Ganoderma Lucidum or mushrooms in general have been used in traditional medicine for most of recorded history and are considered the meat of the vegetable world. There are edible species, as well as inedible, poisonous mushrooms and their opposite, medicinal fungi. Telling species apart is difficult, and there are thought to be more than 150,000 species of mushrooms. Of those 150,000, only around 14,000 species have been identified by mushrooms scientists, mycologists. Amidst this confusion, scientists have begun to prove what folk medicine has long believed; mushrooms add to the quality and length of life.
Different types of mushrooms have different effects on the human body, but most of those effects are positive. Magic mushrooms, of the species Psilocybin, cause hallucinations but can treat major depression. More than 200 different species of mushrooms have been determined to have anti-cancer properties. Edible mushrooms are low in calories, easily preserved, can be prepared a variety of ways and make an excellent source of vitamin D. Amounts vary with species, but mushrooms can also supply vitamin B complex, vegetable proteins, iron, zinc, fiber, essential amino acids, and other vitamins and minerals.
Ganoderma Lucidum: Health Facts
Some species are more useful than others, and one of the most beneficial species is the Ganoderma. Long considered the most important of all Japanese Medical mushrooms, Ganoderma mushrooms have many traditional uses throughout Asia. Modern research has confirmed that the Ganoderma species of mushrooms have anti-allergenic, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, and antiviral properties, as well as protective functions for the cardiovascular system and liver.
Ganoderma Lucidum for Treating Existing Cancer Cells
Other potential uses for Ganoderma mushrooms include treating existing cancer cells, Parkinson’s disease and immunodeficiency syndromes. Highly oxygenated lanostanoid triterpenes enhance overall health and have specific anti-inflammatory properties. More than 100 of these lanostanoid triterpenes have been identified in the Ganoderma species of mushrooms, and more are suspected.
Ganoderma mushrooms include more than 80 species, and collectively they are often called shelf mushrooms or bracket fungus. There are many species of Ganoderma because they do not follow the same patterns of growth or color. Ganoderma tsugae and Ganoderma lucidum are very similar and representative of general characteristics of the Ganoderma species, though there are differences in the two. An example of the differences is that the cap of the G. lucidum averages 3 cm across, while the G. tsugae can grow up to a meter across.
Generally, Ganoderma grow on the sides of living and dead trees, near the base of the tree. Fungi are parasitic, meaning that they take nutrients from the host without supplying any reciprocal benefit. The presence of Ganoderma can harm living trees and cause root rot, white butt and other diseases. Starting out as an irregular knob shape or elongated bit of plant flesh, Ganodermas mature into a fan-shaped cap.
Younger fungi of the Ganoderma species are colored differently than mature specimens of the same species. The pores of the mushroom may brown with age and vary greatly in size. Ganoderma do not always have a stem, but more do grow atop a stem. The flesh is soft in young specimens but soon toughens up to become approximately 90% indigestible fiber under a thick, leathery outside.
Because of the course texture and bitter flavor of Ganoderma mushrooms, they are mainly used for their medicinal properties and not for food. The woody mushroom is made into a tonic or tea for ingestion. The fruiting body of the Ganoderma mushroom is harvested, cleaned and subjected to an alcohol/glycerin extraction method before being added to a tonic or beverage. To get the full benefits, this extraction method must be used even if the Ganoderma is to be powdered for use in pills or experiments.
Ganoderma mushrooms have enzymes that are able to inhibit cell growth and detoxify cells. Inhibition of cell growth can prevent cancer, which is essentially the unregulated growth of cells. Ganoderma mushroom polysaccharides prevent the body from developing immunity to immunosuppressive and anti-tumor drugs. Increasing doses of these drugs are often required as cancer treatments progress, and the drugs can have debilitating side effects. In Japan, Korea and China, doctors prescribe Ganoderma lucidum extract in combination with radiation treatments and chemotherapy for cancer patients.
Ganoderma Mushrooms and Immune System
Ganoderma mushrooms enhance the production of white blood cells, a critical component of the body’s immune system. White blood cells die during radiation treatment, leaving the patient highly susceptible to catching other diseases. The strengthening of the immune system that results from Ganoderma intake can also be used to treat diseases of the immune system. Immunodeficiencies can take many forms and have many causes, but refer to any disorder that is the result of the immune system ceasing to function adequately.
Cancer, as well as the treatment for cancer, can weaken or destroy the immune system. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, AIDS, is the most famous and common of immunodeficiencies because of the long incubation time before symptoms appear and ease of transmission. The virus that causes AIDS hides itself in the white blood cells of the host and uses the immune system to replicate itself.
Ganoderma Mushrooms and AIDS
AIDS is a collection of symptoms that result from the virus’s activities, including the inability of the host’s body to fight off common diseases. Ganoderma species accelerate the immune system and make it stronger. Mushrooms are not a cure for AIDS, but may be used to slow down the progression of the virus through the host’s body. A healthy diet, including mushrooms, could prolong the life of the patient, delaying the point when the virus becomes AIDS.
