Reishi Mushroom & Its Antitumor Efficacy

Reishi mushroom [lat.Ganoderma lucidum], called – the mushroom of immortality. Due to its multiple effects on health improvements, it holds this title for more than 2,000 years as part of traditional Eastern medicine. This mushroom has been used in many Asian countries for thousands of years to increase energy, strengthen the immune system and general health. In addition to this, many scientific studies have also confirmed the antitumor effect of the Reishi mushroom. It has been proven that this mushroom significantly reduces and slows down the growth of tumor cells. What exactly is the Reishi mushroom and how it affects the condition of the entire organism will be described in more detail below.

What is Reishi Mushroom? 

The Asian “mushroom of immortality” is a large, dark mushroom, with a shiny exterior and woody texture. The Latin word “lucidum” means “shine” or “brilliant” and refers to the lacquered appearance of the surface of the mushroom. These specific mushrooms grow most often at the base of deciduous trees, such as oak, elm, maple, or plum. Sometimes they are attached to tree stumps and sometimes to the roots of trees. In China, this mushroom is also called “lingzhi”, while in Japan it is called “reishi” or “mannentake”.

Main Bioactive Components of Reishi Mushroom

Most mushrooms contain mostly water, about as much as 90%. The remaining 10% are proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fibers, and some vitamins and minerals, the most dominant of which are calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, iron, zinc, and copper. Regarding this, mushrooms also contain a wide range of bioactive molecules such as terpenoids, steroids, phenols, nucleotides, and their derivatives, glycoproteins, and polysaccharides. Besides this, mushroom proteins contain all essential amino acids, and are especially rich in lysine and leucine. The low total fat content and a high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids in relation to the total fatty acids of mushrooms are considered significant factors that contribute to the health value of mushrooms. 

 

Polysaccharides, peptidoglycans, and triterpenes are the three main physiologically active ingredients of the Reishi mushroom. Due to such a rich content of active substances, the Reishi mushroom is unique in that its pharmaceutical value is extremely important. 

Polysaccharides and Peptidoglycans in Reishi

Mushrooms are remarkable for the variety of high molecular weight polysaccharide structures that also produce bioactive poly glycans. These are found in all parts of the mushrooms. Polysaccharides represent structurally different biological macromolecules with a wide range of physical and chemical properties. Polysaccharides have been shown to exhibit a wide range of bioactivities. Those include anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, anti-ulcer, anti-tumor, and immunostimulating effects. 

The branching conformation and solubility characteristics of polysaccharides influence the antitumorigenic properties. Various bioactive peptidoglycans have also been isolated from the Reishi mushroom and show strong antiviral activities. 

Triterpens in Reishi

Triterpenes are a class of natural compounds whose carbon sceletons consist of one or more C5 isoprene units. Examples of terpenes are menthol [monoterpene] and ß-carotene [tetraterpene]. These compounds are widely distributed throughout the plant world and are found in prokaryotes as well as eucaryotes. Terpenes have also been found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorogenic, and hypolipidemic effects. 

Triterpens are a subclass of terpenes and have a basic skeleton of C30, their chemical structure is complex and highly oxidized. The Reishi mushroom is extremely rich in triterpenes, and it is this class of compounds that gives the plant its bitter taste and is believed to have many different health benefits. Those are lipid-lowering and antioxidant effects. 

Clinical Studies and Examinations

Reishi holds an extremely important place in traditional Eastern healing systems for its health effects. It is used as an immunostimulant by AIDS and cancer patients. 

Mushroom extracts have been shown to have immunomodulatory, renoprotective, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective properties. Clinical studies indicate its benefits in improving lower urinary tract symptoms in men, as well as in exhibiting mild antidiabetic effects and improving dyslipidemia. 

Preclinical findings show that Reishi has an immunomodulatory chemopreventive effect, and alleviates nausea caused by chemotherapy. It also improves the effectiveness of radiotherapy and increases the sensitivity of ovarian cancer cells to cisplatin. It may also help prevent cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity. 

Small clinical studies have shown that Reishi increased the antioxidant capacity of plasma, increased both immune and tumor response in cancer patients, and suppressed the development of colorectal adenomas. 

