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The most famous of all the medicinal mushrooms

Reishi

Ganoderma lucidum Ganodermataceae

Reishi is an effective adaptogen through helping to moderate the body’s stress response helping to treat conditions such as chronic fatigue and compromised immunity.

  • How does it feel?

    If you have ever been lucky enough to find Reishi in the wild, you will know that sense of wonder of finding the glistening fungi in the forest. However, much of the Reishi available today is grown on food substrates in special mushroomeries. This has led to a range of products including the mycelium, extra-cellular metabolites as well as fruiting bodies. A huge range of extract exists including ones that use combinations of water and alcohol extracts for maximum utilisation of the alcophilic triterpenoids and hydrophilic polysaccharides exist. So, depending on what form you experience it in, the taste can vary from sweeter to much more bitter. Once past the bitterness it has an immediate grounding and soothing effect.

  • What can I use it for?

    Reishi is also known as Ling Zhi, The Mushroom of Immortality, and was revered by the Chinese for its positive tonifying effects. β-glucans help to prime a weakened immune system, enhancing protection from repeated acute infections as well as more chronic immune disorders; increasing T-lymphocytes, TNF-α, IL-1-β, IL-2, and IL-6 production. As well as medicinal mushrooms, β-glucans are also found as the brown spots on apples and pears, and actively prime the immune system.

  • Traditional uses

    Allergies, liver support, cancer (especially breast and prostate), hypertension, anxiety/insomnia. Together with Cordyceps sinensisG. lucidum has the most extensive range of indications and combines well with it in treatment of lung and liver conditions, as well as to provide all-round adaptogenic support. Supports Heart Shen and Lung Qi.

  • What practitioners say

    Cancer – G. lucidum has a long history of traditional use in the treatment of cancer and is credited with many cases of spontaneous remission. As well as the immune modulating effect of its high polysaccharide content, its triterpenes show significant cytotoxic activity against different cancer cell lines, as well as inhibitory effects against Epstein-Barr virus, known to be associated with some cancers. In addition triterpenes from G. lucidum show inhibition of the nuclear transcription factor, NF-kappaB (NF-kB), which is overexpressed in various cancer cell lines, and also theAP-1 signalling pathway.

    Inhibition of NF-kB is of particular importance in the activity of G. lucidum against breast and prostate cancers as it is considered to play an essential role in the hormone independent growth and spread of these cancers. In addition G. lucidum triterpenes have been shown to block the androgen receptor on prostate cancer cells, supporting G.lucidum’s use in the treatment of prostate cancer.

    Clinical studies with G. lucidum polysaccharide extract confirm its ability to enhance immune status in cancer patients with increases in NK cell activity and Th1 cytokine levels and decreases in Th2 cytokine levels in advanced lung cancer patients, and reduction in side effects when given alongside chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

    In vitro and in vivo studies also indicate significant anti-tumour activity for the triterpenerich G. lucidum spore powder and spore oil. A randomized controlled trial of 48 breast cancer patients reported reductions in fatigue, anxiety and depression in the treatment group (3g/day G. lucidum spore powder), together with improvements in immune parameters.

    Allergies:
    As well as immunomodulatory activity, G. lucidum demonstrates strong anti-inflammatory activity with suppression of tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-6 (IL-6), the inflammatory mediator nitric oxide (NO) and prostaglandin E2, mediated through inhibition of the NF-kB andAP-1 signaling pathways. This combination of immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory activity contributes to its efficacy in the treatment of allergies and other inflammatory conditions. G. lucidum is a component of FAHF-2, a Chinese herbal formula that has been reported to completely block anaphylactic reactions in a mouse model of peanut allergy.

    Liver disease:
     The fruiting body of G. lucidum has long been a popular traditional treatment for liver diseases and demonstrates wide hepatoprotective properties. It appears that at least part of its action in this regard may be through the ability of G. lucidum triterpenes to block platelet-derived growth factor beta receptor (PDGFbetaR), thus inhibiting the activation and proliferation of hepatic stellate cells, a key event in hepatic fibrosis. G. lucidum is also traditionally used in the treatment of hepatitis and in a clinical study of 355 cases of hepatitis B treated with Wulingdan Pill, of which G. lucidum is the major component, 92.4% of patients were reported to have positive results. Again, it appears that triterpenes are the key components.

