The reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), an edible type of medicinal fungus that has been used for various healing abilities for thousands of years, is a true “superfood.” Also known as Ling Zhi in Chinese, these mushrooms are strongly anti-inflammatory and tied to longevity, better immune function and mental clarity — perhaps that’s why they’ve adopted the nickname “king of mushrooms.”
As described in the book “Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects,” in Chinese the name for the reishi mushroom represents “a combination of spiritual potency and essence of immortality … it’s tied to success, well-being, divine power, and longevity. Among cultivated mushrooms, G. lucidum is unique in that its pharmaceutical rather than nutritional value is paramount.”
Throughout history in holistic medicine practices, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), reishi mushrooms have been considered to be adaptogen herb-like substances, meaning they help us deal with the negative effects of stress — such as increased inflammation, depleted energy levels, damaged blood vessels and various types of hormonal imbalances. Studies have repeatedly shown that reishi mushrooms have antioxidant abilities that allow them to strengthen the body’s defenses against cancer, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, allergies, infections and more.
How the Reishi Mushroom Works
What are reishi mushrooms? Like other disease-fighting mushrooms, reishi mushrooms are a type of fungus that grow outdoors. They’re native to parts of Asia, including China, Korea and Japan. While they’re edible (some people describe them as tasting bitter and having a tough texture), you’re much more likely to find them in supplement, tincture or powder form.
Reish mushrooms grow above ground and produce “a fruiting body” along with connective strands (called mycelium), which are turned into an herbal medicine, tincture, tea, powder or extract.
For most of history, in Traditional Chinese Medicine fully grown reishi mushroom was dried, cut into slices, boiled in hot water and then steeped to make a healing tea/soup. Today, manufacturers of reishi products use a processing technique where reishi is boiled multiple times at a high pressure, allowing the active ingredients to be extracted to form a tincture.
Over the past several decades, dozens of different studies conducted in Japan, China, the U.S. and the U.K. have demonstrated that reishi mushrooms are capable of offering protection against numerous diseases or illnesses, including:
- fatigue (including chronic fatigue syndrome)
- frequent infections (urinary tract, bronchitis, respiratory infections, etc.)
- liver disease
- food allergies and asthma
- digestive problems, stomach ulcers and leaky gut syndrome
- tumor growth and cancer
- skin disorders
- autoimmune disorders
- viruses, including the flu, HIV/AIDS or hepatitis
- heart disease, hypertension, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- sleep disorders and insomnia
- anxiety and depression
Because they work as an “immune modulator,” reishi mushrooms can help restore hormonal balance, bring the body back to homeostasis and regulate activity of the immune system, including fighting tumors and cancerous cells. Research shows that reishi mushrooms act like a normalizing substance, regulating various cellular functions and systems, including the endocrine (hormonal), immune, cardiovascular, central nervous and digestive systems.
One of the best things about using reishi mushrooms is that they’re capable of doing so much, yet compared to medications they’re non-toxic and produce hardly any side effects of all. In fact, most people notice a quick improvement in their energy levels, mental capabilities and moods while also experiencing a reduction in aches, pains, allergies, digestive issues and infections.
The secret behind their healing potential? It’s the various active ingredients the reishi mushroom contains, which include: complex sugars known as beta-glucans, plant sterols that can act as precursors to hormones in the body, polysaccharides that fight cancer cell development and acidic substances called triterpenes that turn off the body’s response to allergies.
Recent findings suggest that reishi mushrooms can lower inflammation and increase the release of natural killer cells (or cytotoxicity), which work to remove various types of mutated cells from the body. This makes the reishi mushroom ideal as a natural cancer treatment and for prevention or heart disease. Some of the mechanisms of action by which reishi does this include:
- activating cytotoxic receptors (NKG2D/NCR)
- inhibiting cell proliferation
- suppressing vascular endothelial growth factor
- increasing plasma antioxidant capacity
- enhancing immune response
- converting excess testosterone to dihydrotestosterone
6 Proven Reishi Mushroom Benefits
1. Helps Defend Against Tumor Growth and Cancer
Just like other anti-inflammatory foods, reishi mushrooms contain several types of important anti-cancer nutrients, including antioxidants (such as the kinds called polysaccharides and triterpenoids), beta-glucans and amino acids. Researchers believe that one of the most beneficial components of the reshi mushroom is its polysaccharides, which are a water-soluble type of nutrient found in carbohydrate foods that are known to have anti-tumor abilities.
