Nature provides an amazing array of resources to improve our health and boost our immunity. Mushrooms are a type of fungus that are enjoyed by people all over the world and renowned for their nutritional benefits. In recent years, scientists have studied the medicinal benefits of the Cordyceps Sinensis mushroom and its effects on ameliorating the negative effects of stress on the body and brain among other things.
Mushrooms have been used as food, medicine, poison, and in spiritual/religious rituals across the world since at least 5000 BC. They have used in tonics, soups, teas, prepared foods, and herbal formulas to promote health and longevity. The mushroom fungus Penicillium was the raw material used to create the antibiotic, penicillin, which transformed the medical world.
The iconic mushroom commonly known as Reishi (in Japanese) or Ling Zhi (靈芝 in Chinese) is probably the most respected medicinal mushroom in Asia. The earliest mention of Ling Zhi was in the era of the first emperor of China, Shinghuang of the Ch’in Dynasty 221-207 B.C.E. Once reserved for royalty to extend life and improve health, this polypore mushroom is strikingly beautiful. Deep reddish brown and saucer-shaped, often emerging from a branch-like stem, its smooth upper surface looks lacquered when wet. Because of this glossy appearance, Western mycologists called them “varnished conks” for many years (conks are mushrooms that have pores instead of gills on their undersides, such as maitake and turkey tails). While reishi mushrooms have historically been prepared as teas or infusions, other modern preparations include capsules, tinctures, and fractionated extracts of mushrooms, mycelium, and spores. Reishi is also added to chocolate bars, candies, energy drinks, and even coffee blends!
“Reishi” is a common name for a complex of closely-allied species of the Ganoderma genus. Until recently the name reishi referred to the species Ganoderma lucidum; however, new DNA barcoding and phylogenetic techniques have revealed that this name had been inappropriately applied by taxonomists to what is in fact a group of close relatives. These new techniques are now revealing that “reishi” mushrooms once all thought to be Ganoderma lucidum may have been misclassified. This misclassification is understandable, as all these morphologically-similar species naturally grow on old or dead tree trunks and all display remarkable glossy cap surfaces that can vary in color from bright red to black according to their age and environmental factors. Although these species (G. tsugae, G. oregonense, G. carnosum, and G. oerstedii, and G. resinaceum) have 98-100 percent commonality of DNA using the common “ITS genetic region,” they are now considered separate species.
Because of its rich history and long tradition of medicinal use, Ganoderma lucidum (in the strictest sense) is now one of the few mushroom species whose DNA has been fully sequenced (16,113 genes). Others are button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) with 10,438 genes and oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) with 12,330 genes (Joint Genome Institute). Reishi is remarkable for its diversity of genes coding for cytochrome P450 enzymes. These enzymes not only afford this species a broad arsenal for producing secondary metabolites for digesting nutrients, but may also confer benefits to human health such as enhancing the degradation of toxins and free radicals and increasing the liver’s metabolic efficiency. The variety of these enzymes, among more than 400 active constituents that have been found, indicates to me that mushrooms such as reishi are like miniature pharmaceutical factories that can produce hundreds of medicinally-interactive compounds. Through trial-and-error and observable outcomes, our ancestors narrowed the field of edible mushroom candidates to just a few with remarkable, health-supporting properties. Today, reishi stands out as one the most valuable of all polypore mushrooms in nature for the benefit of our health. Many naturopaths and doctors prefer organically-grown reishi from pristine environments because they are more pure.
Reishi has been called the “panacea polypore,” in part due to a widespread popular belief that this mushroom can help alleviate certain age-related diseases. Although many such claims are exaggerated and unsubstantiated, a number of studies have documented a range of medicinal effects.
In 2000, a group of Merck pharmaceutical scientists at the Centro de Investigaci´on B´asica, Merck Sharp & Dohme in Madrid, Spain tested the mycelial extracts of 204 species of mushrooms for their antimicrobial properties (Suay et al., 2000). The mushrooms showing the most activity were “reishi” species (G. lucidum, G. resinaceum and G. pfeifferi) of which 73 percent of the strains showed activities against the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. However, while extracts of the reishi species group all strongly inhibited Bacillus bacteria, they were curiously inactive against other disease-causing bacteria and fungi. That these Ganodermas are species specific in their antimicrobial activities suggests a unique mode of activity, a benchmark test that attracts medical researchers interested in new antibiotic drug discovery.
