Reishi: The Elixir of Immortality
Written by Dr. Jewel Alfoure, ND
The earthy, bitter mushroom of immortality has long been used by the Ancient Chinese to support Qi or vital energy.
Reishi was used as a tonic that improves both physical and mental health.
Also known in Latin as Ganoderma lucidum, reishi was utilized for chronic stress support, fatigue, as a liver support, as an anti-aging ingredient and as an immune supportive agent (1).
There are about 400 medically active constituents in the fruiting body of reishi.
Of those 400, research has isolated 150 different triterpenoids. Triterpenoids are chemicals that are unique to the reishi mushroom (2,3).
So far, research shows that there are many adaptogenic, sleep-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, and anti-viral properties to reishi.
Disease-specific research outlines that there are benefits to reishi as a health support agent for conditions including:
Upper respiratory infections
Additionally, clinical use points towards its clinical functionality as:
Adjunctive cancer support
Blood health support agent
Autoimmune-safe immune modulator
Mental health support
Upper respiratory infection support agent (4).
Ancient Psychoneuroimmunology At Its Finest
Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a term used to refer to the study of the interactions between psychological processes and the immune system.
The most famous studies of PNI are those that are conducted in university settings.
Most conclude that when under a substantial amount of mental/ emotional stress, there is a significant decrease in overall immunity.
The decrease in immunity due to stress results in a measurable increase in the susceptibility to infectious diseases (5).
While the concept appears to be very progressive in nature, it is essential to note that it is not entirely new.
Ancient Chinese texts spoke of reishi as a mental support agent for periods that require high endurance (1).
It appears that it was used as a tonic for all kinds of chronic conditions.
Many even hypothesize that it may have earned the name “The Spirit Mushroom” due to its powerful “spirit” calming effect.
Interestingly, science shows that reishi contains chemicals known as triterpenoids that help with sleep quality and may positively affect hormone regulation (6).
Additionally, research points towards the potential of reishi mushroom as an agent that prevents cardiovascular damage due to chronic illness (7).
Maintaining an environment conducive to health and healing may be caused by more than just sleep support.
Ganoderma is a mushroom that enhances body repair in general (8).
Direct Immune Support
One more specific function of the mushroom is the direct enhancement of the immune system.
Interestingly, immune system building and repair is an event that can only take place to the fullest during sleep (9).
Studies show that reishi is an excellent healing agent after any Immune battle as it plays a role in decreasing tissue damage and cellular oxidation (8).
There is also some evidence that points towards its action as a promoter of lymphoid organs (10).
Reishi, a Unique Form of Immune Support
Reishi is better thought of as an Immunomodulating agent that shifts the body from an inflammatory, allergic state to a more defensive immune state (11).
It does so by providing regulated stimulation of the hematopoietic cell (the cell that makes blood cells) (12).
Some of the markers that are shown to be enhanced with reishi supplementation include:
Enhanced natural killer cells
Enhanced T-cell and B-cell counts
Support antibody response (13)
Most medicinal mushrooms support the immune system with chemicals known as complex, fermentable polysaccharides.
Reishi, however, has a significant amount of peculiar constituents that give it a unique profile even compared to other medicinal mushrooms.
Medicinal Constituents of Reishi Mushroom
Beta-Glucan - Water-soluble polysaccharide. Function as fermentable fibre.
Triterpinoids - Fat-soluble and alcohol extracted
50 terpenes specific to Reshi
Precursor to vitamin D
Additional constituents include: proteins, enzymes, steroids, nucleotides, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals(2)
One highly unique form of immune mushroom that reishi possesses is the ability to support the immune system while acting as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Though reishi does not stop the body from mounting a healthy inflammatory response, it is an overall inflammatory calmer.
What makes reishi the mushroom of choice for those with an over-active immune system is its ability to recognize inappropriate immune response and modulate it.
Though all medicinal mushrooms come with a vast array of beta-glucans and play some kind of role in the immune system, the unique triterpenoids in reishi are thought to be the reason behind its unique anti-inflammatory power (14).
The Right Reishi Preparation Matters!
While Beta-glucans are water-soluble and can easily be extracted from the mushroom, triterpenoids are not water-soluble and must be extracted in alcohol or an oil medium.
A Reishi mushroom supplement that is only hot water extracted contains only polysaccharides, not the anti-inflammatory triterpenoids!
Such a change in constituent solubility can render supplements very different in their health-supporting characteristics.
While a water-only extract of reishi may have a positive impact on blood lipids and may enhance overall wellness, it is not likely to enhance the sleep cycle.
Upon containing the natural triterpenes, the mushroom should help with falling asleep and may also help to make sleep more refreshing.
The unique factor that comes into play when it comes to the use of reishi as a sleep enhancer is that it is not only an enhancer of how sleep feels, but it is also an enhancer of how much repair can go on during sleep.
Thus, the increase in sleep is one that is both qualitative as well as quantitative in nature.
There is also some evidence that points towards the functionality of Triterpenoids as an enhancer of stress adaptation (6).
Keeping in mind that stress is a hormonal manifestation of the body being pressured to meet needs beyond its current resilience capacity, some studies on cancer patients show that adjunctive reishi use results in less anxiety and a better overall quality of life.
Again, those studies point to the anti-inflammatory and sedative effects of the mushroom which are features of the triterpenoids (15).
How to Consume Reishi?
When it comes to reishi, Ingestion of the mushroom is very difficult due to the bitter, intense flavour.
In other words, as mesmerizing as reishi may look, in no way is it a culinary mushroom.
Additionally, it is challenging for the body to break down the cell walls thoroughly enough to free all the medicinal constituents in the mushroom.
Thus, it is crucial to take into account the extraction method of the mushroom.
The following are easy guidelines for choosing the right reishi preparation:
Choose a preparation that contains the whole mushroom as different parts of the mushroom contain various constituents
Choose a preparation that employs alcohols or oils to enhance the extraction of reishi-unique medicinal constituents
If the preparation does not include Vitamin C, take your reishi mushroom with Vitamin C as research shows that Vitamin C enhances absorption (16)
If you are taking a reishi supplement for building a healthy immune system, strengthen the effect of the supplement with the addition of Vitamin D
Keep in mind that, for best immune modulation results, it is best to take reishi at bedtime.
Reshi Mushroom Pairs With
To Enhance absorbability - Vitamin C
To support autoimmune disease - Black Seed Oil
For chronic fatigue/ stress - Greens
To enhance mental health - Ginkgo Biloba
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