reishi

Mycotherapy – Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

1. REISHI – THE LONGEVITY MUSHROOM

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), or Linghzi, is probably one of the world’s most popular medicinal mushrooms. Considered as the fungus of longevity in traditional Asian medicine, it is molecularly characterized by an extremely varied triterpene profile (particularly rich for a mushroom). Like all medicinal mushrooms, it also contains a polysaccharide moiety of interest. This richness in triterpenes makes Reishi one of the pillars of mycotherapy and brings it closer to adaptogenic activity (for more on the molecular definition of an adaptogen, see HERE) even if the polysaccharide fraction seems to play the central role in its virtues. Its recognized health benefits are multiple, and many studies even investigate its potential in advanced therapeutic contexts: oncology, Alzheimer’s, etc.

Like adaptogenic plants, Reishi seems, despite its effectiveness, to have few side effects or contraindications. This phenomenon is probably explained by the association of two of its characteristics: the diversity of its profile in active molecules (a thousand nudges is less painful than a single punch) and the fact that a significant part of its activity takes place via the intestinal microbiota (therefore, part of the effect is indirect and more diffuse and the impact on hepatic metabolism mechanisms is less stressed). As we will see later, this characteristic makes it possible to consider the use of Reishi in a clinical setting without increasing the risk of drug interaction too much, which is a major advantage.

2. MYCONUTRIENTS OF REISHI

The main phytonutrients of Reishi belong to the category of triterpenoids and, in particular, lanostanoids. The best known are ganoderic and lucidenic acids. These are, of course, not the only active constituents of Reishi, which moreover contains very many distinct triterpenoids, as well as proteoglycans, sterols, etc.

In addition, like most medicinal mushrooms, Reishi contains polysaccharides and, in particular, Beta-glucans. These Beta-glucans have also been extensively studied for their properties on human health. It should be noted that polysaccharides of fungal origin are distinguished from cereal polysaccharides by the nature of their structure, an aspect that gives them specific properties for human health (in particular at the immune level).

3. HEALTH POTENTIAL OF REISHI

3.1. Reishi & microbiota

The benefits of Reishi on the balance of the intestinal microbiota have been widely demonstrated [1-3] but are not the most studied properties for this fungus. However, it seems judicious to approach them first, as recent data indicate that they are at the heart of its medicinal properties. Indeed, a regulatory virtue on the microbiota can lead to a better metabolic balance (carbohydrate and lipid), a reduction in stress, support of the immune defenses, etc.

Whether it is its polysaccharide fraction, considered a specific form of prebiotic [4-7], or ganoderic acids, which also seem to play a role in the balancing effect of Reishi [8-9], the data reporting a microbiotic impact are more and more numerous.

This regulatory effect appears particularly interesting in many aspects of human health. Reishi can thus promote metabolic balance via the microbiota [8-11] and even seems able to influence certain forms of cancer through it [12-13]. This last point brings us to the most studied therapeutic potential of Reishi.

3.2. Reishi & oncology

 with cancerOncology is the therapeutic setting in which the use of Reishi seems to be the most studied. As mentioned previously, its action on the microbiota is not unrelated to it, but it also directly influences various physiological aspects.

Certain ganoderic acids seem to influence the phenomenon of apoptosis (thereby limiting tumor proliferation) [14-16] and limit tumor invasiveness (thereby limiting the capacity of the tumor to spread), in particular by regulating the tumor. metalloproteinases [17-18]. Finally, ganoderic acids also appear to promote the anti-tumor response of the immune system [19]. Simultaneously, the polysaccharide fraction of Reishi also contributes to this activity through comparable effects [20-23].

Among the cancers investigated, we find:

  • Lung cancers (ganoderic acids [24-27] & polysaccharides [28-30])
  • Breast cancers (ganoderic acids [31-34] & polysaccharides [35-36])
  • Prostate cancers (ganoderic acids [37-38] & polysaccharides [39-40])
  • Colon cancers (ganoderic acids [41] & polysaccharides [42-44])
  • Uterus cancers (ganoderic acids [45-47] & polysaccharides [48])
  • Liver cancers (ganoderic acids [49-50] & polysaccharides [51])

In all cases, ganoderic acids and polysaccharides seem to be involved (except for brain cancers where only the triterpene fraction seems to have been studied [52-53]). Such diversity suggests that Reishi potentially represents a real asset in supporting patients with cancer but also, and perhaps above all, of interest as a chemo-preventive agent in patients in remission. Other studies are necessary to ensure these results’ clinical validity, but it is clear that they are already extremely encouraging.

