Are Reishi mushrooms useful?



Ganoderma Lucidium [lat.], commonly known as Reishi in Japan and Ling-Zhi in China, is a type of mushroom that grows on decaying plum trees in Asia, Europe and North America. It has been a popular ingredient among Japanese and Chinese herbalists and practitioners of traditional medicine for thousands of years.


As is always the case with these articles, I'll review some of the available human research and see what we can learn about therapeutic use of Reishi, who can benefit from them and whether they are safe and what doses are best used.


CANCER

In 2016, a systematic study was conducted that evaluated efficacy of Reishi in cancer. They pooled in 3 available studies with a total of 373 participants. This is what they found:

  • Those taking Reishi extract along radiotherapy or chemotherapy had better outcomes and improved quality of life compared to those who took only Reishi or those who only did the medical therapy

  • Those who took only Reishi had no improvement compared to placebo or other medical therapies

  • Reishi consumption has improved the immune activity of patients, which is a positive sign in cancer treatment

  • The Reishi extract was well tolerated by people

Based on this one study, we can say that Reishi can be useful alongside standard medical chemotherapy or radiotherapy; however, probably not on their own. Cancer patience needs to be made aware of all existing treatment options before making any decision, and oncologists should always be in the middle of these conversations. If an ongoing patient undergoing chemo or radiotherapy decides to add reishi to the protocol, the doctor should to be made aware to evaluate potential interactions.


It is also important to mention that we may simply not have enough human data to draw any bigger conclusions. If we did, it is possible we would find further benefits for which we simply do not have enough statistical power with these 3 studies. What we need is more academic and business funding into these natural products so that more research data can be obtained and more people can benefit from the maximum potential of Reishi and similar medicinal mushrooms.


CELLULAR PROTECTION

A vast amount of studies have looked at the effects of Reishi in-vitro (lab petri-dish solution), ex-vivo (on extracted tissues from living species) and in-vivo (lab animals). In these studies, researchers were trying to cause cellular damage by gamma radiation and observed what happened. Where Reishi extract was added, a multitude of positive benefits were observed:

  • Reduced DNA damage from direct radiation

  • Reduced oxidative stress from the radiation

  • Improved efficiency of internal antioxidants

  • Improved immune response

And while none of these studies were done in humans, they provide some decent preliminary evidence that consumption of Reishi may help protect our cells from oxidative stress. [For clarification, oxidative stress is a pro-inflammatory process that is caused by the excessive production of harmful molecules called free radicals. Oxidative stress is in the middle of nearly 100% human diseases and is a major contributor to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, asthma and autoimmunity]. However, as always, more real human data is required.


CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH (CVD) CVD is a disease of the circulatory system, including arteries, veins and the heart. It is a condition that commonly includes: increased blood pressure, increased LDL cholesterol, insulin resistance, intra-arterial inflammation, progressive stiffening and narrowing of arteries, gradual damage to the heart, heart hypertrophy (growth due to increasing pressure to pump harder) and build-up of arterial plaque that slowly obscures the inside of the veins. Not all of these may necessarily be present. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of men and women on this planet in nearly all developed countries and a major cause of premature death.


A large study from Australia has reviewed the available research on Reishi in relation to heart disease. They have identified 5 human trials. What they found is that at the moment, from the data we have, Reishi is not a reliable or a useful treatment for CVD and none of the 5 studies supported the efficacy of use.


It may simply be that we don't have enough research to have a bigger statistical power. It may be that the dosages used were not sufficient? And it may also be that Reishi has no effects on people with CVD. Based on the current levels of evidence, it is the latest.


ASTHMA & ALLERGIES

At the moment, we only have one human study on asthma & Reishi, and that shows no benefit. However, the study was tiny (n=20) and only lasted for one week. In fact, with asthma, it may take months for people to start responding to non-medical treatment, so what we need are longer and bigger trials to know for sure. Based on this one study, I would say we have no reliable information.


For allergies, we have a decent amount of theoretical and lab evidence that shows that "theoretically" they should work. However, what we are missing is practical evidence from human trials. When I started doing research for this blog, I was looking forward to finding something on Reishi and allergies mostly based on my personal experience. Unfortunately, there is not a single human study where people with allergies would be given a Reishi extract.


My personal story was that I battled with year-round environmental allergies on and off for many years. Over those years, I've invested probably up to 3000 dollars in antihistamines, herbs, supplements, homoeopathy and naturopathic treatment that involved iridology, tinctures, liver & kidney cleanse as well as a raw diet. None of it was helpful whatsoever. Not even the pharmaceutical antihistamines were particularly useful.


