The Lingzhi mushroom (having the binomial name Ganoderma lucidum) is one of the most famous and utilised medicinal mushrooms that has been employed for therapeutic purposes for over two thousand years in Traditional Oriental Medicines. The ancient peoples called it the mushroom of immortality . The Lingzhi (a.k.a. Ganoderma Lucidum or more commonly, Reishi) is the most rare and precious remedy in traditional Chinese medicine. Legend describes it as a spiritual essence with the miraculous power to bring the dead back to life. It is the best-known fungus in mycotherapy and likely that subject to the highest number of studies, now also coming to interest Western medicines for its many potential uses. Whilst best known by its Japanese name of Reishi , the Chinese name is Ling Zhi or Ling Chi . It has long been considered amongst the 10 most powerful and effective natural therapeutic substances of all major Traditional Oriental Medicines.
Reishi or Ganoderma Lucidum has been used in folk medicine throughout China and Japan, especially to treat liver disease, chronic hepatitis, nephritis, hypertension, arthritis, neurasthenia, insomnia, bronchitis, asthma and gastric ulcers. In China, it has been used for over 4,000 years as a tonic and adaptogen, as well as a cardiotonic with very interesting immune-stimulating and immunomodulating effects.
Some 4,000 bioactive compounds have been isolated from the fruiting bodies of Ganoderma Lucidum, including around 140 triterpenes/terpenoids, over 200 types of polysaccharides and glycoproteins, nucleotides, cerebrosides, ergosterols, fatty acids, proteins with specific activities, peptides and trace elements. Amongst the minerals, the presence of high quantities of germanium is of note, explaining many of its effects on health.
It also contains a very high concentration of bioactive substances, including:
Mineral salts: Iron, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium, Germanium
Vitamin B, in particular folic acid
17 amino acids including all the essentials
Polysaccharides consisting of: glucose, galactose, mannose with traces of xylose and fucose
Beta-glucans and alpha-glucans
Sterol hormonal precursors
Substances with antihistamine effects
Each of these numerous bioactive elements then correspond to the specific therapeutic activities, which can be of a direct nature – such as functioning as a tonic, being immuno-stimulating, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antiviral and an antihistamine (mainly due to the presence of triterpenes) – and of an indirect nature – as with the immuno-modulating action, the hypoglycaemic activity and the anticancer action (more dependent on the action of beta-glucans).
Numerous scientific studies have been carried out on Reishi in Oriental Medicine, both preclinical and clinical, throughout which multiple pharmacological effects have been recognised. To date, however, clinical studies in Western medicine are yet to be concluded, which would allow us to attribute scientific validity to claims on the uses of the fungus for so many purposes. Still, given the number of ongoing studies in Western medicine, the expectations are certainly very high. Throughout the past ten years, Reishi has been used for preclinical and clinical studies published in peer-reviewed international journals.
As a matter of fact, we can consider it to be one of the most powerful adaptogens, meaning that this fungus is able to increase the body s resistance to a range of stresses, both physical and mental, in an aspecific way.
It has an anti-inflammatory effect thanks to a component identified as being analogous to hydrocortisone, yet without presenting the side effects typical of steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Thanks to these substances with a cortisone effect, Reishi seems to be suited for the treatment of any inflammation, reducing pain and swelling whilst accelerating the body s healing processes.
This fungus, considered as a cardiac tonic, appears to perform most of its functions at a vascular level, reducing blood pressure and counteracting bad cholesterol. Yet again at a blood vessel level, Ganoderma Lucidum is thought to prevent thrombosis, due to being rich in active ingredients. It has recently been discovered that the nucleosides in Reishi containing adenosine and guanosine prevent platelet aggregation from occurring within the coronary circulation and blood vessels, thus offering great antithrombotic action. The antihypertensive activity is due to the 112 triterpenes identified with an ACE-inhibitory action. In particular, the ganoderic acids (B, D, F, H, K, S and Y), along with ganoderole A and B, are responsible for its hypotensive action.
