How Reishi Mushroom Boosts Our Immune System

Fact checked by Victor Cheung

The Reishi mushroom — or the mushroom of immortality — is known for its diverse health benefits in treating many ailments, strengthening the immune system, and modulating its functions. With that in mind, researchers have conducted many studies to determine its effect on immunity and identify its potential use in improving the quality of life for people with immune system disorders.

Below is a list of immune function disorders that are taken into consideration when investigating the reishi mushroom’s effect on them, these include the following:1–4

  • Immune deficiency disorders like HIV (a health condition that means that the immune system doesn’t do its protective role as it should, making it exposed to infections and external threats)
  • Autoimmune disorders (a health condition that means that the immune system mistakenly attacks itself because it doesn’t recognize its own cells, tissues, and organs)
  • Cancer (a disease that’s caused by uncontrolled proliferation of cells and is mostly fatal)
  • Inflammation (even though it’s an essential part of the healing process, sometimes inflammation can be a result of an immune system disorder or be the cause of one)5–8

In this article, we’ve compiled all the scientific evidence behind the effects of reishi mushrooms on the immune system.

Reishi mushroom and Immune system health

Reishi mushrooms provide the following functions to improve immunity9,10 and enhance immune function:11–16

1. Boosting the Immune System

One of the great health benefits of reishi mushrooms lies in their ability to stimulate the immune system function by activating immune cells, removing toxins, clearing any internal or external threats, and staying vigilant to protect the body against future invaders.17–19

2. Anti-Cancer Activity

The anti-cancer and anti-tumor functions of the reishi mushroom have been proven through several studies in the literature as it provides the following functions in the body:

  • Works on eliminating inflammation that’s associated with tumorigenesis
  • Stimulates the function of immune cells that finds and stops cancer cells like natural killer cells and cytotoxic t-cells
  • Modulates the production of certain cytokines that plays a key role in cancer signal transduction pathways

3. Altering Inflammation Pathways

Reishi mushrooms have been known to help treat inflammatory conditions. In fact, they are claimed to have benefits for people who suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions like asthma, arthritis, lupus, atopic dermatitis, and several more. These inflammatory conditions whether acute or chronic affect major organs and cause symptoms of inflammation (When inflammation occurs, the body releases chemicals called cytokines).These cytokines are responsible for causing the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

And so, come reishi mushrooms to help reduce the production of these cytokines causing harm to the body, modulate the body’s reaction and promote healing.

4. Impacting White Blood Cells

White blood cells like lymphocytes that produce antibodies and those that circulate the body regularly to protect it against any foreign invaders sometimes lag in function and cause disease. Therefore, another benefit for the reishi mushrooms is to stimulate the production of these cells and boost their activity which is very effective in fighting extracellular infections or intracellular problems like viruses or cancer.

5. Fighting Infections

It’s well-known that the immune system has 3 lines of defense, the first being the skin (protective barrier in both physical and chemical capacities), the second line of defense in non-specific cells that literally eats any unidentified cell (a process called phagocytosis), and the third and final line of defense and these are lymphocytes (t and b cells) that produce antibodies and have anti-cancer functions.

Evidently, the reishi mushroom has a major protective role in maintaining a healthy body by enhancing the fighting capabilities of the body’s internal defenses by increasing the production of immune cells to find and eliminate any foreign threats or infections whether bacterial, viral, or fungal pathogens.

Anti-Cancer Activity of Reishi Mushroom — Journal of Immunological Investigations

This clinical study was conducted in 2003 and published in the Journal of Immunological Investigations, where it showed the anti-tumor function of the reishi mushroom in 34 patients with advanced cancer (cancer in the late stages). A polysaccharide component in reishi mushroom known as ganopaly plays a critical role in modifying immune parameters like cytokines (proteins), t-cells, and natural killer cells (cells responsible for finding and eliminating cancer.

The authors of this study say conclude “The present study indicates that Ganopoly enhanced the immune responses in patients with advanced-stage cancer. Clinical evaluations of response and toxicity are ongoing.”

Reishi Mushroom Regulates Cell Immunity Function — British Journal of Sports Medicine

In 2007, and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a clinical study was conducted on 40 male football players to determine the effect of reishi mushroom on hypoxia (lack of oxygen that may result from exercise) and increased physical activity stimuli on T cells (a type of white blood cell).

Results of this study revealed that the reishi mushroom mediates t-cells production and regulates cell immunity function rendering it a potential therapeutic option for athletes.

Reishi Mushroom the “Wonder Herb” for Stopping Inflammation and Allergies — Recent Patents on Inflammation and Allergy Drug Discovery

This study was published in 2014 in the journal of Recent Patents on Inflammation and Allergy Drug Discoveryand provides evidence on the molecular mechanisms and pathways that the reishi mushroom takes part in that help in managing acute and chronic inflammation caused by autoimmune disorders or as a normal reaction to the normal healing process of the body.

In addition, it calls the reishi mushroom ‘the wonder herb’ for its remarkable anti-inflammatory ability through targeting inflammatory proteins and stopping inflammation and allergic reactions.

Immunomodulation Properties of Reishi Mushrooms — Journal of Pharmacological Sciences

According to this review study which was published in the journal of Pharmacological Sciences in 2005, it revealed there are multiple reports on the effects of the polysaccharide component in reishi mushrooms in both stimulation and regulation of several immune cells like antigen-presenting cells and phagocytic cells which are involved in protecting the immune system from external threats.

However, the researchers of this study also recommend further pre-clinical and clinical investigations to support these findings.

