Reishi (Ganoderma): Longevity Herb of the Orient


Reishi (Ganoderma): Longevity Herb of the Orient; Part 1

When large scale cultivation methods reduced a once inaccessibly high price for a scarce, wild-harvested mushroom, the inevitable incorporation of Reishi into Western herbal practice was foretold. The Reishi mushroom received the attention of pharmacologists only during the last 20 or so years. Yet their findings show that various applications of the mushroom in Oriental folk-medicine have definite basis in fact. In this brief, two part review, the reader will gain practical insights into specific and some general benefits of an ancient health food.

Introducing Reishi

The Japanese name Reishi is a generic term for several or more species of medicinal fungi of the genus Ganoderma, a group of fungi of practically worldwide distribution with most species occurring in the tropics.( 1) In more mature forms, the whole intact fungus is an often shiny, as if lacquered object, usually burnt orange to dark red with a long or short stem and a lotus pad-shaped cap. There is also a capless "antler" form, which is produced by raising the amount of carbon dioxide in the growing area. These can take the appearance of something more akin to a mummified hand than to any `mushroom' form. In the Orient, antler Reishi are often more prized; however, any pharmacological basis for this regard remains unknown to this writer.

As a specific name, "Reishi" is ascribed by Japanese herbalists to Ganoderma lucidum (Ley. ex Fr.) Karst., which is known to Chinese herbalists under another otherwise generic name, "Ling zhi." In this review, the names Reishi and Ling zhi refer only to G. lucidum.

Reishi remained among the more obscure medicinal plants of the world until as late as the 1930s when Japanese botanists established the true identity of the divine herb Reishi as Ganoderma lucidum.( 2) Although Ling zhi was recorded in the "Chinese Code of Ethics" in 300 B.C. as "a healthy food,"( 3) writings ascribing remarkable, even miraculous effects to the fungus were naturally taken as entirely symbolic, and for many, the mushroom itself was myth.

By the 1930s, Japanese herbalists were engaging the mushroom in an amazing array of problems; among them, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, gastric ulcers, liver diseases, kidney inflammation, high blood pressure, insomnia - even poisoning.( 4) In China, Ling zhi held a similar reputation and to this day includes applications related to the nervous and immune systems. The fungus is today applied as a non-toxic tonic of a "warm" nature, "aphrodisiac," useful in the treatment of anorexia, insomnia, debility from prolonged illness, neurasthenia, and for nourishing and improving "body resistance."( 5)

Ancient Prescriptions

One of the very few comprehensive treatments of Reishi appears in the Pen T'sao Kang Mu or Great Pharmacopoeia. Compiled by Li Shih-chen in 1578 after his father had started the work decades earlier, when finished it amounted to some 1,892 kinds of plants, minerals, animals and drugs used by the Chinese through the centuries. Others had attempted similar compilations as far back as 2700 B.C., but Li's work rests as the more complete.

In the following from Li Shih-chen, the medicinal fungus described fits the Reishi or Ling zhi of today. Red/Pill Fungus (Dan [or "Tan," meaning "Red fungus (chi zhi) is the same as cinnabar] zhi). Its sensation of taste is bitter, not adverse, and never toxic. The prescription benefits symptoms of a knotted and tight chest. It affects in a positive fashion the heart Qi, and mends the chest. It also increases intellectual capacity and banishes forgetfulness. Eaten over a long period of time, agility of the body will not cease, and the years are lengthened to those of the Immortal Fairies."( 6)

The more obvious inferences here are to cardiac and neurological and possibly disorders, indications avidly pursued by Ganoderma Study Groups in China during the last 20 years. Before taking up their results, Li's notes on the "Purple" fungus or "Zhi chih" (Ganoderma sinense Zhao, Xu and Zhang) tell of similar actions probably common to the genus.

Li wrote, "Purple fungus is the same as that named Tree Fungus. The flavor is sweet and the overall effect is one of warmth....This fungus is used to treat deafness. It is also related to afflictions of the joints. It strengthens the Spirit (Shen), and gives one a fine complexion. With long term usage, this fungus also has a positive effect upon the limberness of the body and the life-span is increased...[Purple Fungus] effects a cure upon lack of stamina and work energy. It is a sure remedy for piles."( 6)

Li went on to report that present day uses had remained the same as those some 2,000 years earlier. For example, in the contemporary (16th century) form of pills used to "cure lack of stamina and work energy, and strengthen the Qi [life energy] related to those areas."( 6)

"Zi zhi" (G. sinense) was indicated when "the chest or the ribs have a bitter pain, the hands and feet are adversely cold, or often the patient is in a fretful state of nerves. The mouth cannot operate properly for normal speech, and the eyesight is obscured. The abdomen is always sore and painful. The patient becomes listless and hasn't any desire to eat or drink."( 6)

Neurological/Neuromuscular Applications

The indications of Zi zhi, a `purple' Reishi (G. sinense) given in the 16th century bear striking resemblance to a rare disease known today as myotonia dystrophica, which has a world incidence of one in 30,000. In keeping the body agile, Chi zhi or Reishi (G. lucidum) also corresponds. But where Zi zhi is said to cure a lack of "work energy" and "stamina," to positively effect "limberness" and to be applied when a patient exhibits listlessness, obscured eyesight, or when the mouth doesn't "operate properly for normal speech,"( 6) use of Ganoderma against myotonia dystrophica, muscular dystrophy and similar diseases is likely centuries old.

