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Capsules: Medicinal Mushrooms in Chinese Medicine

Newsbreaks in herb research: New studies and products indicate that reishi mushrooms and other fungi long used as Chinese medicinal herbs have strong health benefits for hypertension and other conditions.
By Kenneth Jones
July/August 1997
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Reishi mushrooms may help correct hypertension.
Photography by Steven Foster


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Mushrooms and hypertension

Reishi mushrooms and prescription drugs may be an effective combination against hypertension, according to a recent study.

Collaborating researchers at four universities in China and one in Japan have found that reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) act synergistically with prescription drugs to combat high blood pressure, or hypertension.

The researchers performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study involving hypertensives who hadn’t responded to usual prescription drugs. The subjects ranged in age from fifty to sixty-six and were diagnosed with primary stage II hypertension, the moderate form of hypertension, with a blood pressure reading of 160/100 to 179/109 (110/80 to 140/90 is a normal blood pressure range for adults).

Out of twenty women and thirty-four men, fourteen received a placebo. The rest received 55 mg of reishi extract three times a day, equal to taking 4 g of the raw mushroom daily. All of the participants continued taking their prescription medications for hypertension (nimodipine and captopril).

The blood pressure of those taking the placebo didn’t change much, but for those who took the reishi, blood pressure readings did generally improve significantly after two weeks. For twenty-five of them, the capillary, diastolic, and systolic blood pressure readings also significantly decreased. After four weeks, blood pressure in forty people decreased even more.

Researchers determined that reishi, when taken with the previously ineffective medication, provided a significant and stabilizing effect against hypertension.

Reishi, or “ling-zhi” as it is known in China, has been an important folk medicine for thousands of years. Considered an “elixir of life”, reishi tonic was traditionally used to treat hepatitis, arthritis, and many other conditions, as well as hypertension.(1,2)
—Kenneth Jones

Fungi in the mainstream

Two health-care products containing fungi that have been used for centuries in Chinese herbal medicine are included in the latest edition of the Physicians’ Desk Reference or PDR, a text used by most Western doctors and many pharmacists to research new medicines on the market.

The two products—Cholestin and Cordymax

Cs-4—are listed in the PDR as over-the-counter dietary supplements. One is used to maintain normal cholesterol levels and the other to prevent fatigue.

Cholestin contains substances similar to prescription drugs used to treat high cholesterol. Known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, these substances inhibit a key enzyme in cholesterol synthesis. After extensive studies and clinical trials in China, Cholestin capsules are now available as a dietary supplement in the United States.

The other product, Cordymax Cs-4, has been extensively tested in pharmacological, toxicological, and human studies for its ability to maintain energy and combat fatigue. It is believed that it doesn’t do so by stimulating the central nervous system and it hasn’t caused gastrointestinal upset associated with other energy boosters. Cordymax Cs-4 is manufactured in the laboratory rather than harvested from the wild.

Cholestin is made from rice fermented with the yeast Monascus purpureus, which has been used for hundreds of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The yeast is cultured in cooked rice and creates an intense purple-red color. Rice prepared with the yeast is called “aga-koji”, “ankak”, or simply Chinese red rice. The rice is slightly sweet and mild, and is traditionally used as a digestive tonic. It is also used in cooking and wine-making, and as a food colorant.

Cordymax Cs-4 is a powder extract of a highly regarded fungus in TCM commonly known as cordyceps or the caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis). In TCM, cordyceps is used to promote normal lung functions, quality of life, and vigor.

Cholestin and Cordymax Cs-4 are available in U.S. phar­macies. (3,4)
—Kenneth Jones

References

(1) Jones, Kenneth. Reishi, Ancient Herb for Modern Times. Seattle, Washington: Sylvan Press, 1996.
(2) Jin, H., et al. “Treatment of Hypertension by Linzhi Combined with Hypotensor and its Effects on Arterial, Arteriolar and Capillary Pressure and Microcirculation.” In Microcirculatory Approach to Asian Traditional Medicine: Strategy for the Scientific Evaluation, H. Niimi et al. eds., Excerpta Medica, International Congress Series 117, Elsevier, 1996:131–138.
(3) Physicians’ Desk Reference, 51st edition. Montvale, New Jersey: Medical Economics Company, 1997:2985.
(4) Liu, Bo, and Yun-Sun Bau. Fungi Pharmacopoeia Sinica. Oakland, California: Kinoko, 1980.


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