When a superfood’s called “the king of mushrooms,” you know it’s got something special going on. And while reishi mushrooms won’t turn you into the next Meghan Markle, they are known for their cell-regenerating, immune-boosting potential, which could go a long way to improving your quality of life.
Fan-shaped and orange to reddish brown in color, reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum for us science geeks) are a rare find in nature, and were typically reserved for royalty when they were first used in Asian cultures thousands of years ago. (Cue the nickname.) Today, they’re grown commercially and sold in a variety of formats, including tea, tinctures, capsules, and even hot cocoa, beauty products, and energy bars. And no, you won’t find them hanging out in the produce aisle of Whole Foods—while reishi mushrooms can be eaten fresh, their woody texture and bitter taste aren’t very palatable.
So why are they suddenly everywhere? “Reishi mushrooms are great for stimulating the immune system and liver function, producing an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, and have even been shown to reduce tumor growth,” says Rachel Gargiulo, certified nutrition consultant at Nourishing Journey, a wellness center and organic café in Columbia, MD.
Indeed, reishi mushrooms exhibit a full array of the qualities that make medicinal ‘shrooms so buzzy—they’re adaptogenic stress-soothers and high in antioxidants, which is why they’ve long been a staple of Eastern medicine. No wonder everyone in the wellness world seems to be hailing this king right now.
The health benefits of reishi mushrooms
While reishi mushrooms are generally safe for most people to experiment with, they can cause some side effects—digestive and otherwise—so you should consult with your doctor before taking them. (That goes double if you’re pregnant, breast feeding, about to have surgery, or have any type of blood disorder or high/low blood pressure.)
Once your MD gives you the all-clear, however, there are lots of ways that reishi ‘shrooms can potentially enhance your health. Below are 10 benefits that have been uncovered by scientists—although it’s important to note that many of these studies weren’t conducted on humans (or if they were, the sample size was very small), and more research needs to happen before these theories are definitively proven.
1. Boost the immune system: Historically, reishi mushrooms have been used as an immune system enhancer—they’re even used in Asian cultures as an immunostimulant for patients with HIV and cancer. The beta glucans (complex sugars) in the mushroom are believed to stimulate the immune system to prevent infection.
2. Can alleviate fatigue: Reishi mushrooms are adaptogens, plants that help the body combat stress. In one study of 132 patients suffering from neurasthenia (a condition characterized by physical and mental exhaustion), consumption of a compound found in reishi mushrooms was shown to improve aches, pains, and feelings of irritability.
3. Relates to fighting things we cannot mention here.
4. Heart healthy: Compounds in reishi mushrooms may help keep high blood pressure at bay, according to a rat study carried out in 2014. But again, if you’re currently taking blood pressure medication, consult with your doctor before taking reishi mushrooms—the combination could lower your BP to dangerous levels.
5. Might be good for the brain: Research done on animals indicates that reishi mushrooms may be therapeutic for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and may also be able to protect the brain from seizures. Further research still needs to be done to confirm this, however.
6. Has allergy-fighting potential: Some studies have shown that reishi mushrooms may have antihistamine effects and can improve the body’s oxygen supply, which is key to those suffering from chronic and allergic asthma.
7. Contains cholesterol-lowering compounds: Both triterpenes and beta glucans may reduce total cholesterol and LDL—commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol.”
8. Relates to potential help in controlling blood sugars
9. Could improve liver function: Reishi mushroom spores were found to promote liver cell regeneration in mice, improving the organ’s ability to shuttle toxins out of the body. A healthy liver can also be critical to supporting other health benefits mentioned above, including managing blood sugar and allergies.
10. Rich in antioxidants: Despite the fact that their other nickname is “the mushroom of immortality,” reishi mushrooms won’t, in fact, make you live forever. But they do have antioxidant properties that can reduce the risk of disease and premature aging—and we can never have too many foods like that in our diets, right?