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. Proponents say it can boost the immune system, and it also has cell regenerating properties.
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, along with studies outlining their medical potential. We also analyze the available supplements, which include tea, powder, and capsules.
What Are Reishi Mushrooms?
Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidium) are rare fungi that grow at the base of deciduous trees. Eastern medicine practitioners have used them for millennia. The scarcity of these mushrooms meant they were reserved for royalty back then.
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
The main issue is that most evidence consists of small human clinical trials at best. Reishi mushrooms could act as adaptogenic stress-soothers, and they contain a huge number of antioxidants. Reishi users claim these fungi can stimulate liver function and the immune system. They could also have an inflammatory effect on the body.
The Susan G. Komen foundation is a cancer charity. It reviewed the reishi mushroom and found a lack of evidence that it is effective in helping with dozens of conditions. However, some studies point to its usefulness in a few key areas. We look at these next.
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
These fungi could also control blood sugar, boost heart health, and their antioxidants are potentially useful.
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 study published in 2005 is one such example. The author, Zhi-Bin Lin, wrote that the polysaccharides in reishi mushrooms modulated immune function in vivo and in vitro.
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. This is important because it helps fight infections.
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.
The mushroom’s complex sugars, also called beta-glucans, could stimulate the immune system and prevent infection.
Combatting Fatigue & Depression
Reishi mushrooms are adaptogens. These are plants that help the body fight against stress.
A study of 132 patients with a condition called neurasthenia involved them using reishi. It was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2005. The condition includes symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and irritability. After eight weeks, those who used reishi reported far better well-being and decreased fatigue than placebo users.
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.
The beta-glucans in the fungi could stop the growth of new blood vessels. This is important because cancer cells require a blood supply to grow. The essential oils, triterpenes, in the reishi mushroom, could inhibit tumor development and metastasis. A study published in Pharmacological Reports in 2010 outlined this point.
A study published in 2010 made an interesting discovery. It looked at the effects of a water-soluble extract from reishi mushrooms on patients with colorectal adenomas. After a year of use, the researchers found that reishi users benefited from a decrease in 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. It has also yielded mixed results in many cases. For example, one small study found that reishi mushrooms could increase ‘good’ 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. It found that after up to 16 weeks of use, the participants didn’t benefit from improved cholesterol scores.
One study found that reishi extract reduced blood sugar in mice with type 2 diabetes. Yet, a review of studies, once again published in Cochrane in 2015, told a different story. The researchers found no evidence of reduced blood sugar amongst reishi mushroom users.
There are also claims that these fungi could enhance the body’s antioxidant status. Antioxidants could help prevent damage to the body’s cells. However, various studies have failed to find this benefit. One such study was published in The British Journal of Nutrition in 2004.
What Reishi Mushroom Supplements Are Available?
It is becoming a popular product, so reishi supplement choice is markedly better than just a few years ago. The reishi mushroom itself has a tough texture and bitter flavor. This is why it is mainly sold in liquid, capsule, or powder forms.
Reishi Mushroom Tea
Creating reishi tea at home is fairly simple. You can use wild reishi if they are available. If you can find fresh mushrooms, slice them up as soon as you can. They become hard as they dry, and it is incredibly difficult to chop them up at that point.
Heat three ounces of dried mushrooms or 25 ounces of fresh mushrooms in water until the water boils. Change the heat to simmer, and leave the mushrooms in the water for between 30 and 120 minutes. Switch off the heat, strain the mixture, and let it cool. You can add fruit juice, green tea, ginger, or a sweetener to make the taste more palatable. It is possible to store the reishi tea in the fridge for a few days.
Reishi Mushroom Powder
Reishi powder is easy to find online. As the name suggests, it is merely ground up reishi mushrooms. You can add it to your tea, coffee, or juice, or sprinkle it on your cereal. Many products contain a mixture of other mushrooms, such as maitake and shiitake. Make sure you read the label carefully before making a purchase.
It is also relatively easy to find pure reishi capsules. Once 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 the taste or texture.
Reishi Dosage, Side Effects & Other Pertinent Information
The limited research on reishi’s effects on humans means we don’t know a great deal about side effects. However, a study published in Cochrane in 2016 looked at reishi mushrooms as a cancer treatment. It found that patients reported side effects such as:
- Liver damage
- Skin rashes
- Upset stomach
Other possible adverse effects include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Mouth, nose, and throat dryness
While some studies report issues with liver and kidney function, others do not. However, it is best if you don’t use reishi mushrooms when using blood-thinning medication. This is because the fungi could increase such drugs’ efficacy, which increases the risk of bleeding. These supplements could also lower blood pressure.
It depends on your health, age, the condition you want to use reishi for, and the supplement’s form regarding dosage. For example, 5 grams of the extract could be the equivalent of 50 grams of the mushroom.
In general, a ‘standard’ amount is 1 – 1.5 grams of reishi powder or 1ml of a reishi tincture. Use anywhere from 1.5 to 9 grams of dried mushroom.
Summary of Reishi Mushrooms
Overall, there is evidence of reishi mushroom benefits. It could help with fatigue, depression, and enhance the immune system. There is also a suggestion that these fungi could have anti-cancer properties. However, at present, researchers acknowledge that they need to look at many more studies.
Reishi could help with fatigue, depression, and enhance the immune system.
Please note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor natural remedies and supplements. As a result, you have to perform due diligence to ensure the reishi mushroom product you purchase is of high quality.
If you want to use reishi mushrooms, please consult with your physician first. This is especially the case if using OTC or prescription medication. Also, make sure you try a small amount at first to see how the mushroom affects you.