Introducing reishi or lingzhi mushroom, and its claimed health benefits which makes me wonder again and again. Is reishi indeed the king of adaptogens with nearly endless list of benefits? After doing in-depth research I was surprised.
What is reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)?
Before the emergence of modern medicine reishi was one of the most desirable natural herbs in the world and because of its rarity it was often exclusively reserved for only the royals and the wealthiest people.
There was refers to reishi in the classical Chinese Shennong Bencaojing book which was written in approximately 2300-2400 years ago.
Reishi mushroom does not just promote health benefits, many people believe this mushroom’s ability to accelerate the attainment of enlightenment.
Reishi mushroom is considered a superior king of adaptogens, and it is one of the oldest mushrooms that has been used for medicinal purposes in traditional Chinese medicine. Today Lingzhi mushroom is highly researched, if not the most researched mushroom in the world. It contains a large number of bioactive molecules, but generally health benefits are linked to polysaccharide compounds and triterpenoids.
Polysaccharides support mostly the immune system. Triterpenoids can have hormone-like affects, and they can affect blood triglycerides, hormones and the nervous system.
Reishi also contain other compounds that are often found in fungal materials, such as beta-glucans, coumarins, mannitol, some of the sterols and alkaloids.
Reishi is a wood degrading one year polypore mushroom that belongs to the genus of Ganoderma. Reishi’s scientific name Ganoderma lucidum means “bright shining skin” (Ganoderma-Gano-brightness or sheen and derma-skin(Greek), lucidum-shining(Latin)). Reishi is called Ling Zhi in Chinese.
Reishi mushroom produces an annual crop (“fruiting body”) and continued fungal growth, unlike chaga (Inonotus obliquus) whose vegetation can grow for up to 20 years.
Some of the names that reishi has been called are: the “herb of immortality“, “the great protector“, “supernatural mushroom“, “the elixir of life“. These names already reveal a lot.
Why reishi works?
A bit about biochemistry of reishi:
Ganoderma lucidum contains a large number of bioactive molecules and it can’t be said that one single biomolecule would be the main bioactive agent. When reishi is extracted with hot water extraction we get polysaccharide compounds (carbohydrates and fiber) and with alcohol extraction triterpenoids which have the same molecular backbone as steroid hormones.
Reishi produces a group of triterpenes, called ganoderic acids which have same molecular base as steroid hormones.
Reishi also contains other compounds that are often found in fungal materials including polysaccharides (such as beta-glucans, coumarins, mannitol, and alkaloids. Certain sterols (steroid alcohols, of which the best known is cholesterol) that have been isolated from Ganoderma lucidum include Ganoderol, ganoderenic acid, ganoderiol, ganodermanontriol, lucidadiol, and ganodermadiol (source wikipedia reishi mushroom).
Why use reishi?
Reishi in improving the quality of sleep
Ganoderma lucidum can improve the quality of your sleep, it can work in increasing the length as well as depth of sleep and shorten the time needed to get into sleep (sleep latency). For example this rat study supports these traditionally well known effects of reishi. Studies have shown that improvements in sleep quality or reduction of chronic fatigue symptoms aren’t immediate. Sleep improvement is seen after three days but possible easing of the symptoms of chronic fatigue can take more than 4 weeks.
A a warning: Reishi can trigger very lively dreams, and even therapeutic dreams. Traditionally reishi mushroom has been used as a “teaching matter” among a monks. It can cause lucid dreaming and the so-called “teachings of dreams” dealing with fears that are often associated with personal experiences. For example, if you have a deep-seated fears, as for example dog phobia. Reishi can trigger a dream where you return to the point where the phobia was born. In these dreams, you can often hear the narration, or see yourself in a third person. These therapies dreams are good stuff for most people, but if you have a fear that you don’t want to deal with, it may not be worth taking large doses of a reishi before going to bed.
Anti-aging benefits of reishi:
Lengthening the life of mice can be regarded as an example of the growing number of science that supports the use of reishi. Studies with laboratory mice’s indicate that mice lifespan extends from 9% to 20% and even more. In human years this would correspond from seven to nearly 16 years (source). If anti-aging interests you more, read an interesting article: How Reishi Combats Aging.
Science and reishi effects against cancer
According to Examine.com information, reishi is a well-known for its anti-cancer effects (at least in the China area). Reishi is able to activate natural killer cells, increasing their activity and the body’s ability to fight tumors. There is ample evidence that reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum) can induce apoptosis (i.e., programmed cell death) in considerable amount of various types of cancer cells in vitro (ie, “in the test tube”).
