Reishi Mushroom
Tonight I am going to talk about a mushroom that may sound like a miracle cure. This is Ganoderma lucidum or reishi mushroom. It is called Ling Zhi in China and mannentake in Japan. Though this mushroom has been used in Asia for thousands of years it is not listed in the Materia Medica by Bensky, used to study herbs. For a while now it has been popularly used as a cancer cure and recent research is supporting this use. There are also many other diseases that may be indicated for supplementation with reishi mushroom, including heart disease, hypertension, atherosclerosis, hepatitis, allergies and asthma, just to mention a few. The reason reishi mushroom may benefit a person suffering from many aliments is that reishi boosts the immune system, specifically the Natural Killer cells which destroy cells infected with virus or bacteria, and tumor cells. So far no double-blind trails on humans have been carried out, though many case studies mostly from Asia are available on line, the trails on animals are promising and plenty of anecdotal evidence can be found.

The history of reishi can be traced back to Fuxi, the legendary ruler of China who invented agriculture and herbology. Ling Zhi's oldest reference can be found in "Seng Nong's Herbal Classic" and is considered a number one, superior herb. This means reishi can be taken long term with no side effects, can help control body weight, and promote longevity. Ling zhi was hard to find, being restricted to deep forests and high mountains. Traditional preparation involved long boiling or soaking in alcohol for weeks to release the active ingredients. The taste of Ling zhi is bitter. Cultivation had been attempted since ancient times but has only recently been successful. It has only been since 1971 that commercial cultivation has been possible. Today it is estimated that 4300 tons of reishi are commercially cultivated. There are several color variations of reishi occurring naturally, the most potent being the red and purple varieties. Today reishi is still a coveted herb, available in many forms from on line sources. Some formulas simply grind up the mushroom and make teas or capsules, while some forms are from the mycelium instead of the fruiting body. Others claim the true medicinal powers are available only from the fruiting body, which has higher concentrations of the active ingredients than the mycelium. Growing the fruiting body requires more time and skill in shaded, temperature and humidity controlled greenhouses, making this form more expensive.

Reishi's effect on the immune system seems to work best as preventative medicine. Long chains of polysaccharides appear to be the active ingredient, increasing the DNA and RNA in the bone marrow by 50%. This increase in DNA and RNA leads to a higher production of B-cells which in turn lead to higher levels of antibodies. This is the mechanism, which enables reishi to fight bacteria.

Reishi polysaccharides also enhance the performance of antibodies, especially IgG, and improve the memory of T-cells. Reishi also improves the phagocytosis mechanism in the immune system, which fights viruses. Studies also show an increase of interferon in the blood of mice treated with reishi mushroom in Poland. Interferons are broad-spectrum antiviral agents, which act by interfering with viral replication within cells. Interferons also seem to regulate the activity of natural killer cells, which activate a cell to self- destruct when infected by a virus or if the cell becomes cancerous. For this reason reishi mushroom can be seen as a cancer preventative tonic. Interferons have been used as a cancer fighting medication, but the toxicity and side effects proved too harmful to be a useful strategy. Reishi mushrooms have a long history of use with no side effects or toxicity. Once cancer has formed and is detected, having the tumor removed is necessary. If chemo or radiation is used reishi can help to moderate the harmful effects of these treatments. Studies in Japan show reduced side effects such as less fatigue, pain, hair loss and bone marrow suppression, and an increase in appetite and less post treatment infection in those treated with reishi mushroom. Quality of life and post cancer survival rates were also seen to increase with reishi treatment. The recommended dosage is 5-10 grams of the fruiting body per day. Large doses of vitamin C seem to enhance the immune stimulating effect of reishi. Again, unfortunately, all the studies to date have either been mouse studies or anecdotal, case studies from doctors in Asia, particularly China and Japan, and not double-blind studies.

In Terry Willard's book "Reishi Mushroom", he has several chapters on the various illnesses that may benefit from taking reishi mushrooms and I recommend his book to anyone interested in pursuing this medicinal mushroom. The main point here is that reishi can be seen as an amazing moderator of various mechanisms in the body. Reishi can be used to both lower high blood pressure and raise low blood pressure. Reishi is used to eliminate blood stagnation or oketsu in Japan and to inhibit platelet aggregation. Reishi lowered the LDL level in blood and improved the health of those with heart disease in general.

While improving the effectiveness of the immune system, reishi can also calm the immune system in those with a hyperactive immune system - allergies and asthma. The action of reishi in the body in this case is a result of lowering the release of histamines in the mucosal tissues. It is the histamines that cause the allergic reaction symptoms and can lead to bronchial asthma and anaphylactic shock.

So far most of the positive effects of reishi mushroom can be seen to be blood related: improving the response and effectiveness of immune cells, improving blood lipids, blood pressure and blood flow. Another effect seen with reishi, which may be from alleviating blood deficiency in TCM terms, is the calming effect. Reishi is reported to have a calming effect upon the nervous system leading those taking it to report a feeling of contentment. In today's world of anxiety and with the proliferation of those taking Prozac and the like this may be one of reishi's most untapped gifts.

Terry Tangredi Lic. Ac. 131 Main Street, Hatfield, MA. 01038 (413) 247-3388