In my work with the U.S. Defense Department’s BioShield BioDefense program, ethanol and water extracts of the living mycelium of Ganoderma resinaceum inhibited virus replication as measured by the viral yield reduction (VYR) assay of Flu A (H5N1) aka “bird flu,” and Flu B viruses. Notably, a “traditional” hot water extract of the fruitbodies arising from the same mycelium demonstrated no notable antiviral activity (Stamets, 2008).
A review of the scientific literature reveals that many of the traditional medicinal claims can now be validated, especially the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, the anti-cancer claims have yet to achieve the credibility of comparable studies on Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) mushrooms (see Turkey Tail post). In a recent critique of reishi studies published through 2012, the authors concluded:
Our review did not find sufficient evidence to justify the use of G. lucidum as a first-line treatment for cancer. It remains uncertain whether G. lucidum helps prolong long-term cancer survival. However, G. lucidum could be administered as an alternative adjunct to conventional treatment in consideration of its potential of enhancing tumor response and stimulating host immunity. (Jin et al. 2012)
While such conclusions presume similar sample preparations and consistent taxonomic identification from study to study, one common theme emerges. The species in the taxonomic constellation of “reishi” mushrooms consistently activate, in vitro and in vivo, human immune cells: macrophages, NK and cytotoxic T cells, on a dose-dependent basis. Moreover, in the previously-mentioned comparison of peer-reviewed studies on reishi and cancer, the authors conclude that the adjunct use of reishi may augment chemotherapeutic drugs to treat cancer and may extend their effectiveness. This is particularly important since a common concern among oncologists is that the antioxidant properties of medicinal mushrooms may interfere with chemotherapeutic drugs. Addressing this issue, Simone et al. (2007) reported:
[280 peer-reviewed studies] have consistently shown that non-prescription antioxidants and other nutrients do not interfere with cancer therapeutic modalities. In addition, nonprescription antioxidants and other nutrients enhance the killing of cancer therapeutic modalities, decrease their side effects, and protect normal tissues, and in 15 human studies, 3,738 patients actually had prolonged survival.
Although the trends are promising and reishi mushrooms exhibit a number of interesting medicinal properties, modern scientific techniques have yet to affirm its traditional “panacea polypore” status. For now we can state that reishi use is generally safe and has high antioxidant value. While we cannot yet state that reishi mushrooms extend the disease-free period of cancer patients, reishi remains as an excellent candidate for augmenting chemotherapy, according to some cancer researchers. Since funding of clinical studies is either industry-based or from grants — few and far between — the jury is still out on the usefulness of reishi, the “mushroom of immortality,” for extending life. That said, I for one, join our ancestors in being drawn to this mushroom and regularly ingest it in many forms.
Financial Disclosure: Paul Stamets, author of Growing Gourmet & Medicinal Mushrooms and educator of mushroom cultivators world-wide, is also the Founder of Fungi Perfecti, LLC — a company that supplies mushroom related products including whole, encapsulated powders, and extracts of mushrooms.
Some of the most important health benefits of reishi mushrooms include their ability to slow the aging process, detoxify the body, reduce blood pressure, eliminate inflammation, prevent cancer, improve cognitive ability, and boost energy.
