What Are Reishi Mushrooms?
Like other disease-fighting mushrooms, reishi mushrooms are a type of fungus that grow outdoors. They’re native to several parts of Asia, including China, Korea and Japan. While they’re edible and are often described as bitter-tasting with a tough texture, you’re much more likely to find them in supplement, tincture or powder form.
Reishi mushrooms, also known by their scientific name Ganoderma lucidum, grow above ground and produce “a fruiting body” along with connective strands (called mycelium), which are turned into an herbal medicines, tinctures, teas, powders and extracts.
For most of history in Traditional Chinese Medicine, fully-grown reishi mushrooms were dried, cut into slices, boiled in hot water and then steeped to make a healing tea/soup. Today, manufacturers of reishi products use a processing technique where reishi is boiled multiple times at a high pressure, allowing the active ingredients to be extracted to form a tincture.
Thanks to the concentrated compounds that these mushrooms contain, potential reishi mushroom benefits include protection against tumor formation, improved liver function, better heart health, enhanced blood sugar control and a reduced risk of asthma, allergies and infection.
Reishi Mushroom Nutrition Facts
In supplement form, reishi mushrooms typically contain little to no calories and only a small amount of dietary fiber and protein. However, the true reishi mushroom health benefits come from the ingredients that aren’t listed on the nutrition label.
In particular, reishi mushrooms are jam-packed with antioxidants and health-promoting compounds such as polysacchraides and triterpenes. These powerful compounds have been linked to a number of health benefits and have been shown to account for many of the anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties of the reishi mushroom.
How Reishi Mushrooms Work to Fight Disease
Over the past several decades, dozens of different studies conducted in Japan, China, the U.S. and the U.K. have demonstrated that reishi mushrooms are capable of offering protection against numerous diseases or illnesses, including
- fatigue (including chronic fatigue syndrome)
- frequent infections (urinary tract, bronchitis, respiratory infections, etc.)
- liver disease
- food allergies and asthma
- digestive problems, stomach ulcers and leaky gut syndrome
- tumor growth and cancer
- skin disorders
- autoimmune disorders
- viruses, including the flu, HIV/AIDS or hepatitis
- heart disease, hypertension, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- sleep disorders and insomnia
- anxiety and depression
Because they work as an “immune modulator,” reishi mushrooms can help restore hormonal balance, bring the body back to homeostasis and regulate activity of the immune system, helping to fight tumors and cancerous cells. Research shows that reishi mushrooms act as a normalizing substance, regulating various cellular functions and systems, including the endocrine (hormonal), immune, cardiovascular, central nervous and digestive systems.
One of the biggest reishi benefits is that they’re capable of doing so much, yet produce hardly any side effects and are much less toxic than traditional medications. In fact, most people report a quick improvement in their energy levels, mental focus and mood while also experiencing a reduction in aches, pains, allergies, digestive issues and infections.
The secret behind their healing potential? It’s the various active ingredients that the reishi mushroom contains, which include complex sugars known as beta-glucans, plant sterols that act as precursors to hormones in the body, polysaccharides that fight cancer cell development and acidic substances called triterpenes that turn off the body’s response to allergies.
Recent findings suggest that reishi mushrooms can lower inflammation and increase the release of natural killer cells, which work to remove various types of mutated cells from the body. This makes the reishi mushroom ideal for preventing heart disease and working as a natural cancer treatment. Some of the ways that reishi mushrooms work to promote better health include:
- activating cytotoxic receptors (NKG2D/NCR)
- inhibiting cell proliferation
- suppressing vascular endothelial growth factor
- increasing plasma antioxidant capacity
- enhancing immune response
- converting excess testosterone to dihydrotestosterone
Reishi Mushrooms in Traditional Medicine
Many forms of holistic medicine take advantage of the full scope of benefits of reishi mushroom and use it to treat a variety of ailments. Reishi mushrooms are an especially common ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine and have been used as a staple for thousands of years. They are believed to nourish the heart, preserve liver health, slow aging and enhance vitality, stamina and strength. They’re also said to promote calmness and relaxation and are often used to supplement spiritual practices.
