Reishi, a.k.a Ganoderma lucidum, is a type of mushroom known in the Far East for thousands of years for its effectiveness in treating broad range of maladies "miraculously". In some cases, Reishi or "Lingzhi" is treated as "miracle herb" due to historical events in ancient China that mentioned Reishi’s ability to attain immortality. Reishi differs from the supermarket varieties in that its texture is similar to wood. In traditional Chinese medicine, Reishi is in the most highly rated herb category in terms of multiple benefit and absence of side effects. It is the only known source of a group of triterpenes known as ganoderic acids, which have a molecular structure similar to steroid hormones. It has the most active polysaccharides (long "chains" of sugars) among medicinal plant sources. Reishi also contains ergosterols, complete proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
Wild Reishi is scarce and suffers from adverse environmental conditions such as insect infestation, lack of proper nutrients, non-optimum temperatures, and lack of humidity. The timing of the harvest cannot be controlled, and the mature Reishi has already lost most of its digestible active ingredients. The active ingredients in the dried mushroom may also have lost much of their beneficial biological activity. The 6 different types of Reishi (differentiated by color: red, purple, blue, yellow, black, white) recorded in Chinese pharmacopoeia are actually one species grown under different conditions. In 1972, a Japanese researcher who pioneered the growing of Reishi demonstrated that by varying the conditions of growth, Reishi of 6 different colors can be grown from the same species.
Reishi are polypore mushrooms. Mushrooms are the fruiting body and reproductive structure of a higher order fungus organism, much like an orange is the fruit of an orange tree. The actual mushroom organism or "tree" is a fine thread-like network called mycelium. This mycelium is for the most part subterranean, living in soil, logs and other organic litter.
Unlike green plants, which produce many of their own nutrients by photosynthesis, mushrooms primarily source their nutrients from dead organic matter or soil. Mushrooms and their mycelium are nature's original recyclers. Without them, the Earths' surface would be piled high with dead, decaying material. Mushrooms rise out of the mycelium when the right nutrients are amassed and the right environmental conditions are present. Mushrooms release spores at maturity. The wind spreads them and when they land in suitable locations, the cycle recommences.
Numerous studies of Reishi mainly in China, Korea, Japan and the United States show effectiveness of Reishi for a very wide range of diseases and symptoms. But the studies have not given indisputable explanation on its healing mechanism because none of its presumed and known active components taken alone have given better results as a whole than the intake of Reishi itself.
Its effectiveness applies to many areas so it is difficult to classify each of them and conduct research in each field. It is perhaps more comprehensible at this time, to explain Reishi's "miraculous powers" from the Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view.
In the West, we have separated and classified each disease meticulously, and have specialized in each of them to such a degree that it seems today as if each disease is autonomous and standing alone.
Oriental Medicine, resulting from knowledge accumulated through 4000 years of human observation, asserts that health can be maintained by sustaining the right balance within the body and that diseases can be cured by restoring this balance through nutrition, including medicinal herbs, exercise and mental peace. In other words, a disease is believed to be the tip of an iceberg, the result of the underlying imbalance of the body which must be restored.
The 2000 years old medicinal book "Seng Nong's Herbal Classic", considered today as the oldest book on oriental herbal medicine, classifies 365 species of roots of grass, woods, furs, animals and stones separates herbal medicines into 3 categories. The first category, called superior, includes herbs effective for multiple diseases and mostly responsible for maintaining and restoring the body balance. They have no unfavorable side effects. The second category, middle, comprises tonics and boosters and their consumption must not be prolonged. The third category, low, must be taken usually in small dosages and for specific ailments. This category includes some poisonous herbs. Reishi, ranked number one of the superior medicines, was the most exalted medicine in ancient times. Reishi or Lingzhi is still a popular herb today prescribed by many herbalists in China, Hong Kong and Japan to threat various kind of sickness.
Extract from the United Kingdom Cancer Research Institute
Ganoderma Lucidum: Ganoderma Lucidum and related species have the longest historical usage for medicinal purposes, dating back at least four millennia (Zhao and Zeuny, 1994). In Japan it is called Reishi or Mannetake (10,000 year mushroom) and in China and Korea it is variously called Ling Chu, Ling Chih and Ling Zhi (Mushroom of Immortality). It is the mushroom most depicted in ancient Japanese, Korean and Chinese Art and has been extensively depicted in Chinese royal tapestries. Reishi is also widely used in the Orient as a talisman to protect a person or home against evil. The fungus grows in many parts of the world and in Japan is to be found mainly on old plum trees. Originally, rare and expensive it can now be artificially cultivated, which makes it more accessible and affordable.
The mushroom and mycelium contain steroids, lactones, alkaloids, polysaccharide and triterpenes. Pharmacologically, a number of the water-soluble polysaccharides have demonstrated antitumour and immunostimulating activities. At least 100 different alcohol-soluble triterpenes have been identified including highly oxidized lanostane-type triterpenoids such as ganoderic, ganoderenic, lucidenic, and ganolucidic acids. These triterpenoids have been shown to possess adaptogenic and antihypertensive as well as anti-allergic properties.
