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Fungi 101, Immune System
Written By: Emily Spring
Medicinal mushrooms are a $5 Billion dollar industry in the U.S., and that number is only growing. A big part of mushrooms’ meteoric rise is a result of the increasing knowledge around the reishi mushroom -- what it is, how it can be consumed and what it’s good for. Also known as the lingzhi mushroom or the “mushroom of immortality,” the reishi mushroom has been used since 100 B.C. to support human health.
So, what are the benefits of this mushroom, and how can you make it a part of your lifestyle? This guide has the answers.
While the reishi (scientific name: Ganoderma lucidum) is a growing focus of contemporary scientific research, it has been used throughout Asia for over 2,000 years. The relatively rare mushroom grows in glossy, kidney-shaped outcrops on deciduous trees, such as maple trees growing in humid climates.
But what effects does the reishi mushroom have on our physiology?
Like all mushrooms, the reishi is low in fat, high in protein and fiber and full of nutritious compounds like Vitamin D. However, it has long been considered unique in its medicinal and health benefits. According to WebMD, researchers are currently studying the fungi’s application for the following purposes:
An early volume of Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacological plants, written in 1590 A.D., describes the reishi as having “tonifying effects, enhancing vital energy, strengthening cardiac function, increasing memory and anti-aging effects.”
As scientists study this mushroom, they are uncovering chemical pathways that give the mushroom some of these specific properties.
Below, we’ll detail some of the most studied, well-documented benefits of reishi mushrooms for immunity.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, reishis are linked to longevity and immortality. Now, Western science is beginning to prove that reishis support the immune system itself.
The main active compound in reishi mushrooms are chains of carbohydrate molecules found inside proteins, known as polysaccharides. They play an important role in our immune function. The reishi mushroom’s Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides (GLPS) have a significant impact on our immune system, directly influencing white blood cells as well as cell signalling.
A 2003 study tested GLPS’ effect on several immune system health indicators in immunocompromised patients:
This study found increased NK cell and cytokine activity, indicating enhanced immune response. While the cellular mechanisms that enable GLPS to act on immune cells are complex and under rigorous study, early results are promising.
While many present studies focus on immunocompromised patients, healthy people also take reishi supplements to cope with circumstances that can suppresses immune system response, including:
Since reishi mushrooms have demonstrated a profound effect on the immune system, it’s perhaps no surprise that they can also benefit overall mood and well-being, too.
After all, inflammation and chronic stress create physical discomfort. This in turn affects mood, which may make it difficult to sleep. Physical and emotional stress have a cumulative effect on both immune function and emotional health.
Thus, current studies look at the reishi’s potential mood regulating properties .
A 2011 study tested the effects of reishi extract on 132 people experiencing stress and other mood-related issues. After eight weeks of treatment, more than half of the subjects who received reishi reported a significantly improved sense of well-being. These subjects struggled less with fatigue than those in the placebo group.
In addition, scientists have specifically tested the reishi's ability to combat fatigue.
A 2011 study focused on women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The endocrine treatment many breast cancer patients receive causes persistent tiredness, and is difficult to address with conventional approaches. After four weeks, the women who took reishi reported the following benefits:
While both these studies focus on people with specific medical ailments, reishis may have similar effects on healthy people. Because reishi mushrooms can improve mood and energy, many people take them to enhance their focus, maintain healthy sleep cycles, and boost their overall sense of well-being.
Gut health plays a central role in regulating our physiology.
The gut microbiome, made up of fungi, bacteria and viruses, helps our bodies to break down food, absorb nutrients and effectively modulate blood sugar.
Poor gut health is linked to a variety of negative health outcomes including chronic inflammation and reduced immune response. To improve gut health, it’s essential to populate the gut with healthy bacteria like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.
Preliminary research suggests that reishi mushrooms help to support healthy gut bacteria by serving as a prebiotic:
Reishi mushroom fiber serves as a prebiotic, helping healthy bacteria to thrive. This can be linked to a wide array of resulting health benefits.
A study in Nature Communications treated mice with reishi mushroom extract (similar to tea) for eight weeks to test the effects on gut and digestive health. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that the reishi mushroom “alleviates inflammation by modulating the composition of the gut microbiota and maintaining intestinal barrier integrity.”
