Spotlight on Chaga and Reishi
by Kiki Athanas
July 15, 2017
The following is a special investigative report on SHROOMS! Coming at us from a trusted source, my good friend and fellow colleague at Meal Garden - who just so happens to be an RD in the making: Iris Amanda Lozano...
For centuries medicinal mushrooms, like chaga and reishi, have been used in the Western world for a number of health benefits. Chaga was traditionally used by the indigenous peoples of Siberia to treat tuberculosis, liver disease and heart disease. It is presently used in Russia, Poland and most Baltic countries to treat gastrointestinal cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Reishi on the other hand, has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to increase energy, stimulate the immune system and promote health and longevity. Its modern uses include treatment of heart disease, hepatitis, gastric ulcers and some cancers. Growing interest in these mushrooms and their supplement versions has been apparent over the years, especially now that mushroom extract supplements have a world-wide market value of over 6 billion US dollars per year! This is HUGE and the topic of medicinal mushrooms is certainly worth discussing.
First things first, to understand the effect of these products on our bodies we’ll need a quick lesson on gastrointestinal (digestive) physiology. The majority of the human immune system, 80% of it, lies in the digestive tract and 20% of it is in the back of the mouth (tonsils). The digestive tract is home to both good and bad bacteria and immune system cells, which together take care of digestion and disease prevention. This is why eating foods with immune-boosting properties is helpful - it acts in the gut to boost the immune action of cells and bacteria.
Medicinal mushrooms have certain characteristics that give us the health benefits they are praised for. In general, they have immune- boosting fibres called β-glucans. These fibres enhance the effect of our body’s white blood cells, which are responsible for immunity. Furthermore, Reishi contains an active compound called triterpenes, which have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects. This is helpful because too much inflammation can be harmful for the body as it can increase risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Chaga also has anti-inflammatory effects because it has antioxidant properties.
Clinical trials have been conducted to observe the effects of chaga and resihi on ulcers, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and immunity with a mixture of significant and not significant results. This tells us that there is the potential for use of chaga and reishi in health prevention ad interventions. It could mean very exciting advances for the complimentary and alternative health community as evidence continues to grow in this area so stay tuned for more!
For ideas on how to incorporate chaga and reishi into your diet try these recipes:
As the Nutrition Manager of Meal Garden, where Kiki and I partner to bring the latest and greatest in the world of health and wellness to our users, I have noticed a surge in interest for medicinal mushroom recipes. It is one of the phenomenons that is taking over the health community and is predicted to be one of the hottest functional foods for 2017! We strive to stay on top of these trends and give our users the information they need to best incorporate such items into their meal plans.
Kiki just so happens to love everything granola and hippie-dippie, but as a soon-to-be RD, I like to bring her back down to scientific reality once in a while, and that's why it was a pleasure to research these shrooms. It was a delightful surprise to learn that there is indeed some evidence to support those David Wolfe claims she likes to aimlessly throw out there every now and again, ha!
Ferrao, B., Calabrese, V., Pimentel, L., Pintado, M., Fernandes, T.H. (2017). Impact of Mushroom Nutrition on Microbiota and Potential for Preventative Health. Journal of Food and Nutrition Research. 5(4): 226-233.
Frost, M. (2016). Three Popular Medicinal Mushroom Supplements: A Review of Human Clinical Trials. Brigham Young University Faculty Publications. Paper 1609.
Zhao, H., Q. Zhang, L. Zhao, X. Huang, J. Wang, & X. Kang. (2012). Spore powder of Ganoderma lucidum improves cancerrelated fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing endocrine therapy: A pilot clinical trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Zhong, Y., Y. Deng, Y. Chen, P. Y. Chuang, & J. C. He. (2013).Therapeutic use of traditional Chinese herbal medications for chronic kidney diseases. Kidney International. 84 (6): 1108-1118.