Perhaps one of the most well-known medicinal mushrooms, the reishi mushroom has been harvested and used for thousands of years to treat a wide variety of health issues. Within traditional Asian medicinal practices, including within China, Japan and Korea, the reishi is steeped in a deep cultural history. It is known as the immortality mushroom, and its Chinese name, Lingzhi, refers to its spiritual potency as well as it being the “essence of immortality.” Its practical history has been documented for at least two thousand years but its medicinal use likely began even before this.
The reishi has been cultivated since the 1970’s as the worldwide demand far exceeded its rather rare natural occurrences. It is now grown and processed using modern techniques to extract the most potency. Reishi extract, powders, teas and supplements are now widely available around the world in health food stores and increasingly within traditional western pharmacies. Currently there are six different kinds of reishi that are mainly used and studied for medicinal purposes, including red, yellow, white, blue, black and purple. Black and red still remain the most popular, and based on the available research, demonstrate the most powerful health benefits.
The popularity of reishi is based on solid scientific study, plus the thousands of years of traditional practice. Although perhaps in ancient times its benefits were less understood, we now have the capability to delve deep into how reishi is able to provide the health benefits it does. There are two different active components within reishi, specifically within the red and black varieties. One is a water-soluble compound called polysaccharide, and the other is a ganoderic acid called triterpenes. While it’s likely you haven’t heard of either of these substances, they are both an extremely powerful all natural substance that can benefit us is a multitude of ways, some of which are shortlisted below:
- Pain relief
- Antitumor activity
- General immunopotentiation
How Does Reishi Target Cancer?
Many people know of reishi because it has been marketed for its cancer fighting potential. Because its history is considered quite exotic, it’s popularity has only increased. As is often the case, exotic plants are often marketed within health food stores, but there is often little proven basis for their health claims. However, the case for reishi mushrooms couldn’t be more different, and there is a wide body of research into reishi mushrooms’ anti-tumor potential.
There are a number of ways that reishi seems to be beneficial for cancer treatment, especially when combined with modern chemotherapy and medications. First, they have immune boosting capabilities that are thought to be of daily preventative importance for reducing risk for cancer development. Second, they are thought to have chemopreventive properties which can inhibit, reduce or reverse carcinogenic processes. Thirdly, they are powerful antioxidants.
The first step to fighting cancer is preventing it from getting a foothold in the first place. By increasing the strength of your immune system, you can help your body counter free radicals, fight carcinogenic influences and maintain a healthy ability to fend off external and internal threats. This immune boost is referred to as immunomodulation. The current research has shown over and over again that reishi mushrooms, with their high levels of polysaccharides, are able to stimulate stem-cell recovery. Studies show that they are also able to trigger production of antibodies, and activation of certain immune cells.
Some of the most promising research (in-vitro and in animal studies) has shown that reishi can inhibit cancer cell movement, and cancer cell growth. This has been found within countless types of cells, including prostate, breast, lung, leukemia, ovarian, and bladder cancers, just to name a few. In one trial, mice were given injections for ten days of a polysaccharide extract (which was derived from reishi mushrooms), and this reduced the tumor growth by 98%. In another study, also on mice, with a treatment using polysaccharides and protein from reishi mushrooms saw a complete regression of tumour cells within a third of the treated mice. While large scale and well-structured human trials still need to be conducted into these chemoprotective traits, the evidence from in-vitro and animal studies are extremely positive.
Oxidative stress at a cellular level is a natural part of the aging process, but if left unchecked or if there is extensive exposure, it can lead to increased risk of cell mutation and eventually cancer. Antioxidants are compounds that are found in many plants that offer protection to our cells from this unwanted oxidative stress. Research shows that increased consumption of antioxidants can not only reduce risk but can ultimately help prevent cancer altogether. Reishi contains extremely high levels of antioxidants and it has been found that the antioxidants found within these mushrooms are easily absorbed by our digestive tracts. Studies have proven that once consumed, reishi derived antioxidants can measurably increase the antioxidant activity within human plasma. This antioxidant characteristic adds another protective layer to the reishi mushroom’s potential to protect us from increased risk of cancer.