top of page
  • Writer's pictureValeria Muriel

How Reishi Mushroom Extract Improve Immune System?


Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is called “the mushroom of immortality” in China and has been used in Oriental Medicine for over 2,000 years. (1,2) In recent years its reishi mushroom extract has been the subject of intensive research regarding their apparent ability to help prevent or treat many diseases. Such as certain types of cancer, aid in the treatment of liver disease, HIV infection, acute or recurrent herpetic infections, high blood pressure, chronic bronchitis, allergies and asthma, and favorably modulate immune function. (3) The reishi mushroom grows wild on decaying logs and tree stumps in the coastal provinces of China. The fruiting body of the mushroom is used medicinally. (4)

What are the Active Constituents?

Reishi mushrooms contain a number of active agents that are known to modulate the function and improve immune system in humans. The primary agents include:

1. Specific Polysaccharides - which occur in the form of Beta-D-glucans bound to amino acids. These agents are known to possess immune-modulating and anticancer properties. (3) 2. Triterpene compounds - known as ganoderic acids, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce platelet stickiness and may decrease LDL-cholesterol. (5) 3. Other major active constituents – including sterols, coumarin and mannitol. (5)

Clinical Application and Mechanism of Action

1. AntiCancer Properties: Cancer studies in animals have shown a 50% tumor regression rate with reishi mushroom extract treatment (e.g., connective tissue cancer model in mice). (6) Reishi mushroom extract is used by some cancer surgeons in Japan to treat cancer patients and significant anti tumor and immunostimulation effects have been noted in many of these cases. (7) Polysaccharides from reishi mushrooms and from other types of folk-medicinal fungi are patented in Japan for use as immunomodulators in the treatment of cancer. They are combined with chemo- and radiotherapy and have demonstrated an ability to reduce side effects, increase the efficacy of treatments, and are used to accelerate recovery from disease. (8,9) Studies from China have shown that reishi mushroom extract potentiates the tumoricidal capacity of macrophages and T-cells. (10,11) Reishi mushroom extract is known to have other immune modulating effects and antioxidant properties as well (12,13,14,15,16) Animal studies also show that the polysaccharide fraction of reishi mushrooms can induce apoptosis (programmed cell death of cancer cells) in leukemic cells and induce cellular differentiation in 40-45% of leukemic cells treated with reishi polysaccharides, demonstrating significant anticancer properties. These effects were primarily due to the increased secretion of anti-tumor cytokines (signaling agents) induced by reishi mushroom polysaccharides, namely TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma, and these two cytokines acted synergistically on the inhibition of leukemic-cell growth. (17) In a related experiment, the D-glucan polysaccharide fraction of reishi mushroom was shown to produce dramatic tumor regression in a mice sarcoma study. In many animals, complete tumor regression occurred in the group injected with beta-D glucan fractions within a 5-week period. The study by Y. Sone, et al, reported tumor inhibition rates of 90% and tumor regression in 75% of afflicted animals. (18)

2. Improve Immune System: (Bronchitis, Asthma, Allergies, Herpetic Conditions and HIV Infection) As noted above, reishi mushroom extract modulates many components of the immune system, which in part, account for its apparent anti-tumor properties. Chronic bronchitis in the elderly has been shown to respond favorably to treatment using a concentrated reishi mushroom product in a trial involving 2,000 cases in China. This study demonstrated a better than 60% success rate. After several months of treatment there was a noted rise in the levels of immunoglobulin A in the sputum. (10) Immunoglobulin A is the main immunoglobulin found in the respiratory tract. A deficiency is common in allergies,(19) systemic lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. (20) Reishi mushroom extract supplementation has been shown to help improve cases of asthma and allergies. Two constituents of reishi mushroom extract, oleic acid and cyclooctasulfur were shown to inhibit the release of histamine, which is likely how it benefits asthmatic and allergic patients. (10,21,22) A specific protein-bound polysaccharide component of reishi mushroom extract, known as GLhw-02, has been shown to possess potent anti-viral properties against herpes simplex virus type 1 and type-2 under experimental conditions. (23) A small human trial demonstrated that reishi mushroom extract reduced pain “dramatically” in two patients with post-herpetic neuralgia and in two other patients with severe pain due to herpes zoster infection (shingles, which is caused by a herpes virus). (24) Under experimental conditions, various ganoderic acids in reishi mushroom extract have been shown to be active anti-HIV agents, showing an ability to reduce viral replication by 50% at conservative doses. (25) Combined with other Oriental herbs, reishi is currently used in treatments of AIDS-related complex, AIDS, and alone or in combination formulas to treat chronic fatigue syndrome. (26,27,28) Finally, studies on male mice reveal that reishi mushroom extract was effective in enhancing the recovery of cellular immunocompetence after gamma-ray irradiation. Reishi mushroom supplementation significantly increased white blood cell count (leukocytes) and other parameters to improve immune system in these animals, (29) in a similar fashion as has been shown to occur with astragalus supplementation in patients treated with chemo- or radiation therapy. Thus, the combination of astragalus and reishi mushroom extract represents an effective means of daily immune support and a therapeutic intervention for a large number of immune compromised states (e.g.,chronic fatigue, chronic bronchitis, herpes I and II recurrent infections, post-herpetic neuralgia, recurrent apthous ulcers or canker sores, the common cold, HIV infection, etc.) and for patients undergoing chemo-or radiation therapy.