Although some people don’t like the idea of eating fungi, mushrooms are one of the most popular and beneficial types of food on the planet. Reishi mushrooms, in particular, have been relied on for thousands of years in the Asian region, but has recently come to the attention of the wider world. Scientifically know as Ganoderma lucidum, “reishi” is the name by which these beneficial mushrooms are known in Japan, while in China, they are called lingzhi mushrooms. Lingzhi mushrooms as a group actually represent a species complex of fungal entities, many of which are in use throughout the world.These fascinating fungi are so potent because of their unique collection of organic compounds and components, which include triterpenes, alkaloids, sterols, and various essential polysaccharides. lingzhi mushroom
Although most mushrooms are eaten in order to enjoy the health benefits and nutrients, the most popular means of using reishi mushrooms includes crushing dried mushrooms and steeping them in water. The mushrooms are extremely bitter in taste, which makes them somewhat unpleasant to consume directly or in a highly concentrated liquid form. For this reason, and because traditional herbal remedies in most western nations have been replaced by more efficient herbal supplements, you can mainly find reishi mushroom supplements in pill or capsule form, but there are plenty of places in the world where reishi mushrooms are still processed and administered directly. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the fascinating health benefits of reishi mushrooms.
Health Benefits of Reishi Mushrooms
Anti-Aging: With popular names such as “king of herbs” and the “10,000-year mushroom”, reishi mushrooms have been highly praised in herbal medicine for thousands of years for its effects on longevity. In ancient times, those seeking immortality often used reishi mushrooms because of this belief. However, modern studies have positively linked reishi mushrooms to certain life-span expansion, namely due to the impressive polysaccharide content of these fungi. This is accomplished by boosting the health of the immune system and preventing certain abnormal blood vessel formations. Furthermore, certain antioxidant properties of other organic compounds in reishi mushrooms neutralize free radicals, which can cause chronic diseases and premature aging.
Cancer Prevention and Treatment: There are thousands of active studies on cancer, as it is one of the most widespread and fatal diseases faced by our society. A handful of those studies have also focused on reishi mushrooms and it has ben determined that the triterpenoids found in reishi mushrooms have the ability to reduce the metastasis of cancerous cells and prevent tumor growth. Furthermore, a second study found that the active ingredients of reishi mushroom extract can seek out and neutralize cancerous cells within the body.
Detoxify the Body: Our livers are delicate and essential organs, so decreasing the level of toxins in our body and liver is a huge goal for human health. Studies have linked reishi mushroom extracts to faster regeneration of healthy liver cells and a release of free radicals that have built up in that organ, thereby promoting overall health and wellness in our system.
Cognitive Disorders: Neurological diseases can be some of the most painful and unsolvable mysteries in human health, and for cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s disease, there is no proven cure. However, research has shown that the extracts in reishi mushrooms can stimulate cognitive activity and display certain neuroprotective effects, particularly in the stimulation of nerve growth factor, which is a key part of health cognitive function.
Anti-Inflammatory Qualities: One of the most important side effects of reishi mushroom extracts is its anti-inflammatory capacity. This is partially why it can help with cognitive disorders, by increasing the amount of blood flow to the brain, but for people suffering from arthritis or gout, reishi extracts can also be helpful. By reducing inflammation, reishi mushrooms have also been relied on for headaches and injury healing.
Respiratory Conditions: For those suffering from asthma, bronchitis, or other chronic respiratory conditions, reishi mushroom extract can have a strong effect on reducing irritation and eliminating the allergic reactions from this part of the body. By preventing the release of histamine from mast cells in the body, reishi mushrooms prevent allergic reactions, from mild skin irritation to potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis.
High Blood Pressure: Hypertension is one of the most common and pervasive problems in the world today, and cardiovascular disease and complications remains the major killer in our global society. Reishi mushrooms have been proven to improve the efficiency of blood flow to the heart and lower blood pressure; it also reduces the amount of oxygen consumed in the heart, meaning that there is more oxygenation for the rest of the body and organ systems. Furthermore, certain elements of reishi mushroom extract can reduce the level of “bad” cholesterol in your system, further protecting you from strokes and heart attacks.
Immune System Aid: Although we’ve already mentioned antioxidants, which are a key component of the immune system, reishi mushrooms also contain beta-glucans, one of the most effective and powerful immune system boosters that we know of. By increasing the amount of beta-glucans in your body, you can protect against a vast range of potential diseases and reduce the signs of aging. Some experts believe that it is this high glucan content that linked it historically with immortality and vitality.
Energy Booster: In addition to lengthening life, traditional medicine also suggested reishi for energy-boosting. As we age, our energy levels do tend to drop, but adding a boost of life and spirit in our golden years would be wonderful. Try reishi mushroom extract and see for yourself!
