Can Reishi Mushrooms Improve Liver Health?

Fact checked by Victor Cheung

The liver is one of the major organs in our body. It is responsible for many functions including digestion, detoxification, blood production, and storage of vitamins and minerals. The liver is also involved in the synthesis of bile, cholesterol, hormones, and vitamin D. In addition, the liver helps in regulating sugar levels in the blood. Therefore, it makes sense to try and keep it as healthy and wholesome as possible. In this article, we’re taking a deep dive into the effect reishi mushroom has on the liver and whether it has health benefits when it comes to liver diseases.

Below is a list of some liver diseases that are taken into consideration when investigating the reishi mushroom’s effect on them. These include the following:

  • Diseases caused by viruses, such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C
  • Diseases caused by drugs, poisons, or too much alcohol. Examples include fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.
  • Liver cancer
  • Inherited diseases, such as hemochromatosis and Wilson disease

According to the NHS, “There are many different types of liver disease. You can help prevent some of them by maintaining a healthy weight and staying within the recommended alcohol limits, if you drink.”

Since environmental factors like diet can cause a higher risk for liver disease, scientists and researchers started investigating medicinal mushrooms like reishi mushrooms as a potential candidate for treating liver diseases.1

Reishi Mushroom and Liver Health

The reishi mushroom is known to have many medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune system booster, and liver tonic (Liver tonics are herbs that improve the function of the liver. Herbs that are good at promoting liver health include ginger, turmeric, and milk thistle. Reishi mushrooms are considered a natural liver tonic).

According to the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms and Chemical and Pharaceutical Bulletin, reishi mushrooms provide the following functions to improve liver health:2–4

1. Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Reishi mushrooms have been known to help treat various conditions including liver problems. In fact, they are often recommended for people who suffer from hepatitis B and C. These two viruses affect the liver and cause inflammation (When inflammation occurs, the body releases chemicals called cytokines.

Cytokines are responsible for causing pain and swelling. Reishi mushrooms help reduce the production of these harmful substances). Reishi mushrooms are said to help reduce inflammation and promote healing.

2. Antioxidant Properties

Another benefit of reishi mushrooms is their high content of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause cellular damage. Reishi mushrooms raise the levels of glutathione (a powerful antioxidant that eliminates free radicals).

Additionally, reishi mushrooms have also been linked to decreasing reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the liver by managing glutathione-S-transferase, superoxide dismutase, and catalase enzyme systems.

3. Antiviral Properties

Hepatitis B and C are both viral infections that can damage the liver. Reishi mushrooms can help heal the liver and prevent further damage. They are especially helpful for those suffering from chronic hepatitis B and C.

Evidently, reishi mushrooms are believed to treat hepatitis by 3 main mechanisms and these include the following:

  • Interfering with the enzyme responsible for replicating the virus
  • Boosting the immune activity of Kupffer cells (immune cells found inside the liver)
  • Increasing the number of immune cells to eliminate viral cells

4. Immune System Modulation

Reishi mushroom plays a role in regulating the immune system by increasing the expression of Kupffer cells which functions in providing the following benefits:

  • Removing toxins
  • Clearing toxic metabolites
  • Destroying viral threats to the liver

This in turn provides protection to the liver from internal and external factors that can disturb normal liver processes and impact liver health.

5. Reversing Liver Fibrosis

When injury to the liver occurs, it induces the formation of a type of cells known as stellate cells which grow rapidly and proliferate using collagen and turn into fibrotic cells. If not treated early on, it causes liver fibrosis and then cirrhosis.

Luckily, reishi mushrooms have been shown to have anti-fibrotic properties that help in fibrotic cells caused by liver injury and increase the rate of regeneration of liver cells.

6. Managing Liver Enzymes

Reishi mushroom plays a dual role in reducing the levels of liver enzymes (AST and ALT) which reflects decreased liver damage as well as increases the production of liver protective enzymes that works on detoxifying harmful substances in the body and neutralizing toxic chemicals.

It’s important to note that this area of research is still in its prime, thus, these benefits haven’t been validated by extensive and prolonged clinical trials to prove their long-term safety and efficacy. Nevertheless, there has been a lot of scientific evidence to support the use of the reishi mushroom in improving liver health, these include the following studies:5–7

Protective Effects of Reishi Mushrooms in Acute Liver Injury — International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms

This was a pre-clinical study conducted on lab mice and published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms in 2013, which determined the protective and repairment effects of reishi mushrooms extract in mice with induced acute liver injury.

The results revealed that the reishi mushrooms had a positive impact on protecting and repairing liver injury as a result of their antioxidant properties.

Antifibrotic and Anti-inflammatory Properties of Reishi — Journal of Biosciences and Medicines

Similarly, another study conducted on lab rats and published in the Journal of Biosciences and Medicines in 2015, revealed that reishi mushroom extract had a significant healing property when it comes to treating liver fibrotic rats by inhibiting the process of fibrosis formation and reducing inflammation.

