Reishi mushroom protects brain health? Really?
If you do a Google search for reishi mushroom you will find thousands of articles. It is the most well-researched herb that exists. Mushrooms might grow in the dark, but they are definitely enjoying some time in the sun right now.
YouTubers are literally showing us how to use them.
Entrepreneurs are making beverages out of them…
and people are eating them up.
Are the claims just hype? Is reishi really the one thing you need to enhance your brain health and cope with modern day stress levels?
I’m going to dive in to these claims. Before I do though, it’s important to understand a little bit about the history of reishi. This helps to explain why seemingly everyone is talking about reishi in 2019.
Stories of both divine and medicinal powers of reishi mushroom exist. They date back at least 4,000 years to Daoist monks in China! Monks revered reishi so deeply they believed it had an unlimited power to protect health and connect with the spirit. They called it a shen tonic, which literally translates to “soul nourishment.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine puts reishi in the class of tonic herbs. Tonic herbs are important for our health and considered safe for daily consumption. The Daoist monks liked it for the relaxed and focused state reishi put them in. This was specifically practical for their meditation practices.
Interesting, but I wanted to find out whether reishi mushroom actually protects brain health.
How could a mushroom go from being soul nourishing to brain supporting? Does scientific evidence back the claims on the internet? Unfortunately, claims are often expressed as science. I needed to bust through the verbiage.
Modern science appears to back up what these ancient monks knew. Reishi has the ability to calm the mind and nervous system. It evokes a relaxed and focused state of mind without making you feel sleepy. Here’s that synergy I was looking for between the mind and the spirit.
When taken over long periods of time, reishi mushroom also has balancing effects. It can regulate hormones, improve mood, balance sleep, increase our connection to others and our general sense of awareness.
What is the science behind these benefits?
How Reishi Mushroom Protects Brain Health Naturally from Memory Loss Without the Risks of Pharmaceutical Drugs
By 35 years of age (not even middle age!) people begin experiencing a general decline in the ability to:
- think fast and solve problems
- memorize new information
- recall things from memory
- maintain focus on tasks
These signs aren’t necessarily indicative of neuro-degenerative disease. However, they are often considered a natural consequence of aging. People just accept them as “a fact of life” when you get older.
The good news is whole food forms of reishi mushroom have very few reported side effects, so for most people it is worth a try! There was a slightly higher risk of upset stomach or digestive distress. Four weeks of taking reishi mushroom extract did not result in reports of negative side effects.
There are two case studies (here and here) where people experienced liver problems. None of these people experienced problems on the powdered form, but did after switching to an extract. It’s impossible to know whether these side effects were a result of the mushroom itself. There could of been a problem with the powdered extract (such as toxicity or contamination).
The fungi kingdom is incredibly adept at absorbing nutrients but also at absorbing toxins. When sourcing mushrooms, always choose organic and non-GMO. Some people say it is wise to avoid buying mushroom products that come from China. In our experience, the best and worst quality can be found there. Finding a trusted source is very important.
Can Reishi Really Grow New Brain Cells?
We cannot prevent cognitive decline, but with nutritional support we can slow it down. It was believed that once brain cells “died” there was no way to “grow” new ones… until recently. There is growing evidence suggesting neurogenesis (the ability to “grow” new brain cells and heal nerve damage) is possible.
Reishi mushroom contains several bio-active, anti-inflammatory compounds that protect brain cells. Sterols, beta glucans, polysaccharides, and triterpenoids. Did you know Alzheimer’s Disease and other neuro-degenerative conditions are inflammatory conditions? These compounds work together to reduce inflammation in the brain and stimulate nerve function.
Can Reishi Mushroom Actually Prevent and Reverse Cellular Damage that Leads to Brain Cancer and Alzheimer’s?
A mushroom-specific amino acid called ergothioneine and glutathione are both found in high concentrations of mushrooms. Some mushrooms contain higher concentrations than others.
Oxidation is a process that happens to all living things in the presence of oxygen. Free radicals produced by oxidation can lead to cellular damage. The body uses many different antioxidants to balance oxidative states including ergothioneine and glutathione.
Here’s What We Can Say About Taking Reishi for Cancer Prevention and Treatment
Oxidative damage and the formation of free radicals is thought to contribute to cancerous mutations. A number of studies indicate supplementing certain antioxidants may slow or prevent the development of some cancers. These studies are, however, mostly animal studies.
Reishi mushrooms have been linked to longevity though. A study published in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry concluded the polysaccharides (long chains of carbohydrates) found in reishi can extend lifespans. Polysaccharides boost the immune system and prevent abnormal blood vessel formations that could lead to cancerous growths. Reishi has been used in Asia for thousands of years to treat disease. There it is also widely used, along with over 100 other varieties of mushrooms, to treat cancer.
Research has shown reishi may be able to prevent cancer cell formation and eliminate existing cancer cells in the body. Pharmacological Reports completed a study that shone a spotlight on ganoderic acid, a triterpinoid found in the reishi mushroom. It showed reishi appears to be able to stop the growth and spread of tumors.
In 2004 a small clinical study was conducted pitting 58 spore-containing mushrooms against cancer cells, in vitro. Reishi was the most effective in various human and rodent tumor cells. They included leukemia, lung, prostate, cervical, ovarian, colon and bladder cancers. Human clinical studies on reishi versus human cancers are few. From them it does appear reishi has anti-tumor effects on the immune system but more studies are needed. We were unable to find studies specific to brain cancer.