Reishi Mushrooms Reduce Autoimmune Disease Symptoms — Journal of Lupus

In 2001, research on the effect of the reishi mushroom on Lupus (an autoimmune disease) was investigated and published in the journal of Lupus. This evidence was provided from pre-clinical research done on laboratory mice that had symptoms of lupus-like proteinuria and anti-dsDNA autoantibody (a type of protein only produced in the case of autoimmune diseases). After these mice were put on a regimen of reishi mushroom extract, it was found to significantly reduce their symptoms.

Nevertheless, a study done on laboratory animals isn’t enough to confirm the effect of the reishi mushroom’s use in humans for autoimmune diseases. Thus, this is pending further clinical trials.

The Bottom Line

There’s no doubt that the reishi mushroom has positive effects on the immune system and other major body organs and systems. However, it’s important to remember that there are more than a thousand types of reishi mushroom. Thus, if you plan on taking a reishi supplement to improve your immune system, you need to ensure that the supplement manufacturer knows what type of reishi they’re using and how they’re processed.

References

1.        Lin Z bin. Cellular and molecular mechanisms of immuno-modulation by Ganoderma lucidum. J Pharmacol Sci [Internet]. 2005 [cited 2022 Jul 31];99(2):144–53. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16230843/

2.        Berretta M, Morra A, Taibi R, Monari F, Maurea N, Ippolito M, et al. Improved Survival and Quality of Life Through an Integrative, Multidisciplinary Oncological Approach: Pathophysiological Analysis of Four Clinical Cancer Cases and Review of the Literature. Front Pharmacol [Internet]. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2022 Jul 31];13:867907. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/35784762

3.        Gao Y, Zhou S, Jiang W, Huang M, Dai X. Effects of ganopoly (a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract) on the immune functions in advanced-stage cancer patients. Immunol Invest [Internet]. 2003 [cited 2022 Jul 31];32(3):201–15. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12916709/

4.        Wachtel-Galor S, Yuen J, Buswell JA, Benzie IFF. Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi). Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects: Second Edition [Internet]. 2011 Mar 28 [cited 2022 Jul 31];175–99. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/

5.        Cai Q, Li Y, Pei G. Polysaccharides from Ganoderma lucidum attenuate microglia-mediated neuroinflammation and modulate microglial phagocytosis and behavioural response. J Neuroinflammation [Internet]. 2017 Mar 24 [cited 2022 Jul 31];14(1). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28340576/

6.        Yin Z, Yang B, Ren H. Preventive and Therapeutic Effect of Ganoderma (Lingzhi) on Skin Diseases and Care. Adv Exp Med Biol [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Jul 31];1182:311–21. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31777026/

7.        Bhardwaj N, Katyal P, Sharma A. Suppression of inflammatory and allergic responses by pharmacologically potent fungus Ganoderma lucidum. Recent Pat Inflamm Allergy Drug Discov [Internet]. 2014 Nov 26 [cited 2022 Jul 31];8(2):104–17. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24948193/

8.        Guo C, Guo D, Fang L, Sang T, Wu J, Guo C, et al. Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide modulates gut microbiota and immune cell function to inhibit inflammation and tumorigenesis in colon. Carbohydr Polym [Internet]. 2021 Sep 1 [cited 2022 Jul 31];267. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34119183/

9.        Cheng PG, Teoh TC, Rizman-Idid M. Chemical Compounds and Computational Prediction of Their Inhibitory Effects on the HIV-1 gp120 Receptor by Lingzhi or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum (Agaricomycetes), with Antler-Like Morphology of Fruiting Bodies. Int J Med Mushrooms [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Jul 31];23(7):63–77. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34375519/

10.      Lai NS, Lin RH, Lai RS, Kun UC, Leu SC. Prevention of autoantibody formation and prolonged survival in New Zealand Black/New Zealand White F1 mice with an ancient Chinese herb, Ganoderma tsugae. Lupus [Internet]. 2001 [cited 2022 Jul 31];10(7):461–5. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11480842/

11.      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 31];91(2):263–9. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14756912/

12.      Zhang Y, Lin Z, Hu Y, Wang F. Effect of Ganoderma lucidum capsules on T lymphocyte subsets in football players on “living high-training low.” Br J Sports Med [Internet]. 2008 Oct [cited 2022 Jul 31];42(10):519–22. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18048435/

13.      Opara EI. The efficacy and safety of Chinese herbal medicines. British Journal of Nutrition. 2004 Feb;91(2):171–3.

14.      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 31];91(2):263–9. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14756912/

15.      Zhang Y, Lin Z, Hu Y, Wang F. Effect of Ganoderma lucidum capsules on T lymphocyte subsets in football players on “living high-training low.” Br J Sports Med [Internet]. 2008 Oct [cited 2022 Jul 31];42(10):519–22. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18048435/

16.      Guggenheim AG, Wright KM, Zwickey HL. Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2022 Jul 31];13(1):32. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC4684115/

17.      Meng J, Hu X, Shan F, Hua H, Lu C, Wang E, et al. Analysis of maturation of murine dendritic cells (DCs) induced by purified Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides (GLPs). Int J Biol Macromol [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2022 Jul 31];49(4):693–9. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21763719/

18.      Sun LX, Lin Z bin, Li XJ, Li M, Lu J, Duan XS, et al. Promoting effects of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides on B16F10 cells to activate lymphocytes. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol [Internet]. 2011 Mar [cited 2022 Jul 31];108(3):149–54. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20964805/

19.      Ahmad MF, Ahmad FA, Khan MI, Alsayegh AA, Wahab S, Alam MI, et al. Ganoderma lucidum: A potential source to surmount viral infections through β-glucans immunomodulatory and triterpenoids antiviral properties. Int J Biol Macromol [Internet]. 2021 Sep 30 [cited 2022 Jul 31];187:769–79. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34197853/

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