For over a thousand years Eastern medicine has made medicinal use of several plants and fungi — one of the most popular being the reishi mushroom. This large, dark mushroom has a number of potential benefits, including fighting fatigue, boosting the immune system, and reducing pain.
What Are Reishi Mushrooms?
Reishi is a type of polypore a large fungi that has thousands of tiny tubes or pores on its underside as opposed to the gills, or ribs, that are found on many other types of fungi. Polypores are also referred to as shelf mushrooms or bracket mushrooms due to how they sprout horizontally from trees.
Reishi are large, shiny mushrooms native to a number of humid, hot areas of Asia. Reishi have a long history of use in traditional Eastern medicine to support the immune system and promote long-term health. The belief in the reishi’s ability to contribute to longevity is so strong that it is often referred to as the 10,000 Year Mushroom or the Mushroom of Immortality.
Reishi (scientific name Ganoderma lucidum) is called Ling Zhi, or lingzhi, in China and Korea. This name translates to herb of spiritual potency or divine fungus. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, the mushroom is considered a three treasure herb that brings into harmony shen (spirit), qi (energy), jing (life force), which symbolize divine power, well-being, longevity.
Reishi growth in the wild is fairly rare, so to meet demand this mushroom is widely cultivated around the world. This type of mushroom has an earthy, bitter taste that few people find appealing — it simply doesn’t taste very good. Unlike most mushrooms that are cultivated in large numbers, reishi are grown for their medicinal, or pharmaceutical, value rather than their culinary value.
Reishi Mushrooms Health Benefits
Reishi contains a host of minerals such as magnesium, selenium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, iron, and calcium, as well as fiber, carbohydrates, and proteins. Importantly, reishi contains bioactive compounds such as peptidoglycans, triterpenes, and polysaccharides (each of which are discussed below). Bioactive constituents are extra-nutritional compounds present in small quantities in foods. They provide healthful benefits that are beyond the basic nutritional value of the food.
Reishi Reduce Fatigue
Fatigue is a serious health issue for over 20% of people worldwide. Chronic fatigue — a condition where a person’s tiredness isn’t relieved even when the person gets enough sleep or rest — affects many of the people in this group. Fatigue can be caused by a number of factors including stress, hormonal imbalances, immune system troubles, or infections.
Reishi mushrooms are known to reduce the severity of fatigue, including chronic fatigue. One reason for this effect may be due to reishi’s richness in antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that fight free radicals (oxidants) to maintain and restore your body’s internal systems. Antioxidants restore balance and rejuvenate and protect cells. Balancing blood sugar levels and hormone levels can certainly increase a person’s energy.
A recent study found that the trial participants with neurasthenia (a health condition that causes emotional stress, irritability, and fatigue) enjoyed a significant increase in overall well-being and much lower levels of fatigue after taking reishi supplements.
Adaptogens are natural substances that help the body restore homeostasis — the self-regulating process where the body makes adjustments to changing external and internal conditions to reach and maintain stability in its various systems. Reishi mushrooms are adaptogens that can help bring homeostasis to the cardiovascular, digestive, immune, nervous, and endocrine systems in response to stresses of all types. Whether stress comes in environmental, chemical, emotional, or physical form, it can and usually will cause energy depletion.
One big cause of fatigue is a lack of adequate sleep. Anyone who has spent a night of restless, interrupted sleep knows the feeling of never really seeming to be able to really feel active and energetic the next morning and well into the day. Getting a night of sound, continuous sleep goes a long way to reducing fatigue. As the next section reveals, reishi mushrooms can help many people with sleep issues get better sleep — solving the problem of poor sleep and fatigue.
Reishi Promote Better Sleep
Sound, consistent sleep is a prerequisite for proper mental and physical function. Currently, insufficient sleep is a significant health concern for over 20% of adults. These adults suffer from a number of regular sleep disruptions, including frequent waking during the night, insufficient sleep time, or difficulties in initiating sleep. Persistent sleep problems are frequently linked to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and other health issues.
It’s interesting that while reishi reduces fatigue and provides energy, it also promotes good sleep. It may seem paradoxical, but while reishi mushrooms can help you sleep, they don’t make you sleepy. This is possible because unlike melatonin supplements or pharmaceutical sleeping pills or sedatives, reishi doesn’t make a person feel drowsy. Instead, the adaptogenic compounds in reishi work to support calmness and manage stress. Improved sleep can contribute to having more energy during the day — a good night of sleep means you’ll be less tired and feel more energetic while awake
Peptidoglycans are an important component of fungal cell walls — they surround the cell to maintain its shape and to help protect the cell from bursting when it absorbs excess fluid. Peptidoglycans can have a relaxing effect on the body and mind, which can contribute to better sleep.
A journal of Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior published study established that reishi supplementation decreased sleep latency (the time it takes a person to fall asleep) and increased light sleep time and non-REM sleep time. In short, participants fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer. The study concluded that the peptidoglycans in reishi played a role in the improved sleep subjects experienced.
Reishi Support the Immune System
Reishi mushrooms are similar to shiitake mushrooms in that both have proven benefits for the immune system. The polysaccharides in reishi are one source of the mushrooms’ immune system boosting power.
Polysaccharides are carbohydrates that balance and stimulate immune cells. Reishi mushrooms include over 200 polysaccharides, with beta-glucan (β-glucan) being of primary importance. Beta-glucans increase the production of a number of types of white blood cells (WBCs), including macrophages, T-killer cells, and T-helper cells — all of which play roles in the immune system’s ability to fight invaders (pathogens) such as virus and bacteria.
Other immune boosting compounds in reishi are over 100 triterpenoids. Triterpenoids, also referred to as triterpenes, are a type of antioxidant that deliver a host of health benefits: they’re neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral. One particular group of triterpenoids — ganoderic acids — are found exclusively in reishi mushrooms, and have been shown to have impressive anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing overactive inflammatory responses makes for a healthier immune system.
In addition to suppressing inflammation, ganoderic acids help to control the body’s histamine production. For many people, seasonal transitions bring on severe allergies. An allergic reaction is the immune system sending out too much histamine in response to an invader such as pollen. The ganoderic acids in reishi can be beneficial to people who suffer from seasonal allergies.
Reishi Contribute to Male Health
Ganoderic acids were introduced just above in the Reishi Supports the Immune System section. These same acids that support the immune system also contribute to improved male health.
We’ll get right to the heart of the matter — the question anyone would have when talking about male health. Does reishi mushroom increase testosterone? It’s unfortunate that for men, the simplistic idea that when it comes to testosterone the thought is always “more is better.” That’s not the case, because testosterone is a more complicated topic than that question and answer imply. The reason has to do with the different types of testosterone. Spoiler alert: reishi mushrooms are beneficial to testosterone balance.
When the body produces testosterone, the enzyme 5-alpha reductase (also referred to as 5α-reductase) converts it to a different type of testosterone: dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. This process of conversion to the more potent sex hormone DHT is a natural one, and is generally beneficial. However, the body often produces too much DHT. High levels of DHT results in several health concerns that all men want to avoid. An overabundance of DHT can lead to male-pattern baldness, acne and, most significantly, an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer.
Research shows that reishi mushrooms significantly reduces the the activity of the enzyme that facilitates the conversion of testosterone to DHT — 5-alpha reductase. The research demonstrated that it’s the ganoderic acids in reishi that are responsible for slowing down the conversion. Ganoderic acids is so efficient at this task that it is used as a primary ingredient in pharmaceutical medications designed to treat enlarged prostate, male-pattern baldness, some hormonal imbalances.
The role of ganoderic acid in prostate size reduction has made it an effective treatment for prostate cancer, as ganoderic acid significantly inhibits prostate cancer cell growth, thereby stopping the progression of many stages of prostate cancer.
So while reishi won’t directly increase testosterone levels, by reducing the amount of testosterone that gets converted to DHT reishi does indirectly slightly increase levels of testosterone.
When it comes to libido, or sex drive, reishi can again come to the rescue. For over a thousand years this mushroom has been considered in Asia as the magic mushroom of the bedroom for the belief that it has aphrodisiac properties. For many people, stress plays a large role in loss of libido. Reishi is known for its ability to reduce stress, which can increase libido and sexual function. The mushroom is also a natural mood enhancer that can relieve anxiety and depression.
Reishi Reduce Pain
Ganoderic acids in reishi mushrooms contribute to immune system support (Reishi Supports the Immune System) and men’s health (Reishi Contributes to Male Health). They also play a role in reducing pain.
There are many different ganoderic acids, and several of them in particular are known to be effective painkillers. Ganoderic acids A, B, G and H act as analgesics — they relieve pain directly. Ganoderic acids C and D — and again A and B — are powerful antioxidants that serve as anti-inflammatories. Inflammation is often accompanied by pain, so by minimizing inflammation these acids indirectly relieve the pain that would have come along with inflammation.
Both fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis are painful inflammatory disorders where the immune system is prone to overreaction and attacking itself. Studies show that the antioxidant powers of reishi helps to suppress inflammation and lessen pain in the subjects that suffered with fibromyalgia.
How to Consume Reishi Mushrooms
Unlike fleshy, scrumptious mushrooms such as oyster or shiitaki mushrooms, reishi is hard, dense, and bitter — hardly a culinary delight. So not many people derive its health benefits through eating them as part of a meal. Instead, reishi is almost always consumed in the form of powder in a capsule or loose powder added to a favorite juice, shake, or smoothie. A daily dose of 1 to 1.5 grams (1000 to 1500 mg) is typical.
You can take reishi at any time of the day, but if a primary reason for trying this supplement is to get its sleep benefits, then consider taking it in the early evening. This allows time for the mushroom’s compounds to get to work helping to bring you to a restful state for a good night’s sleep.
Reishi Mushrooms Side Effects
Reishi mushrooms are considered to be very safe, with minimal to no side effects. Taking reishi extract supplements daily, long-term is an effective and safe way to experience this mushroom’s full range of benefits. In fact, as is the case with many superfoods, results aren’t immediate and don’t become noticeable until the recommended dose is taken daily over and extended period.