The Many Benefits of Reishi Mushroom
Ganoderma lucidum, also known as reishi or lingzhi, presents with a brilliant varnished red mushroom cap and a white pore surface. This eye-catching polypore mushroom has inspired millennia of medicinal use and current clinical research.
Like all mushrooms, reishi has immune-modulating ß-glucans as an integral part of the cell wall. These branched sugar molecules directly interact with receptors on innate immune cells and like a key in a lock, an immune response is unlocked and activated. Innate immune activation or nonspecific immunity is essential for providing the initial defense against foreign invaders. A more primed innate immune system can prevent pathogenic organisms from becoming systemic disease.
Learn more about the polysaccharides in medicinal mushrooms here.
Reishi is in a class of herbs called adaptogens. Adaptogen is an umbrella term for a medicinal substance that eases the body’s response to stress. The major pathway that adaptogens influence is the HPA axis, or the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. When a person is subjected to stress on a daily basis over a long period of time, this pathway becomes fatigued and may eventually lead to too much or too little production of the major stress hormone, cortisol. Reishi mushroom intake helps to regulate this pathway and promotes a healthy cortisol response (Soksawatmakhin).
Chinese medicine suggests that reishi nourishes and calms the ‘shen’ or the spirit, the part of us that is responsible for regulating emotions. More common than not, it is anxiety that keeps people up at night. For some, anxiety can feel like a flame impossible to put out and reishi can help to dull the blaze. More recent research explains that reishi does in fact impact sleep and may improve sleeping time through binding a receptor on the inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA (Chu 2007; Cui 2012).
The bitter flavor of reishi mushroom, due to triterpenoids, is indicative of liver supportive qualities. There are a number of animal studies that support this hypothesis that reishi supports healthy liver function (Wu 2010; Wu 2016; Zhang 2002).
A common consequence of aging, is an increase in prostate size. Reishi mushroom partially inhibits the enzyme, 5-ɑ-reductase, responsible for the increase in prostate size (Liu 2007). Lower urinary tract symptoms like frequency, urgency, nocturia and dribbling are often associated with an increased prostate size. Reishi supports a healthy prostate and may be supportive for people experiencing these symptoms (Noguchi 2008).
A number of constituents found in reishi support kidney function. Ganoderma triterpenes may inhibit kidney cyst development while polysaccharide peptides decrease fibrotic change (hardening of the kidneys) that occurs with longstanding kidney dysfunction (Zhang 2020; Gang 2019; Gang 2020).
Reishi supports a healthy cardiovascular system through decreasing oxidation of lipids within the vasculature, which may lead to less plaque build up in the arteries (Sargowo 2018). Within ninety minutes after ingestion, reishi extract improves the vascular antioxidant profile, thereby decreasing lipid peroxidation (Wachtel-Galor 2004). Reishi terpenes also play a role in blood pressure control. A number of studies suggest that ganoderic acids inhibit angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE), an enzyme that plays a vital role in blood pressure regulation (Morigawa 1970; Tran 2014).
Looking for a deeper dive? Check out Dr. Sitkoff's Reishi monograph here.
Chu QP, Wang LE, Cui XY, et al. Extract of Ganoderma lucidum potentiates pentobarbital-induced sleep via a GABAergic mechanism. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2007;86(4):693-698. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2007.02.015
Cui XY, Cui SY, Zhang J, et al. Extract of Ganoderma lucidum prolongs sleep time in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012;139(3):796-800. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2011.12.020
Geng X, Zhong D, Su L, Lin Z, Yang B. Preventive and therapeutic effect of Ganoderma lucidum on kidney injuries and diseases. Adv Pharmacol. 2020;87:257-276. doi:10.1016/bs.apha.2019.10.003
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Morigawa A, Kitabatake K, Fujimoto Y, I. N. (1970). Angiotensin converting enzyme-inhibitory triterpenes from ganoderma lucidum. Chemical Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 43, 2091.
Noguchi, M., Kakuma, T., Tomiyasu, K., Kurita, Y., Kukihara, H., & Konishi, F. (2008). Effect of an extract of Ganoderma lucidum in men with lower urinary tract symptoms : a double-blind , placebo-controlled randomized and dose-ranging study. 10(4), 651–658. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-7262.2008.00336.x
Sargowo, D., Ovianti, N., Susilowati, E., Ubaidillah, N., Widya Nugraha, A., Vitriyaturrida, Siwi Proboretno, K., Failasufi, M., Ramadhan, F., Wulandari, H., Waranugraha, Y., & Hayuning Putri, D. (2018). The role of polysaccharide peptide of Ganoderma lucidum as a potent antioxidant against atherosclerosis in high risk and stable angina patients. Indian Heart Journal, 70(5), 608–614. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ihj.2017.12.007
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Wu H, Tang S, Huang Z, Zhou Q, Zhang P, Chen Z. Hepatoprotective Effects and Mechanisms of Action of Triterpenoids from Lingzhi or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (Agaricomycetes) on α-Amanitin-Induced Liver Injury in Mice. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2016;18(9):841-850. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v18.i9.80
Zhang GL, Wang YH, Ni W, Teng HL, Lin ZB. Hepatoprotective role of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide against BCG-induced immune liver injury in mice. World J Gastroenterol. 2002;8(4):728-733. doi:10.3748/wjg.v8.i4.728
Zhang JJ, Qin FY, Meng XH, Yan YM, Cheng YX. Renoprotective ganodermaones A and B with rearranged meroterpenoid carbon skelotons from Ganoderma fungi. Bioorg Chem. 2020;100:103930. doi:10.1016/j.bioorg.2020.103930
Wachtel-Galor, S., Szeto, Y. T., Tomlinson, B., & Benzie, I. F. F. (2004). Ganoderma lucidum ('Lingzhi’); acute and short-term biomarker response to supplementation. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 55(1), 75–83. https://doi.org/10.1080/09637480310001642510