Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum, has been used for over 4,000 years in China and Japan, and is available in the United States (US) as a dietary supplement (Natural Standard, 2014). Reishi is an inedible mushroom used for its adaptogenic and immune tonic effects (Hoffman, 2003). Adaptogens are herbs or substances that help the body reach homeostasis, or in other words, they help the body reach a healthy functioning balance and reduce the damaging effects of stress.
It is a versatile herb with animal, in vitro, and human clinical studies that provide evidence to its cardiovascular, immunomodulatory, antitumor, hypoglycemic, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, and other effects (American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), 2006). Reishi has been used in the treatment of arthritis, cancer, chronic hepatitis B, coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, poisoning, neuralgia, proteinuria, and cardiovascular disease (Natural Standard, 2014). Because of these qualities, reishi offers 3 important benefits.
1. Reishi Supports the Immune System
Reishi contains high levels of beta glucans, which are polysaccharides with active immunomodulatory effects. It improves the immune response, activating T-lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. It also increases phagocytosis, or one the body’s way of fighting pathogens by engulfing them (Hoffman, 2003).
2. Reishi Has Anti-Aging Effects
Reisi can be a useful herb for the elderly due to its anti-aging effects (Natural Standard, 2014). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, reishi was considered “the mushroom of immortality” (AHP, 2006, p. 3). It promoted longevity, calmness, general health, balance, and inner strength (AHP, 2006; Natural Standard, 2014).
3. Reishi Has Anti-Tumor Activity
Reishi increases anti-tumor activity in the body (Hoffman, 2003). Reishi has been administered to cancer patients at a dose ranging from 600 mg to 1,800 mg taken up to 3 times a day for 12 weeks (Natural Standard, 2014). Reishi has immunomodulatory effects that make it an important herb to support the treatment of cancer. It also acts against cells that form abnormal growth. It has inhibited tumor cell growth, enhanced the immune response, and reduced the damage from chemotherapy and radiation. Reishi acts as an antioxidant, induces apoptosis, and increases production of cytokines. Overall, it helps improve quality of life in cancer patients.
As a side note, I wanted to point out two other herbs that have anti-tumor activity, and that have been used in conjunction with reishi. These are astragalus or Astragalus membranaceus, and eleuthero or Eleutherococcus senticosus.
According to the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) published in 1999, there is some evidence that astragalus can support people with breast cancer, lung cancer, and cervical cancer, particularly when used as a chemotherapy adjuvant or taken in combination with glossy privet or Ligustrum lucidum. As an adjuvant or booster to cancer or chemotherapy treatments, astragalus has been administered as a tincture and intravenous drip. The constituents within astragalus with anticancer activity are astragalus saponins, which act to support apoptosis or death of cancer cells. Astragalus improves the efficacy of chemotherapy by increasing the activity of lymphocytes that act on cancer cells.
Eleuthero also has antitumor effects. Studies (mostly in vitro) have indicated it acts as a cytotoxic agent against cancer cells, and also prevents different cancer cells from proliferating. Most specifically, it has shown anti-proliferative activity against leukemia cells, breast cancer cells, and prostate cancer cells. In most of these studies eleuthero was used in combination with other herbs and supplements, including reishi.
How To Use Reishi
In adult men and women over the age of 18 reishi is recommended to be consumed orally at a dose of 1,800 mg for 12 weeks, or a dose of 2 – 6 g of raw reishi, preferably with a meal (Natural Standard, 2014). However, the specific doses vary based on the condition treated. For instance, when used in support of cancer treatments it can be taken at a dose of 600 -1,800 mg 3 times a day for 12 weeks. But for hypertension, it is recommended at a daily dose of 55 mg for four weeks (AHP, 2006).
There is lack of evidence of the effects of reishi on pregnant women, lactating women, and in anyone under the age of 18. As a result, it is not recommended for use in children or during pregnancy and lactation.
Someone seeking to consume reishi should review their health condition with a health practitioner. Adverse effects can be relatively mild to include “skin rash, dizziness, and headaches (Natural Standard, 2014). But, reishi can have many adverse or possibly toxic effects, ranging from bone pain to hepatotoxicity or liver toxicity (Natural Standard, 2014). In addition, those suffering from diabetes, blood disorders, hypotension, immune disorders, thyroid disorders, respiratory disorders, neurological disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, hormonal disorders, liver disorders, or dermatological disorders should be cautious when consuming the herb (Natural Standard, 2014). Reishi also interacts with many drugs and supplements, and can affect the result of blood tests (Natural Standard, 2014). It is important that this information be thoroughly discussed with the health practitioner.
Even though reishi cannot be used throughout the entire life cycle of human life, it offers many uses to adults and elderly.
American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. (1999). Astragalus root, Astragalus membranaceus & Astragalus membranaceus var. mongholicus, Analytical, Quality Control and Therapeutic Monograph. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium. Upton, R. (Ed.). Scotts Valley, CA: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.
American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. (2006). Reishi mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum, Standards of Analysis, Quality Control, and Therapeutics. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium. Upton, R. (Ed.). Scotts Valley, CA: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.
Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Natural Standard. (2014). Reishi mushroom. Natural Standard Monograph. Retrieved on October 7, 2014 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/r/reishi-mushroom/professional.aspx