Join us as we take a look at the traditional uses of this mushroom, and then explore how modern science has validated these ancient applications. You’ll discover why adding reishi to your supplement regimen could bring your health to new heights and possibly help to manage the symptoms of some chronic diseases.
A Rich History in Traditional Chinese medicine
In traditional Chinese medicine, reishi mushroom goes by the name lingzhi, meaning “spiritual potency”. Ancient peoples deeply revered this sacred mushroom, to the degree that they bestowed it numerous other prestigious titles. They called it the “Medicine of Kings” because of its long list of healing attributes, and referred to it as the “mushroom of immortality” for its ability to extend the life span.
The admiration for this polypore fungus is reflected in ancient Taoist scripts. However, depictions of the mushroom also appears outside of a religious context in historical artifacts including furniture, carvings, and women’s accessories.
The traditional Chinese medicine system employed the fungus for a wide array of uses. The first Chinese pharmacopoeia documents the following therapeutic properties:
• Increases intellectual capacity
• Enhances memory
• Tonifying effects
• Strengthens cardiac function
• Anti-aging properties
This system holds a slightly different perspective towards disease than the mechanical paradigm of the West. It emphasises the importance of qi. Any imbalance in this life force energy underpins disease and illness. The modern Chinese Pharmacopoeia still references the importance of this vital energy when they list the effects of reishi mushroom:
• Replenishes qi
• Eases the mind
• Relieves cough and asthma
• Recommended for dizziness, insomnia, and palpitation
Reishi’s ability to manage such a wide range of conditions seems too good to be true. How exactly does a single fungus hold the key to so many issues? Let’s take a deeper dive.
How Reishi Helps to Manage Stress
Reishi sits on the pantheon of adaptogenic herbs and fungi, alongside the likes of ginseng, astragalus, rhodiola, and lion’s mane. By definition, adaptogens help the body adapt to all forms of stress. To gain entrance into this elite category, herbs and mushrooms must meet three criteria:
• Stress resistance: Adaptogens must help the body resist most forms of stress, including physical, chemical, or biological. Sources of this kind of stress include pollution, infectious disease, and interpersonal disharmony.
• Homeostasis: This term refers to biological balance. Adaptogens must help to maintain homeostasis in humans and offset health conditions caused by external stress.
• Do not harm: Adaptogens must not harm the normal functions of the body.
Reishi ticks all of these boxes. By drinking reishi tea or taking extracts and tinctures, you can help to defend your body against the many detrimental effects of stress. In many ways, modern life challenges our evolutionary apparatus and exposes us to levels of stress we’re not really designed for.
Deadlines, media bombardment, and the existential threats of war and environmental abuse are enough to cause us great psychological stress on a daily basis.
Chronic stress can exhaust the body, impact immunity, and give rise to illness. Reishi can help to soothe our stressful condition. The adrenal glands are often referred to as the “glands of stress” and respond biochemically and hormonally to our woes. Too much strain can cause the adrenals to become fatigued and lead to burnout. As an adaptogen, reishi may help to reduce excess stress hormone production and restore normal adrenal function.
What Do Reishi and Cannabis Have in Common?
It’s no secret that cannabis helps with a long list of health conditions. But this is no happy accident. Cannabis contains an array of chemicals called cannabinoids that interface with the human body in an intimate manner.
Just as we all possess a nervous system and a digestive system, we also possess an endocannabinoid system. Researchers have named this body-wide network of receptors and molecules our “universal regulator”. It helps to keep all other systems in balance and governs processes such as neurotransmitter firing, bone growth, and appetite.
The body produces substances called endocannabinoids that work as signalling molecules in this network. It just so happens that cannabinoids from the cannabis plant mimic our endocannabinoids and therefore manage to bind to the same receptors to make important changes in our cells.
So, what does reishi mushroom have to do with this healing herb? Well, it turns out that reishi also serves as a source of cannabinoids. The mushroom contains chemicals that bind to cannabinoid receptors, influence our universal regulator, and help to pull our bodies back into a state of balance. Although research in this area remains early, reishi’s interaction with the endocannabinoid system likely underpins its adaptogenic effects.
Reishi Mushrooms are a Bio-factory of Beneficial Compounds
Reishi mushrooms contain over 400 bioactive compounds. Researchers have paid the most attention to the polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates) and triterpenoids (therapeutic compounds found all throughout nature) as promising candidates for use in medicine.
Scientists have gone to great lengths to explore these products in isolation. After all, the current pharmaceutical paradigm often follows the “one-molecule, one-target” mantra. However, nature delivers all of the reishi compounds in a single fungal package, and they may work better this way.
Cannabis researchers coined the term “entourage effect” in 1998. This mechanism describes how cannabinoids and terpenes—two of the main families in the herb—work better when administered in synergy as opposed to alone. The same logic might apply to reishi mushrooms. Taking broad-spectrum mushroom extracts, and combining species, can help you to access a range of beneficial molecules that might work in symphony to produce more enhanced effects.
Reishi Studies Show Promise Against Common Conditions and Diseases
Reishi is one of the most well-studied natural medicines. Research has produced interesting results when testing the mushroom against many conditions and diseases. But you don’t have to reserve the mushroom for when you’re sick. You can also use reishi to maintain optimal health and prevent illness. Check out some of the key findings:
• Cancer: Test tube studies found reishi extracts were able to kill certain cancer cells. Human studies also show great promise. Research conducted in China found an association between reishi and an increased breast cancer survival rate. A large research review also examined how reishi could help cancer patients and pointed towards increased white blood cell activity and improvements in quality of life.
• Fatigue and depression: Human studies have found that reishi mushrooms can decrease fatigue while increasing feelings of wellbeing. The adaptogenic effects of the fungus also help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
• Heart health: Some research has shown reishi to increase “good” HDL cholesterol and reduce triglycerides that thicken the arteries. However, other studies have contradicted these findings.
How to Use Reishi Mushrooms
You have several options when it comes to using reishi mushrooms. There are no strict dosing guidelines in place, but most products come with a recommended daily amount on the label. Dosage can also depend on why you’re taking reishi. For example, You can choose from the following types:
• Dried fungus: Use to make teas, coffees, broths, or your own extracts
• Powders: These products vary in potency and offer a more concentrated form of reishi.
• Extracts: You can add reishi extracts into almost anything, from food recipes to drinks. The Chinese Pharmacopoeia recommends a daily dose of 6-12 grams.
Luke Sumpter is a freelance journalist that specializes in health, wellness, and alternative therapies. Currently, he’s working on a dissertation exploring the emerging role of the endocannabinoid system in orthopaedic medicine.