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Any fungus that enjoys nicknames like “the king of the mushrooms” or even “the mushroom of immortality” has to be worth investigation for potential health benefits, right? Well, this is precisely the case for the fan-shaped, orange-to-reddish-brown superfood known as reishi mushrooms.
The “king” nickname for these mushrooms – which are often referred to by scientists as the slightly less catchy Ganoderma lucidum – arises from their use having been largely restricted to royalty when their possible advantages were first recognised in Asian cultures thousands of years ago.
Recent years have seen awareness of the reishi mushroom spread beyond traditional Eastern medicine. So, what benefits may this Asian staple bring to your own health?
Before we go any further, let’s address that “mushroom of immortality” nickname. Sadly, consuming these ‘shrooms is not a ticket to living forever. They have, however, been found to have a high level of antioxidant content, which might lower your risk of disease and premature ageing.
Many people have historically taken reishi mushrooms – which are also sometimes called ling zhi – as a vegetarian immunity boost. Sure enough, laboratory research has indicated that these ‘shrooms may stimulate some of the immune system’s cells, and even improve immune response in advanced-stage cancer patients.
A key theme of the studies conducted into reishi mushrooms’ immune benefits so far has been that they may be especially helpful for people who are already ill. However, there has also been some evidence of this fungus’s usefulness for the immunity of healthy people.
We already touched above on reishi mushrooms’ reputation for helping cancer patients, and various other studies have pointed to potential benefits in this area.
One study of more than 4,000 breast cancer survivors, for example, found that well over half of them (59%) consumed this fungus. Other research, meanwhile, has indicated that one year’s reishi treatment may reduce the number and size of tumours in the large intestine.
Most sources focusing on reishi’s possible health benefits focus on its effects on cancer and how it may strengthen the immune system. However, another oft-cited advantage of consuming this fungus is how it may aid in reducing fatigue and depression.
One study, for example, that involved 132 people with neurasthenia – a vaguely defined condition associated with such symptoms as aches, pains, headaches, irritability and dizziness – found lower fatigue and improved wellbeing in participants after eight weeks of taking supplements.
A rat study in 2014 found that reishi mushrooms may contain compounds useful for helping to keep blood pressure down.
However, it’s crucial to first consult your doctor before taking reishi if you’re already taking blood pressure medication, as you won’t want the combination of the two to reduce your blood pressure to a dangerous level.
Some research has pointed to the possible antihistamine effects of reishi mushrooms. It is thought that Ganoderma lucidum could have a positive impact on the body’s oxygen supply, thereby helping chronic and allergic asthma sufferers.
The liver is one of the body’s most important organs, carrying out literally hundreds of essential tasks, including helping to flush out toxins from the body. You’ll therefore naturally want to keep yours in as good a state as possible.
It’s interesting, then, to see the research carried out in mice that found reishi mushroom spores promoted the regeneration of liver cells.
It’s important to appreciate that researchers are only just beginning to properly appreciate the chemical makeup of reishi mushrooms, and therefore exactly whether and how it works for a wide range of conditions.
There may also be risks associated with the consumption of this fungus for certain groups, such as those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, will be undergoing surgery, or have a blood disorder. If, then, you are in any doubt about the likely safety of reishi mushrooms for you, we would always urge you to first check with your doctor.
So, we are dealing with one of the world's most underrated superfoods that deserves a lot more attention and a lot more time on your plate. But if you are into your health (like us), you are thinking where do I get it and how do I eat more of it. Well the unfortunate truth is that it's not a readily available ingredient in most supermarkets, but watch this space and who knows where they might turn up next.
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