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Reishi mushrooms, called Lingzhi in China and known colloquially as “The Immortality Mushroom,” have deep roots in Eastern medicine. You may find them growing on dead hardwood trees. But you’re more likely to find Reishi mushroom gummies and powders in health food stores because of their reputation as a functional mushroom.
This post will cover why Reishi mushrooms are growing in popularity and what health benefits they might provide. We’ll also cover some topics like,
- What nutritional benefits do Reishi mushrooms provide
- What gives the immortality mushroom its functional benefits
- And how you can work Reishi into your day-to-day
What Are Reishi Mushrooms?
Reishi mushrooms are just one of many functional mushrooms and are characterized by their glossy caps and red-brown coloring. Different species grow both in South America and many Eastern Asian countries. Because of its abundance in China, Reishi is a staple in traditional Chinese medicine. They’re used primarily to boost the immune system and replenish “qi” (energy).
While there are a few species of Reishi mushroom that are used interchangeably, we’ll focus on the most common, Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma lingzhi, in this post. Both contain the same nutrients and functional components that make the “Immortality Mushroom” so sought after.
Before we jump into the functional benefits of Reishi mushrooms, let’s start at square one. Reishi is an edible mushroom and can make a healthy addition to your next dinner.
One teaspoon (3g) of Reishi powder, according to the USDA, contains:
- 10 calories
- 1 gram of protein
- 1 gram of fiber
- 69mg of potassium
Step aside bananas. We have a potassium powerhouse in Reishi. While our favorite yellow fruit contains 3.5 mg of potassium per gram, Reishi powder contains 23mg or about 6 ½ times more per gram.
Reishi mushrooms also contain several nutrients that aren’t captured on nutrition labels. There are three in particular that we’ll cover here.
Reishi mushrooms contain triterpenoids, the oxidized version of terpenes, that may contribute to immune-system health. Many terpenes have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both of which help stimulate and support a strong immune system.
Beta-glucans are soluble fibers that may help prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol from some foods. They may also stimulate macrophage activity. Macrophages are white blood cells that absorb cellular debris and pathogens.
The FDA allows products that contain more than 750mg of beta-glucans per package to claim that they may prevent heart disease. For context, the FDA still doesn’t want to touch CBD or allow anyone to make claims about its potential benefits. So this is a big deal.
Polysaccharides are a fancy name for long carbohydrates. Recall from health class that simple carbohydrates include simple sugars. Easy but not the most nutritious energy for our bodies.
The long-chain polysaccharides that Reishi contains are thought to have some health benefits, including immunomodulation (meaning that they change the way our immune system functions). One such study found that Reishi mushrooms promoted antibody secretion and suggested they may play a role in B cell production.1
B cells are a type of white blood cell that find, attach to, and neutralize viruses in the body. B cells also produce proteins called antibodies to fight further infection.
Reishi Mushrooms Are Not…
Before we get to the potential health benefits of Reishi mushrooms, it’s important to cover what Reishi mushrooms are not. They are not:
- A replacement for physician-prescribed medicines. While these mushrooms may provide noticeable benefits, always listen to your doctor first.
- Psychedelic. Even though “The Immortality Mushroom” is a cool name, Reishi mushrooms do not belong to the psilocybin family of fungi.
Potential Benefits of Reishi Mushroom
Given the ingredients listed above and some non-FDA studies, we can say the Reishi mushroom may have the following benefits.
Immune System Support
Reishi mushrooms have been used for thousands of years to help boost and support the immune system. By stimulating macrophage activity and B-cell production, it’s plausible that Reishi mushrooms may help the body fend off infections and illness.1
A study performed on mice in India found that several Reishi mushroom species, when administered orally, were effective in calming the test subjects and deserve further research for their stress-relieving and anti-anxiety effects.2
A 2011 in vitro study found that the polysaccharides isolated from the Reishi mushroom exhibited enormous anti-inflammatory properties.3 Researchers also noted that the polysaccharides seemed to have anti-tumor properties. Still, it is important to note that these studies were done in a lab and not in living subjects.
The beta-glucan fiber present in Reishi mushrooms may help with heart health. As we said earlier, this type of fiber may prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol in foods. Cholesterol, specifically LDL (low-density lipoprotein), can build up in blood vessels and arteries, affect blood pressure, and degrade heart health.
Reishi Mushroom Side Effects
Reishi mushrooms aren’t all upside. It, like most supplements, comes with some side effects and potential drug interactions. For the most part, Reishi is considered safe to take orally over extended periods.
Reishi mushrooms can cause a few unwanted side effects. Stop taking your functional mushroom supplements if you experience any of the following:
- Upset Stomach
You should consult your primary care provider and your pharmacist if you plan on using Reishi mushroom with any of the following:
- Antidiabetes drugs – Reishi mushrooms may lower blood sugar levels. Taken with antidiabetes drugs may drop your blood sugar to dangerous levels.
- Antihypertensive drugs – They may compound with your blood pressure medications and drop your blood pressure to dangerous levels.
- Blood clotting medication – Reishi mushrooms may slow blood clotting and can increase your risk of bruising and bleeding.
The Immortality Mushroom may be a slight exaggeration of the benefits that Reishi provides. As with any supplement, be sure to temper your expectations. Reishi mushrooms aren’t a cure-all; you shouldn’t expect them to be. But, taken consistently and at the correct dosage, you may experience many benefits.
- Lin, Kuo-I et al. “Reishi polysaccharides induce immunoglobulin production through the TLR4/TLR2-mediated induction of transcription factor Blimp-1.” The Journal of Biological Chemistry vol. 281,34 (2006): 24111-23. doi:10.1074/jbc.M601106200
- Singh, Ranjeet et al. “Evaluation of Antianxiety Potential of Four Ganoderma (Agaricomycetes) Species from India in Mice.” International journal of medicinal mushrooms vol. 18,11 (2016): 991-998. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v18.i11.40
- Joseph, Soniamol et al. “Antitumor and anti-inflammatory activities of polysaccharides isolated from Ganoderma lucidum.” Acta pharmaceutica (Zagreb, Croatia) vol. 61,3 (2011): 335-42. doi:10.2478/v10007-011-0030-6