Reishi and how it combats stress

What is it?

Reishi. Ganoderma spp. There are several species of this incredible fungi with similar properties. I used  ‘Red Reishi’ Ganoderma lucidum in my practice.

This medicinal mushroom has been coined for millennia as a ‘superior herb’. Reishi has a long traditional use in Ancient China & Japan, documented as far back as 1593, as the “herb for the immortals”(1). Once so rare and precious to find in the wild, it would have been prized, and be kept exclusively as medicine for the emperor and the upper classes. Thankfully today, Reishi is cultivated and is widely available.

Recent studies have revealed Reishi contains a high content of powerhouse constituents such as immunostimulating polysaccharides known as beta glucans, as well as triterpenoids, and these can be categorised into two main families; ganoderic and lucidenic acids (2).  It is these phytochemicals that are showing numerous reports for Reishi to be indicated to support autoimmune disorders, allergies, liver disease, heart conditions, anxiety and sleep issues.

A note on adaptogens

As one of the most famous of the medicinal mushrooms, Reishi is renowned as one of the true adaptogens. A specialised class of herbs that modulate our response to stress (whether this be emotional, physical or environmental) supporting chronic infection and those who are immuno-compromised (3).

There’s an exciting body of research that supports using Reishi as part of cancer treatment; showing effectiveness against a range of cancer cells (3). This is a huge topic but in short, an example of when the body is massively depleted, acutely stressed and needs some heavy duty immune support.

How stress can take hold

Stress. Here we are talking about how stress can manifest in our bodies, not only the common physical symptoms (raised blood pressure, chronic illness, inflammation) but how stress can have a tremendous effect on all our systems, including neuroendocrine and digestive systems too. When we’re talking stress and how the body modulates it, we’re talking about the HPA axis, (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), a complex set of cascading pathways between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands that have a key role in a wide array of bodily functions. Dr. Gabor Mate, a leading physician, describes how stress can hugely impact and modulate our nerves, hormones, immunity, digestion and cardiovascular function (4).

We know that there is a direct link to allostatic load (life’s wear and tear on the body) and ill health. A recent systematic review found that allostatic load and overload are associated with poorer health outcomes (5). In times of strife, we sometimes need to call on extra support. So let’s talk about all things Reishi.

Reishi – a trophorestorative mushroom

Not only is Reishi an effective adaptogen and immunomodulator. But due to its calming actions on the nervous system, it is also known in the herbal world as a trophorestorative. This is a tonifying group of medicinals which have a restorative and nourishing action on a specific organ or tissue (6).

Exciting research is showing Reishi may be able to interact with this GABA* neuralpathway, which then acts as a CNS (Central Nervous System) anti-depressant (7). In short, Reishi is showing anti-anxiety properties through its ability to calm the nerves and mind in times of heightened stress. Some practitioners use Reishi specifically in protocols to support anxiety connected to head trauma (8). In one recent study, Reishi improved anxiety-like, insomnia behaviours, the results demonstrated that Reishi be indicated in some cases to improve anxiety-like symptoms (9).  

Reishi for slumbertime

Sleep is complex and a multitude of factors can influence the quality. We all need slightly different amounts, depending on our constitutions and routines. Here, we’re talking less about length, more about sleep quality, or latency in the science world. Sleep strugglers and insomniacs will know all too well, getting to sleep can be a challenging thing to crack. Reishi is widely prescribed by herbalists to encourage better sleep quality and reduce anxiety, Mycologists and Herbalists recommend Reishi for insomnia (3) where the person is totally depleted, both mind and body. Studies demonstrate this due to the action of Reishi’s rich triterpenes component and how these phytochemicals interact in our neuroendocrine systems.

 *Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is one of the primary inhibitory neurotransmitters in the central nervous system and play a key role in regulating anxiety and hugely influences our ability to fall into a quality sleep state. 

Reishi for the Heart

We know there is a strong correlation between stress and cardiovascular disease. Broadly speaking, poor cardiovascular health can cause heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, chronic kidney disease, peripheral arterial disease and the onset of vascular dementia. Public Health England estimates the NHS spends £7.4 billion on CVD every year (10). It seems more than ever that with our increasingly busy lives,  this pace can have a huge knock on our heart health. Data from a recent meta-analyses study suggests that heightened work stress can increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) by approximately 50% (11). A 2004 human study, (double blind randomised trial) found the polysaccharides and triterpenes constituents of Reishi can support hyperlipidemia (when there is an abnormal rise in lipids in the blood). Reishi can also act hypotensive, reducing raised blood pressure as well as reducing chest pain, palpitations and shortness of breath (2).

