Herb of the month: Reishi

The Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma Lucidum)

The Reishi mushroom has been used for over 2000 years in the Far East where it is known as the Mushroom of Spiritual Potency or the Mushroom of Immortality.

Although they probably weren’t being totally literal, it is really quite an amazing mushroom. It has a long history of use in cancer and has been credited with spontaneous remission. It is also used in allergy, liver disease, high blood pressure and heart disease, insomnia, anxiety, autoimmune conditions and as a general anti-ageing remedy, mainly due to its wonderful immune-boosting effects.

The young Reishi have a white margin and are the most medicinally potent

The young Reishi have a white margin and are the most medicinally potent

Mushroom Chemistry

As with all herbs, many different compounds make up the Reishi mushroom – but the ones that have been most researched are the polysaccharides (long chains of sugar molecules) and the triterpenes, of which over 130 different types have been identified.

The triterpenes are said to interfere with the cell cycle of cancer cells, stopping cell growth in its tracks as well as being directly toxic to cells. They have also been shown to lower inflammation, THE major cancer-promoting mechanism.

The polysaccharides, conversely, increase the overall immune response by stimulating immune cells to do the attacking for us. Very importantly, they also seem to reduce angiogenesis – the formation of new blood vessels by tumours – which may help stop the spread of cancer through the body.

Ganoderic acid - one of the main triterpenes in Reishi

Ganoderic acid – one of the main triterpenes in Reishi

CLINICAL STUDIES

There is evidence of a real benefit of using Reishi in combination with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. A recent Cochrane review found that patients given a polysaccharide extract of Reishi were 1.27 times more likely to respond to positively to conventional treatment.

A trial of 34 advanced-stage cancer patients given Reishi for 12 weeks had a significantly increased immune response at the end of the trial, and another trial of 36 patients with advanced lung cancer found very variable results – some improved dramatically and some showed little response.

All trials have only tested the polysaccharides, as these are easier to extract. As a herbalist, I always use the whole extract of Reishi in powdered form, as it is likely that other compounds in Reishi (proteins, minerals, fatty acids etc) are contributing to the overall beneficial effect.

DOSAGE & CONTRAINDICATIONS

Most of the trials using the polysaccharide extract used 5.4g/day, but much more can be taken of the whole Reishi extract.

If taken in a tea, you get the water-soluble polysaccharides; in a tincture you get the alcohol-soluble triterpenes. Herbalists tend to use the equivalent of 1-6g of the extract per day, depending on the condition – more or less one heaped teaspoonful of the powder. This can be mixed into immortalising smoothies, juices or hot drinks!

You can have Reishi as a tea to get the polysaccharides

If you’re taking blood thinning, sedative or blood pressure-lowering medication, it may not be a good idea to take Reishi as it can have these same effects on the cardiovascular system.

SHROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

The Reishi mushroom is a great example of the potential for complementary and conventional medicine to interact with each other and bring maximum benefit to patients. We have the Cochrane lot on our side, now we need statutory regulation and herbal medicine as a mainstay therapy in the NHS! Woah, not so fast. There’s still a long way to go…

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