While more human studies are needed, preliminary results suggest reishis can have a positive effect on the following:
While reishi mushrooms have been part of medicinal cultures for 2,000 years, Western science has only begun to test and understand mushroom supplements benefits.
Although more research needs to be conducted, studies are beginning to confirm the following:
As more research emerges, we’ll have a better understanding of why this mushroom has been associated with immortality and longevity for thousands of years.
Now that you’re familiar with reishi mushroom benefits, you may be eager to add this potent dietary supplement to your daily routine. However, reishis grow in select temperate climates, so it’s unlikely you’ll find one sprouting in your yard.
Even if you happen to forage for and find them, these tough, chewy mushrooms are less than ideal for cooking and eating.
Thankfully, the reishi mushroom has often been consumed by the following ways:
Many clinical trials use reishi mushroom extract in water, similar to any traditional medicinal tea. If you can find a reliable source for whole or chopped reishis, boil the mushroom in water for a fragrant, earthy tea.
Reishi mushroom powder is a versatile ingredient with a strong mushroom flavor. It can be added to lattes or cooked in recipes. Just be sure to get your powder from a reputable source, since some reishi products have been proven to be light on the actual reishi. A recent scientific study showed that few reishi mushroom supplements contained as much of the mushroom as advertised, if any.
Plant People is a trusted source for plant- and fungi-based wellness products. Our ingredients are 100% organic and grown in the USA using sustainable methods. That allows us to offer some of the highest-quality natural products on the market, packed full of the reishi mushroom’s potent benefits.
Our new Immune Power Multiplex combines the immune-boosting power of reishi mushrooms with four other medicinal mushrooms, including the turkey tail mushroom and chaga mushroom. These vegan capsules are formulated with Vitamin C and astragalus (a powerhouse herb commonly found in Traditional Chinese Medicine). These mushrooms in combination with astragalus and Vitamin C benefits provide well-rounded support of your mental and physical health. Also try unlocking the full potential of reishi mushrooms by taking mushroom gummies packed with 10-research backed adaptogenic mushrooms.
Plant People’s 100% organic, vegan products are formulated with your health in mind.
From CBD tinctures and CBD skincare products that combine premium, hemp-based CBD with powerful botanicals to our new Immune Power Multiplex, our goal is connecting people with the natural ingredients that support their lifestyles. Our selection of plant- and fungi-based products are designed to help you boost your immunity, improve skin health, support your joints, and enhance your overall well-being.
Written by Emily Spring
Emily Spring is the Director of Marketing at Plant People. A longtime proponent of balanced living, she has enjoyed over 8 years driving growth in the lifestyle, health and wellness sectors with deep experience in functional solutions for optimizing anyone's everyday life.
Reviewed by Gabe Kennedy
Co-Founder of Plant People, Gabe Kennedy is an acclaimed chef and entrepreneur. Growing up in a house of healers and herbalists, he is passionate about the power of food as a tool for health, and actualized this passion and belief system into his company, Plant People. Named to Forbes 30 under 30 Gabe has shaped menus and cooked his way around the world with his mission to promote a more communal, green and healthy world.
Gabe is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. You can learn more about his work at his website.
Dermatology and Therapy. Resolution of Cutaneous Sarcoidosis Following Topical Application of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi Mushroom). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13555-016-0099-4
British Journal of Sports Medicine. Effect of Ganoderma Lucidum Capsules on T Lymphocyte Subsets in Football Players on "Living High-Training Low." https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18048435/
Journal of Medicinal Food. A Randomized, Double-Blind and Placebo-Controlled Study of a Ganoderma Lucidum Polysaccharide Extract in Neurasthenia. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15857210/
Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Spore Powder of Ganoderma Lucidum Improves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22203880/
Nature Communications. Ganoderma lucidum reduces obesity in mice by modulating the composition of the gut microbiota. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4557287/
Herbal Medicine. Ganoderma lucidum. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/
Forbes. What is the Mushroom of Immortality? https://www.forbes.com/sites/linhanhcat/2019/04/07/mushroom-of-immortality/#58c424361e47
The Guardian. Mushroom Magic. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/16/mud-wtr-mushroom-water-coffee-health-benefits