Lingzhi Mushroom Benefits
Lingzhi mushrooms, more well known as reishi, have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Infamously referred to as the “mushroom of immortality”, Lingzhi mushrooms contain powerful medicinal properties that promote longevity and well-being. According to the Shen Nong’s Ben Cao Jing, one of the oldest Chinese Materia Medicas, “Long term consumption of Reishi mushroom will lighten the body and prevent aging, extend one’s life, and make one an immortal.” That said, reishi mushrooms are prominent for their ability to enhance the immune system, reduce stress, aid sleep, and improve the quality of life.
Boosts the Immune System
Reishi mushrooms have powerful adaptogenic properties, which helps the body adapt to stress and better maintain homeostasis and overall well-being. For example, adaptogens help maintain healthy levels of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body weight. Reishi, being an adaptogen, also means that it is beneficial to both underactive and overactive immune systems. In other words, reishi does not stimulate nor suppress the immune system but, rather, regulates it. Subsequently, reishi is known as an immunomodulator. A combination of these adaptogenic properties along with beta glucans (complex sugars) give reishi mushrooms super immune-boosting powers.
Lingzhi can also enhance immune function through its effects on white blood cells which help fight infection and cancer. More specifically, studies have found that reishi may alter inflammation pathways in white blood cells as well as increase the activity of several white blood cells including monocytes, natural killer cells and dendritic cells. Naturally, Lingzhi is widely used and recommended by Asian physicians and naturopaths for its supporting effects on the immune system.
Considering reishi’s ability to enhance immune support, this mushroom has done wonders in those with cancer and other diseases where immunity is compromised. For example, lingzhi is used as an immunostimulant for patients with HIV, lung disease and cancer all throughout Asia. In China, lingzhi is being used to strengthen the immune system of cancer patients who receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
In one clinical trial done in China, 36 patients with advanced lung cancer were given Ganopoly, an over-the-counter-product made from reishi. The patients were taking the mushroom supplement as well as undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. After the trial, researchers found that some patients had changes in immune responses being studied, such as lymphocyte count and natural killer cell activity, while some patients had no change in immune response. Another study in Japan tested the effects of reishi on 225 patients with benign (non-cancerous) colorectal tumors. For 12 months, 123 of the patients were given a reishi extract, while 102 patients did not receive the mushroom extract. After 12 months, each patient underwent a follow-up colonoscopy. Researchers found that of those who received the reishi extract, the number and the size of tumors decreased significantly than those who did not receive the supplement.
Improved Quality of Life
Some preliminary studies have shown that Lingzhi mushrooms could decrease anxiety, depression and fatigue as well as improve quality of life in those with various medical conditions. Reishi have adaptogenic properties, meaning they are able to help the body adapt to stress and better maintain homeostasis.
In one study of 132 patients experiencing neurasthenia—a condition that is characterized by physical and mental exhaustion and accompanying symptoms such as headache and irritability—consumption of Lingzhi extract improved aches, pains, and feelings of irritability. More specifically, those who received the reishi extract saw significantly lower scores after 8 weeks in the CGI severity score (a 7-point scale that requires the clinician to rate the severity of the patient’s illness at the time of assessment) and sense of fatigue, with a respective reduction of 15.5% and 28.3%, compared to the placebo group with a 4.9% and 20.1% reduction, respectively. Another study of 48 breast cancer patients tested the effectiveness of reishi for cancer-related fatigue. Those in the experimental group showed statistically significant improvements in physical well-being and fatigue as well as reported less anxiety and depression and better quality of life.
Considering reishi’s anti-inflammatory properties as well as its immune boosting properties, lingzhi mushrooms are a natural antihistamine, meaning they work well to combat allergies. An allergic reaction occurs when a person’s immune system becomes hypersensitive to certain substances, such as pollen, bee venom, pet dander, or certain foods that are harmless to most people. The root cause of allergies, however, is due to an imbalance in the immune system.
When perceived pathogens enter the body, the adaptive immune response signals for Helper T cells—Th1 and Th2—to fight off the foreign substance. While both have specific jobs and work well to fight off perceived pathogens, they can sometimes become imbalanced. Specific to allergic reactions, this imbalance almost always means Th2 dominance and, in order to regain balance in the immune system, it is essential to stimulate Th1 cells. Considering that reishi is an immunomodulator, meaning it regulates the immune system rather than enhance or suppress it, this mushroom supplement is an effective means of balancing the immune system. More specifically, in the case of allergic reactions, reishi is a powerful stimulant that helps regulate the Th1 aspect. Regulating the immune system means fewer allergic symptoms and lowering allergic responses. Researchers have also found that reishi may be beneficial for supporting seasonal allergy symptoms, asthma, and chronic allergic bronchitis.
Other Potential Benefits
Other, lesser-known lingzhi mushroom benefits include enhancing heart health, lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, and improving sleep and cognition.
Lingzhi mushroom benefits stem from its significant anti-inflammatory and adaptogenic properties. Because of these properties, reishi mushrooms and reishi extracts have been used as medicinal tonics for centuries in Asia to help treat ailments ranging from weak immunity and cancer to fatigue and allergies, among other things. As reishi makes its way into western society and into clinical trials and studies, many people are just discovering the potential of this powerful mushroom and, so far, they are living up to their nickname—reishi: the mushroom of immortality.
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