Medicinal Mushrooms (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version
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Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Ganoderma is a genus of woody polypore fungi which grow on live trees. In the Chinese Pharmacopeia, the official species are Ganoderma lucidum (Leyss. ex Fr.) P. Karst and Ganoderma sinense Zhao, Xu et Zhang. Another commonly encountered species is Ganoderma lingzhi Wu, Cao et Dai. In traditional Chinese medicine, the fungi are collectively known as Ling Zhi; in Japan, they are known as Reishi. In China, G. lucidum is known as Chizhi and G. sinense is known as Zizhi.
Recent molecular taxonomic and chemical studies have made it clear that the originally described European species G. lucidum and the East Asian medicinal species are not identical.[1-5] The newly accepted name for the East Asian species traditionally called G. lucidum is Ganoderma sichuanense. However, most research worldwide has been published under the name G. lucidum. This includes the full genome sequence of G. lucidum. There are many other species of Ganoderma, which are difficult to distinguish from the medicinal species.
Ganoderma has a very long history in East Asia as a medicinal mushroom dating back to the Chinese materia medica “Shen Nung Ben Cao Jing,” written between 206 BC and 8 AD. It was considered a superior tonic for prolonging life, preventing aging, and boosting qi. It has been associated with royalty, perhaps due to its rarity in the wild. It was also revered in Japanese culture. It is used by contemporary Chinese physicians to support immune function in patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer, among other uses. The development of improved Ganoderma products is currently under way using biotechnological processes.
There are no studies of G. lucidum with measured cancer outcomes. Building on the preclinical evidence that the polysaccharide fractions of G. lucidum enhance host immune function and have potential antitumor activity, investigators studied an over-the-counter product in patients with advanced stage lung cancer. Patients received Ganopoly, an aqueous polysaccharide fraction extracted from G. lucidum fruiting bodies. In an open-label trial, 36 patients with advanced lung cancer at a hospital in China, enrolled and 30 were accessible for immune function after 12 weeks. The patients were treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and other complementary therapies. Ganopoly was administered as 1800 mg capsules 3 times daily before meals for 12 weeks. Treatment did not significantly alter the mean mitogenic reactivity to phytohemagglutinin; mean counts of lymphocyte subsets CD3, CD4, CD8, and CD56; mean plasma concentrations on interleukin-2, interleukin-6, or interferon-gamma; or natural killer cell activity (P > .05). The investigators noted that some patients did experience some significant changes in the parameters studied, but the group effect was null overall. The same group of investigators conducted a similar study of Ganopoly in 47 patients with advanced colorectal cancer and reported the exact same findings as seen in the lung cancer cohort.
Another mechanistic study in China investigated whether G. lucidum polysaccharides could counteract the immune suppression mediated by the plasma of patients with lung cancer. It is postulated that cancer cells release immunosuppressive mediators such as PGE2, TGF-beta, IL-10, and VEGF to inhibit the immune response and escape from immune surveillance. G. lucidum polysaccharides had been shown to counteract this immune suppression in an animal cell culture model; therefore, this experiment was undertaken to evaluate whether the effect could be duplicated in humans. Blood was obtained from 12 lung cancer patients. The G. lucidum polysaccharides were isolated from a boiling water extract of G. lucidum fruit bodies by ethanol precipitation. CD69 expression on mononuclear lymphocytes after phytohemagglutinin stimulation was inhibited markedly compared with controls (P = .05) after a 24-hour incubation with lung cancer patient plasma. G. lucidum polysaccharides at concentrations of 3.2 μg/mL and 12.8 µg/mL significantly antagonized this inhibition (P < .05 for both). Similar results were observed with additional assays leading the investigators to conclude that lung cancer patient plasma-induced suppression of lymphocyte activation by phytohemagglutinin may be fully or partially antagonized by G. lucidum polysaccharides, making them an attractive adjuvant in cancer treatment.
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