    Hypertension: G. lucidum has a broad range of action on cardiovascular health. Polysaccharides and triterpenes isolated from G. lucidum have shown hyperlipidaemic, hypotensive, and anti-thrombotic effects while a polysaccharide preparation (Ganopoly) led to improved ECG and lowered chest pain, palpitation and shortness of breath in a double-blind, randomized, multi-centre study. MildACE-inhibitory activity has also been demonstrated for some of G. lucidum’s triterpenoid compounds.

    Insomnia/Anxiety: The traditional name ‘spirit mushroom’ points to the sedative action of its triterpenoid components and many herbalists value its benefits in cases of insomnia. Christopher Hobbs recommends G. lucidum for deficiency insomnia while Mizuno recommends it for ‘mental stabilisation’.

    Rheumatoid arthritis: G. lucidum’s combination of immuno-modulatory and anti-inflammatory action suggests potential application in the treatment of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and a proteoglycan fraction from G. lucidum has been shown to inhibit production of rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts in vitro, in part through inhibition of the NF-kB transcription pathway.

    Neuro-protective: Traditionally considered to promote longevity, G. lucidum extract has been shown to inhibit beta-amyloid synaptic toxicity with potential benefits in Alzheimer’s disease. Both polysaccharides and triterpenes from G. lucidum exhibit neuroprotective and anticonvulsant effects at levels of 10-80mg/kg while G. lucidum spores have shown ability to protect neurons from apoptosis and improve cognitive dysfunction in vivo.

    Anti-ageing:
     Traditionally known as the ‘mushroom of immortality’, G. lucidum’s broad-spectrum cardiovascular, neurological and immunological benefits, together with its support for blood sugar and cholesterol control, contribute to its anti-ageing properties.

  • Did you know?

    300mg of β-glucans is the accepted clinically effective dose. β-glucans bind to specific membrane receptors of phagocytic cells stimulating innate natural killer cells that fight off invading antigens. β-glucans also stimulate the growth of bone marrow megakaryocytes and progenitor cells which develop into platelets, blood and immune cells. In immunologically compromised people, Reishi will increase T-lymphocyte and T-helper cells whilst decreasing T-suppressor cells. It will also improve immune competency after chemo- and/or radiation therapies.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Patients on anti-coagulantmedication should bemonitored due to G.lucidum’s actions in this area although a study of G. lucidum supplementation (1.5g/day) in healthy volunteers showed no effect on haemostatic function.

  • Dosage

    Traditional materia medica recommend a dose range for crude G. lucidum of 3-15g/day in decoctions or 1.5-3g as powder or in pills while doses of up to 30g/day have been reported and 5.4g/day of polysaccharide extract and 3.0g/day and G. lucidum spore powder have been used in clinical trials.

    Dose range for dual-extraction products combining polysaccharide-rich hot-water and triterpene-rich ethanolic (alcohol-based) extracts is typically 1-3g/day while 500-1,000mg/day is normal for G. lucidum spore oil products.

  • Constituents

    Key components: Triterpenes and polysaccharides.

    Levels of triterpenes are particularly high in G. lucidum spores, typically >2.0% in shell broken spore powder and >30% in the spore oil and recent studies report promise for the spores and spore oil as anti-cancer and neuroprotective agent

    G. lucidum shows exceptionally high tyrosinase inhibition with the highest activity in the aqueous extract. This has led to its inclusion in many commercial skin whitening products and has medical implications, especially in relation to Parkinson’s Disease (see discussion under Parkinson’s Disease).

    A number of related species have also been investigated with polysaccharides and triterpenes from both Ganoderma tsugae and Ganoderma applanatum showing similar anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory, immunemodulatory and hepatoprotective activity to those from G. lucidum and Ganoderma japonicum showing
    neuroprotective properties.

Reishi illustration
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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