Curtis’s Note: Reishi mushrooms have been used in Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. There are also plenty of studies showing their positive results at boosting your immune system. However, some of these studies don’t live up to the standards of the medical community. Overall, I think there is enough evidence to supplement with Reishi if you have a weak immune system or feel something ‘coming on’. If you are otherwise healthy, I don’t see a need. If you do decide to supplement just make sure to run it by your doctor first.
Reader Question: Can eating Reishi Mushrooms (or supplementing) strengthen my immune system? I don’t have anything serious going on – I’d just like to prevent getting sick during cold and flu season.
Reishi Mushrooms Long History of Use In Chinese Medicine
Reishi mushrooms go by a bunch of different names – one of the most common is Ganopoly.
China’s oldest medical text – at just over 2,000 years old – documents the use of Reishi to treat everything from fatigue, respiratory problems like asthma and cough as well as an anti-aging compound. A survey of Hong Kong residents found that Reishi was the third most common herb taken by patients about to undergo surgery.
All that to say that Reishi’s history is a long and documented one.
Is There Any Proof Reish Boosts Immune Response?
There is plenty of evidence that Reishi can really boost your immune response. However, a lot of this evidence doesn’t live up to the standards set by western medicine as far as study’s go. For example, some of the studies didn’t use a control or placebo group. Other studies didn’t limit the types of people that they allowed into the studies.
Despite that, here’s a quick breakdown of some of Reishi’s highlights:
- A study of cancer patients showed an improvement in immune response (measured by blood levels) in 80% of patients.
- A second study reported that 65% of patients using Reishi reported an improved quality of life.
- In 2011 scientists decided to try to look at all the studies on Reishi (the type of preparation didn’t matter). Only 5 studies met their criteria and the researchers also pointed out that none of those met their quality criteria as far as the methods they used in the study.
Despite that, the evidence showed that patients who used Ganoderma lucidum with chemotherapy and radiation (versus just chemo/radiation by itself or by G. lucidum by itself) showed a more positive treatment response. The data pointed to increases in CD3, CD4 and CD8 cells.
A 47-year-old man in China was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma. Eleven days later he went in for an appointment and showed no signs of the lymphoma. On questioning the man had taken megadoses of Ganoderma lucidum. Thorough testing showed an increase of CD3 and CD8 T lymphocytes.
How Does Reishi Work In Your Body?
While it has a lot of history we’re actually not sure how Reishi really works in your body. Part of that is due to the fact that the mushrooms contain quite a few different compounds like polysaccharides and triterpenes that have both shown promising results in cancer studies.
I think that, overall, the evidence for Reishi mushrooms is really positive. Yes, the studies aren’t well designed and you certainly can’t rely on a single case study. But, too many studies point to positive immune responses to be ignored.
I want to point out that I would only personally supplement with Reishi if I had a depressed immune system from a chronic disease or a bout with the cold or flu. I’ve read a lot of studies and reviews on Reishi from people who are taking large amounts but are otherwise healthy. This doesn’t make any sense to me because altering your immune system can actually have negative effects when taken too far.
How Should You Take It?
Over the last decade the popularity of Reishi has skyrocketed. So there are all sorts of preparations out there from powdered extract to capsules and everything in between.
One of the problems I’ve seen with available products is that they don’t show the particular strain of Reishi or the actual milligram dosage. Here is one that does. It’s also fairly inexpensive.
As far as the actual dosage goes traditional doctors in China often use 2 to 5 grams daily for chronic illness. In serious conditions they’ll use up to 15 grams daily of G. lucidum.
You should always discuss taking supplements – including Reishi mushroom – with your doctor first.