Myotonia dystrophica is a hereditary disease of usually early onset marked by muscular atrophy first affecting the face, neck and larynx, until progressively lower muscles of the whole body are weakened. Eventually, the skin and many of the glands atrophy, including the adrenals, gonads, parathyroid, thyroid and pituitary. And while blood levels of calcium drop, autonomic nervous system dysfunctions, cataracts and abnormal bone formations develop. The eyes may not close, speech may be slurred and there may be difficulty chewing and swallowing food.( 7)

A water-soluble spore preparation of Reishi was administered intramuscularly (i.m.) to myotonia dystrophica patients (400 mg/day) by physicians of the Department of Neurology at the Beijing Friendship Hospital. Three received Licorice root powder in combination with the spores for one or two months. In the majority, there were noticeable improvements without side-effects. However promising, positive results were limited in the long run to younger patients who had milder cases with a shorter history of the disease.( 7)

Benefits followed in as little as 7-14 days of treatment. Improved appetite, strength and weight gain were the first to show. Out of ten patients, half showed great improvement, two improved, and in three the improvement was slight. In the five most benefitted, muscle strength was markedly improved and general symptoms were either partly or completely relieved. Whereas some couldn't even raise their heads, after treatment the strengh of neck muscles returned. Those who would take an hour to eat a meal now finished in 15 minutes. In one case, the patient would tire from walking for ten minutes. After the injections he could go over an hour without tiring.( 7)

Following Ganoderma, for three patients the disease appeared to have stopped progressing. In one adolescent male, four years after three months of daily injections (400 mg/day) of the spore preparation, he had no difficulty doing physical labor. Another two years later, his physicians could report that in this case muscle strength was restored to near normal. Similarly "favorable" results were reported by the hospital with spore extracts of G. lucidum and a mycelial extract of "Bao gai ling zhi" (G. capense(Lloyd) Teng, a red Ganoderma) against muscular dystrophy.( 8)

During subsequent efforts to isolate the active constituents involved,( 9) uridine, a nucleoside found in RNA, and uracil (a component of nucleic acid similar to thymine) were isolated as the active constituents in Ganoderma against experimental myotonia dystrophica and muscular dystrophy.( 10, 11) Injections of uridine produced improvements in nine of ten patients. Long-term results were rather poor;( 9, 12) however, because there are no effective treatments for these diseases, injections of Ganoderma extractives present a further research possibility.

Of import to a far wider research arena today, the improved sleep seen in dystrophic patients from the treatment is a long-reputed benefit of Reishi. Both Chinese and Japanese herbalists recommend the mushroom to those suffering insomnia.( 4, 5, 13, 14)

The mushroom is prescribed in China for other kinds of neurological afflictions, including neurasthenia. Similarly, Reishi is also given to anorexics and to treat debility following lengthy illness.( 5) (In the West, neurasthenia is common to clinical depression and chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis.)

Preliminary investigations in Japan of Reishi in the treatment of "environmental" stress-induced neuroses found that from 50 g thrice daily, the freeze-dried (liquid culture grown) mycelium proved of significant benefit to patients with psychological stresses.( 15) An eight-month study of Alzheimer's disease patients on the same mycelial product also found significant results.( 16) The latter application coincides with centuries-old uses where Chi zhi was prescribed to increase "intellectual capacity and banish forgetfulness," and when a patient displayed "listlessness."( 6)

As to what action these benefits show, increased blood and oxygen to the brain are the more obvious. Animal studies confirming this led the Chinese Army to the effective (98.6%) application of Reishi tablets in preventing high altitude sickness in soldiers.( 5) At China's Sixth National Winter games, 196 medal athletes performing at high altitude under cold conditions were placed on Reishi (80%) and Ginseng (20%) extract mixture. Compared to athletes without the supplement, they showed increased resistance to fatigue, better sleep and better appetite.( 17)

The effects of Reishi on the central nervous system point to an anticholinergic action - reducing parasympathetic nervous system excitability - which would as expected tend to make one more alert. Indeed, I have received anecdotal reports from the U.S. attesting to this experience.

