Mushroom Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine Could Treat Obesity

Mice who were treated with the mushroom gained less weight than their control counterparts when fed a high-fat diet

Wikimedia Commons/Eric Steinert

The research suggests that the active prebiotics may be used to ‘produce a specific gut microbiota associated with reduced weight gain, inflammation, and insulin resistance in obese individuals.’

The research suggests that the active prebiotics may be used to ‘produce a specific gut microbiota associated with reduced weight gain, inflammation, and insulin resistance in obese individuals.’

Ganoderma lucidum, a mushroom commonly used for “health and longevity” within traditional Chinese medicine, might also be a useful tool in the treatment of obesity, suggests new research published in the Nature Communications journal.

In a study conducted on mice, the mushroom was found to have a positive impact on gut bacteria, limiting the amount of weight gain and fat-accumulation from a high-fat diet, as well as reducing inflammation — which has been linked to insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and cancer.

These issues are of concern, the scientists write, because “The high prevalence of obesity is currently a major threat to public health, with [approximately] 500 million obese people and 1.4 billion overweight individuals worldwide,” and therefore, “prevention of obesity thus represents a major challenge for modern societies.”

Although more research must be conducted on human subjects, scientists are optimistic about Ganoderma lucidum’s application in the prebiotic treatment of “weight gain, chronic inflammation, and insulin resistance in obese individuals.”

Not all fungi products are equal. Mushroom extracts and supplements generally contain EITHER the fruiting body OR the mycelium of the mushroom. You should know what you’re getting when you purchase supplements if you actually want to benefit from the bio-compounds in mushrooms. And with so many products on the market making claims about ingredients and efficacy, it can be challenging to understand what will truly support your health.

Read on to learn the myths and facts about medicinal mushroom supplements to get the most functional health support from fungi.

Mushroom Extract May Help Treat Obesity, But It's No Magic Cure

A mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine may help treat obesity by altering the composition of bacteria in the gut, according to a new study done in mice.

In the study, researchers found that mice that were fed a high-fat diet along with an extract made from the mushroom — called Ganoderma lucidum, or "Lingzhi" — for two months gained less weight than mice that were fed the same diet but were not given the extract.

"Given the good safety records of Lingzhi, and the fact that it is similar in composition to other mushrooms that we consume regularly, Lingzhi may be considered by the general population as a convenient strategy to lose weight, along with other known approaches, such as calorie restriction, regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle," said study co-author John D. Young, of Chang Gung University in Taiwan.

But Dr. Monica Aggarwal, a cardiologist and diet expert at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, said it is too early to tell whether the mushroom will work in humans the same as it works in mice. "I think it is interesting I think that there are some possibilities, Aggarwal said. "But you can't say that just because it works for the mouse, it is going to work for sure in a human." [7 Diet Tricks That Really Work]

The researchers also found that the molecules that they isolated from the mushroom altered the composition of gut bacteria in the mice that were fed a high-fat diet. After consuming the extract, the mice's community of gut bacteria resembled that of lean mice in the study that were fed their normal diet, rather than the gut bacteria of the mice fed the high-fat diet but no extract.

"The major part of the anti-obesity effects of Lingzhi appears to be due to this modulating effect on the composition of the gut microbiota," study co-author Hsin-Chih Lai, also of Chang Gung University, told Live Science.

Previous research in mice has shown that changes in the composition of gut bacteria may be related to the development of obesity and metabolic disorders, the researchers said.

Moreover, when the researchers in the new study took gut bacteria from the feces of the mice that had consumed the mushroom extract, and transplanted those bacteria into the guts of obese mice that had not been treated with the extract, they found that the composition of their bacteria changed to a more beneficial one.

Still, Aggarwal said she is skeptical of studies like this one that focus on finding a "magic pill" for reversing obesity. She pointed out that the concept behind the new study seems to be, "Let's feed everybody a high-fat diet, and then we will see if we can reverse the problem by giving them a magic pill."

"Why don't we step back and fix the diet?" Aggarwal said.

Although many people may be on the lookout for a quick fix for obesity, "there is no magic pill," she said. "No matter what you do, you have to change the diet."

The new study was published today (June 23) in the journal Nature Communications.

Understanding the Market of Mushroom Supplements

As people are waking up to the powerful healing properties found in mushrooms, many companies are jumping on the trend and are producing or private labeling mushroom supplements for the masses. The mushroom benefits for health maintenance are so unique because fungi adaptively support the health and resiliency of the human body.

These extremely intelligent organisms have been utilized in Asia for thousands of years for their support in immunity and longevity. However, in recent years the Western market in which these mushroom supplements are marketed and sold has few control standards. The result? A vast majority of the “mushroom” products sold in North America contain little to no mushrooms at all, and are mostly mycelium and starch, from rice or other grains, ground up into a powder. This should come as an alarming fact about which most consumers are unaware. Let us explain why this fact should be of concern.

