Reishi Mushroom

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Of Note

Scientific name: Ganoderma lucidum

Common names: Ling zhi, lin zi, mushroom of immortality


A fungus, reishi mushroom is an important component of the traditional medical systems of China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries. It is used to increase energy, stimulate the immune system, and promote health.

The medicinal effects of reishi were first documented in the Shen Nong Materia Medica, written in China 2,000 years ago. Reishi has gained popularity around the world over the past few decades and is currently used to promote health and to treat coronary heart disease, arthritis, hepatitis, hypertension, AIDS, and cancer. It is also widely recommended by herbalists as an immune enhancer.

Current evidence of reishi’s anticancer potential is limited to small studies that indicate its ability to enhance immune response in patients with advanced cancer. There are no data to support the idea that reishi can prolong survival.

Because it is difficult to find in the wild, reishi is cultivated on solid substrates, stationary liquid medium, or by submerged cultivation to meet the growing demand. It is marketed in the form of powders, capsules, tinctures, and teas, all of which are produced from the mycelia, spores, or fruiting bodies.

The Science

The active constituents of reishi mushroom include beta-glucan polysaccharides and triterpenes. In vitro and in vivo studies indicate that reishi extracts have immunomodulatory,1 renoprotective,2 anti-inflammatory,3 and hepatoprotective4 properties. Clinical findings suggest its benefits in improving lower urinary tract symptoms in men,5 exerting mild antidiabetic effects, and improving dyslipidemia.6

Reishi has also been investigated for its anticancer potential. Preclinical data show that it has chemopreventive ability,7 alleviates chemotherapy-induced nausea,8 and increases the efficacy of radiotherapy9 and the sensitivity of ovarian cancer cells to cisplatin.10 It may also be useful in preventing cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity.11

In small clinical studies, reishi improved plasma antioxidant capacity12,13 and enhanced immune responses in advanced-stage cancer patients.14 Remission of hepatocellular carcinoma was reported in a few cases in a single study.15 However, a reishi mushroom extract demonstrated toxic effects in leukocytes in vitro.16 More research is needed to determine its safety as an adjunctive cancer treatment.

Adverse Effects

Two cases of hepatoxicity, leading to death in one, were reported following use of powdered reishi mushroom.17,18

Chronic diarrhea was reported in a 49-year-old man with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after prolonged consumption of a powdered extract of reishi mushroom.19

Herb-Drug Interactions

Anticoagulants/antiplatelets: Reishi may increase the risk of bleeding.20

Immunosuppressants: Reishi can enhance immune response.14

Chemotherapeutic agents: Reishi can increase plasma antioxidant capacity and may interact with chemotherapeutic agents that rely on free radicals.12

Cytochrome P450 substrates: Reishi polysaccharides inhibit CYP2E1, CYP1A2, and CYP3A, and may cause accumulation of drugs metabolized by these enzymes, thereby increasing the risk of their side effects.21

Disclosure: Ms. Gubili reported no potential conflicts of interest.


1. Chen HS, Tsai YF, Lin S, et al: Studies on the immuno-modulating and anti-tumor activities of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) polysaccharides. Bioorg Med Chem 12:5595-5601, 2004.

2. Shieh YH, Liu CF, Huang YK, et al: Evaluation of the hepatic and renal-protective effects of Ganoderma lucidum in mice. Am J Chin Med 29:501-507, 2001.

3. Joseph S, Sabulal B, George V, et al: Antitumor and anti-inflammatory activities of polysaccharides isolated from Ganoderma lucidum. Acta Pharm 61:335-342, 2011.

4. Jin H, Jin F, Jin JX, et al: Protective effects of Ganoderma lucidum spore on cadmium hepatotoxicity in mice. Food Chem Toxicol 52:171-175, 2013.

5. Noguchi M, Kakuma T, Tomiyasu K, et al: Effect of an extract of Ganoderma lucidum in men with lower urinary tract symptoms: A double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized and dose-ranging study. Asian J Androl 10:651-658, 2008.

6. Chu TT, Benzie IF, Lam CW, et al: Study of potential cardioprotective effects of Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi): Results of a controlled human intervention trial. Br J Nutr 107:1017-1027, 2012.

7. Weng CJ, Yen GC: The in vitro and in vivo experimental evidences disclose the chemopreventive effects of Ganoderma lucidum on cancer invasion and metastasis. Clin Exp Metastasis 27:361-369, 2010.

8. Wang CZ, Basila D, Aung HH, et al: Effects of ganoderma lucidum extract on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in a rat model. Am J Chin Med 33:807-815, 2005.

9. Kim KC, Jun HJ, Kim JS, et al: Enhancement of radiation response with combined Ganoderma lucidum and Duchesnea chrysantha extracts in human leukemia HL-60 cells. Int J Mol Med 21:489-498, 2008.

10. Zhao S, Ye G, Fu G, et al: Ganoderma lucidum exerts anti-tumor effects on ovarian cancer cells and enhances their sensitivity to cisplatin. Int J Oncol 38:1319-1327, 2011.

11. Pillai TG, John M, Sara Thomas G: Prevention of cisplatin induced nephrotoxicity by terpenes isolated from Ganoderma lucidum occurring in Southern Parts of India. Exp Toxicol Pathol 63:157-160, 2011.

12. Wachtel-Galor S, Szeto YT, Tomlinson B, et al: Ganoderma lucidum (‘Lingzhi’); acute and short-term biomarker response to supplementation. Int J Food Sci Nutr 55:75-83, 2004.

13. Wachtel-Galor S, Tomlinson B, Benzie IF: Ganoderma lucidum (“Lingzhi”), a Chinese medicinal mushroom: Biomarker responses in a controlled human supplementation study. Br J Nutr 91:263-269, 2004.

14. Gao Y, Zhou S, Jiang W, et al: Effects of ganopoly (a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract) on the immune functions in advanced-stage cancer patients. Immunol Invest 32:201-215, 2003.

15. Gordan JD, Chay WY, Kelley RK, et al: “And what other medications are you taking?” J Clin Oncol 29:e288-e291, 2011.

16. Gill SK, Rieder MJ: Toxicity of a traditional Chinese medicine, Ganoderma lucidum, in children with cancer. Can J Clin Pharmacol 15:e275-e285, 2008.

17. Yuen MF, Ip P, Ng WK, et al: Hepatotoxicity due to a formulation of Ganoderma lucidum (lingzhi). J Hepatol 41:686-687, 2004.

18. Wanmuang H, Leopairut J, Kositchaiwat C, et al: Fatal fulminant hepatitis associated with Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi) mushroom powder. J Med Assoc Thai 90:179-181, 2007.

19. Wanachiwanawin D, Piankijagum A, Chaiprasert A, et al: Ganoderma lucidum: A cause of pseudoparasitosis. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health 37:1099-1102, 2006.

20. Tao J, Feng KY: Experimental and clinical studies on inhibitory effect of ganoderma lucidum on platelet aggregation. J Tongji Med Univ 10:240-243, 1990.

21. Wang X, Zhao X, Li D, et al: Effects of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide on CYP2E1, CYP1A2 and CYP3A activities in BCG-immune hepatic injury in rats. Biol Pharm Bull 30:1702-1706, 2007.


Integrative Oncology is guest edited by Barrie R. Cassileth, MS, PhD, Chief of the Integrative Medicine Service and Laurance S. Rockefeller Chair in Integrative Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.

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