Top 7 Reishi Mushroom Benefits
1. Contains Powerful Anti-Cancer Properties
Just like other anti-inflammatory foods, reishi mushrooms are packed with important nutrients, including antioxidants, beta-glucans and amino acids. Researchers believe that one of the most beneficial components of the reshi mushroom are its polysaccharides, which are a water-soluble type of nutrient found in carbohydrate foods that are known to have anti-tumor abilities.
Polysaccharides, which also found in other beneficial plant foods like sweet potatoes or beets, are immune-modulating substances. They are one of the compounds that help reishi mushrooms protect the DNA and block cell mutations while preserving healthy cells in the body. (5) According to some studies, certain medicinal mushrooms help fight cancer because polysaccharides have important biological benefits including antioxidant, neuro-protective, radio-protective, anti-diabetes, anti-osteoporosis and anti-fatigue abilities.
Additionally, laboratory tests have demonstrated that the triterpenes found in reishi mushrooms may also have cancer-fighting properties, which is one reason why brightly-colored or bitter-tasting, antioxidant-rich foods like pumpkin, berries and black rice have a reputation for promoting health. Triterpene compounds seem to inhibit tumor formation and metastases by limiting the attachment of cancerous cells to endothelial cells. Beta-glucans can also help fight off cancer formation by blocking the growth and spread of cancer cells and increasing the activity of the immune system.
Studies have turned up promising results on the link between the reishi mushroom and cancer prevention; it has been successfully used to help fight cancer of the breasts, ovaries, prostate, liver and lungs in in-vitro studies, sometimes in combination with other treatments.
Research in cancer patients suggests that reishi has antiproliferative and chemopreventive effects, helping alleviate side effects of chemotherapy like low immunity and nausea and potentially enhancing the efficacy of radiotherapy, making the reishi mushroom one of the most powerful cancer-fighting foods available.
2. Improves Liver Function
The liver is one of the most vital organs in the body and is responsible for aiding in detoxification and helping clean, process, store and circulate healthy blood and nutrients.
Reishi mushrooms work as an adaptogen to help improve liver function and prevent liver disease, allowing your body to flush out toxins and bacteria more efficiently and improving immunity against diseases that can develop over time. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that reishi induces hepatoprotective effects on acute liver injury because it contains antioxidant properties and fights harmful immune responses that slow down liver function.
3. Promotes Heart Health
The triterpenes found in the reishi mushroom may have blood pressure-lowering abilities as well as benefits for blood-clotting and cholesterol, likely because they help lower inflammation within blood vessels and arteries while also restoring hormonal balance. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can sometimes be caused by hormonal issues, including thyroid disorders or high amounts of stress, but reishi mushrooms help restore optimal hormonal levels to strengthen the cardiovascular system.
In addition to lowering blood pressure, reishi mushroom extract can improve overall circulation, lower inflammation that worsens heart problems and prevent clogged arteries by keeping cholesterol under control.
4. Balances Hormone Levels
Reishi mushrooms work as adaptogens, meaning they can help your body cope with stress more efficiently and help regulate hormone levels to optimize your health. Although research is currently limited to mostly animal models, some studies indicate that reishi mushroom extract could help normalize levels of certain receptor hormones, which may be beneficial in the treatment of cancer.
Other studies show that it can also protect and positively impact the endocrine system, which encompasses the glands throughout the body that are responsible for the production of hormones. This could have far-reaching effects on many aspects of health, as the endocrine system has a direct impact on metabolism, growth, sleep, mood and sexual function.
5. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
Sustaining high levels of blood sugar can bring detrimental effects to overall health, causing symptoms like fatigue, unintentional weight loss and frequent urination. Some research shows that reishi mushrooms may have anti-diabetic properties, helping to maintain normal blood sugar levels to prevent adverse side effects.
