There is much to learn from Eastern medicine. It makes use of a wide variety of plants and, in particular, fungi. Nicknamed ‘The king of mushrooms,’ the reishi mushroom has become extremely popular in recent times.
In this article, we check out what reishi mushrooms are and present studies outlining their medical potential. We also analyze the available supplements, which include tea, powder, and capsules.
What Are Reishi Mushrooms?
Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) are rare fungi that grow at the base of deciduous trees. Eastern medicine practitioners have used them for millennia.
They contain peptides, polysaccharides, and triterpenoids, which may account for their apparent health benefits. Reishi mushrooms also contain a huge array of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
They are commonly ground down and sold as a powder. Also, reishi mushroom extracts are included in supplements. Though you can eat them fresh, these fungi have a bitter taste and woody texture that makes them an unpleasant experience for many!
Reishi Mushroom Benefits
There is some scientific evidence for a handful of reishi benefits. However, this fungi’s potential warrants far more exploration. People use the mushroom for a wide range of reasons, including:
- Viral infections
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Respiratory diseases
- Building strength and stamina
- Liver or kidney disease
Reishi mushrooms could act as adaptogenic stress-soothers, as they contain a huge number of antioxidants. Reishi users claim these fungi can stimulate liver function and the immune system. The main issue is that most evidence consists of small human clinical trials at best.
Reishi Health Benefits
The health benefits of reishi with the largest level of evidence in their favor are:
- Boosting the immune system
- Combating fatigue & depression
- Anti-cancer properties
Boosting the Immune System
Reishi mushrooms are used in Eastern medicine to enhance the immune system. There are a variety of studies that outline their potential for this purpose. A review published in 2005 is one such example. The author, Zhi-Bin Lin, noted that the “immuno-modulating effects of G. lucidum polysaccharides were extensive, including promoting the function of antigen-presenting cells, mononuclear phagocyte system, humoral immunity, and cellular immunity.”
A study published in 2008 analyzed how reishi capsules affected football players. Forty players exposed to stressful conditions were divided into groups and took the capsules or a placebo. Researchers noted that the reishi users had improved lymphocyte function after four weeks of use, a measure of a well-functioning immune system.
However, a study published in 2004 found that reishi mushrooms didn’t help improve inflammation or immune function in adults. This was after four weeks of usage. So the information is still conflicting at this time.
Combatting Fatigue & Depression
Reishi mushrooms are adaptogens. These are substances that help the body fight against stress.
A study of 132 patients with neurasthenia (a condition that leads to headaches, dizziness, and irritability) found that after eight weeks, those treated with reishi reported far better well-being and less fatigue than those who received a placebo.
A study of breast cancer survivors who used reishi mushrooms was published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2011. Those who used reishi for four weeks reported decreased fatigue, a better quality of life, and reduced depression and anxiety.
Mentioning the anti-cancer properties of any pharmaceutical or natural medicine is always controversial. However, researchers have looked into the effect of the mushrooms on cancer cells. A study published in Pharma Reports outlined the potential for triterpenes in reishi mushrooms to inhibit tumor development and metastasis.
A separate study published in 2010 looked at the effects of a water-soluble extract from reishi mushrooms on patients with colorectal adenomas. After a year of use, researchers found that reishi users benefited from a decrease in both the size and number of tumors in the large intestine.
Nonetheless, research in this field is limited. Also, researchers believe that at best, patients should use reishi mushrooms with traditional treatments rather than acting as a replacement.
Other Possible Health Benefits
Evidence for other reishi benefits is limited to animal studies and preliminary research on humans and has yielded mixed results. For example, one small study found that reishi mushrooms could increase HDL cholesterol while decreasing triglycerides. However, a review of five studies featuring over 400 people was published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2015 and found that after 16 weeks of use, participants did not benefit from improved cholesterol scores.
An additional study found that reishi extract reduced blood sugar in mice with type 2 diabetes. Still, once again, a separate review published in Cochrane in 2015 negated these findings, as no evidence of reduced blood sugar was observed amongst reishi mushroom users.
Finding High-Quality Reishi Mushroom Supplements
There is no denying that reishi mushroom supplements are becoming more and more popular, likely due to the tough texture and bitter flavor of reishi mushrooms in their raw, natural form. Here are a few different options for consuming reishi extract without eating it raw or cooking with it.
Reishi Mushroom Tea
Creating reishi tea at home is relatively simple. If you have access to raw, wild reishi, slice up the mushrooms into small pieces and place them in a pot with boiling water. Steep for ~15 minutes, then strain the mixture and let it cool down before drinking. (If you make your own reishi tea, it’s important to chop the mushrooms as soon as you can. Otherwise, they become hard and next to impossible to cut).
You can also add fruit juice, green tea, ginger, or a sweetener to make the taste of the reishi tea more palatable. It is also possible to store the tea in the fridge for a few days.
Reishi Mushroom Powder
Reishi powder is easy to find online, and as the name suggests, it is merely ground-up reishi mushrooms in a dried, powder form. You can add reishi powder to your tea, coffee, juice, or even sprinkle it onto oatmeal or add it to a smoothie. Many products contain a mixture of other mushrooms, so make sure you read the label carefully before purchasing.
Reishi capsules are probably the most popular and accessible form of reishi supplements. Again, however, make sure you read the label to ensure you get 100% reishi and not a blend of mushrooms. Capsules allow you to use reishi without worrying about taste or texture, and they are also incredibly convenient and are an excellent option for use as a daily supplement.
Reishi Dosage, Side Effects & Other Pertinent Information
The limited research on reishi’s effects on humans means we don’t know much about side effects. However, one study published in Cochrane in 2016 looked at reishi mushrooms as a cancer treatment and found that patients reported side effects such as liver damage, skin rashes, and upset stomach.
Other possible side effects of reishi mushrooms include:
- Mouth, nose, and throat dryness
Proper reishi dosing will depend on several factors, including an individual’s age, gender, weight, and general activity level/metabolism. Again, due to a lack of empirical evidence, there are no set guidelines in terms of milligram amount for effective reishi dosing.
Summary of Reishi Mushrooms
Overall, there is evidence of reishi mushroom benefits. The fungus appears to help with conditions such as fatigue and depression, and it is also known to support the immune system and even have anti-cancer properties. However, at present, researchers acknowledge that they need to look at more studies to come to more definitive conclusions.
Reishi could help with fatigue, depression and enhance the immune system.
Note also that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor natural remedies and supplements or recognize them as medical treatment options for specific conditions. As a result, it is wise to perform due diligence and ensure that any reishi mushroom product you purchase is of high quality and comes with verified lab reports.
If you do decide to use reishi mushrooms, please consult with your physician first. Doing so is particularly important if using OTC or prescription medication. Also, make sure you try a small amount at first to see how the mushroom affects you.