Reishi Mushroom May Help Protect You From and Reverse Memory Loss, Even if it is Related to This Condition Affecting Millions
Alzheimer’s disease may not be a disease of ageing as much as it a disease of diet. There is a growing body of research that has shown a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease is thickening of the arterial walls in the brain.
In 1901, Auguste was taken to an insane asylum in Frankfurt, Germany by her husband. She was described as a delusional, forgetful, disoriented woman who “could not carry out her homemaking duties.” She was seen by a Dr. Alzheimer, and was to become the case that made his a household name.
On autopsy, he described the plaques and tangles in her brain that would go on to characterize the disease, but lost in the excitement of discovering a new entity, a clue may have been overlooked. He described arteriosclerotic changes—hardening of the arteries—within her brain.
We typically think of atherosclerosis in the heart, but atherosclerosis involves virtually the entire human organism—our entire vascular tree. And, one of the most poignant examples of this systemic nature is the link between coronary artery disease, degenerative brain disease, and dementia.
Back in the 70s, the concept of cardiogenic dementia was proposed: dementia generated from the cardiovascular system. Since the aging brain is highly sensitive to lack of oxygen, and since heart problems are so common, it was easy to imagine that’s how dementia could result.
And now, we have a substantial body of evidence that strongly associates atherosclerotic vascular disease with the #1 cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease. Autopsy studies, for example, have shown that individuals with AD have significantly more atherosclerotic narrowing of the arteries within their brain.-Dr. Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM NutritionFacts.org
We know that a diet high in antioxidants (which are anti-inflammatory) is excellent for the heart and brain. If this is the case, could we extrapolate this to say reishi mushroom, a tonic longevity herb due to its highly anti-inflammatory properties, could benefit people who are at risk for or have Alzheimer’s Disease?
Quite possibly. We couldn’t find any studies specific to reishi’s effects on Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
Reishi Mushroom Encourages the Formation of New Brain Cells and Repairs Nerve Damage and Improves Memory… Fact or Fiction?
There is a lot of information out there about reishi that seems too good to be true. Indeed, reishi mushroom has been shown to protect brain health. It contains compounds that support the production of nerve growth factor, a protein that is vital for healthy neurological function.
Existing studies don’t reveal reishi can absolutely claim to grow new brain cells. However, this one did show reishi supplements had some benefit for people who suffered strokes. Reishi appeared to be able to limit the size of the area of the brain damaged by stroke. It was also able to protect brain tissue from injury due to oxygen starvation that occurs from strokes.
As valuable as reishi may be for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, nowhere are the effects of Reishi mushroom extracts more clear than in their impact on diabetes-related memory disorders. In this animal study, Reishi spores alleviated diabetes-induced oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in the hippocampus, one of the brain’s major centres for memory.
We are going to say reishi protects the brain healthy by improving memory as possible, not proven, since only animal studies exist.
What’s With All The Different Forms of Reishi Mushroom? Which One is Best?
The medicinal mushroom industry is on fire and there is no sign it will slow down. Whether you are looking online, in a specialty grocer, talking to an herbalist or your healthcare provider, you are going to find varying opinions about which form if reishi is best.
Which form of reishi is best for you will depend on what you are trying to treat. Because we are talking about how reishi protects brain health, we are going to highlight the benefits with that objective at the forefront.
What is the Difference Between the 5 Most Popular Forms of Reishi Mushroom?
- Dried Mushrooms – This is the most studied and widely used form of reishi. They contain the whole mushroom so you are consuming mushroom as nature intended. Safe for long term use if organic and tested for toxicity, this form of reishi is safe for daily use. Dried mushrooms are often prepared by boiling dried mushrooms for a few hours. Then they are strained out and the liquid is used as a tea or base for soups and warm beverages.
- Powders – Reishi powders made from the whole reishi mushroom are a convenient and easy way to consume the whole reishi mushroom. They are instantly ready to be stirred into smoothies, warm beverages, and dishes like oatmeal and sauces.
- Extract – Dual extracts (water then alcohol) are concentrated forms of reishi that dissolve well in most beverages. Some are more bitter than others, so add slowly and taste them! Some are made with the fruiting bodies of mushrooms, some are made with the mycelium. Which is better for you will totally depend on who you talk to. Most of the mushroom extracts used in studies are made from fruiting bodies. Extracts may contain a higher concentration of beta glucans and polysaccharides than other forms of reishi mushroom. This is beneficial for immune health, improves energy, increases circulation, detoxification and relieves stress.
- Spores – Reishi spore powder is higher in triterpenes than extracts and powders. It is very effective at relieving stress, supports the immune system, aids sleep, is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, and can energize the spirit (shen) and core (jing) energy.
- Tinctures – Tinctures contain extracted mushrooms stabilized in alcohol. They are a liquid form that can be taken without mixing them, just by putting a few drops under the tongue. Double extraction ensures that both the water soluble and alcohol soluble compounds of the mushrooms are contained in the tincture. Stored in small amber glass dropper bottles, tinctures are convenient to take anytime.
So is reishi B.S.? We don’t think so! In fact, we take it in one form or another every day. The different forms of reishi mushroom are not mutually exclusive. Many benefits can be felt by taking them together. How do you take reishi? Let us know in the comments!
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