Determining the Safety of Reishi Mushrooms Supplementation on Major Organs — The British Journal of Nutrition

This is a human study that was published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2004, which investigated the effect of reishi mushrooms supplements for approximately 4 weeks on major organs like the lungs, liver, the heart, etc.,

The results of this study revealed that reishi mushrooms supplementation is safe with no evident side effects and the authors recommend its use.

The authors of the published paper say “The results showed no evidence of liver, renal or DNA toxicity with Lingzhi intake, and this is reassuring. The present study of the effects in healthy, well-nourished subjects provides useful, new scientific data that will support controlled intervention trials using at-risk subjects in order to assess the therapeutic effect of Reishi in the promotion of healthy ageing.”

That being said, there are other reports of adverse effects as a result of reishi mushroom consumption that needs to be taken into account, these include the following studies:8,9

Reishi Mushroom Associated Patient Fatality — Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand

According to a case report that was published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand in 2004, two patients were consuming boiled reishi mushrooms and experiencing no trouble. However, when they switched to the powdered form of reishi mushrooms for 2 months they both experienced liver toxicity and unfortunately, one of them died as a result.

Hepatoxicity Associated with Taking Reishi Mushroom — Journal of Hepatology

This case study was published in the Journal of Hepatology in 2004 involving a 78-year-old Chinese woman who was taking reishi mushroom supplements for approximately one year with no problems. Then, she changed the form of the mushrooms from supplements into powder form and then suffered all the classic signs of liver toxicity 4 weeks after beginning the new powder treatment. After being asked to stop powdered reishi mushroom, all her lab investigations and symptoms improved.

These aforementioned case studies revealed that powdered reishi mushrooms can be more dangerous and lethal than reishi mushrooms supplements which makes us believe that the form of the mushrooms can significantly differ in the outcome, especially in its safety. Moreover, they can interact with other medications. So, you should never start taking reishi mushrooms before consulting your healthcare professional first as they can know if it’s appropriate for you or not and advise you of the appropriate dosage that’s suitable for you.

The Bottom Line

Liver disease is caused by toxins and chemicals being produced by the body. When these toxins build up over time, they can lead to serious issues. Reishi mushrooms have been shown to help cleanse the liver and remove toxins. They are also effective at reducing swelling and pain associated with liver disease.

Aside from treating liver diseases, there are many other health benefits of reishi mushrooms. They are believed to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, arthritis, depression, and even boost the immune system.

Granted reishi mushroom has a lot of benefits when it comes to liver health, but it’s imminent to weigh the risks and benefits of these mushrooms before you start to take them.

References

1.        Soares AA, de Sá-Nakanishi AB, Bracht A, da Costa SMG, Koehnlein EA, de Souza CGM, et al. Hepatoprotective Effects of Mushrooms. Molecules [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2022 Jul 16];18(7):7609. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC6270077/

2.        Gao Y, Huang M, Lin ZB, Zhou S. Hepatoprotective Activity and the Mechanisms of Action of Ganoderma lucidum (Curt.:Fr.) P. Karst. (Ling Zhi, Reishi Mushroom) (Aphyllophoromycetideae) (Review). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms [Internet]. 2003 [cited 2022 Jul 16];5(2):22. Available from: https://www.dl.begellhouse.com/journals/708ae68d64b17c52,3389befb6be7818a,3ea891d772a09d0f.html

3.        Batra P, Sharma AK, Khajuria R. Probing lingzhi or reishi medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (higher basidiomycetes): A bitter mushroom with amazing health benefits. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2013;15(2):127–43.

4.        Min BS, Gao JJ, Nakamura N, Hattori M. Triterpenes from the spores of Ganoderma lucidum and their cytotoxicity against Meth-A and LLC tumor cells. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2000;48(7):1026–33.

5.        Wu X, Zeng J, Hu J, Liao Q, Zhou R, Zhang P, et al. Hepatoprotective effects of aqueous extract from Lingzhi or Reishi medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (higher basidiomycetes) on α-amanitin-induced liver injury in mice. Int J Med Mushrooms [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2022 Jul 16];15(4):383–91. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23796220/

6.        Wachtel-Galor S, Tomlinson B, Benzie IFF. Ganoderma lucidum (“Lingzhi”), a Chinese medicinal mushroom: biomarker responses in a controlled human supplementation study. Br J Nutr [Internet]. 2004 Feb [cited 2022 Jul 16];91(2):263–9. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14756912/

7.        Shawi E, Hameed E, el Shawi OE, Abd El-Rahman SS, Abd El Hameed M. Reishi Mushroom Attenuates Hepatic Inflammation and Fibrosis Induced by Irradiation Enhanced Carbon Tetrachloride in Rat Model. Journal of Biosciences and Medicines [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2022 Jul 16];03(10):24–38. Available from: http://file.scirp.org/Html/

8.        Fatal fulminant hepatitis associated with Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi) mushroom powder – PubMed [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jul 16]. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17621752/

9.        Wachtel-Galor S, Tomlinson B, Benzie IFF. Ganoderma lucidum (‘Lingzhi’), a Chinese medicinal mushroom: biomarker responses in a controlled human supplementation study . British Journal of Nutrition. 2004 Feb;91(2):263–9.

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