In China, a six-month clinical study in 38 chronic bronchitis patients on Reishi "syrup" found adrenocortical functions seem to "improve"; their 17-hydroxycorticosteroid (hydrocortisone) level was "slightly increased." In normal mice however, there was no effect on adrenal function,( 5)

At the same time, animal studies also show that the fungus antagonizes central nervous system stimulation by amphetamine( 5) and by caffeine, and prolongs the life of animals given lethal doses of caffeine or strychnine( 18) - actions lending credence to the folk-use of Reishi against poisoning.( 4) Reishi produced muscle relaxation( 18) and analgesic effects (from oral or injected doses),( 5, 18) and shortened the sleeping time induced by an anesthetic (hexobarbital). This effect was potentiated when Reishi was administered at the same time as caffeine,( 18) However, and as a cautionary note for patients on sedatives, the sedating action of some other drugs (chloropromazine and respirine) is increased by Ganoderma (G. capense).( 5)

Studies in China have also found that the actions of G. lucidum, like that of other Ganoderma, suggest an inhibition of central( 19) and parsympathetic nervous system excitation; the latter indicated by in vitro antagonization of the "excitatory action of acetylcholine," and by a significant decrease in cholinesterase activity in 18 of 20 chronic bronchitis patients after four months of Reishi.( 5) Furthermore, although Reishi promotes the action of the sedative barbital, the mushroom is neither narcotic nor hypnotic. It was concluded that Reishi has an essentially "calmative function."( 19, 20)

Reishi as a Cardiotonic

Herbalists of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644) and earlier had observed the effects of Chi zhi in `heart disease' patients and prescribed it to those with a "knotted and tight chest," apparently because the fungus was noted for having a positive effect on the "heart Qi," and because it had a reputation as an herb that "mends the chest."( 6) Researchers in China found that tinctures or extracts of the fruit-body (cap and stem) or the mycelium improved the circulation of the innermost muscle of the heart, increased blood flow and lowered oxygen consumption in the heart muscle.( 5)

During the 1980s Japanese investigators confirmed the earlier conclusions of Chinese workers in finding the mushroom holds a number of actions beneficial to a sick heart.( 21-24) Apart from inhibiting blood platelet aggregation, Reishi fed to spontaneously hypertensive rats produced significantly lower levels of total cholesterol in their blood plasma, as well as lowering triglyceride and cholesterol levels in their livers.( 23) In addition, Reishi was found to contain "angiotensin converting enzyme" (ACE) inhibitors in the form of polyoxygenated "triterpenes" with anti-hypertensive activity. In order of most to least active, followed by their quantities in a concentrated extract of the fruit-body, these are ganoderic acids F (1.7 mg/g), H (1.8 mg/g), K (4.3 mg/g), B (2.0 mg/g), D (2.4 mg/g), Y (3.4 mg/g), S (0.7 mg/g), and ganoderol B or "ganodermadiol" (1.2 mg/g).( 24) As others are isolated and compared, this order will require revision.

Ganoderic acid B, the fourth-most active anti-hypertensive triterpene listed here, is an inhibitor of cholesterol biosynthesis; however, it is a weak one. Pharmacologists in Japan recently (1988) converted this triterpene, as well as ganoderic acid C, into several potent inhibitors of cholesterol biosynthesis. Nonetheless, there are other triterpenes and oxygenated sterols in Reishi similarly structured to these more potent compounds, with critical placements of oxygen found in the chemically-converted cholesterol biosynthesis inhibitors.( 25) At the present state of research, these may be collectively held as the cholesterol lowering factors in Reishi.

As for ACE inhibitors, these are prescribed to heart disease patients usually when all else fails. They are a potent class of heart drugs primarily used to reverse left ventricular hypertrophy (the abnormal enlargement of the left ventricle). Since Reishi is far milder in this action than any ACE inhibitor, it isn't likely to substitute for them. Yet Reishi can substantially lower high blood pressure.( 26)

Taking six 240 mg (Reishi extract) tablets per day for six months, 53 patients at the Surugadai Nihon University Hospital in Tokyo were divided into two groups consisting of (I) essential (genetically inherited) hypertensives and (II) mildly hypertensive or "normotensive" patients. At the trial end it was found that Reishi had only lowered the blood pressure of group I patients, was without side-effects, and had slighly lowered the total cholesterol of the patients. Even before the six month trial had ended, the essential hypertensives showed normal blood pressure (BP) readings in both systolic and diastolic readings (mean BP: 136.6 over 92.8). Nearly half (47.5%) gained drops in BP of 10-19 mmHg (=millimeters of mercury) and in 10% drops of 20-29 mmHg were achieved.( 26)

Similar clinical tests in China show the mushroom can be taken as a cardiotonic supplement on a daily basis without side-effects.( 27)

