Ling Zhi is a type of fungus that grows in various hot and humid locations across Asia. It is also known as reishi mushroom or Ganoderma lucidum. Since ancient times, this mushroom has been a staple in eastern medicine for its known adaptogenic properties. In general, an adaptogen is a substance that functions to minimise the negative effects of stress on the body. Adaptogens increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, and chemical stress, help promote normal functioning during times of stress, and protect against stress-related damage1-3.
The active constituents found in Ling Zhi mushrooms include polysaccharides, dietary fibers, oligosaccharides, triterpenoids, peptides and proteins, alcohols and phenols, mineral elements (such as zinc, copper, iodine, selenium, and iron), vitamins, and amino acids4. In this article we discuss and review the health benefits of Ling Zhi.
Mechanism of Action of Adaptogens
Under different stress modes, adaptogens can activate the adjustment of assorted bodily responses to deal with assorted forms of stress, by manipulating the immune and stress response system3. The primary functions of adaptogens are5-7:
- upsurge in and regulation of energy circulation
- decline in the sensation of external pressure
- enhancement of resistance
- upturn of mental concentration
- facilitation of deep sleep period after sleep
After the consumption of adaptogens, physical exercises do not increase the levels of cortisol and nitric oxide in the human body. Thus, adaptogens can increase the level of messenger substances that suppress stress. Adaptogens can improve the stress response system to respond to high levels of external signals in the normal or abnormal states.
Ling Zhi supports the function of adrenal glands which is the organ in charge of balancing cortisol secretion3. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress. A small trial investigated the effects of fungal supplements (a combination of Ling Zhi and Cordyceps) on the level of physical fitness of the athletes by monitoring and comparing the biomarkers of testosterone/ cortisol ratio and oxidative stress just before and after physical exertion8. After 3 months of mushroom supplementation, the data demonstrate a 30% decrease in the hormone ratio and an increased scavenger capacity of free radicals in the athletes' serum after the race, thereby protecting the athletes from non-functional overreaching, the overtraining syndrome and oxidative stress8.
Boost Immune System
Ling Zhi is shown to be capable of manipulating the genes in white blood cells, altering the inflammation pathways and immune responses9. White blood cells are the fighter cells in our body to fend against infections and diseases.
We observed that Ling Zhi has potential immuno-modulating effect owing to the heightened production of white blood cells after 12 weeks of consumption10. Data from a clinical study in cancer patients showed Ganopoly, a crude Ling Zhi polysaccharide extract, improved host immune function, including enhanced activity of effector cells such as T lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells11.
Being highly ranked in the traditional Chinese medicine, lab and animal studies have indicated that Ling Zhi exhibits cancer-preventive and anticancer activity11, and improves quality of life in cancer patients.
Several clinical studies revealed that treatment of prostate cancer patients with Ling Zhi containing herbal extracts gave rise to a significant drop in the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, which compares favorably with second-line hormonal therapy medicines such as estrogens and ketoconazole11. In another in vitro study, the PSA levels decreased and urine output improved significantly in the Ling Zhi extract-treated group12.
In a separate clinical controlled trial, colorectal patients that took Ling Zhi extract at 1.5g/day for 12 months showed a decline in the number and size of tumours in the large intestine13. The result suggested that Ling Zhi mushroom suppresses the development of colorectal adenomas - precancerous lesions of the large bowel.
Fight Depression and Anxiety
Ling Zhi’s immunostimulant effect are often talked about, but it has other health benefits like reducing fatigue and chances of depression.
A randomised double blind controlled trial studied the efficacy and safety of a polysaccharide extract of Ling Zhi (Ganopoly) in Chinese patients with neurasthenia14. Neurasthenia is a poorly defined condition associated with aches, pains, dizziness, headaches and irritability. It is investigated that fatigue was reduced and well-being was improved after 8 weeks of taking the supplements14.
Ling Zhi mushrooms being highly appreciated in the ancient Chinese medicine do not only confer immunostimulant effects thereby giving rise to increased white blood cells production and anticancer properties, it also functions to lower fatigue and depression.