For example, one review out of Taiwan showed that reishi mushrooms were able to decrease levels of both blood sugar and insulin in mice. They also helped modify levels of certain enzymes involved in blood sugar control and improved the way that the body uses insulin to transport sugar from the bloodstream to the tissues to be used as fuel.
6. Fights Allergies and Asthma
One of the active ingredients of reshi mushrooms are triterpenes, a type of ganoderic acid that is tied to a reduction in allergies and histamine reactions associated with asthma. For this reason, the reishi mushroom is often used as a safe and effective asthma natural remedy.
Triterpenes are capable of lowering allergic reactions because of the way they affect the immune system, strengthen the digestive organs, protect the gut lining, lower inflammation, inhibit a histamine release, improve oxygen utilization and improve liver functions.
7. Protects Against Infections and Viruses
Reishi mushrooms are considered a natural antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal substance thanks to the active compounds that they contain. For example, aside from relieving allergies, triterpenes offer protection against microbial, viral and fungal infections. Triterpenes can be found in many plant foods that taste somewhat bitter, a sign that they’re protective in nature and defend the plant against predators.
Because reishi mushrooms can improve blood circulation and lower inflammation, they can help resolve infections more quickly, reduce pain and fight fatigue. Reishi mushrooms have been used to help treat symptoms and underlying causes of urinary tract infections, hepatitis and even HIV/AIDS.
The Mushroom Battle: Reishi Mushroom vs. Turkey Tail vs. Chaga vs. Lion’s Mane vs. Shiitake
Are mushrooms good for you? If you’ve ever had any doubts, take a look at any of the powerful nutrients found in of any of these medicinal mushrooms and you’re bound to be a believer in the many health benefits of mushrooms.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how the reishi mushroom compares to other popular varieties of medicinal mushrooms:
- Reishi Mushroom: balances hormone levels, improves heart and liver function, stabilizes blood sugar levels and fights allergies, asthma and infection
- Turkey Tail Mushroom: feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, prevents infections and combats cancer cells
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom: protects brain function, relieves inflammation, preserves digestive health and fights free radical formation
- Chaga Mushroom: enhances endurance, reduces inflammation, stimulates immune function and contains anti-viral properties
- Shiitake Mushroom: supports immunity, fights cancer cells, promotes skin health and supplies a hearty dose of important B-vitamins to maintain energy levels
Additionally, different mushroom varieties have distinct differences in the ways that they are used and enjoyed. For example, reishi, turkey tail and chaga are all most often found in supplement form while lion’s mane and shiitake are more palatable and can be swapped in for other mushrooms in your favorite recipes.
Where to Find & How to Use Reishi Mushrooms
Wondering where to buy reishi mushroom supplements? Thanks to their growing popularity, you’re likely to come across reishi mushroom powder, capsule or extract supplements in health food stores or online. It’s important to always read the directions carefully since dosage can vary depending on how concentrated the product is and the likelihood of having side effects can increase when you take too much.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can also try your hand at mushroom foraging; you can typically find reishi mushroom growing in warm regions throughout Asia, the southeastern U.S., southern Europe and the south Pacific. If you have a green thumb, you can also grow the red reishi mushroom at home by purchasing reishi spawn online.
When purchasing reishi, ideally look for products that are certified pure, produced in Asian countries and in extract or essence form. There are many different types of reishi products available, all of which have different levels of active ingredients that are affected by factors including the plant’s mother fungi, the growing conditions and the processing method used to extract the reishi.
Products from Japan are considered to be some of the purest and are usually cultivated using techniques that preserve the delicate compounds in reishi. Check the product’s labeling for the species name (Ganoderma lucidum), extract ratio, country of origin and if any fillers are added.
Reishi mushrooms are often said to be most effective if you take them in the morning on an empty stomach. Drinking water along with reishi seems to help them absorb best, as does pairing them with vitamin C foods, which can ensure proper absorption of the active ingredients and antioxidants. You can also try using them to brew up a cup of reishi mushroom tea or Ganoderma coffee to start your morning on the right foot.