In one of the larger Reishi studies in China, low density lipoprotein levels dropped in 68% of patients following one to four months on the mushroom. Patients with the higher levels of cholesterol had comparatively greater improvements. This study was conducted in seven hospitals where Western medications, except for nitroglycerine if needed, were removed from the test-patient protocol. The 90 who completed the study had all presented a history of coronary heart disease of over one year's duration. In order to be "effective," the Ganoderma tablets had either to completely resolve or "markedly" alleviate symptoms, while simultaneously improving ECG readings. The treatment was effective on average in 81.77% of patients. The lowest level of efficacy in any group was 66.7% of cases.( 28)

From a symptomatic perspective, the outcome of this study bears noticeable similarity in a significant number of indications given for Ganoderma in the Pen T'sao Kang Mu of Li Shih-chen. For example, zi zhi was said to be effective in reducing what Li would call "bitter pain" of the chest and ribs.( 6) Angina pectoris was reduced by 84.4%;( 28) "Lack of stamina"( 6) (weariness) by 77.8%;( 28) and when "the hands and feet are adversely cold"( 6) or "cold extremities," was effectively treated in 73.9%.( 28) In addition, the Reishi tablet was reported effective in treating other typical cardiac disease symptoms in these patients; insomnia in 77.8%, arrythmia in 60.0%, difficulty breathing in 72.5%, and in 90.4% Reishi remedied the sensation of fullness in the chest,( 28) which corresponds to Li's designation for the Red fungus (Chi zhi), said to be of benefit to those with "symptoms of a knotted and tight chest," to positively affect the "heart Qi," and to essentially be a fungus that "mends the chest."( 6)

Following numerous animal experiments and seven years of clinical testing - albeit unblinded - clinicians in China calculated the general efficacy of Reishi in patients with high cholesterol and coronary heart disease as from 20 to 48% where patients showed significant improvements, and as 56-86% effective in providing improvements of one kind and another.( 5) More recently, Russian cardiologists have clinically tested Reishi extract in coronary heart disease patients and found that the mushroom extract significantly inhibits the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.( 29)


For more serious problems, the fruit-body extract dosage is adjusted to anywhere from 2-10 grams per day.( 30) In traditional Chinese medical texts, the 1.5 to 9 grams of dry fruit-body prescribed for general applications( 31) would approximate 150 to 900 mg of extract.


Kenneth Jones

Armana Research

P.O. Box 1741

Gibsons, B.C., Canada V0N 1V0

(1.) Zoberi, M.H. 1972. Tropical Macrofungi: Some Ganoderma Species. Macmillan; 44.

(2.) Wasson, R.G. 1968. Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. Harcourt, Brace, Janonovich; 80-93.

(3.) Liu, N.G. 1991. Ancient Chinese Pharmacological Works on Lingzhi. In National Conference on Ganoderma. Beijing Medical University, Beijing, 1991; 23-24. Trans.

(4.) Miyazaki, T. and M. Nishijima. 1981. Studies on Fungal Polysaccharides. XXVII. Structural Examination of a Water-Soluble, Antitumor Polysaccharide of Ganoderma lucidum. Chem. Pharm. Bull. 29: 3611-3616.

(5.) "Lingzhi." In Chang, H-.M. and P.P-.H. But, editors. 1986. Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Materia Medica. Vol. I. Singapore: World Scientific; 642-653.

(6.) Li Shih-chen. 1933. Pen T'sao Kang Mu. Shang Wu, Printer, Shanghai, Trans.

(7.) Fu, H. and Z. Wang. 1982. The Clinical Effects of Ganoderma lucidum Spore Preparations in 10 Cases of Atrophic Myotonia. J. Trad. Chin. Med. 2(1): 63-65.

(8.) Wang, Z. and H. Fu. 1981. Treatment of Hereditary Cerebellar Ataxia with Ganoderma capense. J. Trad. Chin. Med. 1(1):47-50.

(9.) Zhang, J. 1980. Recent Achievements of the Institute of Materia Medica on Studies of Natural Products. Proceedings of the U.S. China Pharmacology Symposium, Washington, DC; 17-19.

(10.) Yu, J.-G. and Y.-F. Zhai. 1979. Studies on the Constituents of Ganoderma Capense. Part 1. Yao Hseuh Hseuh Pao 14(6): 374-378.

(11.) Liu, G.-T. et al. 1980. Effect of Ganodermas on elevated aldolase levels in experimental muscular dystrophy induced by 2,4-dichlorphenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) in mice. Yao Hseuh Hseuh Pao 15(3): 142-146.

(12.) Gao, L.-H. and Z.-Y. Wang. 1981. The Inefficacy of Nucleic Acid Treatment of 9 Cases of Progressive Muscular Dystrophic Disease. Clinical Observations. Beijing Med. J.3(6): 347-348.