Finally, it should be noted that the previously mentioned effects of Reishi on the metabolic balance could also be involved in the oncological interest of this one. Indeed, tumors develop metabolic mechanisms intended to ensure a sufficient supply of energy increasing tumor proliferation. One of the best-known examples is the Warburg effect that Reishi seems to impact [41-54].

3.3. Infectious diseases

In the West, Reishi is classically recommended to deal with winter infections. If there is indeed scientific data to support this “anti-infectious” hypothesis, they are far from representing the most important part of the scientific literature on this fungus’ virtues. In this specific context, the proteoglycans’ interest in Reishi and their antiviral properties, mainly on herpes viruses, should be mentionned [55-57]. Properties that they seem to share with the polysaccharide fraction [58-59]. Concerning triterpenes; the activity has also been highlighted, in very preliminary studies, towards other viral types [60-63].

In fact, the major interest of Reishi in the context of winter disorders is mainly due to the immune support that it can offer, mainly through its regulatory power in the intestinal microbiota. There are indeed no more studies highlighting the interest of beta-glucans in this context (the bibliography is very abundant and should be the subject of a separate article).

3.4. Inflammation

With the aging of the population, health issues related to inflammatory mechanisms are now legion. In this context, ganoderic acids have shown their direct interest on multiple occasions, but reishi polysaccharides also seem to have an impact on in vivo models (probable microbiotic action):

 

  • In a neurological context, ganoderic acids seem to be of interest due to their ability to limit neuroinflammation [64-70]. This neuroprotective activity has also been investigated in the context of pathologies, such as Alzheimer’s [71-72]. While it is unlikely that the polysaccharide fraction is bioavailable in the brain, it should be noted that its consumption also appears attractive in the context of Alzheimer’s disease (in vivo evaluation on a murine model [73]) where it seems to favor neurogenesis. This promising effect is probably explained by a neurobiotic action (indirect action at the neurological level by effect on the microbiota).
  • In a pulmonary context, certain ganoderic acids have once again shown their interest in various models of inflammation and pulmonary fibrosis [74-76]. A study also seems to highlight an interest of the polysaccharide fraction in this context. Once again, it is probably an indirect effect on the microbiota’s inflammatory balance [77].
  • In a hepatic context, a few studies report the hepatoprotective benefit of certain ganoderic acids [78-79]. This virtue also seems to be shared by the polysaccharide fraction. Studies are even much more numerous for polysaccharides [80-85]. Such a hepatic tropism for the polysaccharide fraction, with demonstrated prebiotic benefits, obviously leads us to investigate these active ingredients’ interest in the context of glycemic metabolism.

3.5. Metabolism

Unsurprisingly, several studies report the benefit of Reishi polysaccharides on glycemic metabolism and in various models of diabetes [86-89]. One study also suggests that ganoderic acids may support this polysaccharide activity [90].

It will also be mentionned that the polysaccharide fraction seems to play a regulatory role on lipid metabolism as well [91-93].

3.6. Dermatology

Surprisingly enough, the active substances in Reishi also seem to be of interest in dermatology. Its skin benefits have been reported in various models, and studies show a real potential, particularly of the polysaccharide fraction [94-97]. However, ganoderic acids do not seem devoid of interest in this context [98].

Reishi is one of the pillars of traditional and modern mycotherapy. Its molecular profile rich in various active molecules, and its properties, probably makes it one of the medicinal mushrooms closest to adaptogenic roots like ginseng (Panax ginseng). Its interest in a wide range of areas related to health, associated with its apparent harmlessness, clearly predestines it for use in Medical Nutraceuticals or even in a clinical setting. Moreover, it is an additional opportunity to wonder if nutraceutical support for patients in remission could not become a particularly interesting public health tool.
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