A Final Word of Warning: As with anything with so many good qualities, there is almost inevitably a flip side. As it happens, extended use of reishi mushrooms (1-2 months) has been connected with some side effects throughout history, including headaches, dizziness, nosebleeds, and dry mouth. Although those side effects seem mild, it is still a good decision to speak with a medical professional or trained herbalist before adding reishi mushrooms to your health plan.
Diseases characterized by a gradual worsening of a condition, including increased tissue damage, organ malfunction, and general poor health.
This can be caused by normal wear and tear on the body, lifestyle habits, exercise, or eating problems that exacerbate an underlying condition. These degenerative diseases can be cured through traditional medicines, but many of the diseases also have no established cure, so home remedies are often the best option for taking care of these conditions.
Some of the most common degenerative diseases are cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease,multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, atherosclerosis,diabetes, Osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Many of these are terrible afflictions that affect millions of people around the world. Without proper medical care or coverage, they can severely impact the quality of life of those affected, and many of these diseases are inevitably fatal. The best way to reduce the associated symptoms and even keep the degeneration at bay is to use home remedies. Some of the most popular and successful home remedies for the conditions listed above are explained below.
Muscular Dystrophy: It is a group of 30 inherited diseases which affects the muscle leading to muscle weakness and muscle loss. It is another terribly degenerative disease that many people suffer from; some of the home remedies include staying away from coffee, tobacco, alcohol, and carbonated soda.
Proper nutrition is very important and one’s diet should include foods that are high on fiber, high on protein and low on carbs. You should consume reishi mushrooms, rhodiola, cramp bark, causticum, Lathyrus, and Plumbum Met. Also, one needs to be physically active to be able to maintain good muscle health.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Some of the most common solutions for Alzheimer’s disease are ginkgo biloba extract, valerian root, a well-balance diet, folate, vitamin B12, balm, sage, vitamin E, and garlic extract are all known to decrease the impact of Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia. Furthermore, avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, processed foods, and metal pollutants like mercury can also slow down cognitive decline.
Stimulating the brain with things like crossword puzzles, memory games, and learning new subjects can also build new neural pathways and delay the forgetfulness associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Also, recent research suggests that activities such as climbing a tree and balancing on a beam may help to improve cognitive skills.
Parkinson’s Disease: Parkinson’s disease can keep a person from living a normal life due to the general inability to control muscular activity, so it is often classified as a movement disorder. Some home remedies to slow down the degenerative effects of Parkinson’s disease are eating a healthy diet including fruits,vegetables, cereals, legumes, non-dairy products and fish and poultry. Other remedies include exercising and physical therapy, working with a speech pathologist, handling depression in constructive ways, visualization processes to continue walking normally, reducing hand tremors by strengthening the muscles in your hands and forearms.
Cancer: The home remedies for cancer include consumption of broccoli, grapes, ginseng, myrrh, green tea,aloe vera, lycopene, maitake mushroom, soybeans, and wheat grass in ether direct or indirect forms. Any foods that are rich in antioxidants are also very important for treating cancer from home, because they are rich in antioxidants, which can neutralize free radicals.
Free radicals can cause cancer by causing normal cellular DNA to mutate, resulting in cancerous cells. Research suggests that exercising an hour daily reduces the risk of contracting breast cancer in women of any age and any weight. Research also suggests that physical activity and healthy diet may help to reducerisk of cancer.
Multiple Sclerosis: Some of the home remedies for multiple sclerosis include reducing animal protein intake, eliminate dairy products, eat organic foods, ginger, turmeric, soy, extra-virgin olive oil, fish, walnuts, flax, hempseed, and wheat products. In terms of behavior, light to moderate exercise is a good idea, as well as visualization and meditation.
Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis is a condition where cholesterol and plaque builds up on the inside of your blood vessels and arteries, and it can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Besides reducing your overall omega-6 fatty acid intake (LDL cholesterol), you should eat more fruits and vegetables, use warm water enemas, and eat seeds, nuts, grains, and sprouts. Use olive oil and flax seed oil, while avoiding saturated fats, white flour, sugar, tobacco, coffee, salt, processed foods, sauces, and pickles. Consume garlic and onions, lemon peels,parsley, and beet juice, as well as anything that has a high vitamin C content.
Diabetes: Diabetes is the body’s inability to manage its insulin and glucose levels within the body, which can be very dangerous. Some home remedies for diabetes include consuming a diet rich in fiber, as well asbilberry, apples, apricots, beets, berries, carrots, citrus fruits, parsnips, cactus juice, basil leaves, and wintersquash.
Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is the degenerative disease that gradually erodes bone mineral density, leaving people weak and unable to function properly in their normal activities. The home remedies for this disease includes increasing your intake of minerals in your diet, like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, copper, and manganese. Foods include black cohosh, red clover,spinach, collard greens, milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream,salmon, and sardines. Also, quit smoking, exercise regularly, and try to reduce intense physical activity that causes repetitive impacts on your joints and bones.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease which is mainly an inflammation of joints, bones, and other connecting points in the body. They can have associated pain as well, so any anti-inflammatory nutritional elements are ideal. Some of these home remedies include silicon, leafy vegetables, vitamin C-laden foods, and regular exercise to get blood flowing to the affected areas. Avoid things like eggs, pepper, and tomatoes, which have been known to make the condition worse.
Some of the most interesting health benefits of cordyceps includes its ability to improve respiratory health, increase oxygen uptake, boost heart health, detoxify the body, prevent certain types of cancer, slow the aging process, increases energy, and improves the immune system.
The name cordyceps actually describes a genus of fungi that includes more than 400 unique species of parasitic types. Fungi are essential parts of many ecosystems, but this particular genus also has a great deal of importance for people, as it has been traditionally used in herbal medicine for centuries. These “club head”mushrooms have a wide range of chemical components and compounds that make them particularly valuable in traditional medicine, as they are globally available and relatively inexpensive. The wide spread of the Cordyceps genus make it particularly desirable. Cordyceps fungi varieties contain certain biochemicals that mimic current pharmacological substances in a natural way.
As the popularity of Cordyceps increases, so too did access and variety of the herbal supplements. Around the world, you can utilize Cordyceps in liquid extracts, tinctures, powders, and capsules, but the mushroomsthemselves, when dried, look like long thing, brown/orange fingers. You can also buy whole cordyceps in certain stores and add them directly to soups for flavor, or brew teafrom the dried and powdered fungi. The origin of most Cordyceps species seems to be Asia, prior to its global spread, which is why it is so frequently found in the traditional medicines of that region. Now, let’s take a closer look at the many health benefits of cordyceps.
Health Benefits of Cordyceps
Energy Booster: One of the most undeniable health benefits of cordyceps is its ability to significantly boost energy levels and has long been known to athletes for the bursts of energy it can provide. Cordyceps increases the amount of oxygen uptake in the body and enhances cellular energy production, thereby providing that extra push for people who need a shot of energy!
Heart Health: Research studies on the effects of cordyceps have come up with many exciting results, especially in relation to cardiovascular health. One study showed that patients given a powdered supplement of cordyceps were significantly less likely to suffer heart failure. This is mainly due to the anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties of the herb, which can prevent heart arrhythmias and other complications.
Cholesterol Levels: On a similar note, one of the chemical pathways affected by cordyceps is closely related to cholesterol levels. “Bad” cholesterol levels go up, and “good” cholesterol levels can go up, effectively protecting the heart, as well as numerous other organ systems that are affected by cholesterol, such as our metabolism and endocrine system. You can help prevent atherosclerosis and subsequent heart attacks and strokes by making cordyceps a part of your weekly herbal treatments.
Respiratory Function: As mentioned above, cordyceps is able to increase the amount of oxygen taken in by the lungs, and while this is helpful for athletes, it is also beneficial for those suffering from respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic bronchitis. By increasing your oxygen intake, you help prevent respiratory distress and weakness. Also, increasing oxygen levels helps to oxygenate the body’s extremities better, so organ systems as a whole run more efficiently.