The majority of cytotoxic effects appear to be mediated via the triterpenes although some of the effects may also be mediated by polysaccharide stimulation of the immune system and/or dysregulation of intracellular signaling. More detailed list of cancer types can be viewed here. Also, the mouse test results look promising and preliminary positive results have also been obtained in human trials, although the number of studies is still low and more results and experiments will be needed in the future. Mouse studies appear to mimic the anti-cancer effects that are seen in vitro, and a large part of the studies have also been made in the rehabilitative / therapeutic research arrangement.
Stress-free with reishi? Mental effects of Ganoderma lucidum
Reishi is know to be one of the best natural countermeasures to a stress. My experience confirms the positive effects of reishi to combat stress. Also, scientific studies confirm sedation and sleep quality enhancing properties of reishi.
If you suffer from stress or “brain fog” reishi may be just your thing. Ganoderma lucidum can be at the same time both energizing and calming because reishi’s effect is two directional (as stress is faded, energy is released for use). Individual differences are large in how the effects occur, for others its really energizing, but at the same time nine out of ten people sleeps way better when using it. Personally using reishi during the day time revitalize and perks up while at the same time ensures better sleep in the night by increasing sleep depth and time it takes to get to sleep.
Potential benefits of reishi in the fight against diabetes
Ganoderma lucidum has antioxidant properties when ingested as a dietary supplement. Reishi also may have a therapeutic effect on insulin resistance; reishi extracts operate on a wide variety of mechanisms to lower blood glucose.
In this study, reishi inhibited (prevented) alpha-glucosidase enzyme (which is the main enzyme responsible for the cleavage of starch into sugars) activity. This inhibition may prevent the postprandial sharp spike in blood sugar which can be dangerous, especially for older people. By inhibiting the activity of the enzyme carbohydrates are not absorbed at the pace which would damage the blood vessels (little bit same way as the diabetes drug Glucobay which prevents the same enzyme activity in the gut). Read more scientific facts about interaction of reishi with glucose metabolism.
Lean up with reishi?
One of the most interesting features of a reishi mushroom might be its potential ability to prevent development of new fat cells (at least in vitro) (source).
“Triterpenes and polysaccharides isolated from medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum, inhibits the expression of key transcription factors and genes responsible for adipocyte differentiation, synthesis, transport and storage of lipids. In addition, RM activates AMPK and stimulates glucose uptake to the levels comparable to the insulin activity.”
So plain and simply put reishi may very well lessen the amount you gain fat by inhibiting processes that are part of fat accumulation to your adipocyte (fat) cells. In addition reishi activates AMPK-enzyme (metabolic balance regulator) which by itself might have beneficial effects.
Potential benefits of reishi are almost endless, including dozens (if not hundreds) of benefits but the review must be limited always to some length otherwise the length of the article will swell up too much.
How to choose a suitable reishi product?
For fine tuners, nutrition pimps and others who are particularly interested in the quality, some points to consider when looking or choosing a reishi product:
-ls it farmed or wild reishi? (organic or regular?)
-How that particular reishi is grown (biomass or tree grown?)
-Color of the reishi (red and purple are usually considered the best)
-Reishi product state or appearance, powder or extract (extracting method alcohol or double extraction?), strength?
-Has reishi product been tested for heavy metals, pesticides, aflatoxins, (ie. fungicides) and irradiation?
Wild reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum) would of course be the best possible choice, as wild herbs are almost always stronger and more powerful than cultivated. However, lingzhi mushroom is endangered in many countries, because of this wild reishi products are rare.
If reishi product has been cultivated. The best choice would be wood cultivation, known for the following terms: “Original wood”, “Duanwood” “Wood log” method. In this method large wooden beams are buried in a ground, where reishi mushroom strain is put to grow. This way mushroom can absorb nutrients from a soil, almost in the same way as wild mushroom.
In such a “natural” substrate grown reishi is superior compared to other cultivation methods. In other cultivation methods, reishi is grown in plastic bags, glass bottles or wooden boxes, in a biomass that is composed of rice, sawdust and various fertilizers. illustration of a plastic bag ).
Advantage in these methods is that reishi can be grow cheaply and quickly without any major investment. Biomass reishi products are cheaper, but not necessarily as strong as a “tree grown” reishi. Both are good option, but the second is just not as effective, much the same thing as the wild blueberry vs. cultivated blueberry.
Ganoderma Lucidum is growing in a six different colors: red, purple, black, blue, white and yellow. They may, however, have a different chemical composition (polysaccharides, Triterpenoids).
Purple is the rarest color, and it is said to be ancestor for all reishi mushrooms. Purple reishi was mostly reserved for just kings and the elite use, because it was rare and expensive.
