Reishi Relief for Allergy Aggravation

This fungus among us that’s our immune system’s bestie!
© Can Stock Photo / stoonn

Let’s talk allergies: Itchy skin, irritated and watery eyes, runny nose, constant sneezing, and hives are all signs and symptoms of an allergic response in the system. Some of us dread this time of year when everything starts to grow and release pollens into the environment. For many others, allergies aren’t just seasonal and they suffer year-round. Fortunately, a little mushroom called reishi has got your back!

Allergies: a balancing act

Allergies are a result of our immune system being out of balance. The immune response is regulated by specialized white blood cells (antigen presenting cells) whose job it is to identify and fight pathogens, as well as notify the adaptive immune response to the dangers at hand. The adaptive immune response sends “T helper” cells—Th1 and Th2—to the site. Both have specific jobs, and when they work together, they help clear the body of perceived pathogens. Sometimes, however, the Th cells become imbalanced. When it comes to allergic reactions, typically it means Th2 dominance, and in order to rebalance the immune response, it is necessary to stimulate the Th1 cells with supplementation. Regulating your immune system means fewer allergic symptoms and lowering allergic response.

As naturopathic physicians, when we’re considering our patients’ allergic symptoms, our first goal is to address the diet. Believe it or not, strategies as simple as removing processed foods, saturated fats, and sugars; limiting toxins from caffeine, alcohol, and soda; and implementing a diet full of fruits and veggies can help remove allergy triggers and lessen reactions from the environment.

Reishi to the rescue!

But what if you need a little more support? Give reishi a try! The reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), known as “lingzhi” in Chinese, has been used therapeutically for centuries to help increase energy and resistance to stress. A known adaptogen, but not suitable in culinary applications due to its bitter taste, it is thought to increase vitality, immune function, and life expectancy. Further, we’ve found it increasingly beneficial for supporting seasonal allergy symptoms, asthma, and even chronic allergic bronchitis and eczema!

Reishi mushroom is a powerful stimulant that helps regulate the Th1 aspect. Further, it also works to suppress various inflammatory compounds in the body (such as prostaglandins) and works to inhibit histamine release.  

Mushroom medicine

Mushrooms, like reishi, contain both soluble and insoluble fibres; the soluble fibre is mainly beta-D-glucan polysaccharides which are components of the mushroom’s cell wall. Polysaccharides are the active ingredients in the mushrooms that exhibit the immunomodulating and anti-inflammatory effects of the mushroom, thereby allowing it to be used for medical purposes. In order to access those polysaccharides, it’s necessary to extract them from the reishi’s cell wall, typically using hot water, as this allows the bioactive form of the polysaccharide to stay structurally intact. Those polysaccharide components are then used in various forms therapeutically—powders, capsules and tablets, and liquid forms. 

As herbs (and fungi!) sometimes conflict with other medications and/or pre-existing conditions, specifically if you are taking an immunosuppressant or warfarin, it’s best to discuss embarking on the road to reishi with your health care provider first!

Reishi Regimen

A therapeutic dose of reishi for the purpose of supporting allergies will vary from individual to individual, but starting with a 500 mg dose two to three times daily for adults and 500 mg daily for children would be a great place to start. For the best efficacy, we strongly recommend choosing a reishi mushroom supplement that is a hot water extract and contains 40% polysaccharides in the dose.