Cancer Prevention: People are always looking for the next big solution in the battle against cancer, and some of the unique biochemical compounds found in cordyceps certainly fit the bill in that respect. There has been direct correlations between the consumption of Cordyceps sinensis and tumor size reduction. By shrinking tumors, cordyceps can help slow the spread of cancer, and even make it easier to eliminate or put into remission. This is combined by the antioxidant activities of cordyceps, which helps to eliminate free radicals throughout the body.
Immune System Booster: Cordyceps directly stimulates the production of NK cells (Natural Killer cells), which are one of the body’s first lines of defense against infection and illness. These immunoprotective effects help with a wide range of ailments, from cancer to the common cold and everything in between.
Anti-Aging Properties: Although many people claim to know the secret to anti-aging, some of the most reliable research stands behind using cordyceps, which has powerful concentrations of anti-aging compounds that can help to rejuvenate the skin, eliminate dead or dying cells, and improve the appearance of blemishes, wrinkles, and age spots, effectively shaving years off your life!
Sexual Dysfunction: One of the most interesting effects of cordyceps is its apparent impact on sexual dysfunction in men. Numerous research studies have shown that men suffering from low levels of sexual energy or poor libido saw clear improvement after adding cordyceps herbal supplements to their diet.
Detoxify the Body: Although the exact chemical pathway of this is unclear, studies have shown that kidney health improves notably after only one month of regular cordyceps herbal usage.
A Final Word of Warning: Cordyceps does have a small effect on lowering blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous for diabetics, so they should be aware of the risks before adding that herbal element to their regimen. Also, as a blood-thinner, it shouldn’t be taken before or after surgery, by those already taking blood-thinners, or people suffering from bleeding disorders.
The name Cordyceps comes from the Latin words cordand ceps, meaning “club” and “head.” Thus, the word quite accurately describes this club fungi. Cordyceps sinensis is probably the most well-known of the Cordyceps species throughout the world.
Cordyceps is known to have been ranked as the number one medicine in Tibetan and Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. With polysaccharides, nucleosides and cyclosporine, Cordyceps is known to stimulate the immune system, decrease blood sugar levels, have radio-protective effects and contain anti-cancer properties.
Alternative Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long focused on allowing the human body to restore its own self-regulating and self-healing agents. Many research studies using Cordyceps have shown it to stimulate the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells in an individuals’ body. Because of these properties, Cordyceps is frequently suggested for patients who are recovering from surgery or a serious illness.
But how many species of the Cordyceps “mushroom” are known today? That quantity is hard to fix as a steadfast number.
The genus of Cordyceps has literally been known to have been found throughout the world and usually is accepted to contain approximately 400 different species. However, as the popularity of Cordyceps usage grows in today’s modern health practices, that number has continued to climb. Some experts put the number as high as 600 different species of Cordyceps.
According to one study, species of Cordyceps can now be found on all six inhabited continents in many different climates and feeding off a variety of hosts.
Because of the rarity of the natural product found in the wild, the past 20 years or so have seen a wide assortment of biotechnical firms joining the Cordyceps enthusiasts who wish to cultivate the product. This effort has met with much success, mainly due to the many successes on the medical frontlines as a whole. The demand for the rare Cordyceps health supplement has, of course, led to even more interest in developing new methods for growing Cordyceps in a controlled environment.
Some developers are even able to replicate the exact chemical analysis of Cordyceps found in the wild by using highly-sensitive monitoring equipment and duplicating the growing conditions of the best known species of Cordyceps.
Ancient folk medicine is known to have used Cordyceps to heal a myriad of health problems, including coughs, anemia, tuberculosis, senile weakness, infertility, back pain and impotence. In many areas of the West, Cordyceps has a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. Cordyceps has anti-inflammatory properties, regulates body temperature and reduces pain. Cordyceps also inhibits the growth of many viruses and bacteria, including herpes, adenoviruses and influenza.
Is it any wonder modern science is expending so much energy and so many man-hours to artificially create this uniquely-healing supplement?