Earlier, I wrote about how I’ve been drinking tea made from Ganoderma (Reishi or Lingzhi) mushrooms, a traditional Chinese remedy that’s been in use for thousands of years. The anti-cancer properties of Ganoderma are thought to come primarily from enhancement of immune responses via bioactive polysaccharides. I recall a Science paper I presented in journal club over a decade ago in the Jones lab at Stanford which demonstrated that the branching pattern of sugar chains on T-cell receptors regulates how tightly they can pack themselves in the cell membrane during signalling events, thereby determining the “gain” of the T-cells. Although no one’s figured out exactly how Ganoderma does its thing, my guess is that it’s increasing the sensitivity of white blood cells via a similar mechanism.
The literature about Ganoderma is often frustrating, because many of the raw data look promising, while the experiments themselves are not done with admirable rigor. For example, I’ve seen journals implausibly describe how Ganoderma can be used to treat dozens of different illnesses, each with different underlying pathological mechanisms. There is almost no discussion of appropriate doses, and I don’t think I’ve seen any systematic study of side effects.
I find this tendency to be a great disservice to Ganoderma as a potentially beneficial supplement to conventional treatments, because it ascribes magical — and unbelievable — properties to the mushroom. Everything has to follow the rules of pharmacology. There is an optimal dose that maximizes efficacy while minimizing off-target side effects. And, everything we take has side effects. Check out the MSDS of water if you don’t believe me.
But, that being said, there’s also the counter-tendency to disregard any potential treatment that hasn’t been given a thumbs up by the FDA. I consider it unlikely that thousands of years of Chinese medicine are entirely wrong; to wit: willow bark extracts and poppy extracts were used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years, and they certainly have found an honored place in conventional modern medicine. The Ganoderma literature just hasn’t matured to that point yet. Meanwhile, there is a growing literature — mostly from Asian groups — that’s beginning to put the pieces together.
1. Low blood pressure: Ganoderma decreases blood pressure in laboratory animals by repressing sympathetic outputs. This is probably the mechanism by which it improves cardiovascular disease. I can confirm this side-effect. My blood-pressure has been episodically low for months now. Granted, that may be due to the low-stress regimen, or the dietary changes, or some cryptic neurological change. Earlier, I wrote about how I suspected melatonin and Keppra were interacting to cause light-headedness. In retrospect, and after careful consideration, I think I may have maligned Keppra — a very good drug whose great virtue is that it rarely interacts with anything. Since both melatonin and Ganoderma reduce blood pressure, I think it’s much more likely that their combined activities were causing the light-headedness I was complaining about. I initially pointed my finger at Keppra, since the light-headedness and sleepiness I felt was identical to the first few doses I took of Keppra before my nervous system acclimated. Although I don’t care for the episodic wooziness from Ganoderma, I see the silver lining here: until we can monitor in real time the activity of immune cells in situ, or visualize immune clearance of glioma cells, any confirmed side effect of Ganoderma is proof that the preparation you’re using is doing something, and presumably the on-target biological effects are there as well.
2. Low blood sugar: Ganoderma lowers blood sugar levels, especially after meals, which is why it’s used as adjuvant treatment for diabetes. This side-effect I can also confirm. When I take a large dose of Ganoderma in the evening, and if it is not followed up with a calorie-intense midnight snack, I’d wake up the next morning shaky and demoralized — a tendency which resolves after a tall glass of OJ and a solid breakfast. Like the blood pressure effect described above, I see a silver lining here: since tumor cells thrive on glucose, many cancer patients go to great lengths to lower their blood sugar levels, and a great deal of epidemiological work has been done showing linkage between high-sugar diets and increased cancer incidence. Some cancer patients go so far as to take diabetes drugs like Metformin off-label, or commit themselves to a full ketogenic diet. I will do anything to improve chances against this illness, but both of those seem like extreme measures to me. But if I’m getting the same effect just by taking Ganoderma and cutting some simple carbohydrates out of my diet, so much the better.
3. Canker sores: distinct from cold sores, which are caused by Herpes virus. I used to get canker sores regularly, until I switched to a tooth paste without Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (a common foaming agent, and an irritant to sensitive epithelial cell layers). I was down to less than one canker sore per month until I started the Ganoderma regimen; now they’re pretty much continuous. Not much is known about the mechanism by which canker sores arise, but the damage to the epithelial cell layers is believed to be due to T-cell activity and associated white blood cells. This is perversely good news: it’s consistent with the idea that Ganoderma is making my white blood cells a little “punchier” than usual.
The bottom line:
A healthy immune system will clear many nascent tumor cells in the course of a lifetime, and anything I can do to nudge my immune cells towards doing their duty is consistent with my overall strategy: 1. low stress, 2. improved diet, 3. aerobic exercise, and 4. specific nutraceticals and Chinese medicine (including Ganoderma) to directly enhance immune responsiveness. I’m a little troubled that the sophistication of Ganoderma treatments haven’t matured as quickly as aspirin or opiates, but there’s ample evidence that several different bioactive molecules in Ganoderma have desirable effects for cancer clearance. The side effects discussed above are either a nuisance, or potentially desirable.