Ganoderma fungus family has apparently more than 200 different varieties many of them look quite similar to the Ganoderma Lucidum. So it is possible that the wild reishi you found is not even Ganoderma Lucidum related, and anyway wild reishi grow in Asian is different from wild reishi in Europe.
Asian reishi mushroom is called as “Ganoderma multipileum”. ( Ganoderma multipileum the correct name for G. lucidum in tropical Asia , PDF)
How to use reishi?
The biggest mistake people usually do with reishi is that they just boil a reishi tea, and think that it’s enough to get all the benefits or that they just don’t know that extracting with alcohol would also be necessary to get all the bioactive molecules in good use.
Water extraction of reishi (i.e.boiling):
If you do not already use extracted product, it is important that you boil reishi powder with water and not enjoy the powder as it is. Boiling for about five minutes should be enough at first, but, of course, the longer the cooking time, the more active ingredients will end up in water. After extensive time amount of boiling you can also consume the powder to get the full benefits. Word of a warning though, boiling reishi powder forms very easily and quickly foam that might come out of the pot and on the oven. It has happened to me countless of times so remember to be careful when boiling reishi powder.
Alcohol extraction of reishi, making a tincture:
Reishi can also be extracted with alcohol to get the fat-soluble active ingredients collected. The most sensible protocol is to first extract reishi with alcohol and finally cook/boil the remains to make reishi tea (if done other way around moisture would decrease the alcohol content).
Extraction can be done with any alcohol that is more than 20% percentage by volume (to prevent the growth of bacteria). But of course the stronger the alcohol, the better so I recommend cheapest, clear, unflavored 40-70% spirits/liquors in a glass bottle.
Then just use, for example, little brown glass bottle with stopper (preferably with wide neck) and put some reishi in the bottom and couple of deciliters of alcohol on top of it (make sure that of the powder is getting covered). This mixture can be allowed to stand from two weeks to one month (waving at least 1-2 times a day). There is no fear about bacteria growth because strong alcohol is a great preservative. Finally just filter the alcohol through a gauze and it is ready to be enjoyed. Active ingredients will be in the alcohol. You can use the remaining reishi to make reishi tea by boiling it and thus extracting the water soluble molecules. If you don’t want to ingest alcohol it’s easy to vaporize small amounts of it by boiling as the boiling point is only 78.37 °C (do this at your own risk, remember to have good ventilation and avoid putting alcohol to already hot water as it will probably vaporize dangerously fast). Thus fat soluble molecules will remain in the tea fraction which will allow you to consume both fat and water soluble ingredients at once.
Double or dual extracted reishi
Of course the best and easiest way to use this mushroom is to buy an double extracted reishi products. Water extracted preparations (polysaccharides & fiber) can be enjoyed as such without food. Alcohol extracted reishi may be more reasonable to take with food (especially with fat) due to the fact that effective triterpenoids are fat-soluble.
Any well equiped natural health food store will probably sell reishi. However prices can be from 30-50% higher than on the internet stores. You can buy reishi for example from iHerb which is very well known and trusted internet store for supplements. Powders vs. extracts: it’s more time and resource effective to buy already extracted reishi product.
Here is what I personally use.
Natures Way Reishi – Is hard to expect much from this-priced product.. As a surprise, I found that this is an intense reishi product, and significantly more effective than many other expensive reishi products.
Other users of this product seem to agree, as it is perhaps the most praised reishi product Amazon.com and iHerb reviews. Reishi capsules (10% polysaccharide) which are easily openable and expandable e.g. hot beverages.
The most convenient way to enjoy the reishi is daily beverages, such as coffee. Many of us drink coffee anyway, and so the normal cup of coffee can get even more efficient, performance-enhancing and healthier with reishi. In addition to potential health benefits reishi is said to balance the taste of coffee. There are currently many different types of reishi coffees in the market. Here is a few examples.
CafeCeps – Organic instant coffee, which is mixed into two different medical mushrooms: Cordyceps and Reishi. The taste is of course not beat the freshly roasted arabica coffee bean to done, but still a great choice. The problem with this is that only the reishi powder, extract and so the effect is small. On the bright side to this is that you do not need the coffee machine or other means while making this. And many consider the Cordyceps fungus still better than reishi, especially in the area of sports, or in order to improve performance. Convenient to get three of the same hard: organic coffee and antioxidants, reishi and cordyceps.
Longreen Corporation Reishi Coffee – Not organic and contains only reishi in addition to coffee, but it is slightly less expensive than cafeceps. Convenient packages, easier to take with you to work place and on the road.