Reishi : The Queen of Mushroom Benefits
In the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) texts, reishi has been recognized as a powerful medicinal mushroom for more than 2000 years. While ancient TCM masters wrote that Ganoderma lucidum can strengthen the physique and constitutions of patients and describe it as a longevity and vitality-enhancing tonic, modern pharmacological and clinical investigations have focused on reishi for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, its beneficial impact on the liver and its supportive role for immune health, arthritis relief and high blood pressure.
Reishi is known by many names including lingzhi in China, which translates to ‘herb of spiritual potency’. Reishi is also known as the Queen of mushrooms, the mushroom of immortality and as the Taoist elixir of life. The Latin name Ganoderma lucidum came about because the word lucidum literally translates to ‘shiny’ and describes the fruiting body of the mushroom.
Although its bitter taste will likely keep it off your supper plate, active nutritional compounds in reishi include amino acids, minerals, nucleotides, polyphenols, polysaccharides, steroids, trace elements, triterpenoids, and vitamins. But they provide other therapeutic compounds, too – and some of them you can’t get anywhere else.
Reishi fruiting bodies are a potent source of polysaccharides (carbohydrates) called beta-glucans. Beta-glucans are soluble fibres found in the cell walls of plants and bacteria, including mushrooms, seaweeds, oats and other grains. Mushroom β-glucans boost immunity because they bind to receptors on the surface of different kinds of immune system cells, and they connect with these cells in the mucosal immune system of the digestive tract.
Beta-glucans have been studied extensively in diseases like cancer. Research has shown that rather than being cytotoxic (and working directly on a cancer cell to eliminate it), beta-glucans amplify the immune system’s ability to destroy cancer cells.
Like other therapeutic mushrooms, the beta-glucans in reishi support the health of the gut microbiome, but they are more well known as powerful adaptogens that help your body regain and maintain homeostasis or balance. Reishi beta-glucans are also potent immune system modulators. This means that they can prime the immune system for attack when necessary and increase your ability to resist invading germs and viruses as a result. Reishi beta-glucans are forceful stimulators of the macrophage cells, which are critical for detecting and eliminating diseased and damaged cells including cancer cells.
Reishi beta-glucans are larger than other forms of the polysaccharide and, in this case, size matters. Recent work has shown that bigger, more complex beta-glucans such as those found in reishi are the more potent immune system modulators.
In research, reishi beta-glucans have been shown to support the immune system to protect against cancer, including cancer tumors and metastasis. A recent review suggested that reishi beta-glucans may also be beneficial to prop the immune system against viruses.
As an example of how beta-glucans modulate or balance the immune system rather than always amplifying it, reishi beta-glucans were also found to suppress allergic hypersensitivities by calming down immune cells.
Sterols are a class of important compounds in therapeutic fungi because they have a critical role in creating the healthy structure and function of cell membranes. They also act as precursors for the manufacture of steroid hormones. After contact with sunlight, the fungi sterol called ergosterol converts to vitamin D in human skin.
Research has shown that antioxidant sterols have anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating, and anti-tumor properties. Reishi sterols specifically have been shown in test tube research to trigger apoptosis (cell death) of human breast cancer cells, liver cancer cells and malignant melanoma cells.
The reishi family is the only source of ganoderic acids – not just in mushrooms, but anywhere. Like beta-glucans, these compounds have also been shown to have anti-cancer effects independent of other reishi benefits. (5) For example, research shows that ganoderic acids suppress growth and invasiveness of breast cancer cells, promote apoptosis of metastatic lung tumor cells and is toxic to both androgen-dependent and independent prostate cancer cells. But reishi isn’t just for cancer prevention and treatment. It has been shown to provide a plethora of important health protections.
For healthy metabolism
Research showed that ganoderic acids significantly inhibited the abnormal growth of body weight and fat tissue in animals fed a high fat diet. Ganoderic acids also increased the level of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the intestine. These findings suggest that ganoderic acid has the potential to support healthy lipid (fat) metabolism, alleviate metabolic disorders and support the gut microflora in a positive way.
In other animal research, researchers found that symptoms of egg-white induced allergic asthma including lung inflammation were lower in subjects given ganoderic acids versus the control group. Animal studies have shown that ganoderic acids inhibit histamine release and taking oral reishi helped to alleviate nasal blockages caused by pollen. In human research, ganoderic acids played a role in controlling asthma and other hypersensitivity issues.
Mood and sleep support
There is ample evidence that inflammation plays a key role in the development of depression through the gut-brain axis. Research shows that ganoderic acids help to regulate the neuroimmune response and may provide effects that support healthy mood.
With its ability to defend against cancer, promote healthy metabolism and mood – even to combat insomnia – it’s easy to see why ancient practitioners recommended reishi to support longevity.
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