Restoring the liver with Reishi

The liver. An absolute powerhouse organ that works around the clock to keep us well, and everything functioning. A few key jobs include the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, that includes all our hormones.  The liver regulates blood sugar levels, detoxifies unwanted substances (including alcohol, drugs and medication). It synthesises blood proteins essential for blood clotting and heart health. It stores red blood cells as well as nutrients such as vitamins B12, A and D. When our bodies are under siege from chronic infection or exhaustion, it’s our liver that needs to work doubly hard to keep all systems functioning. One of Reishi’s key actions is a hepatoprotective herb, meaning it can provide effective liver support. A 2017 placebo controlled human study showed that Reishi was able to provide liver (hepatic) protection in 42 healthy individuals, this included the reversal of mild fatty liver conditions (12).  

Allergy relief

Reishi has a good reputation in being able to modify the immune response for its overarching anti-inflammatory action. With its high immunomodulatory properties, it has shown effectiveness in reducing symptoms of hayfever, where there are heightened levels of histamine such as hay fever. Reishi also has effective results in other auto-immune conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), where the inflammatory response is altered (where the body starts attacking its own immune system). A 2023 review highlighted Reishi’s polysaccharide content was able to reduce the proinflammatory ‘cytokines’ (inflammatory markers) against the rheumatoid synovial fibroblasts, one of the key building blocks of this debilitating pathology (13). Reishi has been documented to help both alleviate symptoms of these inflammatory conditions such as RA and prevent the development of the illness occurring (2).

Cautions:

Reishi is thought to interact with blood thinners and is contraindicated for those patients taking coumadin, warfarin and similar blood medication drugs. Patients on immunosuppressants drugs are advised to use with caution and under supervision (2). 

In summary, Reishi can be an incredible ally for many health issues.

Written by Claire Goulding (BSc, MNIMH) of Learn Botanics

References:

  1. Winston D, Maimes S. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press; 2019.

  2. Powells, M. Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide Mycology Press, England: 2013.

  3. Rogers, R.  Medicinal Mushrooms: The Human Clinical Trials’ ‎ Prairie Deva Press, Alberta:2020.

  4. Maté, G. (2011). When the body says no: Exploring the stress-disease connection. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley.

  5. Guidi, J., Lucente, M., Sonino, N., & Fava, G. A. (2021). Allostatic Load and Its Impact on Health: A Systematic Review. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics, 90(1), 11–27. https://doi.org/10.1159/000510696

  6. Niemeyer K, Bell IR, Koithan M. Traditional knowledge of western herbal medicine and Complex Systems Science. Journal of Herbal Medicine. 2013;3(3):112-119. doi:10.1016/j.hermed.2013.03.001

  7. Hossen, S. M., Islam, M. J., Hossain, M. R., Barua, A., Uddin, M. G., & Emon, N. U. (2021). CNS anti-depressant, anxiolytic and analgesic effects of Ganoderma applanatum (mushroom) along with ligand-receptor binding screening provide new insights: Multi-disciplinary approaches. Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports, 27, 101062.

  8. Stansbury, J. (2018). Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

  9. Huang, J. H., Li, Y., Zhang, S., Zou, Y., Zheng, Q. W., Lin, J. F., & Guo, L. Q. (2022). Amelioration effect of water extract from Ganoderma resinaceum FQ23 solid-state fermentation fungal substance with high-yield ergothioneine on anxiety-like insomnia mice. Food & Function, 13(24), 12925-12937 (Accessed 19/09/23).  

  10. Health matters: Preventing cardiovascular disease. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-matters-preventing-cardiovascular-disease/health-matters-preventing-cardiovascular-disease

  11. Eddy P, Wertheim EH, Kingsley M, Wright BJ. Associations between the effort-reward imbalance model of workplace stress and indices of Cardiovascular Health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2017;83:252-266. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.10.025

  12. Chiu, H.-F., Fu, H.-Y., Lu, Y.-Y., Han, Y.-C., Shen, Y.-C., Venkatakrishnan, K., … Wang, C.-K. (2017). Triterpenoids and polysaccharide peptides-enriched ganoderma lucidum: A randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled crossover study of its antioxidation and hepatoprotective efficacy in healthy volunteers. Pharmaceutical Biology, 55(1), 1041–1046. doi:10.1080/13880209.2017.1288750

  13.  Meng M, Yao J, Zhang Y, Sun H, Liu M. Potential anti-rheumatoid arthritis activities and mechanisms of ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides. Molecules. 2023;28(6):2483. doi:10.3390/molecules28062483