This Mushroom Used In Chinese Medicine Helps Mice Lose Weight

In the wild, a mushroom called “lingzhi” in China or “reishi” in Japan grows on dead trees in forests all over the world. But for about 2,000 years, herbalists all over Asia have been cultivating Ganoderma lucidum for its medicinal properties it has long been thought of as a cure-all, reducing the effects of everything from asthma to heart palpitations—including anti-diabetic effects. Now a team of Taiwanese researchers has found that the mushroom’s extract can help obese mice lose weight, according to a study published today in Nature Medicine. Their hope is that the extract could also be used to help counter the human obesity epidemic, which endangers millions of lives worldwide.

In the study, the researchers put a group of mice on a high-fat diet. They were mostly looking at the mice’s gut microbiomes, the plethora of bacteria that live in the intestines and affect everything from how the mouse breaks down food, to which diseases its immune to. (The human microbiome works similarly.) The mice that ate G. lucidum extract in their high-fat food had a noticeable change in their microbiomes—they no longer had the bacterial imbalance characteristic of obesity, and their body weight dropped, too. The researchers were able to recreate the same effect when they gave the obese mice a fecal transplant from the mice that consumed the mushroom extract.

G. lucidum has been found to be useful for other applications in “Western” medicine, including treating cancer, but this is the first time it has been found to significantly decrease obesity and its associated disorders. The researchers note that more tests have to be done before G. lucidum can be used to treat obesity in humans, but the results are a promising first step.

Ancient Medicinal Mushroom Improves Renal Function

The Poria fungus–little known in the West but long-used in traditional Asian medicine–has recently attracted the attention of health researchers and practitioners. Compounds in this unique mushroom have particularly positive effects on the kidney.

Poria cocos (poria) has been used medicinally for over 2,000 years in China and Japan, where it is known as Fu ling or Matsuhodo. To this day, it remains one of the most common ingredients in traditional Chinese medical formulas and patent medicines, often prescribed as a diuretic, sedative, or tonic.

Though it is widely referred to as a “mushroom,” the medicinally useful portion of this fungus is not technically a mushroom but a sclerotium–a dense mass of hardened fungal mycelium. Poria is a wood-decaying fungus that grows on a variety of pine tree species. The sclerotia look very much like stones. Other fungal sclerotia that have found their way into medical use include Cordyceps sinensis (the so-called “caterpillar fungus”), and Chaga (Inonotus obliquus).

Draining Dampness

Traditionally, Poria is utilized primarily to drain “dampness” from the body. Dampness is viewed as a major culprit behind a variety of health imbalances including conditions that Western medicine categorizes as allergies, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, cancer, fibromyalgia, and metabolic disorders.

Poria is said to specifically support kidney function by helping to regulate bodily fluid levels. Healthy kidneys are an essential component of overall wellness, supporting normal blood pressure and water balance throughout the body.

A small but growing body of recent biomedical research illuminates poria’s impressive array of healing benefits, ranging from its immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory activities to antioxidant, anticancer, antitumor, and antihyperglycemic properties.

Last fall, the Japanese supplement company, Mushroom Wisdom, launched a new product, Super Poria, designed to promote kidney and immune wellness, and to introduce Poria to a broader US market.

Mushroom Wisdom educator and consultant Mark J. Kaylor, PhD, CN, notes that “a good way to visualize dampness in the body is as a thick fog or very high humidity.” He explains that in the kidneys, dampness manifests in the form of water retention. Symptoms of dampness elsewhere in the body include bloating in the stomach, diarrhea in the bowels, brain fog, mucus in the lungs, vaginal discharge, and cloudy urine. Externally, excessive dampness is expressed as edema and swelling.

Hello Kidney

Poria appears to support kidney health in a number of ways. First, it possesses antioxidant properties. A free radical scavenger, poria was shown in one study to reduce intracellular oxidative damage. The study’s authors argue that the mushroom’s antioxidant activity could play a role in enhancing cell viability, implicating it as a natural agent in the treatment of many diseases marked by oxidative stress (Park, Y. et al. Pharmazie. 2009. 64(11): 760-764).

Poria’s ability to quell oxidative stress holds promise for patients suffering from chronic kidney disease (CKD) characterized by kidney damage and a gradual decline in renal function. CKD is more prevalent today than it was just a few decades ago, affecting an estimated 26 million Americans over the age of 20. CKD risk is elevated among people with diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, other chronic conditions all of which are also on the rise in the US (Hill, N. et al. PLoS One. 2016 11(7): e0158765).