(13.) Hondo, K. et al. 1988. Sleep-promoting effects of Ganoderma extracts in rats: Comparison between long-term and acute administrations. Rept. Inst. Med. Dent. Eng. 22:77-82.

(14.) Inoué, S. and K. Honda. 1988. Sleep-promoting effects of a Bracket Fungus, Fomes Japonicus. In Sleep '86. Proceedings of the Eighth European Congress on Sleep Research, Szeged, Hungary, Sept. 1-5, 1986. W.P. Koella et al., editors. Gustav, Fischer Verlag, New York, 1988; 338-339.

(15.) Tamura, T. et al. Fermentation product as food for patients with mental diseases caused by environmental stresses. Asahi Chemical Industry Col., Ltd., In Chem. Abstr. 108(13): 11085ij.

(16.) Tamura, T. et al. Fermentation product as food for patients with Alzheimer's disease. Asahi Chemical Industry Co., Ltd., in Chem. Abstr. 108(13): 110852k.

(17.) Song, Q.-Y. "Compound Lingzhi." Study of its Effect on Health and Fatigue. In National Conference on Ganoderma. Beijing Medical University, 1991, Beijing; 55. Trans.

(18.) Kasahara, Y. and H. Hikino. 1987. Central Actions of Ganoderma lucidum. Phytother. Res. (1):17-21.

(19.) Lin, Z.-B. 1979. The Present Status of Pharmacological Studies of Lingzhi (glossy Ganoderma: Ganoderma lucidum) in China. Yao Hseuh Hseuh Pao 14(3): 183-192. Trans.

(20.) Kasahara, K. and H. Hikino. 1987. Central Actions of Adenosine, a Nucleotide of Ganoderma lucidum. Phytother. Res. 1(): 173-176.

(21.) Shimuza, A. et al. 1985. Isolation of an Inhibitor of Platelet Aggregation from a Fungus, Ganoderma lucidum. Chem. Pharm. Bull. 33(7): 3012-3015.

(22.) Kubo, M. et al. 1983. Studies on Ganoderma lucidum. IV. Effects on the Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation. Yakugaku Zasshi 103(8): 871-677.

(23.) Kabir, Y. et al. 1988. Dietary Effect of Ganoderma lucidum Mushroom on Blood Pressure and Lipid Levels in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats (SHR). J. Nutr. Sci. Vitaminol. 34(4): 433-438.

(24.) Morigawa, A. et al. 1986. Angiotensis Converting Enzyme-inhibitory Triterpenes from Ganoderma lucidum. Chem. Pharm. Bull. 34(7): 3025-3028.

(25.) Komoda, Y. et al. 1989. Ganoderic Acid and Its Derivatives as Cholesterol Synthesis Inhibitors. Chem. Pharm. Bull. 37(2): 531-533.

(26.) Kanmatsuse, K. et al. 1985. Studies on Ganoderma lucidum. I. Efficacy against Hypertension and Side-Effects. Yakugaku Zasshi 105(10): 942-947.

(27.) The Third Hospital of Hung Qiao District in Tianjin. 1977. Clinical Observation on Hyperlipidemia Treated with Lingzhi (Ganoderma) Tablets. Chin. Trad. Herb. Drugs (1): 35-36. Fu Kezhi, trans.

(28.) Nanjing Branch of the National Medical Society, Association of Heart Vessels Disease, and No. 6 Dept. of Hunan Institute of Pharmaceutical Industry. 1979. Clinical Observation on The Treatment of 103 Cases of Coronary Heart Disease with Ganoderma Shu Yin Tablets. Chin. Trad. Herb. Drugs (6): 32-33. Fu Kezhi, trans.

(29.) Ryong, L.H. et al. 1989. Antiatherogenic and Antiatherosclerotic Effects of Mushroom Extracts Revealed In Human Aortic Intima Cell Culture. Drug Devel. Res. 17(2): 109-118.

(30.) Morishige, Fukumi (lecture). 1988. In Becoming Healthy with Reishi, III. Kampo I-yaku Shimbun, Toyo-Igaku Sha Co., Ltd., Tokyo; 12-20. Trans.

(31.) Ganoderma. In Oriental Materia Medica, a concise guide. Hong-yen Hsu et al., editors. Oriental Healing Arts Institute, Long Beach, California, 1986; 640-641.

Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients.