Polysaccharides, also found in other beneficial plant foods like sweet potatoes or beets, along with triterpenoids are immune-modulating substances that seem to defend DNA and stop cell mutations while protecting healthy cells. According to some studies, certain medicinal mushrooms help fight cancer because polysaccharides have important biological benefits including antioxidant, neuro-protective, radio-protective, anti-diabetes, anti-osteoporosis and anti-fatigue abilities.
Additionally, laboratory tests have demonstrated that triterpenes have cancer-fighting properties, which is one reason why brightly colored or bitter-tasting, highly antioxidant foods like pumpkin, berries and black rice have a reputation for promoting health. Triterpene compounds seem to inhibit tumor invasion and metastases by limiting attachment of cancerous cells to endothelial cells. Beta-glucans are also natural cancer-fighters since they stop the growth and spread of cancer cells while causing the immune system to become more active.
Reishi mushrooms have been successfully used to help fight cancer of the breasts, ovaries, prostate, liver and lungs, sometimes in combination with other treatments. For patients who are recovering from cancer or undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, reishi has protective effects that can make the medication more effective.
Research in cancer patients suggests that reishi has antiproliferative and chemopreventive effects, helps alleviate side effects of chemotherapy like low immunity and nausea and potentially enhances the efficacy of radiotherapy — in my opinion, making the reishi mushroom one of the most powerful cancer-fighting foods available.
2. Improves Liver Function and Detoxification
TCM differs from “Western medicine” in some ways because it emphasizes disease prevention, instead of simply treating symptoms once they appear. Within the body, one of the main focal points of TCM is the liver, since the liver is responsible for helping clean, process, store and circulate healthy blood and nutrients. Adaptogen herbs or supplements like reishi mushooms are one piece of the puzzle when it comes to maintaining the right balance within the body (other important aspects include a healthy diet, exercise and meditation) because they’re believed to help strengthen the digestive system, where nutrients are actually broken down and absorbed.
Adaptogens can help improve liver function and prevent liver disease, resulting in numerous benefits because this allows waste and toxins to be flushed from the body more efficiently, improving immunity against diseases that can develop over time. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that reishi induces hepatoprotective effects on acute liver injury because it contains antioxidant properties and fights harmful immune responses that slow down liver function.
3. Promotes Heart Health and Balances Blood Pressure
Triterpenes found the reishi mushroom seem to have blood pressure-lowering abilities as well as benefits for blood-clotting and cholesterol, likely because they help lower inflammation within blood vessels and arteries while also restoring hormonal balance. High blood pressure or high cholesterol can sometimes be caused by hormonal issues, including thyroid disorders or high amounts of stress, but reishi mushrooms help restore optimal hormonal levels and also strengthen the cardiovascular system.
In addition to lowering blood pressure, reishi can improve overall circulation, lower inflammation that worsens heart problems, and prevent clogged arteries or high cholesterol levels. Some early research suggests that taking reishi mushroom supplements (including ganopoly) reduces symptoms of clogged arteries, chest pains and shortness of breath.
4. Helps Balance Hormones and Fight Diabetes
Research suggests that several antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds found in reishi mushrooms change the way that nerves transmit messages to the brain, improving various functions within the endocrine and central nervous systems and balancing hormones naturally. Reishi mushroom supplementation is used to lower symptoms of diabetes, fatigue and hormonal imbalances, while improving fertility and reproductive health.
The reishi mushroom lowers the amount of toxins or heavy metals that can accumulate within the body and cause sluggishness, which is why these mushrooms are tied to improved energy levels, better concentration, improved memory and even better quality sleep. Clinical studies have also shown that reishi extract exerts mild anti-diabetic effects and improves dyslipidemia. Some research suggests that taking reishi mushroom supplements for 12 weeks reduces severity and complications of type 2 diabetes, since it can raise hemoglobin levels but not blood sugar levels.