While the direct cause of CKD is unknown, Zhao and colleagues note that several studies implicate free radicals and decreased antioxidant activities in the development of CKD complications (Zhao, Y. et al. J Pharm & Biomed Anal. 2013 81–82: 202–209). Patients with a history of nephrolithiasis (kidney stones) are at an increased risk of CKD.

Another common kidney disorder whose underlying causes are not fully understood, kidney stones can develop into CKD if left untreated. Nephrolithiasis is highly recurrent, painful, and difficult-to-treat.

In traditional Chinese medicine, poria is often used for kidney stones. The results of one in vitro study showed that a classical Chinese formula called Wu-Ling-San, which includes significant amounts of Poria, effectively inhibited the formation and aggregation of calcium oxalate (CaOx). CaOx aggregations are the most common type of kidney stones. The study’s authors argue that the traditional formulation has the potential to prevent CaOx stone recurrence (Chen, Y. et al. Am J Chin Med. 2007 35(3): 533-541).

Others have indicated that poria improves nephrotic syndrome, a constellation of symptoms including high urine protein levels, low blood protein levels, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and swelling. The mushroom appears to influence body fluid regulation via the inhibition of water and sodium channels, specifically by suppressing the expression of both AQP2, a protein coding gene that plays a role in urinary water reabsorption, and the epithelial sodium channel, which facilitates sodium reabsorption (Lee, S. et al. Ev-Based Comp Alt Med. 2014 doi:10.1155/2014/570420).

Further poria research points to its potential to reduce systemic inflammation. One of poria’s main components, a polysaccharide called pachyman, improved immune function in mouse models with autoimmune disease (Chi, M. et al. Mol Med Rep. 2012 5(5): 1237-1240).

Pachyman also acts as an antinephritic. More than 20 years ago, Japanese researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of pachyman isolated from poria against original-type anti-glomerular basement membrane (anti-GBM) glomerulonephritis, a form of autoimmune disease that causes acute inflammation of the kidneys, at least in rats. They concluded that pachyman quells renal disease by inhibiting the deposition of C3, a protein that can disrupt renal function when it builds up in the kidneys (Hattori, T. et al. Jpn J Pharmacol. 1992 59(1): 89–96).

Clinical Applications

Kaylor believes that Poria’s healing properties are particularly beneficial to the stress-ridden, quick-moving, poorly nourished contemporary American population.

Traditional Chinese medicine views lethargy, sluggishness, heaviness, low appetite, excess phlegm and mucus, edema, a bloated abdomen, swollen lymph, and cloudy-headedness all as signs of excess dampness. These same symptoms “occur frequently with the modern fast-paced, stressed lifestyle and standard American diet of processed and dampening foods.”

Our tendency to multi-task, over-work, and eat poorly puts us at risk for excessive dampness, Kaylor says, “making poria particularly well suited for today’s patients.”

He suggests utilizing poria while investigating and addressing the multiple root causes of a patient’s symptoms allows practitioners to provide safe, effective relief. It may also have a role in averting the development of more serious kidney disorders.

Chronic kidney disorders can be difficult and costly to treat, enhancing the appeal of natural, alternative therapeutic options. Few definitive medical treatments are available for CKD. The typical approach relies on healthy lifestyle prescriptions like refraining from smoking and tobacco use, limiting alcohol consumption, controlling blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and avoiding drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Kidney stones are also a common challenge for which medical options are limited. Surgical and mechanical interventions to remove stones have improved greatly over the decades, but lithotripsy, surgery, ureteroscopy, laser vaporization, and percutaneous nephrolithotomy are still invasive and costly.

Mushroom Wisdom’s corporate leadership recognize that trusting in Poria’s effectiveness in resolving “dampness” requires American practitioners to make a significant shift from the typical Western biomedical mode of thinking about kidney disease. But the research so far does suggest that there’s at least some rationale for thinking that this mycological medicine might work.

They realized that while Poria is readily found as an ingredient in a number of Chinese patent formulas, it is much harder to find as a stand-alone ingredient. Kaylor indicates several characteristics to look for in a quality poria remedy.

The highest quality Poria, he says, is grown in a manner that mirrors its growth in the wild ideally, it should be grown underground on pine logs. He also advises practitioners to look for formulations that utilize the Poria sclerotium, as this is the portion of the fungus that is used in traditional medicine, and the one that’s been best-studied in modern trials.

As with the vast majority of medicinal mushrooms, Poria is most effective when the medicinal compounds are properly extracted. It is difficult for the human body to digest chitin, the fibrous component of mushrooms, which is why extraction is necessary. Kaylor suggests that Poria should be dual-extracted — once in hot water and a second time in alcohol — for maximum efficacy.

