Ganoderma lucidum, Ganodermataceae
Reishi is the Japanese name for the fruiting bodies of Ganoderma lucidum, a fungus known to infect hardwood trees, particularly oak and (in Japan) old plum trees. The Chinese name for this mushroom is Ling-zhi, which means “spirit plant”. The genus name, Ganoderma, comes from the Greek ‘ganos’ for shining, and ‘derma’ for skin. The species name ‘lucidum’ comes from Latin and also means “shining or brilliant”. Reishi mushrooms are reddish-orange to blackish in color with a stalk which attaches from the side to the cap. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is thought that there are six different kinds of reishi, classified by color, with red being the most potent. They have been used in China and Japan for over 4,000 years as a traditional medicine for treating hepatitis, hypertension, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, and ulcers, as well as to increase longevity and prevent cancer and age-related degenerative diseases.
The chemistry of reishi is quite complex and includes a vast array of constituents including immunostimulatory polysaccharides, reducing sugars, glycoproteins, amino acids, steroids, many triterpenoids including ganoderic acids, ganoderenic acids, ganolucidic acids, and lucidenic acids, proteins, polypeptides, choline, betaine, lipids, sterols, including ergosterol and β-sitosterol, lactones, and alkaloids. These diverse components likewise have many interesting pharmacological activities. Many of the polysaccharides isolated have been shown to possess antitumor and immunostimulating properties, including the ability to increase macrophage production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF-α) and various interleukins, as well as increasing both RNA and DNA synthesis of bone marrow cells, increasing DNA synthesis of spleen cells, and enhancing natural killer cell (NK) activity in vitro in mice. The glycans, ganoderans A & B showed hypoglycemic activity in mice, whereas the many triterpenoids, which contribute to reishi’s bitter taste, have been shown to lower blood pressure levels and to have adaptogenic actions. Others have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic effects, inhibiting histamine release, thus preventing inflammation and allergic hypersensitivity.
Reishi has also been reported to provide hormone precursors due to its sterol content and has also been shown to inhibit blood platelet aggregation due to its adenosine content. Research has shown reishi extracts to exhibit antibacterial, antiviral (including anti-HIV and anti-hepatitis B activity), and antioxidant activities. It is also known to have a tonic effect on the heart and circulatory system, lowering blood cholesterol levels and improving coronary blood flow. Other studies have shown reishi to have antitussive and expectorant properties, improving coughs and respiratory ailments. Another potential benefit that reishi mushroom extract offers is its liver-protective and detoxifying effects, which have been utilized by many as protection against radiation and chemotherapy, both before and after exposure. Due to its inhibitory effects on platelet aggregation, it is not advised to use reishi in combination with other anticoagulant drugs. Laboratory studies have shown anti-neoplastic effects of fungal extracts or isolated compounds against some types of cancer, including epithelial ovarian cancer. In an animal model, Ganoderma has been reported to prevent cancer metastasis,] Reishi may target different stages of cancer development: inhibition of angiogenesis (formation of new, tumor-induced blood vessels, created to supply nutrients to the tumor) mediated by cytokines, cytoxicity, inhibiting migration of the cancer cells and metastasis, and inducing and enhancing apoptosis of tumor cells.
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