There is much to learn from Eastern medicine. It uses a wide variety of plants and, in particular, fungi. Nicknamed ‘the king of mushrooms,’ the reishi mushroom has been used in Japan, China, and other Asian countries for thousands of years. In recent times, residents of western nations have begun using reishi in the belief that it could help with a variety of medical issues.
This article offers an in-depth look at reishi mushrooms and presents studies outlining their medical potential. It also investigates this mushroom’s possible side effects and analyzes the available supplements, including tea, powder, and capsules.
What Are Reishi Mushrooms?
Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) are rare fungi that grow at the base of deciduous trees. They contain peptides, polysaccharides, and triterpenoids, accounting for their apparent health benefits. Reishi mushrooms also contain many 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, making them an unpleasant experience for many!
Reishi Mushroom Uses
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, and they contain many 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 variety of research studies outline reishi mushrooms’ potential for enhancing immune function.
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 those treated with reishi reported far better well-being and less fatigue than those who received a placebo after eight weeks.
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 reishi 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 beneficial 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.
Reishi Mushroom Side Effects
The limited research on reishi’s effects on humans means we don’t know much about the side effects of these medicinal mushrooms. However, one study published in Cochrane in 2016 looked at reishi mushrooms as a cancer treatment and found that patients experienced side effects such as insomnia and upset stomach.
In the study, reishi users were almost twice as likely to suffer an adverse effect than those who consumed a placebo. However, the effects were minor.
A 2004 study published in The British Journal of Nutrition found that reishi didn’t produce any problematic effects on the kidneys or livers of healthy adults.
Other possible side effects of reishi mushrooms include:
- Mouth, nose, and throat dryness
What Types of Reishi Mushroom Supplements Are There?
There is no denying that reishi mushroom supplements are becoming more popular, likely due to their raw, natural form’s tough texture and bitter flavor. 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 the mushrooms into small pieces and place them in a pot with boiling water. Simmer for around 40 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. They are also incredibly convenient and an excellent option as a daily supplement.
Reishi Mushroom Dosage
Proper reishi dosing will depend on several factors, including an individual’s age, gender, weight, and general activity level/metabolism. Again, there are no set guidelines for effective reishi dosing due to a lack of empirical evidence.
However, it seems as if the dose varies depending on the consumption method. Top-rated brands such as Host Defense and FreshCap tend to sell their products in powder or capsule form, and these products utilize reishi mushroom extract.
In general, the fresh mushroom’s dose is approximately ten times higher than an extract. For example, one gram of a high-quality extract should equal around 10 grams of mushroom.
Brands tend to suggest a serving size of 1-2 grams of extract. Capsules make it easier to measure the dose.
When purchasing a reishi product, make sure to read the label carefully because some products may contain a blend of mushrooms. Reputable brands are very transparent with this information.
Final Thoughts on Reishi Mushrooms
Overall, there is evidence of reishi mushroom benefits. The fungus appears to help with conditions such as fatigue and depression, is also known to support the immune system, and may even have anti-cancer properties. However, at present, researchers acknowledge that they need to look at more studies to reach 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 decide to use reishi mushrooms, please consult 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.
Want to get your hands on some reishi? How about growing your own? Read the articles below to find out how: