By Michael Smith for Natural Products Insider
Mushrooms have a history of medicinal use spanning millennia. It all started with Ganoderma lucidum, the most famous medicinal mushroom, known in Japan as Mannentake, but best known today as Reishi. Another famous mushroom, Grifola frondosa or Maitake, was worth its weight in silver in ancient Japan.
How far back do medicinal mushrooms actually go? Well, ancient Egyptians considered mushrooms food for royalty, and the 6,000-year-old Ötzi the Iceman carried medicinal mushrooms in his purse, identified by residual DNA.
Ancient Medicinal Mushrooms Increase Longevity
Modern-day research has revealed powerful immune properties for mushrooms. This has a direct link to longevity: without the ability to fight off infections and cancers cells, you won’t live very long. This of course is taking us back to where it all began—with Ganoderma lucidum, or Reishi.
Reishi has been used for thousands of years and flourishes mainly on the dried trunks of dead plum trees. But it’s scarce and not easy to come by; Out of 10,000 aged plum trees, perhaps two or three will have Reishi growth.
Today, thousands of studies document the health benefits of the six primary types of Reishi: red, black, blue, white, yellow and purple. Traditionally speaking though, black and red Reishi have demonstrated the most significant health-enhancing effects.
Red & Black Reishi Increase Immune Cell Production
Red and black Reishi are called the “mushrooms of immortality” for many reasons. However, it’s their immune-enhancing properties that are probably the most notable. Both colors of Reishi have been shown to support longevity by fighting immunosenescence, which is the loss of immune function as we age.
It’s well established that aging adults produce fewer white blood cells; the exact cell line enhanced by Reishi mushroom extracts. Not only that, Reishi helps to activate dendritic cells.1 These cells present bacterial and viral antigens like to antibody producing cells called B-cells.
As a result, a person is able to effectively fight infections before getting too sick. And if he happens to get sick, he’ll feel better faster with more antibodies on board.
Reishi Contains Anti-Tumor Protein
Researchers during the last decade have showed Reishi inhibited cell proliferation, induced apoptosis and suppressed the spreading of cancer cells by blocking blood vessel formation.2, 3,4 However, the exact mechanism producing these results was unknown.
Reishi’s anti-cancer properties are exactly what researchers at National Yang-Ming University wanted to find out. They were able to derive and then clone a protein from Reishi called Ling Zhi-8, or LZ-8. They designed a study to test LZ-8 and its effects on human lung cancer cells’ growth.5
They were able to show that LZ-8 inhibited cancer cell growth by preventing the cell’s normal growth cycle. In order for a cell to divide and produce a clone, it cycles through different stages of preparation. The very first stage is called G1—a highly metabolic stage for any cell.
During this stage, the cell is doing its day-to-day functions. If a cell is “trapped” in G1 and prevented from moving into the next phase, it won’t divide. And that’s exactly what LZ-8 does. It causes cancer cell growth arrest by “trapping” the cancer cell in stage G1.
Reishi Activates Intrinsic Antioxidants
Besides preventing immunosenescence, red and black Reishi activate intrinsic antioxidants, helping to reduce oxidative stress, one of the leading causes of aging. Highly reactive oxygen compounds, generated from environmental toxins and normal cellular metabolism, bind to healthy cells and tissues causing damage.
Naturally occurring compounds in Reishi boost a person’s intrinsic antioxidants, sequestering the damaging oxygen compounds and preserving healthy cell and tissue function. In animal models, Reishi was shown to increase the intrinsic antioxidant activity of plasma glutathione by 34 to 42 percent, liver catalase by 19 to 30 percent, and liver glutathione by 9 percent.6
Boosting liver antioxidants, such as catalase and peroxidase, is an extremely important strategy for living longer, given our toxic environment. EPA estimates more than 70,000 industrial chemicals are used in the Unites States. And government scientists estimate the average American has more than 700 chemicals in their blood stream at any given time.
Natural Topics and Trends
Market researcher firm SPINS noted a 43-percent jump in sales of Reishi supplements in 2010, and they have good reason to believe this trend will continue well into 2013. Their analysis shows that shoppers’ interest seems to be piqued, especially when it comes to immune-boosting and endurance-enhancing mushroom species. Their exact words are, “Fungi-based supplement sales look like they will continue to, well, mushroom.”
Here are some trends to look for in mushroom extracts:
- A move toward single-ingredient products, mainly from Reishi and Maitake
- Increase use of cordyceps by the sports industry for performance enhancement
- Linking immunosenescence to morbidity and mortality
- A re-emergence of Coriolus as a potential cancer treatment
- Mushroom teas will emerge as a market favorite
Standardization of mushroom extracts is also something to consider. For instance, Reishi extracts are most effective when standardized to 6-percent triterpenes. Unfortunately, most Reishi products are not standardized to any ingredient. With the right standardization, mushroom extracts could easily be positioned as longevity products.
Michael Smith, M.D., is senior health science specialist for Life Extension ®, a pioneer in funding and reporting the latest anti-aging research and integrative health therapies while offering superior-quality dietary supplements in Fort Lauderdale, FL. He is also host of Healthy Talk radio on WWNN-AM in the greater Miami area. He can be contacted at MSmith@LEF.org .