Browsing Tag

reishi

Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Reishi Mushroom – Ganoderma

May 5, 2015
Reishi Mushroom - Ganoderma

Today’s post is about Reishi Mushroom (pronounced ray-as in stingray, shi-as in she), one of the most powerful, widely used tonic herbs and medicinal mushrooms in Asia. I wanted to start with this herb because of its wide range of health benefits. Known to the ancients as the “mushroom of immortality,” it promotes health and longevity, boosts the immune system, combats cardiovascular issues, and has been used to treat cancer and side effects from cancer treatment. It also supports all Three Treasures (Qi, Jing, and Shen – the Mind or Spirit), which I discussed in detail last week (read about Qi and Jing). As a Jing tonic, it strengthens our mind and mental health as well. Because Reishi is such a balanced herb, almost anyone can use it safely!

Reishi Properties

  • Reishi’s pharmaceutical name is Ganoderma
  • It supports all three treasures: Qi, Jing, and Shen
  • It has a neutral or slightly warming thermal nature; almost anyone can use it (review thermal nature of foods here)
  • It has a bitter taste which is associated with the fire element and the heart (read more about the Five Flavors here)
  • It affects the Heart, Liver, Lungs, and Kidneys (almost all 5 organs of The Five Element Theory – more on this soon)

Reishi’s Functions

1) Immune Benefits

Reishi is best known for its immune boosting qualities. It improves our immune function whether our system is in a “deficient” or “excess” state. Deficient and excess are Chinese medical terms to describe the state of a disease.  An overactive immune system is considered an “excess” condition such as autoimmune diseases (e.g. Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) or allergies. The immune system is on overdrive so much that it attacks itself.  A “deficient” immune system is what we traditionally see with someone who gets frequent colds and infections or more severe infections such as HIV, hepatitis, or cancer. The immune system is not strong enough to fight the bacteria, virus, or cancer cells.

Reishi is an immune modulator as it not only stimulates our immune system to fight infection (i.e. in a deficient state), but it also regulates it when necessary (i.e. in an excess state). Reishi is the only known source of ganoderic acid, which acts like a natural steroid. Japanese research has found that Reishi extract can inhibit histamine release from most cells. It is potentially helpful in treating Type I allergies such as anaphylactic shock, dermatitis, hay fever, hives, drug allergies, and asthma. The extract was also shown to enhance steroid drug effects. That is, consuming Reishi along with steroid medication will decrease the steroid dosage needed as well as the side effects from steroids.

2) Cardiovascular Benefits

Reishi has been used in Asia to improve the cardiovascular system. It treats cholesterol by lowering LDL and excess fatty acids. Studies have shown that it can prevent hardening of arteries and treat symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath associated with heart disease. In a study with 92 patients with myocardial infarction and chest pain treated with Ganoderma, it was found that 72% felt symptom relief.

3) Cancer Fighting Benefits

Reishi has been used in Japan as anti-cancer therapy and in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation. It reduces the side effects of chemo and radiation but also aids in rebuilding the immune system. It was found that Ganoderma stimulates interferon and interleukin 1 and 2, crucial immune mediating cells in our bodies. Studies in Japan and China have found that Ganoderma also reverses leukopenia, or white blood cell death, which is why it is used with chemotherapy to protect white blood cells.

4)  Stress, Emotional, and Mental Acuity Benefits

Reishi is also an adaptogen, which strengthens our adrenals helping us to manage and adapt to stress. It was also considered to be the premiere shen tonic of Chinese herbalism. It has been called the “mushroom of spiritual potency” and was used in ancient times to calm the mind, improve memory, sharpen concentration and focus, increase willpower, and build wisdom. It can treat different emotions such as anger, frustration, depression, grief, and sadness by changing the way we perceive things and helping us process and release those emotions.

