Ganoderma lucidum (lingzhi in China, reishi or mannentake in Japan) has been successfully used in the field of medicine for more than 4,000 years among Asian peoples. In China it is referred to as the king of herbs.
It is interesting that it is not really suitable for consumption, but the extract obtained from it has proven positive effect on many areas. In the Far East, it has become known primarily as an enhancer, and the anticancer effect is one of the most significant properties.
It has a wide range of products worldwide. It can be also found in the form of powder, extract and tea. There are several types of Ganoderma products available in Hungary, which is easily accessible to anyone as a dietary supplement.
Appearance and lifestyle
It has a saprophytic, a parasite lifestyle, it is settled on damaged trees. Its favourite habitat is mainly the trunk of leafy trees, most commonly found in the surroundings of oak and some coniferous trees (e.g. pine, spruce).
It looks slightly different from other fungus. It is large, hard-bodied species with a typical half- or kidney-shaped cap with a shiny, brownish wax layer. On the edge of the mushroom’s cap there is a light (white-to-yellow shade) strip, which is also a unique feature of the fungus. Its height can range from 5 to 20 cm; the cap is approximately 1-3 cm thick.
The pulp of Ganoderma lucidum is very hard, with a paraffin-like texture. Due to its characteristic smell and its bitter taste, it is not consumed as a food.
As far as its habitat is concerned, there are still differences in opinions (due to the uncertain taxonomic classification), but observations show that it is an available species on a global scale. It can be found in the Mediterranean and moderate climatic zone in Europe. In Germany, for example, it can be found in all regions, but we can also see it in the oak woods in Hungary. It is a fact, however, that we rarely encounter it in a wild form.
Notes were made even in ancient times about the fungus, that is to say, this medicinal mushroom has been known for more than 2,000 years.
The world’s first known book on herbs and their effects was compiled by Shen Nung Ben Cao Jing during the Eastern Han dynasty (around 25-220). In addition to herbs, the book also describes the beneficial effects of several mushrooms, including Ganoderma lucidum (referred to as ‘ling chih’). The author highlights this fungus due to its outstanding therapeutic properties, which include vitality enhancing, cardiovascular, memory-enhancing and anti-aging effect.
In Chinese culture it was regarded as the key of immortality, and due its prominent properties, it was only the emperor’s privilege to use it for a long time.
Ganoderma lucidum also appeared in the arts: paintings, carvings, furniture and even women’s accessories. The first art work associated with this mushroom dates back to 1400, which representation is religiously associated, and specifically related to Taoism.
What Ganoderma contains
Polysaccharides, peptidoglycans and triterpene form the three main active ingredients of the mushroom. Actually, more than 50 active polysaccharides and more than 150 triterpeonids compounds are responsible for its outstanding medicinal effects. Its typically bitter flavour and its blood-lipid reducing effect are due to the latter.
Like most mushrooms, it contains water to a large extent, 1.8% ash, 26-28% carbohydrates, 3-5% crude fat, 59% crude fibre and 7-8% crude protein. The most important minerals of Ganoderma lucidum are phosphorus, sulphur, potassium, calcium and magnesium. It contains small amounts of iron, sodium, zinc, manganese. Vitamins A, C, E, D and B complex can be highlighted.
The germanium content of the fungus was paramount to researchers who observed that the germanium content of the wild specimens was much higher (489 μg / g). This mineral can be found in many other plant-based foods such as ginseng, aloe and garlic. The significance of germanium is due to the fact that it is immune enhancing, has anti-tumour effect, antioxidant and antimutagenic activity at a low dose, and can increase blood oxygen uptake by one and a half times, improve digestion and prevent tissue dying. According to Dr. Kazuhiko Asai’s research, It contains germanium between 800 and 2000 parts per million, which is four to six times higher than in Asian ginseng
Other compounds isolated from Ganoderma lucidum include:
- enzymes, , e.g. the metalloprotease which regulates coagulation time,
- ergosterol, provitamin of Vitamin D2, transformed by the UV light
- nucleotides (adenosine and guanosine)
Its beneficial health effects
In addition to its ancient therapeutic use and its beneficial effects, it has also become the focus of research in recent decades. Many researchers reported its healing effects and applicability. Among its positive properties, the researchers highlight the blood pressure lowering and immune enhancer effects, and recommend it for nephritis, asthma and stomach problems. According to recent research, it can play a role in the treatment of cancer and AIDS.
