Reishi Mushrooms: Health Benefits, Evidence, and Uses – 80 Twenty Nutrition

Reishi Mushrooms: Health Benefits, Evidence, and Uses

It seems like every celebrity and natural health trendsetter is pouring reishi mushroom powder into their green smoothies or drinking mushroom tea like it’s the new kombucha. Are they on to something?

Reishi mushrooms in particular are popping up as the latest health trend, with claims that they can do everything from reverse signs of aging to cure cancer. If you’re wondering whether reishi mushrooms are worth the hype, here’s everything you need to know about their health benefits, the evidence behind them, and more.

Reishi mushroom health benefits, evidence, and uses - everything you need to know about reishi mushrooms from registered dietitian Christy Brissette of 80twentynutrition.com

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What are reishi mushrooms?

Reishi mushrooms, also known as ling zhi mushrooms, are woody mushrooms that grow on wood and decaying trees. While they grow in several colors, red reishi mushrooms are the ones most commonly claimed to have health benefits. They’ve been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to reduce symptoms of aging like high blood pressure, liver problems, and arthritis. More recently, reishi mushrooms have been investigated for their anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting benefits, which are said to help boost cancer treatments.

Reishi mushroom health benefits, evidence, and uses - everything you need to know about reishi mushrooms from registered dietitian Christy Brissette of 80twentynutrition.com

image: Jeff Moore via Flickr

Reishi mushroom health benefits

Reishi mushrooms are thought to protect against inflammation, fatigue, liver problems, diabetes, tumor growth and cancer, heart disease, depression, asthma, viruses, frequent infections, and more. While there isn’t much research on the long-term health benefits of reishi mushrooms yet, several small short-term studies have found them to be beneficial. That’s what could make these medicinal mushrooms such an exciting addition to your health and wellness plan. 

The healing potential of reishi mushrooms is credited to two main components: beta-glucans and triterpenes. Beta-glucans are complex carbohydrates found in bacteria and fungi, which have been shown to have immune-boosting effects. Triterpenes are a family of compounds found in plants that have been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering properties. While beta-glucans in several types of mushrooms have been fairly well studied, research on triterpenes is pretty new and mostly preclinical (meaning there’s limited research in humans at this point). As for reishi mushrooms themselves, research on their health benefits is becoming increasingly popular.

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One small study found that 10 day supplementation with reishi mushrooms increased participants’ blood antioxidant capacity, a promising result for cardiovascular health. However, a follow-up study found that after 4 weeks of supplementation, no significant changes were found in participants’ markers of cardiovascular health, including blood antioxidant capacity.

Several studies have also yielded mixed results regarding reishi mushrooms’ anti-diabetic effects, with one study finding that reishi mushrooms result in lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and another finding no significant effects.

A few studies have found that reishi mushroom supplementation may be help prevent liver damage, but these effects haven’t yet been studied in humans.

Reishi mushrooms and cancer

Reishi mushrooms are well known as an alternative cancer treatment because of beta-glucans’ beneficial effects on immune health. Several studies have found reishi mushrooms to have anti-tumor effects that can be helpful in treating cancer, as well as immune-boosting effects that can help cancer patients’ immune system bounce back after chemotherapy and radiation.

While these are exciting and promising results, it’s important to note that much of the research done so far related to reishi mushrooms and cancer has been done on isolated cancer cells in a lab, not on humans with cancer. There have been several studies with cancer patients, but the results haven’t shown enough evidence to justify using reishi mushrooms as a first line of defense for cancer treatment. It still isn’t clear whether or not reishi mushrooms help increase long-term cancer survival, but many study participants experienced more effective chemotherapy and radiation treatments when taking reishi mushrooms alongside these treatments. Now that is exciting! Why wouldn’t we want to take something that could make cancer treatments more effective? 

While it’s certainly not advised to substitute reishi mushrooms for cancer treatment like chemotherapy or radiation, there’s some evidence that taking reishi mushrooms in addition to these treatments could be helpful. Some study participants have reported side effects like nausea and insomnia while taking reishi mushrooms, but most haven’t experienced any adverse effects. If you’re currently undergoing cancer treatment, you should absolutely talk with your doctor before you start taking reishi mushrooms.

How are reishi mushrooms different than other mushrooms?

Many types of mushrooms besides reishi mushrooms contain beta-glucans, including oyster, shiitake, maitake, and enoki mushrooms. However, reishi mushrooms specifically are notable for their high concentrations of triterpenes. Because of the combination of beta-glucans and triterpenes, reishi mushrooms have long been known as some of the most powerful medicinal mushrooms.

Reishi mushroom health benefits, evidence, and uses - everything you need to know about reishi mushrooms from registered dietitian Christy Brissette of 80twentynutrition.com

image: pexels

How to eat reishi mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms are edible when raw, but they’re incredibly bitter thanks to the triterpenes, so they’re not often eaten raw. There isn’t any research to say whether eating reishi mushrooms raw instead of dried (like they’re usually found) provides more benefits, and most research has been performed using dried reishi or extracts from them.

One of the trendiest ways to get reishi mushrooms right now is in tea or coffee, which is made with dried and sometimes ground reishi mushrooms steeped in hot water. Now that reishi mushrooms are a hot commodity in the health food industry, some companies have taken to adding ground reishi mushrooms to other beverages, like instant coffee and hot cocoa mix.

Reishi mushroom health benefits, evidence, and uses - everything you need to know about reishi mushrooms from registered dietitian Christy Brissette of 80twentynutrition.com

image: Four Sigmatic

You can also find ground or extracted reishi mushrooms in capsule form, or dried in slices. Adding a few slices of dried reishi to soup broth is a great way to incorporate it without drinking a full cup of bitter mushroom-flavored liquid on its own!

The bottom line: should you take reishi mushrooms?

The research on the health benefits of reishi mushrooms is preliminary and sometimes conflicting, but there seems to be little risk associated with taking them. What’s incredibly promising is the potential for them to improve cancer outcomes and perhaps even reduce cancer risk.

They may not be miracle workers, but they also probably won’t hurt and have additional benefits to be excited about. So if you enjoy reishi coffee or tea or feel better when you incorporate reishi mushroom supplements into your daily routine or cancer treatment (with your doctor’s permission), I say go for it. 

Have you ever tried reishi mushrooms? How did you eat them, and what did you think?

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