The Science Behind It

The primary constituent responsible for the medicinal actions of Reishi mushroom is called triterpenes. Ganoderic acid is a triterpene produced by Reishi and more than a hundred different triterpene molecules have been isolated in Reishi. Studies have found that ganoderic acid suppresses growth and invasive behavior of breast cancer cells (here and here). There has also been evidence that it may be beneficial in treating advanced prostate cancer as well as leukemia and lymphoma. Out of the mycelium, stem, spores and caps of the fruiting body, the caps provide the richest source of triterpene acids. Wild Reishi also contains organic germanium, which is thought to have strong immune boosting and anti-cancer properties in Japan, although studies in the states have been inconclusive.

Immunostimulant polysaccharides have also been isolated from Reishi. These polysaccharides are thought to activate macrophages and T lymphocytes (white blood cells), enhancing the cell-mediated immune response.

As stated above Reishi also has a natural steroid affect, by inhibiting histamine release; it stimulates interferon and interleukin 1 and 2, which mediate our immune response; inhibits white blood cell death, activates natural killer-cell activity, and improve liver function. They are also powerful antioxidant free radical scavengers.

What should I look for in my Reishi supplement or extract?

Analysis of three strains of Reishi, (red, purple, and black), have found that red and purple strains have similar triterpenoid patterns, while black Reishi had little triterpenoid material. The Reishi extract should come from the red or purple caps or fruiting bodies of the mushroom, which contain the highest concentration of triterpenes and polysaccharides.

The mycelium of Reishi, which is the fungus without the fruiting body that grows on wood, was not traditionally used as a tonic herb by the Chinese and Japanese. It is also not a shen tonic like the actual mushroom. While the mycelium has been discovered to be rich in the same polysaccharides, it does not contain triterpenes and is regarded as an inferior product.

The extract, whether in powder or liquid form, should be bitter from the triterpenes. If it isn’t bitter, the triterpene concentration is not high enough!

Reishi Spores, which are the seed of the mushroom are believed to contain an abundance of Jing and also considered an antiaging substance. The spores must be purified and go through a process called “cracking,”  where special enzymes are utilized to break down the cell wall of the spores making their nutrients bioavailable. Reishi spores are much more expensive than Reishi mushroom extract, but a good value.

The sources I recommend to get your Reishi product is either through Dragon Herbs or Real Mushrooms (dragonherbs.com or realmushrooms.com) Dragon Herbs have Reishi in drops, capsule, or spore form while Real Mushrooms sell a concentrated powder extract that can be mixed with coffee or tea.

Have you ever tried Reishi before?

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

Photo Credits: @real_mushrooms realmushrooms.com

Contact Dr. Elain
Back to Top
Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Nutrition, Supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Six External Pathogenic Factors and Spring Wind

April 21, 2015
Spring Wind

I hope everyone is enjoying their Spring so far! I want to introduce another concept in Chinese medicine that we are all affected by. The six external pathogenic factors refer to environmental or climatic factors that may cause internal disease in our bodies. We are especially susceptible to these climatic changes if they are stronger than usual or if our body’s qi or immune system, is weak compared to the climatic change.

What are the six external pathogenic factors?

The six external causes of disease are:

  • Wind
  • Cold
  • Heat
  • Dampness
  • Dryness
  • Fire

Usually, weather should not have a pathological effect on the body, as our bodies are designed to withstand these changes in weather and protect against them. The exterior of the body, which includes the skin, muscles, nose, and mouth, function to defend the body from these pathogenic factors. The weather causes disease only when our bodies and Defensive Qi are relatively weak compared to the climatic factor. I say “relatively” weak since you don’t have to be extremely weak for the pathogenic factor to invade your body. These exterior factors can invade a relatively strong and healthy person if it is stronger than that person’s body energy at that point in time. Make sense?

A person’s basic constitutional make-up, which is different in everyone, will also determine which exterior pathogenic factor will affect them the most. Someone who is born with a hotter constitution (heat intolerant) will tend to be more affected by heat and dryness, while someone who is more cold intolerant will be more affected by wind and cold.

Each pathogenic factor is also associated with a season during which it is more prevalent. However, pathogenic factors can occur during any season.