5. Fights Allergies and Asthma
One of the active ingredients of reshi mushrooms is triterpenes, a type of ganoderic acid that is tied to a reduction in allergies and histamine reactions associated with asthma. It’s this reason why the reishi mushroom is an asthma natural remedy. Triterpenes are capable of lowering allergic reactions because of the way they affect the immune system, strengthen the digestive organs, protect the gut lining, lower inflammation, inhibit a histamine release, improve oxygen utilization and improve liver functions.
6. Reduces Risk for Infections and Viruses
Reishi mushrooms are considered a natural antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal substance. Aside from reducing allergies, triterpemes offer protection against microbial infections, viruses and fungal infections. Triterpenes can be found in many plant foods that taste somewhat bitter, a sign that they’re protective in nature and defend the plant against predators. In studies, isolated triterpenes have been shown to strengthen the lining of the digestive organs, fight off “bad bacteria,” help good bacteria replenish and protect against cell mutations.
Because reishi mushrooms can improve blood circulation and lower inflammation, they can help resolve infections more quickly, reduce pain and fight fatigue. Reishi mushrooms have been used to help treat symptoms and underlying causes of urinary tract infections, respiratory and sinus infections, hepatitis, bronchitis and even the HIV and AIDS viruses.
How to Use Reishi Mushrooms
According to some experts on reishi mushrooms, they might be most effective if you take them in the morning on an empty stomach. Drinking water along with reishi seems to help them absorb best, as does pairing them with vitamin C foods. Vitamin C seems to help with proper absorption of the active ingredients, including several types of antioxidants.
When purchasing reishi, ideally look for products that are certified pure, produced in Asian countries (such as Japan), and in extract or essence form. There are many different types of reishi products available, all of which have different levels of active ingredients that are affected by factors including the plant’s mother fungi, the growing conditions and the processing method used to extract the reishi. Products from Japan are considered to be some of the purest and are usually cultivated using techniques that preserve the delicate compounds in reishi. Check the product’s labeling for the species name (Ganoderma lucidum), extract ratio, country of origin and if any fillers are added.
You’re likely to come across reishi mushroom extract, capsules or powders in health food stores or online, so always read the directions carefully since dosage can vary depending on how concentrated the product is and the likelihood of having side effects goes up when you take too much.
Are Reishi Mushrooms Safe and Are There Any Side Effects?
Reishi mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in all kinds of patients, and amazingly very few (if any) side effects have ever been recorded. Reishi is classified as “Class 1: Herbs that can be safely consumed when used appropriately.” On occasion, some mild digestive upset and skin rashes have been occurred, but these side effects seem to go away and only be a threat in sensitive people with impaired immune systems.
While reishi mushrooms are safe, effective and very well-tolerated by most people, there are some instances when you’ll want to talk to your doctor before using them on your own. According to studies, the reishi mushroom appears to be safe for adults when taken by mouth in appropriate doses for up to one year. It’s possible for powdered forms of reishi to be stronger or contaminated in some rare cases, which can increase the risk for toxicity, so use caution and purchase reishi powder from a reputable company.
If you notice any of the following side effects, stop using reishi mushrooms and visit your doctor to make sure you’re not reacting badly, having an allergic reaction or experiencing liver toxicity:
- dryness of the mouth
- dry or itchy throat
- itchiness in the nasal area
- strong indigestion or stomach upset
- bloody stool
- skin rashes
If you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, it’s best to avoid reishi mushrooms unless you work with your doctor, since there hasn’t been much research done involving pregnant women. If you have had any type of bleeding disorder; just underwent surgery; take blood pressure medications, blood thinners, chemotherapy drugs or immosuppresant medications; or have trouble with blood clotting, don’t take reishi mushrooms since they can increase blood pressure, impact blood clotting (called thrombocytopenia) and increase the risk for bleeding.
Reishi Mushroom Takeaways
If you’re looking for a mushroom to eat, the reishi mushroom may not be the best choice — although it is edible. However, if you want to unlock this unique mushroom’s benefits and love tea or soup, the reishi is perfect. Found in mostly tincture, tea, powder or extract form, reishi mushrooms are a high-antioxidant food that improved immunity.
My favorite way to consume them is in tea form — which can help fight cancer, detox the liver, improve heart health, balance hormones, combat allergies and stave of illness. It may be a fungus, but it’s the good type. So don’t be afraid to add the reishi mushroom to your daily routine!