Losing Weight with Mushrooms

Losing Weight with Mushrooms

Research funded by The Mushroom Council showed that you will lose weight if you replace meat with button mushrooms in your diet.  That’s kind of a no-brainer given that any kind of mushroom has a fraction of the calories of meat.

Now, research is showing that eating certain medicinal mushrooms (not button mushrooms) in the form of tea or soup can help you lose weight in a fascinating way.  In a nutshell, key compounds found in these mushrooms serve as probiotics that help you digest your food without extracting the fats in the food and storing it as fat on your body.  Here I discuss how that works and show you the best way get these compounds into your diet.

Reishi Mushrooms


Broad Health Benefits

Reishi is a mushroom that you would not normally eat fresh.  It’s a polypore that is very hard and fibrous, like wood, making it difficult to eat, difficult to digest and not appetizing (it’s bitter).  Or, as  Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition puts it:

The mushroom also consists of a matrix of the polysaccharide chitin, which is largely indigestible by the human body and is partly responsible for the physical hardness of the mushroom. Numerous refined polysaccharide preparations extracted from G. lucidum are now marketed as over-the-counter treatment for chronic diseases, including cancer and liver disease.

Reishi MushroomTo ingest it, the mushroom is typically ground up and used to make tea.  In my experience the tea offers a calming effect, but for medicinal uses, it is more common to use specific extracts of the mushroom.  Reishi mushroom extracts have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years as a treatment for things like:

• Liver diseases
• Blood Circulation
• Sleep issues
• Stress and Anxiety issues
• Skin issues
• Immune System issues
• Blood Pressure control
With regard to research with human subjects, the herbal medicine book mentioned above reports:
Two randomized, controlled trials have been conducted using a GL-PS-rich extract (a patented over-the-counter product, Ganopoly). Researchers recruited 134 patients with advanced cancers of different sites and supplemented them with G. lucidum capsules at a dosage of 1800 mg/ day for 12 weeks. Cellular immunity in 80% of these patients was significantly enhanced in terms of elevated plasma interleukin (IL)-2, IL-6, and interferon γ (IFN-γ) levels and natural killer (NK) cell activity. In another study, the same protocol was followed with 68 lung cancer patients in whom immune parameters including total T cells, NK cells, and CD4/CD8 ratio were significantly enhanced in the G. lucidum-treated group. In addition, quality of life in terms of Karnofsky score was improved in about 65% of these patients. Ganopoly was also demonstrated to enhance mitogenic activity and NK cells in patients with advanced cancer in a before-and-after comparison study. These results provide some evidence that the antitumor effects of G. lucidum are mediated via effects on the immune system. However, it must be noted that all studies were conducted by the same research group and that other direct antitumor effects of G. lucidum have not yet been studied on humans in vivo.

The research has shown that extracts from this mushroom can definitely benefit your health mostly by enhancing your immune system.  A recent study, Ganoderma lucidum reduces obesity in mice by modulating the composition of the gut microbiota gets into the weight loss issue.

Weight Loss

The authors of the obesity study in mice summed up their results this way:

Obesity is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation and intestinal dysbiosis. Ganoderma lucidum is a medicinal mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine with putative anti-diabetic effects. Here, we show that a water extract of Ganoderma lucidum mycelium (WEGL) reduces body weight, inflammation and insulin resistance in mice fed a high-fat diet (HFD). Our data indicate that WEGL not only reverses HFD-induced gut dysbiosis—as indicated by the decreased Firmicutes-to-Bacteroidetes ratios and endotoxin-bearing Proteobacteria levels—but also maintains intestinal barrier integrity and reduces metabolic endotoxemia. The anti-obesity and microbiota-modulating effects are transmissible via horizontal feces transfer from WEGL-treated mice to HFD-fed mice. We further show that high molecular weight polysaccharides (>300kDa) isolated from the WEGL extract produce similar anti-obesity and microbiota-modulating effects. Our results indicate that G. lucidum and its high molecular weight polysaccharides may be used as prebiotic agents to prevent gut dysbiosis and obesity-related metabolic disorders in obese individuals.

This supports and adds details to older studies that have shown probiotic effects from this and other mushroom species.  Earlier studies have also shown that gut bacteria play a critical role in weight management.  The new study shows that, at least in mice,  reishi tends to feed the proper bacteria for healthy digestion and gets gut bacteria organized to fight weight gain. The key change involves reduction in Firmicutes.  These bacteria help convert complex sugars to fat then store that fat on the body – exactly what we want to avoid.  By reducing them, we reduce the tendency to store fat.  The feces transfer performed in the study showed that it is this effect on gut bacteria by the reishi extract that improves weight management.  The active ingredients for weight loss from reishi are high molecular weight polysaccharides (Beta-glucans).