  • Wind – Spring
  • Heat – Summer
  • Dryness – Autumn
  • Cold – Winter
  • Dampness – Late Summer
  • Fire – Summer

While these pathogenic factors invade the exterior first, the internal organs may also be affected if there is already weakness and disharmony in that organ system. Once it invades the body, they can easily change their nature. Wind-Cold can easily turn into Heat. Dampness can also generate Heat. Extreme Heat can turn into Wind.

The climatic factors will trigger certain clinical symptoms indicative of that climate. That is, the symptoms your body experiences mimics the pattern and behavior of the pathogenic factor. So not only is the pathogenic factor a “cause” of the disease, but the behavior of it becomes clinically relevant as “patterns of disharmony” in the body that need to be treated. I will give examples to make this easier to understand.

Spring External Wind

Since we are in the heart of spring, I will focus on Wind and its clinical manifestations of the body. Wind is yang in nature and tends to injure the blood and yin of our bodies. Wind can carry other pathogenic factors into the body (i.e., cold can enter the body as Wind-Cold and heat can enter the body as Wind-Heat). Like wind, the symptoms happen quickly and can change rapidly.

The behavior of wind include:

  • rapid onset
  • causes rapid changes in signs and symptoms
  • causes signs and symptoms to move from one area to another area of the body
  • can cause tremors, convulsions, as well as stiffness and paralysis (extreme cases: Parkinson’s and stroke)
  • affects the top part of the body (especially the head and neck)
  • attacks the lungs first
  • affects the skin
  • can cause itching

Wind-Cold Signs and Symptoms – aversion to cold or wind, shivering, sneezing and cough, runny nose with white-watery mucus, no fever or slight fever (seen more with Wind-Heat), severe occipital stiffness and aching, itchy throat, possible sweating (Wind-Cold with a stronger cold component will have no sweating as cold contracts pores, while Wind-Cold with a stronger wind component will have slight sweating, since the pores are open), no thirst. Tongue body color – no change with thin-white coating. Floating-tight pulse.

Wind-Heat Signs and Symptoms – aversion to cold, shivering, sneezing, cough, runny nose with yellow mucus, fever, occipital stiffness and aching, slight sweating, sore throat, swollen tonsils, thirst. Tongue body color – red on the tips or sides, thin-white coating. Floating-rapid pulse.

(Note: Chinese Medicine uses the tongue and pulse to diagnose diseases. Tongue diagnosis is based on the color, shape, coating, and moisture of the tongue while pulse diagnosis is more complex. These subjects will require their own posts!)

Do the signs and symptoms of Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat sound familiar? Yes, it’s the common cold or flu. When these symptoms are not promptly addressed or your body’s constitution and defenses are too weak to fight them, the symptoms can invade deeper into the body and cause more severe respiratory problems such as bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, and pneumonia. From a Western medicine perspective, the common cold is caused by viruses, not bacteria, which is why antibiotics don’t work on a cold.  We have viruses and bacteria in our bodies all the time. It is not until our defenses (“Defensive Qi” or immune system) are compromised that our bodies cannot handle them and we get sick.

Finally, the internal organ that is most affected by Wind in the body is your liver. According to the Five Element Theory, Wind is associated with the season of Spring, the Wood element, and the Liver (more about this later). Exterior Wind can aggravate an already weakened Liver disharmony in the body which can cause stiff neck and headaches. It can also “stir” Blood (since wind moves) stored in the Liver manifesting symptoms of skin rashes that will start suddenly and move all over the body (e.g. urticaria and hives).

Note: I have been talking about “external” wind, from climatic changes. Internal wind, can also cause disease. Some of the clinical manifestations may be similar to external wind, but it is mainly caused by Liver weakness and disharmony (i.e., Liver issues will cause internal wind in your body).

What are practical ways to prevent and treat the common cold?