Remission of hepatocellular carcinoma in several cases in one study showed that a formula containing Reishi helped maintain quality of life in non-small lung cancer cells in patients undergoing chemotherapy. 

Cancer

Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide and despite comprehensive advances in early disease diagnosis and chemotherapy, it remains a major clinical challenge. As part of the search for new chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agents, hundreds of plant species were tested, including mushrooms. This mushroom has been shown to contain a large number of active substances, of which polysaccharides and triterpenes show chemopreventive and tumoricidal effects, as proven by numerous studies from in vitro experiments and in vivo studies on animals and humans. Tumor-implanted animal models showed inhibitory effects on angiogenesis and metastasis. 

In-Vitro Antitumor Activities of Reishi Mushroom

Tomasi et al. (2004) tested 58 types of mushrooms, of which the Reishi mushroom was found to be the most effective in killing cancer cells. Reishi induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in a variety of human and rodent tumor cells, including:

  • murine lymphocytic leukemia
  • Lewis lung cancer
  • murine reticulocyte sarcoma
  • human leukemia
  • human liver tumor
  • Breast cancer in humans
  • Human prostate cancer
  • Human cervical tumor
  • Human ovarian cancer
  • Human colon cancer
  • Human lung cancer
  • Human small-cell lung carcinoma
  • Low-grade bladder cancer
  • Human uroepithelial cells

 

By regulating the expression of various signals, Reishi stopped tumor cells at different points in the cell cycle. Extracts of Reishi mushroom have been shown to suppress the progression of the G1 phase of the cell cycle in various human cancer cell lines. The triterpene-rich extract induced progressive apoptosis in a premalignant cell line by increasing the early apoptosis marker annexin-V within three hours. Half of the cells stained positive for 7-amino-actinomycin D [indicating late apoptosis] after 8 hours. All cells were dead by 24 hours, and this was associated with a decrease in telomerase.

The tumor mass requires a continuous supply of nutrients through new blood vessels formed by the process of angiogenesis. Invasive cancer cells spread to distant sites through blood and lymph vessels. Therefore, agents that inhibit angiogenesis inhibit tumor growth and spread.

Animal Studies

Studies on the antitumor effects of the Reishi mushroom can be traced back to the early 1980s. In numerous experiments and studies using polysaccharide fractions, 95-98% inhibition of the growth of transplanted sarcoma 180 tumor cells in mice was observed. Pure ß-glucan was tested in parallel resulting in 90% inhibition of tumor growth. A preparation of dry Reishi mushroom powder has been shown to inhibit tumor growth and prolong life in mice with breast tumors. Oral administration of triterpenoid fractions for 18 consecutive days inhibited angiogenesis, which significantly reduced tumor weight and the number of tumor cell colonies that metastasized in the liver of female mice.

Another study found that Reishi also extended the lifespan of mice with transplanted tumors by inhibiting lung metastases. Chemopreventive activities of the mushroom on prostate cancer were demonstrated by the triterpene-rich extract of Reishi, which suppressed testosterone-induced ventral prostate growth.

Studies on People

Two controlled trials were conducted using a rich Reishi extract on 134 patients with advanced cancers of various locations. Cellular immunity in 80% of these patients is significantly increased, in terms of increased levels of interleukin and interferon in the plasma.

In another study, the same protocol was applied to 68 patients with lung cancer, in whom immune parameters, including T-cells and NK-cells, were significantly improved. In accordance, the quality of life improved in about 65% of these patients. It was also found to increase the mitogenic activity of NK cells in patients with advanced cancers in a before-and-after study.

Conclusion

Reishi is a well-known Asian medicine with a long and impressive range of applications. Global consumption of this mushroom is increasing, including the increasing use of patented and commercially available products and supplements. These preparations are most often available in the form of nutritional supplements. These include extracts and various formulations. With its growing popularity, numerous studies are being conducted on its composition, cultivation, and known effects.

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Author: Jagoda Jovanovic

Sources:

National Library of Medicine, Ganoderma Lucidum [Lingzhi or Reishi], Sissi Wachtel-Galor, John Yuen, John A. Buswell, and Iris F.F. Benzie

MedicalNewsToday, Everything You Need to Know About Reishi Mushrooms

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Reishi Mushroom, Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More