Reishi Spores: A Novel Application of Medicinal Mushrooms
Ganoderma lucidum, more commonly known as reishi, is a mushroom with a long history of use for promoting health and longevity in Asia. The Chinese name for reishi, lingzhi, translates to “the herb of spiritual potency,” and it has been described as the “mushroom of immortality.” Among cultivated mushrooms, reishi is unique in that its pharmaceutical value—rather than the nutritional—is paramount. Historically, as a medicinal mushroom, reishi has been prepared using the whole fruiting body to create powders, tinctures, teas, and other dietary supplements. Recently, preparations of reishi using the spores have made their way into the marketplace, as researchers have developed the technology to break the cell walls of reishi spores.
Ganoderma lucidum spores (GLS) are the mature germ cells of reishi. Spores are the reproductive cells of the mushroom that are ejected from the cap of the fungus once mature. You can think of reishi spores as mini reishi seeds.
Recently, the pharmacological study of Ganoderma spores and active components has become a global focus of attention. Reishi spores, similar to the whole fruiting body, have demonstrated several health effects: immune-system modulation, antitumour activity, liver protection, gastric-ulcer prevention, free-radical scavenging, blood sugar– and blood lipid–lowering properties, and the list goes on. You might be asking yourself, given the similar effects between reishi spores and the whole fruiting body, what the benefit is of using the spores. Let’s find out.
How Are Spores Different?
What’s different about reishi spores is that over 29 triterpenes have been isolated from the spores, while only a few have been found in the fruiting body. Also, more than 40% of the spore content is made up of immunomodulating polysaccharides such as beta-glucans, whereas the whole fruiting body contains only about 0.73% polysaccharides. Additionally, reishi spores do not contain chitin, a polysaccharide that makes the beta-glucans found in the whole fruiting body far less accessible without processing the fruiting body via hot-water extraction., , 
Reishi Spores and Cancer
In addition to the high polysaccharide content, reishi spores have been found to contain a mixture of long-chain fatty acids; these are thought to contribute to the antitumour activity of the mushroom. Spores have also been shown to inhibit the growth of two proteins (phosphatidylinositol and NF‑κB) that contribute to the progression of breast and prostate cancers. Due to their ability to scavenge free radicals, reishi spores can help prevent damage to cell DNA as well as prevent the growth of tumours.
A study on the treatment of sarcoma compared the health benefits of extracts made from the whole fruiting body (pileus and stipe), pileus (cap), stipe (stem) or the spores. The whole fruiting body, stipe, and spores demonstrated a greater ability to hinder cancer growth compared to the cap only. Furthermore, spores show an immunomodulator activity and increase production of cytokine (messenger) responsible for immunity and anti-inflammatory effects.
Reishi Spores and Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic condition that impairs the body from properly regulating and using sugar as fuel. It develops because of a combination of sustained high blood sugar and subsequent insulin insensitivity. Cells lose their ability to respond to insulin, the hormone that helps cells absorb glucose from the blood.
A study investigated the effects of reishi spores on blood-sugar regulation. At the end of a 4‑week intervention, subjects with type 2 diabetes and treated with reishi-spore powder showed a reduction in oxidative stress, an increase in fat metabolism (and, as a result, reductions in blood lipids like cholesterol), and an increased storage of blood glucose as glycogen, culminating in reductions of blood glucose and improvements in their diabetic markers.
Another study further revealed that treatment with reishi spores not only reduced blood glucose in diabetics, but also reduced inflammation, oxidation, as well as fibrosis (scarring) of the myocardium (heart muscle), This is an important finding, as heart damage is a potential long-term consequence of chronically elevated blood glucose.
Reishi Spores and Liver Health
A study explored the effects of reishi spores on cadmium-induced liver damage in rats. After priming test subjects with reishi spores, they were administered a liver-damaging dose of cadmium. Treatment with reishi spores decreased cadmium accumulation in the liver cells and increased cadmium sequestration in a protein (metallothionein)—both of which offered liver cells protection from cadmium-induced oxidative stress and liver damage. Not only did reishi spores help protect liver cells by sequestering cadmium, but they also increased liver production of metallothionein, offering further liver-cell protection from cadmium-induced damage.
Reishi Spores and Dementia
Oxidative stress is a key process in the development of dementia, as it results in the degeneration of neurons.
A study on rats explored the effects of reishi spores on neurodegeneration. Streptosozin, a drug that causes oxidative stress and neurodegeneration, was administered to rats. Subsequent treatment with mushroom spores resulted in increases in glutathione reductase and reduced glutathione (two indicators of antioxidant capacity) in the hippocampi of the test rats, resulting in preservation of the streptosozin-exposed neurons. The study demonstrated the increases in antioxidant capacity in subjects given a reishi spore powder.
Reishi spores have been demonstrated to increase the health and number of neurons in the hippocampus—a key area of the brain involved in memory and cognition. Treatment with reishi spores in a study has been shown to increase amounts of a nerve growth factor called neurotrophin‑4, which is the likely mechanism for preserving and protecting neurons in the hippocampus. In addition to increasing neurotrophin‑4, reishi spores were shown to increase neural connections and promote the recovery of damaged neurons in the hippocampus by raising levels of two other nerve-growth factors (BDNF and TRPC3).
Planting the Seeds for the Next Supersupplement?
The clinical applications of reishi spores are still being studied, but they are holding their weight in immune-enhancing, neuroprotective, antiepileptic, anxiolytic, antitumour, and liver-optimization abilities.,  Reishi spores could very well be the next “supersupplement” due to their higher concentration of triterpenes, in addition to their greater bioavailability.
Dr. Colleen Hartwick, ND
Dr. Colleen Hartwick is a licensed naturopathic physician practising on North Vancouver Island, BC, with a special interest in trauma as it plays a role in disease.
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