By Kenneth Jones

Reishi (Ganoderma): Longevity Herb of the Orient; Part 2

In China, physicians have recorded some success in the treatment of several collagen diseases using an injectable preparation of the mycelium of "Bao gai ling zhi" (Ganoderma capense (Lloyd) Teng), a close relative of the Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum (Ley. ex Fr.) Karst.). These include a disease (dermatomyositis) that causes muscle fibers to decay with inflammation of muscles, subcutaneous tissue and skin. After 3-6 months of treatment, Ganoderma was effective in 96.4% of 55 patients, 34 of whom were treated with a combination of the injections and corticosteroids. Another collagen disease they treated is lupus erythematosus. Of 84 patients, Ganoderma was effective in 82.1% after 12 weeks treatment. In scleroderma, a disease marked by hardened and shrunken tissue - whether of the heart, lungs, kidneys, esophagus or the skin - the mushroom was effective in 79.1% of 17 cases after 3-6 months.( 3)

In 78.9% of 22 cases after 4-12 weeks, the fungus was reportedly effective against alopecia areata, a collagen/auto-immune disease causing hair loss in patches.( 3) In 80% of patients the hair grows back inside of 12 weeks, but 20% of cases progresses: massive areas of body hair are affected, including eyebrows and eyelashes.

Cancer Research

In Japan today, at least one surgeon offers Reishi mushroom extract to terminal cancer patients. After more than 250 cases, he advises that for improved assimilation producing greatly enhanced antitumor/immunostimulating effects, they take the Part 2 mushroom extract (10 g/day) with large doses ( 6-12g/day) of vitamin C (as a mixture of ascorbic acid and sodium ascorbate).( 4)

Traditionally regarded as useful against cancer in Japan for hundreds of years,( 5) Reishi (G. lucidum)( 4) and G. applanatum (Pers. ex Wall.) Pat.( 5) are identified as at least two of the Ganoderma species used.

Investigations began in 1968 when workers at the National Cancer Center Research Institute in Tokyo injected (i.p.) a water extract of G. applanatum into tumor-bearing mice. Daily injections (200 mg/kg/day x 10) produced a complete regression of tumors in 50% of the animals.( 6) The tumor system used (Sarcoma 180) is a cancer of the connective tissue.

Both in G. applanatum and Reishi, long-chain sugars known as polysaccharides are responsible. In Ganoderma, they usually occur in the form of Beta-D-glucans bound to amino acids.( 5, 7-9)

Polysaccharides from Ganoderma and from other types of folk-medicinal fungi are patented in Japan for use as immunomodulators in the treatment of cancer. They are combined with chemo- and radiotherapies to reduce side-effects, increase the efficacy of treatments, and to accelerate recovery from disease.( 10, 11)

Studies in China and more recently in Japan, have shown that the immune cells being potentiated to a tumorcidal capacity by Ganoderma are macrophages( 12) and T-cells. These were determined as amplifiers of helper T-cells.( 13) As part of ongoing research into "the mechanism of the prevention of aging" by Reishi polysaccharides, a more recent study in China by Li Rong Zhi of the Medicine Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Medical Science in Beijing found that Ganoderma caused a marked increase in the activity of abdominal macrophages of people and of mice.( 14)

A crude extract of G. applanatum augmented the responsiveness of immunoglobulin G by expanding the so-called memory of T-cells in mice. Polysaccharides were determined the active constituents involved. Significant immune cell function enhancement was achieved with The crude extract as effectively from oral administration as from the i.p. route. Although the per oral dose required was 10 times the size (2.0 mg x 5), it was still a relatively small dose( 13) and not in excess of equivalents used in traditional prescriptions.( 15, 16)

Anti-Allergic/Anti-Inflammatory Actions

Animal studies in China have established that Reishi relieves chemically-induced cough and that it has a relaxing action on trachea smooth muscles in an asthma model; the latter evident from the mycelial extract (alcoholic), tincture, and decoction.( 17)

Chinese investigators observed a "rapid regeneration" ( 1-2weeks) of experimentally-damaged trachea epithelium (smoke-induced tracheitis from sawdust mixed with pipe tobacco). Mice administered an extract consisting of Reishi mycelium and the spores of "pai mu erh" (Tremela fuciformis) showed complete repair and regeneration of trachea epithelium in half the time (14 days) of untreated controls.( 17)

From interviews in the field, the general concensus among local (Vancouver, B.C.) Chinese herbalists is that traditionally, Reishi is primarily used for problems of the lungs and upper respiratory tract. The sclerotia hardened mycelial mass from which the stem protrudes - is reportedly more specific in these applications. A water extract of the sclerotia was analyzed in China and found to contain amino acids, soluble proteins, saccharides and polypeptides.( 12)

This area of application is believed centuries old. In more recent times, chronic bronchitis in the elderly has responded well to Reishi and asthma is reported to respond to the treatment inside of 14 days. The tabletted Reishi syrup was tested from 1973-4 in over 2,000 chronic bronchitis patients in China where it was found effective, overall, in 60-91.6% of cases. Following several month's treatment, there was a general increase in the amount of immunoglobulin A in their sputum.( 12) IgA is the main immunoglobulin found in the respiratory tract. A deficiency is linked to severe allergies/( 18) systemic lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.( 19)