Wind usually enters the back of the neck under the occiput, while cold enters the bottoms of the feet or the base of the neck. If you are already cold intolerant, it’s important to keep your feet warm on colder days and wear a scarf to protect your neck on windier days. We are most vulnerable to catching colds during season changes, especially winter into spring, or summer into fall. Poor nutrition, lack of sleep, too much alcohol, overwork, and increased stress will also make us more susceptible to getting sick.

When we get sick, supportive care is usually the best way to get through a cold. Increase your fluid intake (water is best) and get plenty of rest and sleep. Adding lemon, ginger, and honey to warm or room temp water can also help wind-cold symptoms, as lemon strengthens your liver, ginger can clear wind and is slightly warming, while honey is soothing to your throat. Try to stay away from cold or iced drinks which can increase phlegm and mucus in your body, aggravating symptoms. It is important to spit out any phlegm (whether you have cold or heat symptoms) since swallowing it back into your system will keep the pathogen in your body longer.

If you are more internally hot, a cold can quickly turn into Wind-Heat in your body. Feeling warm or flushed, fever, sore throat, and yellow mucus are early signs of Wind-Heat in your body. Focus on drinking fluids only (water, dilute juices, and herbal teas such as green or peppermint tea, which can clear heat symptoms – green tea and peppermint have a cooling thermal nature). Eat only if you are truly hungry as fasting for a day can clear heat from your body quickly.

If you are not sweating, it may be helpful to induce sweating to release the pathogen (in both wind-cold and wind-heat). In this case, drink a strong cup of ginger tea followed by a hot bath until your entire body is sweating. Once this happens, stay in for another 5 minutes, dry off completely, cloth yourself completely to avoid exposure to cold, and then take a long nap.

Food, herbs, and supplements for the common cold

For Wind-Cold:

Anti-wind herbs  – ginger, fennel, basil, anise, and valerian – can also use cinnamon, garlic, and onions (which all have detoxifying properties)
Wind-cold reducers: oats, pine nuts, shrimp

For Wind-Heat:

Anti-wind herbs – peppermint and peony root
Wind-heat reducers: celery, mulberry, strawberry

For both Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat:

Wind reducers with a neutral thermal nature – black soybeans, back sesame seed, fresh flax oil, herbs – sage and chamomile
Pears, especially Asian pears, are good for cough and help to moisten the lungs.

Foods to avoid:

Wind aggravators : eggs, crabmeat, and buckwheat

Phlegm producing foods: all dairy products, bananas, sugar, cold drinks, alcohol, rich and heavy foods (phlegm and mucus are perfect breeding grounds for virus and bacteria)

Supplements and Herbs

Vitamin C – A meta-analysis of 29 trials in a total of 11,306 participants found that supplementing with 200mg Vitamin C daily did not reduce the frequency of colds, but did reduce the severity and duration of colds.

Echinacea – Lab and animal studies suggest that echinacea contains substances that enhance our immune systems, relieve pain, reduce inflammation and may have anti-viral and anti-oxidant effects. One study found that of 95 people with early symptoms of cold and flu, those who drank several cups of echinacea tea every day for 5 days felt better sooner than those who drank tea without echinacea. Echinacea has been found to work well with Vitamin C.

Tinctures are the best way to take echinacea since they are better absorbed and easier on the stomach than taking capsules. Drink 1-3ml or (20-90 drops) of a 1:5 tincture, added to warm water or tea, 3-4 times a day.

Goldenseal – This is also used in conjunction with echinacea to treat colds, but because it is cooling, it should only be used with symptoms of wind-heat. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is currently funding studies on possible anti-bacterial mechanisms and cholesterol lowering effects of goldenseal.

Reishi – This medicinal mushroom has long been known for its immune boosting properties. It should be used more for long-term immune building and prevention rather than treatment of acute colds. (More on this soon.)

Your cold should generally resolve in 7-10 days and you shouldn’t need to take supplements and herbs for longer than this. If your symptoms don’t improve, go see your doctor!

What do you do when you catch a cold?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Contact Dr. Elain
Back to Top