The immunostimulant effects of the Reishi mushroom are especially attributable to its polysaccharides, amongst which the Beta-glucans stand out, being substances with immunostimulatory properties (and antitumor potential). These molecules act by stimulating the production of B cells and macrophages in the bone marrow, as our body s defence mechanisms. Certain Japanese studies have also found that these polysaccharides are able to increase the memory of T cells and T helpers, of Natural Killers, encouraging their effects whilst improving the immune response of bacterial infections. Several scientific studies have also highlighted the antiviral efficacy of the Reishi mushroom against various viruses.
Still at an immune level, and combined with the cortisonic power, Reishi has an anti-allergic action, both with regards to respiratory- and food-based allergies. In the University of Okayama pharmacology laboratories, it was discovered that Reishi contains as many as four antihistamine active ingredients (ganoderic acids C and D, cyclottosulfide and oleic acid). These substances inhibit the release of histamine, the substance released following an allergic reaction and which triggers the strong inflammatory symptoms. At an immune system level, excessive production of antibodies (anti-pollen, anti-dust, anti-mites) would thus be blocked, restoring a balance of immunoglobulin E (igE). Its anti-inflammatory effect in synergy is thus useful for the short-term reduction of allergic symptoms.
Scientific studies in vitro and on animal specimens (to be further investigated and confirmed on humans) that have highlighted Reishi s hypoglycaemic effects, stimulating the pancreatic production of insulin, increasing the peripheral utilisation of glucose (improving insulin sensitivity) and improving hepatic glucose metabolism. Some components of Ganoderma Lucidum are able to inhibit the a-glucosidase enzyme that breaks down dietary disaccharides and starches, thus facilitating glucose absorption. Reishi inhibits aldose reductase, a very important enzyme in glucose metabolism that facilitates the occurrence of clinical complications in diabetes, such as retinopathy and nephropathy.
Inside the body, Reishi carries out a powerful hepatoprotective action, hence its extensive utilisation over time. The mushroom s protective action towards the liver is large-scale. The liver is also protected from possible toxic damage by dangerous substances such as cadmium, galactosamine, carbon tetrachloride, benzopyrene and mycobacterium bovis. What s more, thioacetamide and cancer-induced hepatic fibrosis tendencies are also antagonised. Hence why the Reishi mushroom has proved extremely useful in the treatment of hepatitis B, both in the acute and chronic phase, due to its anti-fibrosis action.
Its main fame is its powerful tonic-adaptogen effect, particularly useful for people who are stressed, suffering from insomnia, anxiety or excessive irritability due to stress.
Various and extensive studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of the Chinese mushroom on neurasthenia, a complex syndrome characterised by muscle pain, dizziness, headache, sleep disturbance, inability to relax, irritability and dyspepsia. After 2 months of treatment with considerable doses of Reishi (up to 5 g per day), a significant improvement in symptoms was noted in most patients despite the mechanism behind this effect being still uncertain.
There are actually no particular side effects nor particular toxicity associated with the use of Reishi. However, in rare cases, mild digestive disorders, skin rashes or migraines have been reported, albeit limited to the initial period of use. These side effects are attributable to the detoxification process triggered by the Ganoderma.
Cases in which the administration of high doses of the fungus has resulted in soft stools have been reported. This side effect can be counteracted by taking good doses of vitamin C, which significantly improves the absorption of nutrients contained in the fungus.
Avoid use if taking blood pressure medications, anticoagulants or hypoglycaemic agents (such as insulin or metformin), anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs, as the fungus carries out all of these activities and may therefore result in hypotension, excessive bleeding or hypoglycaemia.
Like all fungi with immunomodulatory properties, Reishi is not recommended for patients who have undergone organ transplants or who are taking immunosuppressive medicines. Obviously, given that it is a fungus, use is not recommended for people suffering from an allergy to such foods.