3. Cardiovascular Health: (High Blood Pressure and Reduced Platelet Aggregation) Two human controlled studies revealed that reishi mushroom extract can reduce high blood pressure to a significant degree (systolic and diastolic), even in patients who had previously failed to respond to established anti-hypertensive medications. (30,31) Animal studies reveal that reishi mushroom extract reduces blood pressure through a central inhibition of sympathetic nerve activity, although it does not slow heart rate or induce a sedative effect in general. (32) Under experimental conditions, reishi mushroom extract has a mild to moderate effect on reducing platelet aggregation, which may further help to decrease risk of cardiovascular disease. (33) It has also been shown to increase endurance, blood flow to the brain and to improve oxygenation of cells. As such, it aids energy production on a cellular level, which may improve cardiovascular health and is used to boost memory and intellectual capacity in some cultures, (34) including success in a study of Alzheimer’s patients. (35) 4. Liver Protective Effects: (Hepatoprotective Properties) Reishi is prescribed in China for the treatment of chronic and acute hepatitis. (36) Various ganoderic acids in reishi mushrooms have strong antihepatotoxic properties, (37) which under experimental conditions have been shown to protect liver cells from chemically-induced injury, including protection from the highly toxic and lethal substance, carbon tetrachloride. (38,39).

How much Dosage is recommended?

When used at high therapeutic doses, reishi mushroom extract has the potential to potentiate (enhance) the effects of the following types of medications, and thus requires proper patient monitoring:

  1. Antihypertensive medications (43,44)

  2. Hypoglycemic medications (45)

  3. Anticoagulant medications (e.g. warfarin, coumadin) (46)

Can Reishi extract cause adverse side effects and toxicity?

Side effects are infrequent and include dizziness, dryness of the mouth, throat and nasal areas, stomach upset and loose stools. (41)

contains agents that may be allergins to some patients, although allergic reactions are rare. (42) Note that there is no cross–sensitivity to the reishi mushroom if a person is allergic to the Button Mushroom or the commonly eaten white mushroom that is found in most grocery stores. (35) In general, reishi mushroom has been shown to be very non-toxic in animal toxicity studies and in humans, even when used at high therapeutic doses. (3)

How Drug-Nutrient Interactions occur?

When used at high therapeutic doses, reishi mushroom extract has the potential to potentiate (enhance) the effects of the following types of medications, and thus requires proper patient monitoring:

  1. Antihypertensive medications (43,44)

  2. Hypoglycemic medications (45)

  3. Anticoagulant medications (e.g. warfarin, coumadin) (46)


In Asia, herbal agents such as reishi mushroom extract and astragalus have been used, alone or in combination formulas, to improve various parameters of immune function, treat a variety of immune-compromised states, increase the white blood cell count in patients recovering from drug toxicity, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and provide effective complementary support for HIV and cancer patients.

Recent experimental studies and intervention trials have helped to substantiate the longstanding traditional use of these natural agents and as well as to confirm their safety profile and lack of toxicity.

As it is known that the human immune system becomes weaker and less efficient as we age, it seems reasonable that natural health practitioners would introduce measures to help their patients reduce or halt the age-related decline in immune system function; that appears to partially explain the rising cancer incidence that occurs as we age as well as our increased susceptibility to more virulent and life-threatening infections (e.g., Pneumonia).

In this regard, antioxidant supplementation has shown a remarkable ability to forestall age-related changes to the immune system and to reverse many aspects of immune function in subjects showing some decreased immune capabilities.

In concert with this intervention, the use of herbal compounds containing immune-modulating polysaccharides and other active constituents, such as reishi mushroom extract and astragalus, represent a potent means through which to further improve immune system and help patients prevent and treat a significant number of chronic degenerative diseases and reverse certain aspects of the aging process; especially in regards to immune, cardiovascular and liver function.


  1. Jong, S.C., et al. Medicinal Benefits of the Mushroom Ganoderma. Adv Appl Microbiol. 1992; 37: 101-34

  2. Herbs To The Rescue. Nutrition News, 11/30/92; V.XVI N.11; p.4

  3. Jones, Kenneth, Reishi (Ganoderma): Longevity Herb of the Orient; Part 2. Townsend Letters for Doctors & Patients; 11/20/92; N.112; p.1008-1012

  4. Leung, A.y., Foster, S. Encyclpedia of Common natural Ingredients Used in Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 255-60

  5. Hobbs, C. Medicinal Mushrooms. Santa Cruz, C.A., Botanica Press, 1995, 96-107

  6. Ikekawa, T., et al. 1968. Antitumor Action of Some Basidiomycetes, Especially Phellinus linteus. Japan J Can Res 59: 155157.

  7. Morishige, Fukumi (lecture), 1988. In Becoming Healthy with Reishi, III. Kampo I-Yaku Shimbun, Toyo-Igaku Sha Co., Ltd., Tokyo; 12-20. Trans.

  8. Tsukagoshi, S., et al. 1984. Krestin (PSK). Cancer Treat Rev 11 (2): 131-135.

  9. Teikoku Chemical Industry Co., Ltd. 1982. Mushroom Glycoproteins as neoplasm Inhibitors. Japanese Patent No. 82 75,926, May 12, 1982; in Chem Abstr 97:4431 1j.

  10. Lingzhi. In Chang, H-M. and p. P-H. But, editors. 1986. Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Materia Medica. Vol I. Singapore: World Scientific; 642-653

  11. Nakashima, S., et al. 1979. Effect of Polysaccharrides from Ganoderma applanatum on immune Responses I. Enhancing Effect on the Induction of Delayed Hypersensitivity in Mice. Microbiol Immunol 23 (6): 501-513

  12. Li Shih-chen. 1933. Pen T-sao Kang Mu. Shang Wu Printer, Shanghai. Trans.

  13. Liu, B, and Y-S Bau. 1980. Fungi Pharmacopoeia (Sinica). The Kinoko Company, Oakland, California; 168-169

  14. Lin, J.M., et al. Radical Scavanger and Antihepatotoxic Activity of Ganoderma formosanum, Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma neo-japonicum. J Ethnopharmacol. Jun 1995; 47 (1): 33-41

  15. Wang, S.Y, Hsu, M.L., Hsu, H.C., Tzeng, C.H., Lee, S.S., Shiao, M.S., Ho, C.K. The anti-tumor effect of Ganoderma lucidum is mediated by cytokines released from activated macrophages and T lymphocytes. Int J Cancer 1997 Mar 17; 70 (6): 699-705

  16. Lee, J.M., Kwon, H., Jeong, h., Lee, J.W., Lee, S.Y., Baek, S.J., Surh, Y.J. Inhibition of lipid peroxidation and oxidative DNA damage by Ganoderma lucidum [In Process Citation]. Phytother Res 2001 May; 15 (3): 245-9

  17. Wang, S.Y. The Anti-tumor Effect of Ganoderma lucidum is mediated by Cytokines Released From Activated macrophages and T Lymphocytes. Int J Cancer. May 1997; 70 (6): 699-705

  18. Sone, Y., et al. Structures and Antitumor Activities of the Polysaccharides isolated from Fruiting Body and the Growing Culture of Mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum., Agr Biol Bhem. 1985; 49: 2641-53.

  19. Tizard, I.R. 1984. Immunology: An Introduction. Saunders, Philadelphia; 94 and 323.

  20. Hayward, A.R. 1988, Immune Deficiency Disease. In Allergic Diseases from Infancy to Adulthood. Bierman, C. Warren and David s. Pearlman, editors. W.B. Saunders, 2nd edition, 1988; 34.

  21. Tasaka, T., et al. 1988. Anti-allergic constitutents in the culture medium of Ganoderma lucidum (I). Inhibitory effect of oleic acid on histamine release. Agents and Actions 23 (3/4): 153-156

  22. Tasaka, T., et al. 1988. Anti-allergic constitutents in the culture medium of Ganoderma lucidum (II). The Inhibitory effect of cyclooctasulpher on histamine release. Agents and Actions 23 (3/4): 157-160

  23. Lee, S.Y. Eo, S.K., et al. Antiherpetic Activities of Various protein Bound Polysaccarides isolated from Ganoderma lucidum. J Ethnopharmacol. Dec 1999; 68 (1-3): 175-81

  24. Hijikata, y., et al. Effect of Ganoderma lucidum on Postherpetic Neuralgia, Am J Chin Med. 1998; 26 (3-4): 375-81

  25. el-Mekkawy, S., et al. Anti-HIV-1 and Anti-HIV-1-protease Substances from Ganoderma lucidum. Phytochemistry. Nov 1998; 49 (6): 1651-57