General immune enhancing effect
Ganoderma is very useful in promoting the functioning of the immune system, not only stimulating but regulating its functioning. Its effect is due to its ability to regulate metabolic balance and to promote the synthesis of nucleic acid in the body. Its polysaccharides increase the level of interferon in the body by promoting the release of white blood cells. These white blood cells contribute to the body’s ability to successfully fight against various diseases. It has also proven effective against influenza virus, candidosis, and herpes simplex virus (HSV).
In addition, it is able to reduce the adverse effects of therapy among cancer patients (e.g., radiation therapy, chemotherapy). Therefore it has a beneficial effect on patients’ recovery and wellbeing.
Ganoderma stimulates the body’s production of interleukin-2, which helps fighting against various cancerous diseases. Ganodermic acid found in ganoderma helps fighting against liver cancer. In an experiment, 34 advanced stage carcinoma patients received ganoderma three times a day for 12 weeks. The results showed a significant increase in T cells that contribute to combating the tumour.
Triterpenes in ganoderma showed high cytotoxic activity during the studies at several tumour cell lines. This means that due to these compounds, ganoderma can inhibit the rapid growth and reproduction of cancerous cells, thus reducing metastases. In case of non-hormone-dependent prostate cancer and breast cancer, the use of ganoderma has proven to be extremely effective. Polysaccharides in the mushroom are able to increase the activity of natural killer cells (NK cells) and increase cytokines – due to its effect, for example, improvements in lung cancer cases were found. In studies with lung cancer patients, polysaccharides from ganoderma resulted in a decrease by 43.8-84.4% in case of the disease-related symptoms (e.g. fever, coughing, weakness, sweating, insomnia), and the immune system of the patients enhanced.
Against urinary tract infections
Ganoderma also helps mitigating urinary tract infections. In a study including 88 patients with urinary tract infection received ganoderma for 2 weeks. Researchers found that the fungus was significantly more effective than placebo in mitigating the symptoms of urinary tract infections.
Heart and vascular effects
Researchers found that consumption of Ganoderma improves blood circulation and increases myocardial oxygen uptake. The agent responsible for the effect was the ganodermic acid with triterpene structure which have a lowering effect of blood pressure and cholesterol backed by pharmacological studies.
Other frequent uses of Ganoderma:
- Acne skin problems
- Hair loss
- Lyme disease
- Colitis ulcerosa
- Russel, M., Paterson, M. (2006): Ganoderma – A therapeutic fungal biofactory. Phytochemistry 67 (2006) 1985–2001 p.
- Wu, G., S., Guo, J., J., Bao, J., L., Li, X., W., Chen, X., P., Lu, J., J., Wang, Y., T. (2013): Anti-cancer properties of triterpenoids isolated from Ganoderma lucidum – a review. Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2013 Aug;22(8):981-92. doi: 10.1517/13543784.2013.805202. Epub 2013 Jun 24
- Chi H.J. Kao, Amalini C. Jesuthasan, Karen S. Bishop, Marcus P. Glucina, Lynnette R. Ferguson (2013): Anti-cancer activities of Ganoderma lucidum: active ingredients and pathways. Functional Foods in Health and Disease 2013; 3(2):48-65
- Gill, B., S., Kumar, N., Kumar, S. (2017): Ganoderma lucidum targeting lung cancer signaling: A review. Tumor Biology, June 2017: 1–10. p.
- A pecsétviaszgomba (Ganoderma lucidum). Összeáll. Dr. Szabó László Gy., Dr. Babulka Péter, Fődi Attila. [2., jav., illusztrált kiad.]. Budapest : DXN Europe Kft., 2012. 36 p. ISBN 978-963-08-3137-6
- Noguchi M, Kakuma T, Tomiyasu K, Yamada A, Itoh K, Konishi F, Kumamoto S, Shimizu K, Kondo R, Matsuoka K. “Randomized clinical trial of an ethanol extract of Ganoderma lucidum in men with lower urinary tract symptoms.” Asian Journal of Andrology 2008 10(5):777-85.
- American Cancer Society (ACS). ACS Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Methods. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2001.
- Maszlavér, P. (2008). A pecsétviasz gomba, Ganoderma lucidum (Curt.: Fr.) Karst hazai termeszthetőségének lehetőségei (Doctoral dissertation, Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem).