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What Is Reishi?

Posted by Geoff Beaty on 23 September 2021
What Is Reishi?

Ganoderma lucidum/“Lingzhi” (soul/spirit) mushroom, commonly known as “Reishi mushroom”, is a potent fungus that has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.

It has 400 different bioactive compounds reported to have a number of potential effects including modification of the immune system, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-diabetic, and anti-oxidative.


  • May boost the immune system
  • May reduce inflammation and oxidative damage
  • May help fight cancer and infections
  • May protect the heart, liver, and kidneys

Most people have heard about reishi for balancing immunity. Studies have identified high amounts of compounds that may strengthen the immune cells and improve general immune system health.


Two clinical trials on 75 people with advanced-stage cancer showed that both reishi mushroom extract and complex carbohydrates isolated from this fungus increased the counts of several immune cells (CD3+, CD4+, CD8+, and CD56+) and the blood levels of several cytokines (IL-2, IL-6, IFN-gamma), but decreased IL-1 and TNF-alpha.

In a clinical trial on 40 male soccer players on a training program to improve endurance performance (‘living high-training low’), reishi mushroom helped correct the reduction in the CD4+/CD8+ ratio caused by the training. 14 days of reishi increased anti-inflammatory/antioxidant markers and protected the blood from oxidative damage in mice. It decreased the levels of an oxidant (malondialdehyde) while increasing several antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione S-transferase).

The extracts of reishi and other mushrooms showed anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity in cells. Among them, reishi was the most effective at inhibiting nitric oxide production in response to bacterial carbohydrates (LPS).

Forty-eight breast cancer patients reported reduced anxiety and depression, as well as increased quality of life, when they received reishi spores along with their cancer treatment.

In a clinical trial on 132 people with neurasthenia, complex carbohydrates isolated from reishi mushroom improved fatigue and other symptoms and were well tolerated. 

A commercial herbal formula with reishi mushroom and two herbs used in Chinese medicine (Chinese licorice and Sophora flavescens) improved lung function (although less than prednisone) in a clinical trial on 91 asthmatic people and a study in mice.

The complex was well tolerated and caused no adverse effects in another trial on 20 people.

Studies revealed that compounds found in reishi effectively inhibit the release of histamine from mast cells, which may explain its benefits for asthma.

In a clinical trial on over 200 people with colorectal cancer, treatment with reishi mushroom extract reduced the number and size of tumours.

As previously mentioned, both reishi extract and a complex carbohydrate isolated from this mushroom enhanced immune responses in 2 trials on 75 people with advanced colorectal cancer, possibly helping them fight the disease. 

Similarly, a complex with citronellol and the extracts of reishi mushroom, dong quai, and dang shen (Codonopsis pilosula) increased immune cells in another trial on 105 cancer patients receiving chemo or radiotherapy.


Geng Y, Zhu S, Lu Z, Xu H, Shi JS, Xu ZH. Anti-inflammatory activity of mycelial extracts from medicinal mushrooms. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2014;16(4):319-25. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushrooms.v16.i4.20. PMID: 25271860.


Author:Geoff Beaty
Tags:NewsEvidence Based ResearchCancerMedicinal Mushrooms


  • The Institute for Functional Medicine
  • Society for Integrative Oncology
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology
  • Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
  • Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia