Key Takeaways

  1. Reishi is common name for Ganoderma lucidum, a mushroom used frequently in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
  2. While not the most popular supplement in existence, it falls prey to the same marketing machine that claims it can serve as a cure-all for a wide-range of afflictions.
  3. Reishi does seem to beneficially affect many things, but all of which seem to be a “step in the right direction” rather than having the potency of a cure-all.

With each product I help formulate for Legion comes a different set of feelings towards them.

Pulse: Simplicity. It’s not super fancy but it’s not just one ingredient either. It’s a good blend of good things with great feedback from users.

Ascend: Foundation. In a genre of nootropics that try and force effects in your mind we now have one to serve more as a scaffolding of brain function. It’s more of a multivitamin for your brain in a genre of supplements that are, by definition, supposed to support and grow the brain.

Triton: Apathy. Pure apathy. It’s just fish oil. Don’t mess with perfection or anything but, damn, that one was boring.

What stands out above all of the rest, though?

Genesis: Rebirth (Ha, take that Phoenix! Literally named after a the phoenix and you don’t even get the rebirthing title).

The reason for this, and the reason I view Genesis as my baby, is because I think that it could revolutionize the entire field of greens supplements. This is all due to one . . . simple . . . trick . . .  

We actually told you the amount of the stuff you’re eating and why you should want to.

Listen, if I wanted a bunch of vegetable scraps in undisclosed amounts in and around my face hole then I’d just make a stew and puree the veggies that are left over. It’s just as disgusting to consume and a bit more interesting.

When I want a greens supplement, though, what I want is . . .  

  1. The stuff that I’m NOT going to get normally in my diet. Don’t give me powdered lettuce—I’ll just eat a salad.
  2. Stuff that actually has demonstrable benefits, not stuff that’s just thrown into a supplement because, “Oh wow, it’s green. Green is natural, brah.”
  3. For it to actually tell me how much I am getting. Not a 20-ingredient long proprietary blend.

Now, of course we did put in some boring stuff like kale, broccoli, and spinach, but ya gotta get some basic vitamins and minerals in there. We also have exciting stuff like my algae baby spirulina, Astragalus membranaceus, and reishi.

And unlike other greens products, if we underdosed or overdosed something we can be called out on it. That’s great since people know they’re getting 5 grams spirulina, not 4.9 grams of wet lettuce fiber and a dash of spirulina.

But disclosing the amounts of the ingredients is only the first step towards full disclosure. The other step is going above and beyond to prove that these are things you want in your body.

So why not start with the most popular compound in Genesis, the mushroom reishi.

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What Is Reishi Mushroom?

Reishi (as well as Lingzhi/Yeong ji) are common names for the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum, a medicinal mushroom that’s often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

It’s garnered some impressive sounding nicknames like the Mushroom of Immortality due to being historically used by royalty rather than peasants.

It seems that some of this praise has stuck. It isn’t the most common dietary supplement, but it’s praised so highly that many of the claims sound outright fallacious.

So let’s unpack this mushroom a bit and see what’s inside the claims.

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Why Do People Supplement with Reishi Mushroom?

reishi mushroom

Reishi has gotten the standard “alternative health panacea” treatment that comes every now and then, seen nowadays with curcumin and in the past with resveratrol and astragalus. The fact is that depending on where you look, it’s claimed to do pretty much everything.

It’s doubtful that this is due to the mushroom itself but, rather, it tends to happen when a supplement is studied broadly for a decade and research never focuses on individual benefits. If it can’t be known for the thing then it will just be known for all things.

However, a few claims are significantly more common and we’re going to focus on those in this article.

First and foremost, it’s recommended for boosting the immune system, reducing fatigue, and preventing and treating cancer. To be fair, just about every supplemental mushroom is claimed to do these things, too.

When it comes to unique recommendations, what sets reishi apart from other mushroom/fungal supplements like lion’s mane or cordyceps, is that’s it’s generally recommended for increasing longevity and reducing anxiety and depression.

Depending on where you look, claims about reishi being able to detoxify the liver are also present.

What Are the Benefits of Reishi Mushroom?

Before we look into the benefits of reishi, I want to make something clear. Like many herbal supplements, “reishi” is not a single molecule but rather a collection of molecules bound together in nature’s proprietary blend. This can lead to a great deal of confusion as to why something works.

Reishi, however, has a small dichotomy that can make understanding it a lot easier.

This boils down to . . .  

Triterpenoids (small fat-soluble molecules found in many plants) vs. polysaccharides (carbohydrates that stimulate the immune system).

Both are beneficial to the body, but they’re “beneficial” in different ways. The polysaccharides tend to be more related to the immune system whereas the triterpenoids seem to be more related to hormones and neurological effects.

The polysaccharides are what are found in water soluble extracts, like what we use in Genesis, and tend to be dosed at around 1.5 to 5.2 grams. The triterpenoids are found in ethanolic (fat soluble) extracts like tinctures and tend to be taken at doses of 6 milligrams.

If you managed to find Reishi in the wild and sauteed it in some oil (with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti, since it looks like a brain) then you would get the benefits of both groups of molecules. For supplements you usually get one or the other.

With that said, let’s see how well the claims of reishi are supported.

Reishi and Immune Function

The main claim to fame with reishi comes from its role in modulating the immune system.

“Modulating” is a bit of a buzzword here in the fitness space, but it just means “leveling of the hills and valleys” when it comes to immune function. In other words, major spikes or drops in immune function are reduced, and things stabilize more or less in a healthy range.

Furthermore, reishi seems to stimulate some types of immune cells that are of relevance to not only general health, but also other conditions that the immune system is involved in (cancer, rheumatism, renal disease, etc.).

For our intents and purposes we just want to focus on three types of cell groups:

  1. Dendritic cells
  2. T cells
  3. Natural Killer cells

Dendritic cells are highly involved in sensing and training other immune cells, assessing the state of the body and trying to manage it. To use it in an analogy they are like a police training academy.

Reishi has been noted to beneficially affect these cells, maturing them in a manner which encourages production of interleukin-12 (IL-12), a T-cell and Natural Killer cell stimulating factor.

T cells are, frankly, incredibly complex and it’s very hard to accurately fit them in this analogy, but calling them the police dispatchers and first responders would not be entirely inaccurate. They look over and manage other cells of the immune system, calling in backup when needed.

As for the backup, those would be the Natural Killer (NK) cells.

You could say macrophages, commonly referred to as the “pac man” cells of the immune system because they literally eat infections, are the first responding officers to the scene. NK cells are S.W.A.T. Their job is to kill things . . . naturally.

Reishi supplementation stimulates the production of NK cells, and enhances the ability of these NK cells to kill their targets (usually cancer cells and infections).

And sometimes things try to prevent NK cells from killing cancer cells. Well, not when they’ve been trained by reishi.

Overall, Reishi polysaccharides appear to be effective at improving immune function by making your body more capable of sensing what a proper threat is and better at subsequently handling that threat with extreme prejudice.

Reishi and Cancer

Before we begin this section, we need to confirm that discussing dietary supplements in the context of cancer is a pretty touchy subject.

It’s totally fine to advocate for supplements that can reduce your risk of getting cancer but, when it comes to recommending things for treating cancer once someone already has it, you’re walking on thin ice.

To reiterate, there’s no reason reishi would ever be a better chemotherapeutic than pharmaceutical options, and if you decide to forgo pharmacy to treat cancer with natural compounds you are . . .  what’s the word . . .  incredibly negligent.

With that disclaimer out of the way, science time!

Reishi is one of the few supplements with human evidence behind it, and it does tend to come up with positive results.

When it comes to colon cancers, a low dose (1.5 grams) of the polysaccharides from reishi mycelium has been shown to stop the progress of colorectal adenomas. This may be a direct effect of reishi, but it’s more likely a side effect of its immune boosting properties.

The role of reishi as an adjuvant (something taken alongside other things to help increase the immune response) may also extend to the lungs and liver, where the immune stimulation seemed to underlie anti-cancer effects of this mushroom.

In regards to that lung study however, it showed that reishi was able to prevent a suppression of immune function as well. This is important, because while the immune system tries its best to save the body, some cancers hinder the immune system and reishi may block this effect.

So, overall, reishi seems to boost the immune system a bit while preventing some immunosuppressive factors from interfering. This causes an overall net improvement in immune function, which is why reishi has been investigated for fighting cancer alongside standard chemotherapy.

And finally, once again, just to be a pedant and not piss off oncologists (I love you guys), none of this evidence supports shifting from pharmacy to “alternative health.” We can play nicely together on this topic.

While it would be wrong to say that reishi has enough evidence to be a proven “cancer fighter,” it would also be wrong to say that it’s useless. There is indeed human evidence showing an improvement in immune function and potentially a decrease in the rate of tumor growth with reishi mushroom supplements.

Reishi and Fatigue

Reishi is often recommended for fighting fatigue but the actual interaction with fatigue is a bit roundabout and unclear.

It also segues nicely from the cancer section.

The polysaccharides (water extract) may reduce fatigue associated with chemotherapy, which has also been replicated in breast cancer patients. Both of these studies note that the benefits are associated with changes in immunity and, at least in rats, it’s been confirmed to be related to the polysaccharides.

It sort of makes sense, since survivors of cancer (and chemotherapies) that suffer from fatigue tend to be in a more elevated state of inflammation than normal (among other factors). Supplements that can tip the balance back into a state of lower inflammation might be able to help prevent that.

Beyond that, though? There doesn’t seem to be any evidence in either rats or humans that reishi can help with the standard run-of-the-mill fatigue that you get from your day-to-day life.

Of course, maybe it can? Who knows, those studies haven’t been done.

The benefits of reishi on fatigue appear to be highly contextual. Right now, it only seems to reduce fatigue when it’s successfully used as a cancer adjuvant. The notion that it helps daily fatigue in an otherwise healthy person is unsupported.

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Reishi and Testosterone

reishi mushroom health benefits

I included this section because while some people seek out reishi for its anti-androgenic effects (thought to help fight benign prostatic hyperplasia and/or balding) others, specifically young male athletes, may shy away thinking it reduces testosterone levels.

It kind of does but, at the same time, we made sure this wasn’t an issue with Genesis.

This is because this effect is caused by the triterpenoids, not the polysaccharides. Some of these buggers actually bind to the androgen receptor, blocking testosterone from doing its job.

The problem is that these compounds aren’t as effective as real testosterone, which means you’re basically getting a worse version of the stuff you really want. The result is less androgenic signaling overall.

It’s kind of like when somebody else is playing a video game you’re amazing at. Sure, stuff is getting done technically, but it’s going slower than it should.

Beyond that, these triterpenoids may inhibit the 5α-reductase enzyme (which converts testosterone into the more potent androgen, DHT) which would also result in a net reduction in androgen signaling.

So overall, it is reasonable to assume that the triterpenoids have an anti-androgenic effect. It’s not all bad though, some people seek this out for attenuating hair loss and fighting benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPN).

While it requires more human evidence to confirm, it’s reasonable to assume that the ethanolic extract form of reishi (triterpenoids), have anti-androgenic properties. At times these have been used beneficially but, understandably, some people may want to avoid such an effect.

Reishi and the Liver

Reishi is touted for its ability to detox (bleh, hate that word) the liver. This is partially true in that, reishi does seem to interact with the liver in a beneficial manner but, seriously, detox is the wrong word to use.

While both parts of the reishi mushroom can be beneficial, most studies are conducted on the ethanolic portion containing the triterpenoids.

When it comes to the triterpenoids, basically they’re just good antioxidants and when things would cause liver cells to seppuku from oxidation, reishi steps in and stops that from happening.

This has been confirmed in a human study where oral consumption of a mixed supplement (both polysaccharides and triterpenoids) increased the antioxidant capacity of the liver.

Plus, there’s one interesting study (in rats) that showed reishi protected the brain and liver from alcohol abuse, so that’s just peachy. A nice happy little side-effect of supplementation.

So, already we’re off to a good start.

Most supplements that are claimed to be liver healthy have no human evidence whatsoever, but reishi does improve the antioxidant capacity of the liver.

However, the claim that it “detoxes” the body insinuates that Reishi is able to remove toxins from tissues. There are some compounds that do this, like spirulina (reducing arsenic in the body), but there’s no evidence that reishi does this.

Reishi triterpenoids appear to be healthy for the liver and there’s evidence that reishi supplements can improve the antioxidant capacity of the liver. However, the detox claim associated with reishi is unsupported.

Reishi and Anxiety/Depression

Man, it’s been an entire article and each section actually had some benefits behind the claims? That’s weird, and disconcerting—time to be a killjoy once again.