Chinese workers in the 1970s found inhibition of allergic reactions in guinea pig lung tissue subjected to Reishi.( 12) This was followed up on by Japanese workers in the 1980s who made Reishi's anti-allergic actions the subject of ongoing research.( 20, 21) Studies at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Kinki University found a developed strain of the mushroom particularly active in this regard, so active that in animals an aqueous extract inhibited all four types of allergic sensitivity reactions. This included positive effects against the more familiar subjects of asthma and contact dermatitis (types I and IV allergic sensitivity reactions).( 21)

Echoing a concern of many American allergists, clinical ecologists and naturopaths, workers at Kinki University expressed the need at this time for such a broad spectrum anti-allergic substance, specifically for the treatment of an increasing number of allergy "syndromes." To this end they hope to begin clinical trials with the mushroom in the near future.( 21)

The anti-inflammatory action of Reishi recently caught the attention of U.S. researchers. At the Third Academic/Industry Joint Conference in Sapporo, Japan in 1990, evidence was presented of Reishi's anti-inflammatory action by William B. Stavinoha and colleagues, pharmacologists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. At his presentation in Japan, Stavinoha discussed the problems of present drug treatments for inflammatory diseases. He explained that whether steroidal drugs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, they have "serious" side-effects: 2,600 people die every year in the U.S. from taking non-steroidals, just for rheumatoid arthritis.( 22)

Using Reishi cultivated in the U.S. from Oriental strains, he found a water extract had no activity as an anti-inflammatory applied to the skin. But from high doses (380/kg) taken orally by mice, Reishi reduced inflammation by 47%. An extract of Reishi made with ether proved "very active" applied topically - comparable to hydrocortisone at 5 mg, and without side-effects.( 22)

Efforts to determine the active anti-allergic (histamine release-inhibitory/anti-inflammatory) constituents involved have been fruitful.( 23) Once known as ganoderic acid C, the same compound renamed C2,( 24) has so far proven the most active, being closely followed by ganoderic acid D and A, while ganoderic acid B appears to be the least active. Ganoderic acids B and D are also anti-hypertensive.( 22)

Ganoderic acids B and C2 were found in appreciable amounts in an alcoholic extract of the whole fruit-body (1.8 mg/g and 2.1 mg/g, respectively), with the caps containing the most (2.5 mg/g and 3.4 mg/g, respectively). Alcoholic extracts of the stems and of the spores contained B and C2 in the order of .5 mg/g.( 23) The precise mechanisms of ganoderic acids against allergic responses remain to be elucidated.

Two other anti-allergic constituents of Reishi were isolated as histamine release-inhibitory substances, only this time from a liquid culture medium, or broth in which Reishi mycelium was grown. These are oleic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid( 25) (present in olive oil as olein), and cyclooctasulpher.( 26) Oleic acid inhibits histamine release by stabilizing plasma membranes.( 25) Cyclooctasulpher,( 26) obtained from active fractions used in the isolation of oleic acid,( 25) appears to inhibit histamine release through an interaction with protein creating an inhibition of calcium uptake.( 26)

Another anti-allergic constituent, a polypeptide named "Ling Zhi-8," was discovered in Reishi mycelium where it occurs in minute amounts (approximately 70-140 micrograms/g by dry weight).( 27) The amino acid chain of this protein bears a resemblance to certain immunoglobulin heavy chain sequences found in humans, a type of goldfish, and in mice. It may well be related to "an ancestral protein of the immunoglobulin superfamily."( 28)

In animal studies, "LZ-8" prevented death from induced systemic shock in those repeatedly (twice weekly) injected (i.p.) with the protein. As the proposed mode of anti-allergic action, LZ-8 caused a significant reduction in, but didn't entirely block antibody production. LZ-8 proved active in the prevention of severe type I allergic hypersensitivity reactions, which would include, for example, inflammatory responses to insect pollens. Other experiments in mice demonstrated that LZ-8 prevents auto-immune diabetes (type I).( 27)

Studies focused specifically on the anti-inflammatory actions of Ganoderma have found that high doses (50 mg/kg x 2; i.p.) of a purified water-soluble polysaccharide ("G-A")( 32) from G. japonicum Lloyd. (=G. sinense) produced anti-inflammatory actions in rat hindpaws. Other fungal polysaccharides have shown anti-inflammatory effects, too, but like G-A the mechanisms involved have yet to be clarified.( 33)

Part of the action may be attributable to a free radical scavenging effect. For example, both the polysaccharides of Zi zhi (G. sinense)( 34) and the crude extract of Reishi( 12) have shown radioprotective effects in mice against toxic and lethal doses of cobalt 60 radiation. Zi zhi polysaccharides provided a degree of protection from radiation comparable to that of the amino acid L-cysteine.( 34)

