cells, critical for immune response, while Zhang and other researchers (2002) isolated yet another bioactive glucose-galactose-mannose sugar that enhances lymphocyte activity and immunoglobin. Future research may better explain the unique, complex actions of this species and its diverse constituents.

Consumption of reishi helps enhance respiration, since this species enhances the oxygen-absorbing capacity of the alveoli in the lungs, thereby enhancing stamina, not unlike ginseng (Chang and But 1986). research by Andreacchi and others (1997) demonstrated that a crude ethanol extract of G. lucidum increased coronary flow due to vasodilation, with a corresponding decrease in diastolic blood pressure and no change to heart rhythm Although called a blood-vessel/coronary dilator, patients should be aware that there are concerns about its use prior to surgery, as it might cause excessive bleeding (Andreacchi 1995). More recently, research suggests this mushroom restricts tumor angiogenesis.

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Research in Seoul by Dr. Byong Kak Kim showed that extracts of this mushroom prevented the death of lymphocytes infected with HIV and inhibited the replication of the virus within the mother and daughter cells (Kim et al. 1994).

From this mushroom, Murasugi and others (1991) isolated and characterized the gene responsible for manufacturing a novel immunomodulating protein ("Ling Zhi 8"). The LD50, an inverse measure of toxicity even at relatively large doses (Chen and Miles 1996), making it a strong candidate for immunotherapy.

This mushroom also shows promise fighting chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) by enhancing endurance (Aoki et al. 1987; Yang and Wang 1994).

Flavor, Preparation, and Cooking: Typically extracted in hot water for teas, tinctures, syrups, and soups. My family enjoys making a tea from fresh, living specimens, breaking them into pieces, boiling them in water for an hour, and then steeping for 30 minutes. The tea is then reheated, strained, and served without sweeteners. If a daily regimen of reishi tea is followed, as little as 3 to 5 g per person is a customary dose.

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Image retrieved from Ganoderma on October 14, 2014.
Image retrieved from on October 14, 2014.

pp. 235-237 Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets (2005)

Reishi, mushroom, Lingzhi, Ganoderma lucidum
Reishi, mushroom, Lingzhi, mycocultivation, Ganoderma lucidum
Ganoderma lucidum, reishi, Lingzhi
Ganoderic acid