Reishi is somewhat frequently recommended for anxiety and depression. This appears to be based off of, well, either personal anecdotes or really bad evidence.

Right now, there are only three studies on this topic.

These are all pilot studies in rodents to merely assess whether or not reishi has any effect on these conditions whatsoever. Technically, reishi does, with the water soluble version showing antidepressant activity and the fat-soluble version showing antianxiety activity.

But at this stage of research—force feeding stuff to rats—you can find an effect with almost any dietary supplement.

Ultimately, the effects of reishi on depression and anxiety aren’t well supported at all. The rodent evidence that we have on hand also doesn’t suggest some cool niche or high potency that would make reishi a good choice for depression and/or anxiety.

What’s the Clinically Effective Dosage of Reishi Mushroom?

reishi mushroom dosage

Dosing for reishi (the water extract version) varies widely, but it’s in the range of 1.44 to 5.2 grams a day.

The 1.44 gram dose is the smallest “take it and forget it” dose, whereas the 5.2 gram dose tends to be a thrice daily supplement of 1.8 grams, taken with meals.

Genesis contains 2.5 grams of the water soluble reishi extract (in the form of the fruiting body, rather than the mycelium) since we expected most people to take a serving of Genesis once a day but, if you wanted to take two, it would put you right near the higher end of the clinically effective dose.

The ethanolic extract, which isn’t included in Genesis, is generally dosed at 6 mg total triterpenoids per day, taken with meals.

What Types of Results Should I Expect with Reishi Mushroom?

Right, so here’s the issue…

You probably won’t feel much when using reishi. Perhaps your joints will creak a bit less, maybe your stomach feels a tad better, but everything you feel should be pretty minor and probably within the realm of placebo.

There are no major, acute, noticeable benefits with reishi. Well, there shouldn’t be at least. It’s why we put it in a blend with other goodies and not by itself. It would kinda suck to take a single supplement on faith and never feel anything from it.

That being said, while the studies haven’t been done, it isn’t unreasonable to assume a boost in immune function to result in less sickness and lesser side-effects when sick.

Does Reishi Have Any Side Effects?

There are plenty of human studies on reishi at this point, with some specifically dedicated to testing its safety.

These studies find no major evidence of harm, no abnormal effects on blood viscosity (how thick your blood is), and both short and moderate length studies find no evidence of any harm to organs or the DNA seen with the lower dose of Reishi (1.44 grams water soluble extract).

So, for all intents and purposes, despite all the fancy pharmaceutical jargon and claims associated with it, reishi has no more side effects than a food-grade mushroom.

There’s reasonable evidence that it’s safe for use during chemotherapy but, let’s be serious here, if you’re undergoing chemotherapy then you’re not going to come to this article for confirmation. You have a team of doctors with you for a reason.

In regards to pregnancy, there’s currently no proof that it’s safe for pregnant women. There’s no known danger either but, at times like these, it’s best to be safe rather than sorry.

What’s the Best Form of Reishi?

The major concern with reishi is whether or not you want a concentrated ethanolic extract (for mostly antioxidant and anti-androgenic properties), or a water soluble extract (for the immune boosting polysaccharides).

When you decide on that, then there really isn’t too much more to think about.

When it comes to the polysaccharides they seem to be present in all parts of reishi. Both the fruiting body and the mycelium of the mushroom are common supplements that’ve been used with success in studies.

If you opt for reishi tea products, then understand that you get the polysaccharides from them. Tea is basically just water-extracts of plants after all.

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The Bottom Line on Reishi Mushroom

Ultimately, reishi doesn’t have any single claim to fame that makes it a super great dietary supplement, but it solidly fits into the jack of all trades area, where it benefits a lot of stuff modestly.

Some of these benefits have given it a very good reputation, being one of the few supplements that’s been demonstrated in humans to reduce tumor growth rates, but don’t be fooled into thinking that reishi is a holy grail of sorts.

It’s just a regular grail, which is nice.

And, if you’re interested in trying out a high-quality reishi mushroom supplement for yourself, along with eight other ingredients proven to improve physical and mental performance, increase energy levels, protect heart and circulatory health, and boost immunity and longevity, then you want to try Genesis today.

What’s your take on reishi mushrooms? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!