Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) mushrooms are sometimes referred to as Ling Chih or Ling Zhi. The medicinal use of this mushroom is detailed in the Chinese pharmacopoeia of the first century BC.30 Reishi was highly valued even at this time and had the most medical applications of all medicines in the pharmacopoeia. The very slow growth of reishi, along with its scarcity in the wild, made the mushroom highly prized. Recently, however, it has been cultivated successfully and is now widely available. Reishi's native habitats include decaying logs and plant matter near coastal areas. The mushroom comes in several different colors, with the red one most frequently used in Asia and North America. Traditional Chinese medicine uses of reishi included treating fatigue, weakness, insomnia, asthma, and coughs.31 Despite a long history of medical use, research on reishi's many health benefits was not able to be conducted until the mushroom became more available recently. Some of its health benefits include cardiovascular and liver protection, and immune boosting, anti-aging, anti-diabetic, antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-cancer effects.
Several constituents of the reishi mushroom have antioxidant effects. Investigators isolated the active terpene and polysaccharide fractions and investigated their ability to protect cells against oxidative damage.32 The study looked primarily at the ability of these constituents to protect cells against lipid peroxidation and erythrocyte membrane oxidation. The results showed that the fractions had dose-dependent antioxidant capabilities, with the terpene fraction having the strongest effect.
Reishi contains several components that improve vascular health. Among these are the alkaloid cyclo-octasulfur, which has known cardiotonic effects;33 the triterpene ganoderma-diol, known for its ability to lower blood pressure by blocking the effects of angiotensin converting enzyme;34 and the ganoderic acids, which also have antihypertensive effects and can inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol. One study showed that reishi can inhibit platelet aggregation. This dose-dependent effect was noted in both healthy subjects and in those with atherosclerotic disease.35 The exact mechanism of inhibition was not elucidated in the study, however. The reishi mushroom's wide-ranging effects on the vascular system make it an important supportive therapy for prevention or treatment of vascular conditions caused by cholesterol accumulation, platelet aggregation, and high blood pressure.
Reishi contains two constituents that are thought to be responsible for its effectiveness as an immune system modulator. Like maitake, reishi contains the immune-stimulating compound beta-glucan in the form of beta-D-glucan.36 Beta-D-glucan is well known for its ability to assist one of the body's premier immune cells, the macrophage, to mature. Researchers have also identified a triterpene compound, Ling Zhi-8, which is believed to be a generalized immune-system modulator and to have antiallergy effects.37 By activating cells of the immune system (macrophages and T-lymphocytes), reishi components enhance cytokine levels, propagating the immune systems' alarm effect further.38
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