The thing that I think made the major difference was a complex of 6 medicinal mushrooms, including Reishi, lion's mane, maitake, shiitake and Chaga. This was a gamechanger, and since then, I have not had allergies for nearly 3 years except for rare 2 or 3 days. Was it the whole mix? Was it mostly Reishi? Was it a coincidence? Something else I did at the same time? …..I have no idea, but something happened there. I think this could have been the immunomodulating properties of medicinal mushrooms, personally, I believe that was the case, but I can't be 100% sure. At that time, I was following a strict vegan diet, so that could have been a contributor to the improvement as well.


FIBROMYALGIA

A small study on women with fibromyalgia found that Reishi produced significant improvement in overall fitness, primarily aerobic endurance, walking velocity, and lower limb flexibility. While this may not seem like much, fibromyalgia is an incredibly unpleasant condition where people are locked in a constant pain that has no physiological cause (lacking stimulus). Patients often end up with depression because nothing they do works, and they often gain a lot of weight from lack of movement and activity.


Now in this study, Reishi actually gave these women some mobility and joint functionality back. For someone who suffered from every step, this could be a life-altering process and a first step towards getting better. What we need is a larger study that would try to replicate this and if successful, maybe patients with Reishi should be handed out Reishi extracts along with their medication as well.


The dosage used in this study was 6 grams per day for six weeks which could be slightly expensive for the public.


NEURO-REGENERATION AND DEMENTIA Despite some exciting benefits in-vitro where Reishi extract has protected cells from damage and oxidation, which sits in the middle of AD, at the moment, we have no human studies that would show any benefit for AD or any form of cognitive improvement. I've heard anecdotal stories from people who claim Reishi helped them focus better and perform better mentally so it would be great to have some more scientific data.


I would like to believe that Reishi could help people with a cognitive decline through their powerful antioxidant function, perhaps administered alongside a radical lifestyle & dietary intervention, but for now, no such trial has been designed, and due to potential cost of it, we may not see one any time soon.

Based on limited evidence at this time, we do not know if Reishi is safe or effective for people with dementia, Alzheimer's or for general cognitive boost.



SUMMARY & KEY POINTS

Ganoderma Lucidium, also known as Reishi mushroom, is a popular medicinal ingredient that has been heavily marketed as an adaptogen and health promoter. In this article, I took a deep dive into some available research. This is the summary of the main findings:

  • Reishi can be useful for patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy to be used as a supportive treatment alongside the main medical therapy. For this, we have some good research. It is crucial, however that the oncologist is aware and has approved the use of reishi alongside their treatment.

  • People with fibromyalgia may see a benefit to their mobility and aerobic capacity from doses up to 6g per day.

  • For now, we don't have any evidence that Reishi are helpful in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. We need more research on this topic for sure. Anecdotal evidence and experience from users around the world show potential effect in cognitive performance such as focus and memory enhancement. Personally, I have not felt any of those effects but it could be dose-dependant.

  • Reishi have potent antioxidative benefits, and that makes them an excellent addition alongside a healthy diet for those who want to experiment

  • For allergies, there are no human studies. Many anecdotal stories from people including myself who believe that mixed with other medicinal mushrooms, they can be helpful.

CAUTION!!

For people diagnosed with autoimmune conditions, the use of Reishi or any medicinal mushrooms needs to be approached very cautiouslythis is because medicinal mushrooms have an immunomodulatory function, and there exists a risk of them flaring up symptoms by upregulating the intracellular immune response for people whose immune systems are prone to hypersensitivity. For those using pharmaceutical immunotherapy, the use of medicinal mushrooms should first be approved by the doctor.


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SOURCES

Bhardwaj, N., Katyal, P. Sharma, A. (2015) 'Suppression of Inflammatory and Allergic Responses by Pharmacologically Potent Fungus Ganoderma lucidum', Recent Patents on Inflammation & Allergy Drug Discovery, 8(2), pp. 104–117.


Jin, X. et al. (2016). 'Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom) for cancer treatment', Cochrane database of systemic reviews, 4 (4).


González, A. et al. (2020) ‘Use of ganoderma lucidum (Ganodermataceae, basidiomycota) as radioprotector’, Nutrients, 12(4), pp. 1–9.


Kelly-Pieper, K. et al. (2009) 'Safety and tolerability of an antiasthma herbal formula (ashmiTM) in adult subjects with asthma: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, dose-escalation phase i study', Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(7), pp. 735–743.


Mateo, D. C. et al. (2015) 'Ganoderma lucidum improves physical fitness in women with fibromyalgia', Nutricion Hospitalaria, 32(5), pp. 2126–2135.


Wang, G. H. et al. (2018) 'Spore powder of ganoderma lucidum for the treatment of Alzheimer disease a pilot study', Medicine (United States), 97(19), pp. 1–4.