Getting the Benefits

While the use of reishi for weight management has not been tested in humans, reishi has been consumed without issues for thousands of years.  So, whether or not reishi helps resolve weight issues, it is likely to have other benefits and not be harmful.

In this study,  the reishi extract was made from the mushroom’s mycelium (like roots) rather than from the fruiting body of the mushroom (the thing that actually looks like a mushroom).   The mycelium were, essentially, made into a tea that was dehydrated and concentrated before adding water and feeding it to the mice.   A human would need to consume about a cup of this concoction per day to match what the mice were getting.  The key, then, is finding a way to get these polysaccharides into our diets.

Reishi Extracts

Long Stem ReishiMost food supplements based on reishi mycelium and made in the U.S. are manufactured by grinding up grain that has had the mycelium grown through it.  As a result,  these supplements have a lot of grain (starch) with very little of the active ingredients needed for weight loss.  This study used mycelium grown in a liquid culture so it does not have the starches associated with other reishi supplements.  Further,  the needed polysaccharides were extracted using hot water.  Other research has shown that there are more of these compounds in the stem and cap of the mushroom than in the mycelia.

Ideally then,  we need a hot water extract made from the cap and stem of the reishi.  Fresh reishi is difficult to find in the U.S. unless you are near a Chinatown in one of the larger cities.  If you can get some,  chop it up and boil it in water to extract and concentrate the polysaccharides we need, as the water boils off.  This concoction will be very bitter if you have extracted everything from the mushrooms and the mushrooms were grown on wood logs.  The bitterness comes from triterpenes, another medicinal compound, best known for its immune system benefits.

There are kits you can buy to grow your own reishi.  Depending upon the material upon which these mushrooms grow,  you may not get the bitterness of triterpenes, but triterpenes aren’t necessary for weight loss.  By making a tea from fresh mushrooms,  you will get other things beyond the key molecules identified as helping with weight loss,  but they are still good for you.

The Shiitake Alternative

Shiitake MushroomAll of this seems like a hassle, but there is an alternative – shiitake mushrooms.  Shiitake contain the same kinds of polysaccharide molecules that have been shown to help with weight loss when derived from reishi.  These mushrooms are much easier to find in the U.S. either fresh or dried in grocery stores, online or from your favorite mushroom farm.  Either way, they can be boiled into a tea to extract the beneficial molecules without the bitterness of triterpenes.  Using them in soup is also a great alternative.  For everyday use,  to derive long-term benefits,  tea may be a better option that you can refrigerate and use daily.

You may be able to find shiitake or reishi teas in a grocery store ,  but beware if they say they are made from mycelium.  In addition,  making tea from the small amount of ground mushroom in a tea bag will not get you as many polysaccharides as boiling larger quantities to get better concentrations.


Either reishi or shiitake mushroom teas can help realign your gut bacteria in a way that favors healthy weight,  if your gut bacteria are in an unhealthy state to start with.  Don’t, however, expect this to be a panacea any more than any other approach to weight loss.   You still need to eat healthy foods and get some exercise every day to get to and stay at a healthy weight.

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  1. Wow love this post so interesting thanks for sharing I’m going to have to try this let you know how it goes

    • Hi Nunu.
      Glad to be of help. I found a source for whole reishi mushrooms and have added it to the sidebar to the right.
      Best wishes,

  2. I had no idea that mushrooms could aide in weight loss and health benefits. I too am a enthusiasts of natural ingredients for health and wellness. Do you know if this has any positive effect on treating Chronic Lymphocytic Luekemia? My father has been struggling with it for years and he hates taking 20 pills a day that doctors prescribe him. Any advice?

    • Hi Jeremy,
      One study showed beneficial effects from reishi when tested against leukemia and lymphoma ( http://www.lrjournal.com/article/S0145-2126(05)00473-X/abstract ). Various other studies have shown positive effects against various kinds of cancers. In general these effects are associated with immune system enhancement and the triterpenes in the reishi. The theory would be that if you get reishi caps and stems that were grown on logs, chop them up, boil them to make tea, and drink the tea, you would see some benefits. If the triterpenes are present in the tea, the tea will be bitter and will probably need some sweetening. Talk to his doctor, but it should be ok to drink reishi tea while he is taking his current medications. If he sees enough improvement perhaps his doctor will reduce his other meds.
      Best wishes,

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