  26. Willard, T., and K. Jones. 1990. Reishi Mushroom. Sylvan Press, Issaquah, Washington, 1990.

  27. Cohen, m. 1988. Paths to wholeness in HIV Infection: A Comprehensive approach. In AIDS, Immunity and Chinese Medicine. Proceedings of the Ninth Annual symposium of the Oriental healing Arts Institute, oct. 23, 1988, Long Beach, Califonia. B.C. Enger and E.R. Long, editors. O.H.A.I., Long Beach, California, 1989; 92-102

  28. Pers. Comm.., Dharmananda, Ph.D., Institute of Traditional medicine, Portland, Oregon, March, 1992

  29. Chen, W.C., Hau, D.M., Lee, s.S. Effects of Ganoderma lucidum and krestin on cellular immunoceompetnece in gamma-ray-irradiated mice. Am J Chin med 1995; 23 (1): 71-80

  30. Kammatsuse, K., Kajiware, N., Hayashi, K. Studies on Ganaderma lucidum: I. Efficacy against hypertension and side effect. Yakugaku Zasshi 1985; 105: 531-3

  31. Jin, H., Zhang, G., Cao, X., et al. Treatment of hypertension by ling zhi combined with hyptensor and its effects on arterial, arteriolar and capillary pressure and microcirculation. In: Nimmi H., Xiu R.J., Sawada, T., Zheng, C. (eds). Microcirculatory Approach to Asian Traditional Medicine. New york: Eslevier Science, 1996, 131-8

  32. lee, S.y. Cardiovascular Effects of Mycelium Extract of Ganoderma lucidum; inhibition of sympathetic Outflow as a Mechanism of its hypotensive Action. Chem Pharm Bull. (Tokyo). May 1990; 38 95): 1359-64

  33. Su, C. Potentiation of ganodermic acid S on prostaglandin E (1)-induced cyclic AMP elevation in human platelets. Thromb Res. Jul 2000; 99 (2): 135-45

  34. Jong, S.C., et al. Medicinal Benefits of the Mushroom Ganodermal. Adv Appl Microbiol. 1992; 37: 101-34

  35. Sahley, Billie, J. Reishi Mushroom, Healing Herb of the Future. MMRC Health Educator Reports; 01/31/97; p.1-2

  36. Tamura, T., et al. Fermentation product as food for patients with liver failure. In Chem Abstr 108(13):110853m.

  37. Hirotani, M., et al. 1986. Ganoderic Acids T., S. and R., New Triterpenoids from the Cultured Mycelia of Ganoderma lucidum. Chem Pharm Bull 134 95): 2282-2285

  38. Gong, Z. and Z.-B. Lin. 1981. The Pharmacological Study of Lingzhi (Ganoderma lucidum) and the Research of Therapeutical Principle of “Fuzheng Guben” in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Pei-Ching I Hseuh Yuan Hseuh Paoi 13: 6-10. Trans.

  39. Lin, J.-M., Lin c.-C., et al. Radical scavenger and antihepatotoxic activity of Ganoderma formosanum, Ganoderma lucidum and Gonoderma neo-japonicum. J Ethnopharm 47: 33-41, 1995

  40. Hobbs, C. Medicinal Mushrooms. Santa Cruz, CA: Botanica Press, 1995, 96-107

  41. McGuffin, M., ed. Et al. Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton: CRC Press: 1997: 55

  42. Horner, W.E., et al. Basidiomycete Allergens: Comparison of Three Ganoderma Species. Allergy. Feb 1993; 48 (2): 110-16

  43. Lee, S.Y. Cardiovascular Effects of Mycelium Extract of Ganoderma lucidum: Inhibition of Sympathetic Outflow as a Mechanism of its Hypotensive Action. Chem Pharm Bull. (Tokyo). May 1990; 38 (50: 1359-64

  44. Kanmatsuse, k., et al. Studies on Ganoderma lucidum. I. Efficacy Against Hypertension and Side Effects. Yakugaku Zasshi. Oct 1985; 105 (10): 942-47

  45. Hikino, H., et. Al. Mechanisms of Hypoglycemic Activity of Ganoderan B: A Glycan of Ganoderma lucidum Fruit Bodies. Planta Med. Oct 1999; 55 (5): 423-28

  46. Tao, J. et al. Experimental and Clinical Studies on Inhibitory Effect of Ganoderma lucidum On Platelet Aggregation. J Tongji Med Univ. 1990; 10 (4): 240-43

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page