When it’s properly grown and well sourced, this powerful mushroom offers a healing antidote to a very common health-draining constitutional pattern. “The fast-paced, multi-tasking, eating on the go, stressed, mucus-causing and heavily processed food-consuming patient of today is calling out for the Poria mushroom,” Kaylor says.

Digging Deeper Into The Chinese Medicine Diet

If you want to go deeper into Chinese dietary therapy it is advised that you see a Chinese medicine practitioner or acupuncturist. They will be able to figure out a pattern differentiation of your current constitution. This will usually be an explanation of where the body is out of balance in regards to the five elements (fire, earth, metal, water, wood) or organ systems (heart/small intestine, spleen/stomach, lung/large intestine, kidney/bladder, liver/gallbladder).

Once you have this information you will be able to make more informed decisions of what flavors, and natures of foods can nurture your body best.

Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor)

Trametes versicolor (T. versicolor) or Coriolus versicolor (C. versicolor), also known as yun zhi in Traditional Chinese Medicine and kawaratake in Japanese Medicine, is a woody bracket polypore mushroom that grows on dead logs throughout the world in many diverse climates, including North America. The name turkey tail refers to its concentric rings of brown and tan, which resemble turkey tail feathers.

Turkey tail mushroom has a long history of treasured use in Asia as food and in Asian Traditional Medicine as a therapeutic agent. In 1965, the immunomodulatory activity of turkey tail was identified in Japan by a chemical engineer who observed a case of cancer remission after ingesting it. Subsequent research and findings led to its clinical use as a complementary therapeutic agent in cancer treatments in Japan and China.


Obesity is reaching global epidemic proportions as a result of factors such as high-calorie diets and lack of physical exercise. Obesity is now considered to be a medical condition, which not only contributes to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and cancer, but also negatively affects longevity and quality of life. To combat this epidemic, anti-obesogenic approaches are required that are safe, widely available and inexpensive. Several plants and mushrooms that are consumed in traditional Chinese medicine or as nutraceuticals contain antioxidants, fibre and other phytochemicals, and have anti-obesogenic and antidiabetic effects through the modulation of diverse cellular and physiological pathways. These effects include appetite reduction, modulation of lipid absorption and metabolism, enhancement of insulin sensitivity, thermogenesis and changes in the gut microbiota. In this Review, we describe the molecular mechanisms that underlie the anti-obesogenic and antidiabetic effects of these plants and mushrooms, and propose that combining these food items with existing anti-obesogenic approaches might help to reduce obesity and its complications.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause obesity

In Chinese Medicine obesity is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm


Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

The concept of Phlegm is much wider and important in Chinese Medicine than in the West. Broadly speaking, Phlegm is a substance produced when the body fails to handle Body Fluids properly.

In addition to obesity, other symptoms associated with Phlegm include dizziness, depression and scanty periods.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Phlegm is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Late Menstruation or Scanty Menstruation.

Phlegm is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen Qi Sinking

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

The causes and symptoms of Spleen Qi Sinking is quite similar to the ones of Spleen Qi Deficiency. It happens more to people who have unhealthy diet and eating habits, emotional stress, damp living environment or these have to stand up long hours.

In addition to obesity, other symptoms associated with Spleen Qi Sinking include depression, pale face and poor appetite.

Spleen Qi Sinking is often treated with Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Milkvetch Roots - Huang Qi - as a key herb). Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner)".

#10 – Birch Polypore – A little cap of health

/>Birce Polypore

Birch polypore (Fomitopsis betulina) grows on birch trees hence, its name. It’s also called razor strop fungus.

This mushroom is found in the Northern Hemisphere in North America, Europe, and Asia.

It has a history of interesting uses. It may have been used as a tinder by stone age men. It was used as a final wipe for razors by barbers. It has also been used as an emery board to polish metals.

Of course, it has many medicinal uses.


/>These mushrooms contain many useful compounds including betulenic acid, triterpene acids, and piptamine.

  • Fight infections – They have compounds that fight viral, bacterial, and fungal infections.
  • Boost immune system – These have long been used as a tonic for the immune system.
  • Reduce inflammation – These have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Fight tumors and cancer – Thanks to the betulinic acid and other compounds, the mushrooms can cause apoptosis, i.e., they destroy tumor cells, while keeping other healthy cells in-tact.
  • Heal wounds – These are anti-septic. They can be used to make a self-adhesive plaster for wounds and blisters, a handy aid for survival.

Side Effects

These do not report any side effects. The usual precautions should be observed if you are under any medications, or have any health conditions.

Recipe – Birch Polypore Tea


Handful Birch polypore, scrubbed, diced, dehydrated

  1. Add the dried mushroom slices to the water. Bring to a rolling boil.
  2. Lower the heat and simmer till you get a nice color.

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