You might not have heard of the reishi mushroom yet, but this food is on the rise in the health market. It’s not just a fleeting health fad, either. Reishi has been used for centuries to prevent and treat diseases. In recent history, it has a growing body of research confirming its health benefits.
In this article, we will review the historical health uses of reishi and explore some recent scientific studies of the benefits.
The Use of Reishi in History
The reishi mushroom, also known as lingzhi or ganoderma lucidum, has been used for over 2,000 years as a traditional medicine in China to improve overall health and well-being.1 In ancient times, the reishi mushroom was gathered from the wild. Because of its rarity in the wild, however, it was reserved for the very wealthy.
The use and importance of reishi are recorded in many texts. One of the original texts is “The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica”, which dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE).2 It attributes the quality of “zhi” to a number of herbs and plants, including reishi. According to the text, zhi plants are able to “prevent senility and prolong life, as to make one immortal.”1 In modern terms, this means reishi has anti-aging and neuroprotective properties.
Once we are aware of the medical importance of reishi in Chinese history, it is of no surprise that it also appears in Chinese art and literature, from poetry3 to sculptures.4
Reishi as a Nutraceutical
Today, among both Eastern and Western populations, reishi is best known for helping to inhibit the spread of cancer and reduce the side effects of cancer treatment. It is often used alongside western medicine for a more holistic approach to treatment.5, 6
Health Benefits of Reishi
Improves General Well-Being
Research shows that one gram of reishi three times a day for four weeks can help reduce fatigue and overall subjective well-being in women undergoing endocrine therapy during breast cancer.7 Other studies indicate that it may help in a variety of cases involving anxiety and depression. 8
May Increase “Good” Cholesterol Levels
Recent studies show that supplementation (1.44g daily) with reishi may help to increase HDL cholesterol (known as “good cholesterol”, especially over time.9 Having adequate HDL levels can help prevent heart disease. The HDL-raising activities are likely due to the high antioxidant activity of reishi.
Has Anti-Cancer Activity
This is perhaps one of the most well-known benefits of reishi. Several studies show that reishi extracts kill cancer cells of different kinds, including breast, pancreas, lung, colon, skin, and prostate. Reishi appears to have certain proteins that single out cancer cells and kill them so that they do not continue to cause damage.10
May Help to Suppress Urinary Tract Symptoms in Men
Reishi extract may treat symptoms of urinary tract problems caused by abnormally large prostate (but not cancer) in older men. Even though prostate volume seems to be unaffected, it may help to slow the progression of prostate growth and improve symptoms.11
Human health has been linked to the history of reishi for millennia. Even before the exact mechanisms of action were explored, ancient medical experts looked to reishi for the treatment of a variety of diseases and conditions. Today, reishi is being explored for use for the treatment of a variety of ailments, including urinary tract issues, reduced cholesterol, and even cancer.
Remember that, before taking on any new treatment, you should talk to your doctor to determine specific doses and whether you are a good candidate to take reishi as a nutraceutical supplement.
Bishop, KS., Kao, C. H., Xu, Y., Glucina, M. P., Paterson, R. R., & Ferguson, L. R. (2015). From 2000years of Ganoderma lucidum to recent developments in nutraceuticals. Phytochemistry,114, 56-65. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2015.02.015
Yang, S. (Trans.). (1998). The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica. Boulder, Colorado: Blue Poppy Press.
Williams, N. (2007). A Conversation in Poems: Xie Lingyun, Xie Huilian, and Jiang Yan. Journal of the American Oriental Society,127(4), 491-506. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20297312
Wan, M. C. (2007). Jiajing Emperor and His Auspicious Words. Archives of Asian Art,57(1), 95-120. doi:10.1484/aaa.2007.0003
Xue, C., & O’Brien, K. (2003). Modalities of Chinese Medicine. In A comprehensive guide to Chinese medicine(pp. 19-46). River Edge, NJ: World Scientific Pub. doi:https://doi.org/10.1142/9789812794987_0002
Nasri, H., Baradaran, A., Shirzad, H., & Rafieian-Kopaei, M. (2014). New concepts in nutraceuticals as alternative for pharmaceuticals. International journal of preventive medicine, 5(12), 1487–1499.
Zhao, H., Zhang, Q., Zhao, L., Huang, X., Wang, J., & Kang, X. (2012). Spore Powder of Ganoderma lucidumImproves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical Trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,2012, 1-8. doi:10.1155/2012/809614
Tinsley PhD, Grant. (March, 2018). 6 Benefits of Reishi Mushroom (Plus Side Effects and Dosage). com. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/reishi-mushroom-benefits
Chu, T., Benzie, I., Lam, C., Fok, B., Lee, K., & Tomlinson, B. (2012). Study of potential cardioprotective effects of Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi): Results of a controlled human intervention trial. British Journal of Nutrition,107(7), 1017-1027. doi:10.1017/S0007114511003795
Liu, J., Kurashiki, K., Fukuta, A., Kaneko, S., Suimi, Y., Shimizu, K., & Kondo, R. (2012). Quantitative determination of the representative triterpenoids in the extracts of Ganoderma lucidum with different growth stages using high-performance liquid chromatography for evaluation of their 5α-reductase inhibitory properties. Food Chemistry,133(3), 1034-1038. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2012.01.034
Noguchi, M., Kakuma, T., Tomiyasu, K., Itoh, K., Konishi, F., Kumamoto, S., . . . Matsuoka, K. (2007). A randomized clinical trial of an ethanol extract of Ganoderma lucidum (edible and medicinal mushroom) in men with lower urinary tract symptoms. Urology,70(3), 254. doi:10.1016/j.urology.2007.06.716