Summary | What is it? | Benefits and How It Works | History & Traditional Use |
How to Use and Dosing | Interactions | Precautions & Side Effects | References
Reishi mushroom is one of the most well-known medicinal mushrooms. Long considered an “elixir of life” in China, it has been highly sought-after for thousands of years. Modern science has confirmed that reishi contains beneficial compounds, including polysaccharides and triterpenes, that offer support to the immune system, cardiovascular system, liver, and more.
Reishi mushroom is a prized medicinal mushroom; its medicinal properties have been coveted by humans for thousands of years. The species Ganoderma lucidum is the most popular, however, there are numerous reishi species that possess similar medicinal activity.
Typically dark reddish-brown in color with a glossy surface, this mushroom grows in a shelf-like position, normally on the base of hardwood trees, and can be seen on maples and hemlocks across the U.S. East Coast and throughout Europe, Asia, and even in the Amazon rainforest.
The fruiting body, the aerial portion of the fungus known more commonly as a “mushroom,” is usually circular or fan-shaped with a corky texture when fresh. Classified in the fungal world as a polypore, the underside of the fruiting body has pores in place of the characteristic gills seen on many mushrooms. Reishi’s mushroom cap is generally 2-7 inches wide, although it can be larger.
Reishi has been utilized for its longevity and health-promoting qualities for thousands of years, earning nicknames like “elixir of life,” “mushroom of immortality,” and ”ten-thousand-year mushroom.” Many considered it a panacea, but it is especially admired for its immune-supportive, cardiovascular-supportive, liver-protective, and adaptogenic qualities.
Reishi supports the immune system in a variety of ways:It contains a group of immune-balancing polysaccharide compounds, specifically beta-glucans, that can stimulate an increased immune response or turn down an overactive system by modulating inflammation.1,2,3,4
This is known as immunomodulating activity and can be helpful in protecting the body from infection, as well as supporting the immune system when conditions like allergies and autoimmunity are present.
Although human clinical trials are needed, reishi has shown potential value as an adjunct to cancer treatment. In vitro (in a test tube or dish) and in vivo (in a living organism) studies demonstrate reishi’s ability to stop the cycle of certain tumor cells, stimulate natural killer (NK) cells, and induce apoptosis, also known as programmed cell death.5,6
In a 2014 animal study, a 4-week administration of reishi extract suppressed breast-to-lung metastasis by downregulating genes responsible for cell invasion.7
Beyond its polysaccharides, reishi also contains triterpenoids, biologically active compounds with antiviral capabilities.3,4
In vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated reishi’s antioxidant, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, and anti-inflammatory activity, which could be of benefit to the cardiovascular system. Alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle, these effects can discourage atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries, and correlated chronic diseases.1,8
Although more clinical trials are needed, recent studies have shown positive effects on the cardiovascular system. For example, a 2020 randomized, closed-label clinical trial administered reishi polysaccharides to atrial fibrillation patients for 90 days. At the end of the trial, reishi-treated subjects had a significant reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammatory markers compared to the control group.9
Polysaccharides and triterpenoids, two compounds found in reishi mushroom, help to protect the liver by inhibiting free radical damage, elevating beneficial antioxidant enzyme activity, reducing damaging inflammatory responses, and various other mechanisms.4,10,11
Many in vitro and in vivo studies have confirmed the hepatoprotective effects of reishi against a wide range of liver diseases.
A 2018 animal study found a reishi extract to improve non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by inhibiting fatty acid synthesis.12 Another in vivo study showed reishi extract to reduce acute liver fibrosis induced by a hepatotoxin.13
Similar to its liver protective mechanisms, reishi can improve kidney conditions through its ability to scavenge free radicals and reduce cellular damage.14
In vivo reishi studies have shown promise in supporting kidney deterioration due to diabetes. A 2014 animal study isolated a protein from the fruiting body of reishi to investigate its effects on kidney function in relation to diabetic nephropathy. The researchers concluded that the protein offered protection to the kidneys and could be beneficial for cases of diabetic nephropathy.15
Reishi mushroom is a calming adaptogen that can improve adrenal function and help the body adapt to a variety of stressors. This effect is best felt with consistent, long-term use.1,16
Like many adaptogens, reishi is also supportive of the nervous system and particularly useful for reducing stress-related symptoms like nervousness and poor sleep.1
Reverence for reishi and its medicinal virtues were first recorded during the Qin dynasty in China (221-206 BC). Its description in a well-respected Chinese pharmacopeia, Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, piqued the interest of emperors who enlisted thousands of laborers to search for this “fungus of immortality”.1,4 Shortly after, reishi’s image began appearing in artwork, furniture, carvings, and women’s accessories.
In traditional Chinese medicine, reishi is thought to replenish Qi, the vital life energy that flows through us. For those who could obtain the precious mushroom, it was used to increase stamina and cognitive function, improve musculoskeletal pain, and support the respiratory system.
The Chinese name ling zhi can be translated many different ways but loosely means “spiritual potency,” which is a reflection of reishi’s ability to soothe the spirit, being especially helpful in cases of insomnia and nervousness.
The fruiting body of reishi is commonly consumed as a powder or tea. Although the mushroom can be ground into a powder as is, the addition of an extraction process increases the mushroom’s benefits.
Look for a powdered extract that has gone through a water and alcohol extraction to ensure a full range of active compounds are available.
Additionally, choose an extract standardized to at least 4% beta-glucans. Generally, 200-400 mg can be taken 1-3 times daily.
To prepare a reishi mushroom tea, combine 1 oz. of reishi with 32 oz. of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 to 2 hours. Strain and drink one cup up to three times daily. Reishi can be bitter, so it’s commonly combined with other herbs like ginger, cinnamon, and cacao.
For immune health, reishi works well with herbs like andrographis, ashwagandha, astragalus, rhodiola, turmeric, cat’s claw, cordyceps, shilajit, Chinese skullcap, rehmannia, and Japanese knotweed.
For added anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, reishi can be combined with herbs like turmeric, gotu kola, boswellia, milk thistle, bacopa, and ginger.
Use cautiously with blood thinning medications.
Always check with your health care practitioner before use if you are taking medications. For more general education on potential interactions between herbs and medications, check out Dr. Bill Rawls’ article: Is it Safe to Take Herbs with My Medications?
Reishi has thousands of years of use and is generally well tolerated. Side effects are rare but can include dry mouth, upset stomach, and rashes. Avoid use if you are allergic to mushrooms. If pregnant, consult your health care practitioner regarding the use of reishi mushroom.
Disclaimer: This information is intended only as general education and should not be substituted for professional medical advice. Any mentioned general dosage options, safety notices, or possible interactions with prescription drugs are for educational purposes only and must be considered in the context of each individual’s health situation and the quality and potency of the product being used. Use this information only as a reference in conjunction with the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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