Ganoderma lucidum (GL) is a medicinal polypore mushroom that grows on decaying wood or tree stumps, preferring the Japanese plum tree, but also found on oak. GL is native to China, Japan, and North America, but is now extensively cultivated throughout other Asian countries. GL has been used in Asia for over 4000 years, where it is commonly known as “Ling Zhi” in China and “Reishi” in Japan. The health benefits of GL are described in the ancient texts Shen Nong's Herbal Classic and Pen T'sao Kang Mu ("Great Pharmacopoeia"). This mushroom is a symbol for health, and is depicted in the Emperor's residences in the Forbidden City as well as the Summer Palace. More than 200 species have been identified within the family Ganodermataceae, of which GL is the primary species used medicinally. GL grows in 6 colors, each traditionally thought to have different medicinal properties. It has been shown that the content of polysaccharide, and terpenoids in GL with dissimilar origins are remarkably different, which may be caused by the conditions of cultivation and geographic environment.1 In China, the red and the black varieties are most popular, particularly the red. GL, considered rare and hard to find in nature in China and Japan, is now commonly cultured on farms.
Ganoderma lucidum contains bioactive polysaccharides including beta-d-glucan, with at least 36 different compounds identified. It also produces unique immunological lanostanoids and terpenes (triterpenes), such as lucidenic acid and ganoderic acids A, B, C, and D; ganoderol A and B; lucidenic acid B, and ganodermanontriol. Terpenes are a class of naturally occurring compounds found to have anti-inflammatory, antitumorigenic, and hypolipidemic activity. Examples of terpenes are menthol and β-carotene. These compounds are widely distributed throughout the plant world and are abundant in certain mushroom species. Terpenes and in Ginkgo biloba, rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), and ginseng (Panax ginseng) are reported to contribute to the health-promoting effects of these herbs. The first terpenes or triterpenes isolated from GL are the ganoderic acids. Now more than 100 triterpenes with known chemical compositions and molecular configurations have been reported to occur in GL. It is this class of compounds that gives the mushroom its bitter taste and, it is believed, confers on it various health benefits, such as lipid-lowering, antitumorous and antioxidant effects.
Ganoderma lucidum contains a group of antioxidant triterpenes called ganoderic acids. Ganoderic acid is known to improve the functions of the liver, increase oxygen utilization, and also acts as a natural antihistamine, helpful for those with autoimmune disorders or allergies.
Ganoderma lucidum is probably one of the most extensively researched medicinal mushrooms. It has been shown to exhibit unique, non-toxic, anticancer, immune system enhancing, and antioxidant properties.2, 3, 4, 5 Research demonstrates GL an effective supplement during chemotherapy or radiotherapy to reduce side-effects such as fatigue, loss of appetite, hair loss, bone marrow suppression and risk of infection. In vitro and animal studies indicate that it possesses chemopreventive effects6, alleviates chemotherapy-induced nausea7, enhances the efficacy of radiotherapy8, and prevents cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity.9 Studies show that this mushroom modulates many components of the immune system such as the antigen-presenting cells, NK cells, and T and B lymphocytes.10, 11 The alcohol extract, or the triterpene fraction, of GL exhibits anti-tumor effects, which seemed to be related its cytotoxic activity against tumor cells directly.12, 13, 14, 15 In short, its anticancer effects are primarily due to its immune enhancement; however, several studies indicate that GL also exhibits an anti-angiogenic effect, preventing tumors from developing a vascular system.16, 17, 18
The antitumor effects of polysaccharides isolated from GL were originally observed in sarcoma 180 bearing mice19 and have been further shown to cause apoptosis, or cell death in tumors.20, 21, 22, 23. In 2013, Ganoderma lucidum was tested in inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) using in vivo and in vitro IBC models. The results provided evidence that it suppresses protein synthesis and tumor growth by affecting survival and proliferative signaling pathways that act on translation, suggesting that GL is a potential natural therapeutic for breast and other cancers.24 Several in vitro studies demonstrate that GL inhibits growth of breast cancer cells.25, 26, 27 A 2015 study with mice showed that the combination of the chemotherapy drug erlotinib plus GL displayed significantly reduced tumor weight when compared with their respective controls of erlotinib alone.28
Ganoderma lucidum is one of the eight components of an herbal mixture known as PC-SPES, which has been used as an herbal remedy in the treatment of prostate cancer.29 Unfortunately, human trials of GL in cancer have been few. Two notable randomized, controlled trials were conducted using GL (a patented over-the-counter product called Ganopoly). In 2002, Gao, Zhou et al. recruited 134 patients with advanced cancers of different sites and supplemented them with GL capsules at a dosage of 1800 mg/ day for 12 weeks. Cellular immunity in 80% of these patients was significantly enhanced in terms of elevated plasma interleukin (IL)-2, IL-6, and interferon γ (IFN-γ) levels and natural killer (NK) cell activity.30 In another study31, the same protocol was followed with 68 lung cancer patients in whom immune parameters including total T cells, NK cells, and CD4/CD8 ratio were significantly enhanced in the GL-treated group. In addition, quality of life in terms of Karnofsky score was improved in about 65% of these patients. Ganopoly was also demonstrated to enhance mitogenic activity and NK cells in patients with advanced cancer in a before-and-after comparison study.32 These results provide evidence that the antitumor effects of GL are in part mediated through effects on the immune system.
Because of GL’s effects at soothing the nervous system, consistent use of the tea, extract or spore concentrates is one of the top Chinese remedies for those who suffer from insomnia. GL helps one achieve restful sleep yet sustain high levels of energy throughout the day.
Common forms of Ganoderma lucidum:
Whole dried mushrooms, slices, pieces or powders - This is the dried mushroom fruiting body that should be simmered in hot water for 20 minutes or longer, strained and consumed as a tea.
Powdered hot water extracts - These are concentrated liquid tea solutions. These extracts come in different strengths.
Ganoderma lucidum spore oil - This is a golden oil extracted directly from the cracked-cell spores (seeds) of the mushroom. The best quality is pure spore oil with no fillers or other additives. Comes in liquid or capsule form.
Ganoderma lucidum spore powder - This powder is created by cracking the cells of the mushroom spores to make them digestible.
Ganoderma lucidum mycelium biomass - This is a condensed powder produced from the white mycelium biomass before it forms the fruiting body. This is mostly a Western technique not commonly emp