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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ganoderma, Elixir of Life

Ganoderma or reishi or lingzhi all refer to the fruiting body of Ganoderma lucidum (Leyss. ex Fr.) Karst. [red lingzhi] and G. japonicum (Fr.) Lloyd. [purple lingzhi]. Ganoderma is a general tonic which benefits qi (energy), improves memory, benefits complexion, eases joint movement, strengthens tendons and bones, and calms nerves. The most common listed traditional uses are against general weakness, cough, asthma, insomnia, and indigestion. Modern, more recent uses include nightmares, neurasthenia, heart problems (coronary heart disease, arrhythmia, hyperlipemia, hypertension etc.), lack of appetite, chronic hepatitis, mushroom poisoning, chronic bronchitis, leukocytopenia.

Ganoderma is known as lingzhi in Chinese and reishi or mannentake in Japanese. It was the "elixir of life" sought by emperors and sages during most of China's long history, and has been glorified in Chinese literary classics, with a reputation as a tonic to prolong life matching that of ginseng.

Both ganodermas are widely distributed in China, especially along coastal provinces. Ganoderma lucidum is also found growing on hardwoods in North America. Until recent years, ganoderma was rather rare and was primarily reserved for the privileged classes. But since the successful cultivation of G. lucidum, it is now readily available both from the Far East as well as the United States and Canada.

During the past few decades, hundreds of scientific studies (especially chemical and pharmacological) on ganoderma have been published, mostly by Japanese and Chinese researchers. These scientists have found ganoderma to contain many types of biologically active chemical constituents, including sterols, triterpenes, polysaccharides, fatty acids, amino acids, peptides, adenosine, betaine, alkaloids, and trace minerals (high in germanium), among others. Its pharmacological activities are very broad, including sedative, analgesic, anticonvulsive, hypertensive and hypotensive, anti-allergic, liver protectant, hypoglycemic, antitumor, anticoagulant, hypolipemic and hypercholesterolemic, anticholinergic, antioxidant, immunomodulating, smooth muscle relaxant, antitussive, antiasthmatic, vasodilative, diuretic, anabolic, antiinflammatory, anti-fatigue and antibacterial, etc. Even though these are isolated studies, the sheer quantity of bioactivity seems to give some justification of ganoderma's good reputation as a highly valued general tonic. Let's face it, there is no way one can subject a tonic like ganoderma (or ginseng) to so-called clinical trials (double-blind, randomized, etc.) and expect to obtain meaningful results.

As an observant reader, you would have noticed that ganoderma has both hypotensive and hypertensive as well as both hypolipemic and hyperchlolesteremic effects. These are opposite effects and the kind of research that would drive some scientists nuts, especially those looking for one drug / one effect. Some biochemists and pharmacologists may try to explain these findings in fancy technical terms, with elaborate theories and mechanisms of action. But the fact is that they may not have the foggiest idea why ganoderma exhibits opposite effects. Me? I don't know either. But I would simply attribute all these effects to Mother Nature's work being superior to those of human endeavors; you just can't simply break it down to fit our limited scope of understanding.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including ganoderma on pages 33-34. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

1 comment:

Michal K said...

Dear Dr. Leung,

I have benn learning more and more about the benefits of TCM everyday. Thank you for your sharing and education.

Michal Koltys