Led on by a previous inquiry, in which they found Reishi improved the function of human erythrocytes in transfering oxygen, Wang Jifeng and co-workers at the Beijing College of Traditional Medicine undertook a study of Reishi's effect on scavenging free radicals in blood. An injectable G. lucidum preparation (0.25 g Reishi/ml) administered (i.p.) to rabbits (0.48 g/kg x 2/day x 2.5) significantly enhanced the hydroxyl radical scavenging activity of their plasma (by 50.4%). Of further import, the results of this study suggested that the hydroxyl radical scavenging effect of the preparation continued, even after absorption and metabolization. Finally, in vitro experiments showed a significant superoxide radical scavenging action from the extract preparation.( 35)

Actions on the Liver

Reishi is prescribed in China for the treatment of chronic hepatitis.( 36) Reports tell of better results being achieved in acute hepatitis where liver function is less severely impaired. In treatments lasting 2-15 weeks, the overall rate of efficacy is 70.7-98.0%. In this application a syrup is taken two times daily (20 ml), usually for 4-12 weeks.( 12)

From the mycelium, investigators in Japan isolated two "strongly antihepatotoxic" ganoderic acids named R and S, as well as the less active ganoderic acid T.( 37) Others have reported the isolation of a steroidal liver function stimulant named "ganodosterone," and ganoderic acids R, S and T from mycelium as liver function stimulants.( 38) Conversely, six in vitro hepatotoxic ganoderic acids (U, V, W, X, Y and Z) were previously isolated from the mycelium of Reishi by a group at the Université Louis Pasteur in France;( 39) however, liver toxicity from these isolates or from the fruit-body has not been shown in vivo.(12.40-42)

A "Qi" Tonic

In traditional Chinese medicine, Reishi conforms to the class of herbs called "Qi tonics": herbs believed to act as tonics to support the life energy or "Qi" of the body. Pharmacologists have found that many of the Qi tonics show immunomodulatory actions and that they serve to enhance bodily repair.( 43)

At the Department of Pharmacology at Beijing Medical College, Gong Zheng and Lin Zhi-bin followed up on Reishi's purported ability to strengthen a patient's resistance and improve the constitution by subjecting the mushroom to a battery of tests in cultures and in animals.( 17, 44) After several year's research, they concluded that from the wide array of activities evident from assorted preparations of the mushroom, Reishi lived up to its traditional reputation as a Qi tonic. These pharmacological effects are "of great advantage to the maintenance or restoration of homeostasis of the body."( 44) In particular, they refer to a number of actions which are discussed in this review:

Reishi enhances protective mechanisms of the central nervous system (inhibiting chemically-induced CNS excitation and normalizing parasympathetic hyperfunctioning); improves cardiac functions; improves functioning of the liver and protects it from chemically-induced (carbontetrachloride) injury; alleviates radiation-induced and oxygen-deprivation (hypoxia) injuries; and Reishi augments the scavenging effect (phagocytosis) of immunologic cells and inhibits allergic reactions.( 44)

Dosage and Safety

For more serious problems, the fruit-body extract dosage is adjusted to anywhere from 2-10 grams per day.( 4) In traditional Chinese medical texts, the 1.5 to 9 grams of dry fruit-body prescribed for general use( 45) would approximate 150 to 900 mg of extract.

Tests to establish acute toxicity levels of G. lucidum utilizing a freeze-dried hot water extract showed that in mice the doses are in excess of 5 g/kg. No "serious" or "lethal" effects were observed, nor from a polysaccharide fraction at 5 g/kg. Examination of body and organ weight and hematological measurements of mice following 30 days of the freeze-dried extract (5 g/kg, p.o.) found "no changes."( 46)

An extract made with cold alcohol was administered intragastrically to juvenile rats. At 1.2 g/kg/day x 30, there was no effect on major organs, ECG, normal development, growth or liver function, nor from 12 g/kg/day x 30. Tests in China established that in mice the LD50 (lethal dose at which 50% perish) of G. lucidum (hot water extract, i.p.) was approximately 38 g/kg.( 12)

Although few, there are some cases where minor reactions, such as loose stool, dry mouth, slightly upset digestion and skin rash have occurred. Digestive upsets are reported as readily eliminated by ingesting Reishi with meals instead of between them. The other reactions are eliminated by simply ceasing use of the mushroom( 47) for a week or less. A loose stool is reportedly common from doses exceeding two grams a day of the extract.( 29)

Recent Applications

In North America, naturopaths are prescribing Reishi for the symptomatic relief of arthritis, for menopausal anxiety, allergic asthma, cardiovascular disease, bronchitis, hepatitis, insomnia, general anxiety and strees.( 29) Combined with other Oriental herbs, Reishi is currently used in treatments of AIDS-related complex (ARC), AIDS,( 48) and alone or in combination formulas to treat chronic fatigue syndrome(CFS)( 29, 49)

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Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients.


By Kenneth Jones

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