Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is one of the most famous medicinal mushrooms in the world and has been used for over two thousand years in the various Traditional Oriental Medicines for its properties. Best known with its Japanese name "reishi", in China it is known as Ling Zhi or Ling chi and has always been considered among the 10 most powerful and effective natural substances of the various traditional medicines.
Reishi: a miraculous mushroom between tradition and modernity
The reishi mushroom grows spontaneously on the trunk of trees in some areas of Asia.
The ancient Chinese nicknamed the Ganoderma Lucidum "mushroom of immortality". It is, in fact, the rarest and most precious remedy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Legend describes it as a "spiritual essence" that has the miraculous power of "bringing the dead back to life".
It is the most well-known mushroom in micotherapy and, probably, also the one with the highest number of studies and research, which has aroused the interest of western medicines.
Traditionally, reishi is used in folk medicine in China and Japan as an adjuvant for liver and kidney disorders, hypertension, arthritis, neurasthenia, insomnia, bronchitis, asthma, and gastric ulcers.
In China, it has been used since time immemorial also as an adaptogen and tonic.
Reishi: characteristics and active ingredients
Cultivations of reishi mushroom.
About 4000 bioactive compounds have been isolated from the fruiting body of the Reishi Ganoderma lucidum, of which about 140 triterpenes/terpenoids, over 200 types of polysaccharides and glycoproteins, nucleotides, cerebrosides, ergosterols, fatty acids, proteins with specific activities, peptides, and traces of other elements. Among the minerals, it is important to note the presence in high quantities of germanium, which explains many of its beneficial effects.
Here are some of the most important active ingredients of reishi:
- Mineral salts: iron, zinc, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, germanium
- Vitamins B
- 17 amino acids including all essential amino acids
- Polysaccharides consisting of glucose, galactose, mannose with traces of xylose and fucose
- Beta-glucans and alpha-glucans
- Hormone precursor sterols
- Substances with antihistamine activity
- Lucidenic acid
- Ganoderma acid
- Genolucid acid
To each of these many bioactive elements correspond the specific potential properties, which can be of the "direct" type:
and "indirect" activities:
Health benefits of reishi
We can consider our Reishi Ganoderma lucidum one of the most powerful adaptogens. This means that this mushroom can contribute nonspecifically to the body's resistance to stress of various nature, both physical and mental. Let's see in detail all the benefits of using reishi:
- Anti-inflammatory. The support for the anti-inflammatory activity of reishi is due to a component that has been identified as an analog of hydrocortisone, without however the side effects typical of steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Thanks to these substances, it seems that reishi is particularly indicated to help reduce pain and swelling in inflammatory states.
- Tonic. This mushroom, considered a natural tonic, helps to reduce blood pressure and participates in the fight against "bad" cholesterol. Still, at the level of the blood vessels, Ganoderma lucidum would be a valid ally for the prevention of thrombosis because it is rich in active ingredients that help prevent the aggregation of platelets inside the blood vessels. The antihypertensive activity is due to the 112 triterpenes identified with ACE inhibitory action. In particular, the ganoderic acids (B, D, F, H, K, S, and Y), the ganoderol A and B.
- Stimulating. The supportive effects of immunostimulating actions are mainly attributable to the polysaccharides of reishi, among which Beta-glucans, substances with immunostimulating properties, stand out. These molecules act by stimulating the production of B cells and macrophages that represent the defense tools of our bodies. Some scientific studies have also found that these polysaccharides can participate in the increase of the memory of T cells and T helper, stimulating their activity and improving the immune response of bacterial infections. Other studies highlight the adjuvant action in antiviral treatments.
- Anti-allergy. Always at the immune level, and combined with cortisone power, reishi supports antiallergic actions both against respiratory and food allergies. In a study in the pharmacology laboratories of the University of Okayama, it was discovered that reishi contains 4 active ingredients that can participate in the antihistamine action (the ganoderic acids C and D, the cycloctosulphide and the oleic acid). These substances help inhibit the release of histamine, the substance that is released after the allergic reaction and that triggers inflammatory symptoms. Therefore, at the level of the immune system, the excessive production of antibodies (anti-pollen, anti-dust, anti-mites) would be blocked and the immunoglobulins E (IgE) rebalanced. Its effect is useful to help reduce allergic symptoms in the short term.
- Lowering blood sugar. There are scientific studies in vitro and on animal models that have shown an adjuvant activity of the reishi mushroom: in hypoglycemic treatments, in the stimulation of insulin production, in the peripheral use of glucose and the hepatic metabolism of glucose. Some components of Ganoderma Lucidum can inhibit the α-glucosidase enzyme which breaks down starches and food disaccharides, thus allowing the absorption of glucose. Reishi helps to inhibit aldose-reductase, an enzyme very important in glucose metabolism that conditions the occurrence of clinical complications of diabetes such as retinopathy and nephropathy.
- Liver protector. The support action to protect the liver from the fungus is carried out in a general way, assisting the protection of the organ also from possible toxic damages.
- Neurasthenia. Various and extensive studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of the Chinese mushroom on neurasthenia, a complex syndrome characterized by muscle pain, dizziness, headache, sleep disturbances, inability to relax, irritability and dyspepsia. After 2 months of therapy with considerable doses of reishi (up to 5g per day), an improvement in symptoms was noted in most patients, although the mechanism of action of this effect is still unknown.
There are no particular contraindications or cases of toxicity associated with the use of reishi. However, in rare cases, mild digestive disorders, skin rashes or migraines have been reported but limited to the first period of use. These "side effects" are attributable to the detoxification process triggered by Ganoderma.
Cases have been reported in which the administration of high dosages of the fungus resulted in the release of loose stools. This side effect can be countered by taking good doses of vitamin C, a vitamin that, among other things, significantly improves the absorption of the nutrients contained in the mushroom.
Reishi is not recommended for patients who have undergone organ transplants, or who are taking immunosuppressive drugs. Since it is a mushroom, it is clear that its use is not recommended even for those allergic to mushrooms.
Interaction of reishi with drugs
If you take blood pressure, anticoagulant and hypoglycaemic (e.g. insulin, or metformin) or antiplatelet drugs, its use is to be avoided, because the fungus participates in similar activities and can, therefore, cause hypotension, excessive bleeding, or hypoglycemia.
As we have seen, numerous scientific studies have been carried out on reishi in both pre-clinical and clinical Oriental Medicines, published in peer-reviewed international journals, in which multiple pharmacological effects have been recognized to the fungus. To date, clinical studies in western medicine are to be confirmed to attribute a scientific validity to the uses of Ganoderma lucidum. However, expectations are rather rosy, given the number of studies underway.
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