Ganoderma to Prevent Inflammation
Mushrooms, and other foods that have medical properties, have led to the concept of immunonutrition. Immune system activity can be changed by eating or otherwise ingesting these foods. Most frequently, immunonutrition has been used to improve the lot of the critically ill and surgical patients who require the extra nutrition. After a major surgery the immune system is suppressed or overextended, depending on the operation and the reason for it. Any improvement in immune functions at this time can help the patient recover more quickly and Ganoderma mushrooms have been found to prevent the extreme inflammation and overtaxed immune system that can occur after surgery.
Immunonutrition, complete with Ganoderma mushrooms, is being studied as a way to help transplant patients recover quicker. Organ transplant patients deliberately have their immune systems suppressed to prevent the new organ from being attacked and rejected by the immune system. After the body has accepted the organ, a quick recovery of the immune system will prevent the patient from developing complications. A drug based on a fungus, Cylcosporin, is used to suppress the immune system and accelerate organ acceptance. There is certain symmetry to using another fungus to accelerate the recovery process, after Cylosporin is no longer necessary, and Ganoderma mushrooms will do that.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to fight infection and heal wounds. A long term, low grade inflammation can overstimulate the immune system, stressing the patient and depleting the resources of the body. Many diseases and conditions are inflammation responses to stimuli. Chronic bronchitis, asthma, allergies, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, vascular disease and Parkinson’s disease, are a few examples of the inflammation response being constantly activated.
The natural inflammation response is ignored when allergies are treated with antihistamines. The antihistamines become less effective over time and the root cause of the symptoms has not been treated. Allergy shots teach the body to accept the pollen or source of the allergic inflammatory reaction, and most doctors agree this is more effective than antihistamine drug therapy. Ganoderma mushrooms repress the inflammation response, so the body can learn and adapt to the source of the allergic reaction instead of fighting a long term, losing battle.
In patients with chronic bronchitis the parasympathetic nerves are easily excited, which leads to the coughing and a need to calm the parasympathetic nerves. Patients given Ganoderma lucidum mushroom extract for four months showed a significant decline in blood cholinesterase activity, which reduces excitability of the parasympathetic nerves. After studying this treatment for chronic bronchitis, medical research has begun looking into Ganoderma lucidum as a treatment for other inflammatory responses.
The anti-inflammatory properties of the Ganoderma mushrooms are both systemic and topical, so they can be ingested or applied directly to the skin. Rashes and other difficulties with the skin can be treated with an ointment of Ganoderma extract. The antibacterial properties of mushrooms are expected to be effective in the treatment of acne, which is caused by a bacterium. Lotions and other skin products are on the market, but little research has been applied to skin care effectiveness from Ganoderma mushroom products.
Advanced liver diseases usually require a liver transplant for completion of treatment. Drinking excessive alcohol and hepatitis are two of the more common forms of liver damage and long-term debilitating illnesses. A large dose, or acute overdose, of acetaminophen can cause liver damage known as acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity. The main function of the liver is to extract waste and toxins from the blood, and Ganoderma mushrooms have enzymes that detoxify cells. Research is being conducted on using Ganoderma lucidum to treat liver damage, including acute damage as in the case of acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity. Asian cultures use Ganoderma lucidum to treat the symptoms of hepatitis, leading research to believe this mushroom may hold the key to halting the progression of liver disease.
Ganoderma and Antiviral
Viruses, which are not effected by antibiotics, are becoming a concern among medical practitioners. Penicillin, the first antibiotic, was based on a fungus, so it should not be surprising that fungi contain antibiotic properties. It is surprising that mushrooms also contain antiviral aspects, which were only recently discovered by science. Another recent surprise was finding that Ganoderma lucidum can inhibit the production of glucose. High levels of glucose lead to an increased need for insulin and over the long-term can cause the development of type II diabetes. Diets containing mushrooms can moderate blood sugar levels, though little research has been done into fungi based medicines. More research needs to be done into the health benefits of fungi, but that research will mostly likely confirm the claims of folk medicine.
The traditional medicine of many cultures includes mushrooms, though some cultures avoid fungi out of fear of the poisonous species. Care must be taken around mushrooms, because the poisonous and nonpoisonous species are easily confused, but research indicates making the distinction is worth the effort. Scientific research is slowly coming to understand the wisdom in ancient practices, finding impressive benefits in the mushrooms lauded by alternative medicine. Even the poisonous and hallucinogenic fungi can be beneficial. As science catches up with folk medicine the health benefits of mushrooms, particularly of the Ganoderma species, will become incontrovertible. Fungi will become part of any healthy lifestyle and early adopters will receive the greatest benefits.
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