Reishi Alcohol Extract vs. Hot Water Extract

By Dr. Markho Rafael

For two millennia, medicinal mushrooms have been mainstream in Asia. Now, America is taking notice and interest is rapidly "mushrooming." With the sprouting of this new industry follows issues of ethical quality claims between competing brands.

All species of medicinal mushrooms appear haunted by this issue. Particularly so, it seems, is red reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), the oldest medicinal mushroom in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Please note, however, that the information in this article applies generally to all medicinal mushroom species.

An obvious caution is to stay away from cheap, mass-produced reishi. It may be merely dried and pulverized. In order to be medicinal, the mushroom cell-wall has to be broken down. Mass-produced reishi may be mostly inert and ineffective.

Then there are the real therapeutic grade red reishi brands, which are produced with much more care. But even here there are big differences between brands. Each claims to be the best, of course, because they want to sell their product. So lets set the facts straight and be independently informed consumers.

There are primarily three ways to extract the medicinal compounds from red reishi. Each method pulls out different compounds, all of which have been proven by scientific research to be therapeutically important.

1. Water (Hot) Extraction (polysaccharides, etc.)

2. Alcohol/Ethanol Extraction (triterpenoids, etc.)

3. Fermenting (arabinoxylanes, etc.)

The most important hot water extracted compounds are the polysaccharides. Studies have shown them to possess strong anti-tumor properties, help boost immune system and be powerful antioxidants. [1]

Triterpenoids include a large number of related medicinal compounds whose proven effects include stabilization of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood clotting. But most importantly, the triterpenoids are the anti-inflammatory compounds of reishi. [1] Inflammation is a serious component in asthma, allergies, arthritis and many more conditions.

Finally, by fermenting the red reishi, the original medicinal compounds break down to form new compounds with unique healing properties. These "secondary metabolites" have among other things been shown to be immune enhancing and help regulate blood sugar, as well as having unique anti-tumor properties. [2]

This article is not meant to recommend any particular brand so none will be mentioned by name. But the author does know of two reishi companies (Japanese and American) that both claim only hot water extract of reishi is effective and that alcohol extracts are of no use.

They do that, of course, because they wish to sell their products. However, there is no scientific validity to those claims. All three extraction methods listed above yield important medicinal compounds.

To determine if a brand of reishi (or Ganoderma) contains all the important medicinal compounds from the mushroom, find out if it utilizes both alcohol and hot water extraction. An additional plus would be if it also includes fermented reishi.

Last but not least, remember to look at the form the reishi comes in. If the reishi is able to dissolve completely in water-based drinks like coffee, it's a safe bet that it only contains the water-soluble polysaccharides. An excellent choice as far as coffee goes but an incomplete reishi supplement because it does not include the anti-inflammatory triterpenoid compounds.

Alcohol tinctures, on the other hand, are well worth considering because they may be a blend of water and alcohol extracts. The way to tell is if the tincture is cloudy. When water-soluble polysaccharides get mixed with alcohol, they fall out of solution. Cloudiness in an alcohol tincture indicates high polysaccharide content. Just shake before taking. Tablets and capsules can contain hot water extract, alcohol extract or both. You need to find out from the manufacturer.

[1] Boh B, Berovic M, Zhang J, Zhi-Bin L. "Ganoderma lucidum and its pharmaceutically active compounds." Biotechnology Annual Review 2007;13:265-301.

[2] Tang YJ, Zhang W, Zhong JJ, 2009. "Performance analyses of a pH-shift and DOT-shift integrated fed-batch fermentation process for the production of ganoderic acid and Ganoderma polysaccharides by medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum." Bioresource Technol. Mar;100(5):1852-9. - 31820

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