- Gerontakos SE, Casteleijn D, Shikov AN, Wardle J. A Critical Review to Identify the Domains Used to Measure the Effect and Outcome of Adaptogenic Herbal Medicines. Yale J Biol Med. 2020 Jun; 93(2): 327–346.
- Panossian A. Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2017 Aug; 1401(1):49-64. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13399. Epub 2017 Jun 22.
- Liao LY, He YF, Li L, Meng H, Dong YM, Yi F, Xiao PG. A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chin Med. 2018; 13: 57. Published online 2018 Nov 16. doi: 10.1186/s13020-018-0214-9.
- Batra P, Sharma AK, Khajuria R. Probing Lingzhi or Reishi medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (higher Basidiomycetes): a bitter mushroom with amazing health benefits. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013; 15(2):127-43. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushr.v15.i2.20.
- Panossian A, Oganessian A, Ambartsumian M, Gabrielian E, Wagner H, Wikman G. Effects of heavy physical exercise and adaptogens on nitric oxide content in human saliva. Phytomedicine. 1999; 6(1):17–26. doi: 10.1016/S0944-7113(99)80030-0.
- Panossian A, Wikman G, Wagner H. Plant adaptogens III. Earlier and more recent aspects and concepts on their mode of action. Phytomedicine. 1999; 6(4):287–300. doi: 10.1016/S0944-7113(99)80023-3.
- Panossian A, Hambardzumyan M, Hovhanissyan A, Wikman G. The adaptogens Rhodiola and Schizandra modify the response to immobilization stress in rabbits by suppressing the increase of phosphorylated stress-activated protein kinase, nitric oxide and cortisol. Drug Target Insights. 2007; 2:117739280700200011. doi: 10.1177/117739280700200011.
- Rossi P, Buonocore D, Altobelli E, Brandalise F, Cesaroni V, Lozzi D, Savino E, Marzatico F. Improving Training Condition Assessment in Endurance Cyclists: Effects of Ganoderma lucidum and Ophiocordyceps sinensis Dietary Supplementation. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014; 2014: 979613. doi: 10.1155/2014/979613. Epub 2014 Apr 1.
- Cheng CH, Leung AY, Chen CF. The effects of two different ganoderma species (Lingzhi) on gene expression in human monocytic THP-1 cells. Nutr Cancer. 2010; 62(5):648-58. doi: 10.1080/01635581003605516.
- Chen X, Hu ZP, Yang XX, Huang M, Gao YH, Tang WB, Chan SY, Dai XH, Ye JX, Ho Paul CL, Duan W, Yang HY, Zhu YZ, Zhou SF. Monitoring of immune responses to a herbal immuno-modulator in patients with advanced colorectal cancer. Controlled Clinical Trial Int Immunopharmacol. 2006 Mar;6(3):499-508. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2005.08.026. Epub 2005 Sep 15.
- Gao YH, Zhou SF. Cancer Prevention and Treatment by Ganoderma, a Mushroom with Medicinal Properties. Food Reviews International Volume 19, 2003 - Issue 3. Pages 275-325.
- Nahata A, Dixit VK. Ganoderma lucidum is an inhibitor of testosterone-induced prostatic hyperplasia in rats. Andrologia. 2012 May; 44 Suppl 1:160-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0272.2010.1155.x. Epub 2011 Jun 8.
- Oka S, Tanaka S, Yoshida S, Hiyama T, Ueno Y, Ito M, Kitadai Y, Yoshihara M, Chayama K. A water-soluble extract from culture medium of Ganoderma lucidum mycelia suppresses the development of colorectal adenomas. Controlled Clinical Trial Hiroshima J Med Sci. 2010 Mar;59(1):1-6.
- Tang WB, Gao YH, Chen GL, Gao H, Dai XH, Ye JX, Chan E, Huang M, Zhou SF. A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract in neurasthenia. J Med Food. Spring 2005;8(1):53-8. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2005.8.53.