This mushroom possesses many different medicinal properties dependent on the stage and environment of its growth (Jong and Birmingham, 1992, Liu, 1999). Traditionally, it has been widely used in the treatment of hepatopathy, chronic hepatitis, nephritis, hypertension, arthritis, neurasthenia, insomnia, bronchitis, asthma and gastric ulcers. Scientific studies have confirmed that substances extracted from the mushroom can reduce blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels as well as inhibit platelet aggregations. Reishi extracts have been highly effective in alleviating altitude sickness and also in treating myotonia dystrophica. Several major biochemicals such as polysaccharides, proteins and triterpenoids with potent immuno-modulating action have been isolated from Ganoderma spp. The major immuno-modulating effects of these active substances include mitogenicity and activation of immune effector cells such as T cells, macrophages and natural killer cells resulting in the production of cytokines, including interleukins, tumor necrosis factor-á and interferons. The therapeutic action of G. lucidum as an anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agent has been associated with its immuno-modulating properties (Wang et al., 1977). While the extensive range of traditional medical treatments with this mushroom have not yet been fully substantiated by modern scientific standards they are being extensively scrutinized in the Far East and the USA (Chang, 1995, 1999, Chen and Miles, 1996). In view of its bitter taste and indigestible structure (often similar to varnished wood in appearance) this is not an edible mushroom but, in hot water extracted form, it is available worldwide in tablet and liquid products (Stamets, 1999).
Pharmacological effects of whole Reishi extracts in vivo and in vitro (for references see Hobbs, 1995)
Bronchitis-preventative effect, inducing regeneration of bronchial epithelium
Antibacterial, against Staphylococci, Streptococci, and Bacillus pneumoniae (perhaps due to increased immune system activity)
Antioxidant, by eliminating hydroxyl free radicals
Antiviral effect, by inducing interferon production
Lowers blood pressure
Enhances bone marrow nucleated cell proliferation
Cardiotonic action, lowering serum cholesterol levels with no effect on triglycerides, enhancing myocardial metabolism of hypoxic animals, and improving coronary artery hemodynamics
Central depressant and peripheral anti-cholinergic actions on the autonomic nervous system reduce the effects of caffeine and relax muscles
Enhanced natural killer cell (NK) activity in vitro in mice
Expectorant and antitussive properties demonstrated in mice studies
Anti-HIV activity in vitro and in vivo
Improved adrenocortical function
Increased production of Interleukin-1 by murine peritoneal macrophages in vitro
Increased production of Interleukin-2 by murine splenocytes in vitro
Key active constituents:
Beta and hetero-Beta-glucans (antitumour, immunostimulating )
Ling Zhi-8 protein (anti-allergenic, immuno-modulating)
Ganodermic acids triterpenes (anti-allergenic agents, cholesterol and blood pressure reducing)
Extract from Healthy and Natural Journal, 2000, by Kenneth Jones
In China, the oldest known medical documents on reishi describe the mushroom as being good for the heart, memory, intellect, and longevity. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), reishi is indicated for the treatment of coronary heart disease, bronchial asthma, insomnia, impotence, hay fever, dizziness, stomach ulcers, depression, and debility from long-term illness. The main immunity-enhancing component of reishi mycelium is found in the polysaccharide fraction. Administered orally in various strains of mice, it produced an increase in natural killer cell activity and interferon production.
As an ingredient in the diet of laboratory mice, reishi at 25 percent of the feed was more active at inhibiting the development of lung cancer (82.2 percent tumor inhibition) than high dietary amounts of fresh Panax ginseng (58 percent inhibition), soybean lecithin (71.2 percent inhibition), vitamin C (37.5 percent inhibition), or beta-carotene (0 percent inhibition).
In addition to its immunological properties, reishi is also known to have beneficial effects on the liver. In a recent study in rats with liver cirrhosis, when a protein-bound polysaccharide from reishi mycelium was administered, levels of toxic by-products in the liver were lowered and fibrosis was reduced. In the same study, no effect was found with the licorice root compound glycyrrhizin or with pentoxifylline, a methylxanthine known to be effective in pigs with liver cirrhosis. Research continues on the reishi mycelium polysaccharide to determine just how it inhibits deposits of collagen in the liver. Given the lack of safe and effective agents to treat cirrhosis, this polysaccharide may be an ideal candidate for clinical studies.
In addition to the polysaccharide factor, reishi mycelium contains several triterpenes (ganoderic acids R, S and T) that have shown liver function-stimulating and antitoxic activity in laboratory studies. The sterone ganodosterone is also a liver function stimulant. When used to treat acute hepatitis in China, reishi liquid extract (20 mL. twice daily for 12 weeks) was reported to have an overall efficacy rate of 70.7 to 98 percent. The powder extract in capsules (2 g. thrice daily) was recently reported to benefit patients with acute hepatitis B; in three months, these patients' liver enzyme levels returned to normal and they began producing antibodies to the hepatitis B virus.
Although these small studies cannot be taken as proof of efficacy, they still give an indication of the kinds of activity that might be expected and eventually established with better-controlled, larger clinical trials. Further research in many additional areas is also needed, as reishi has been shown to produce excellent results in the treatment of cancer, heart disease, anorexia, neuroses, Alzheimer 's disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, lupus, dermatomyositis, and the prevention of high-altitude sickness. The only double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials of reishi have been in studies of treatment-resistant hypertension and human papilloma virus infection of the male genitals. In each case the results were excellent.
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