08.06.2020 •

Red Reishi: A Holistic Companion to Cancer Treatment

If you are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment, you will likely experience side effects. Hair loss and nausea are common side effects of chemotherapy, and local skin irritation and fatigue for radiation therapy. But there are also a host of other side effects patients undergoing cancer treatment suffer from, including a compromised immune system, loss of appetite, digestive issues, pain, anxiety, and depression, to name only a few.

For all these reasons, it is easy to understand why many cancer patients seek alternative, natural treatment options to manage the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy and increase their quality of life.

Seizing a holistic approach to cancer treatment

For those going through cancer treatment, taking a holistic approach to chemotherapy and radiation therapy may help mitigate side effects. By combining standard health care with alternative options, you can have a full arsenal of therapy options to better support the body and deal with unpleasant reactions. Red reishi can play a valuable role as part of a larger cancer coping strategy. As an adaptogen that helps the body adapt to stressors and return to balance, an antioxidant that helps decrease cellular damage, an anti-inflammatory, and a natural remedy that helps calm the nervous system, its potential benefits are vast.

As an adaptogen and an antioxidant that helps support the liver and kidneys, it can help reduce some of the side effects of powerful chemotherapy and radiation therapy drugs. For example, one chemotherapy drug, cisplatin, is known to potentially cause severe kidney problems and allergic reactions. By giving compounds called terpenes that are found in the fruiting bodies of reishi to mice who were given cisplatin, kidney health and function was maintained. Reishi has also been studied for its potential benefits for reducing nausea and improving appetite during chemotherapy treatment.

Using red reishi as part of your overall wellness plan

Widely used in Asian countries for centuries to support immune function and provide energy, reishi (Ganoderma lucidum or G. lucidum) have been shown to contain potential cancer-fighting properties. In laboratory and animal studies, complex sugars known as beta-glucans found in this herb has demonstrated their ability to stop the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Reishi can also be used alongside chemo or radiation treatment to help manage side effects and to support foundational health. In addition to helping reduce negative reactions to conventional treatments, these medicinal mushrooms can also boost immune function for patients whose systems have been weakened by cancer therapies.

What’s more, reishi supplements have been shown to be well-tolerated by most, even at high doses. If you have a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to notify your healthcare practitioners about any supplements you are taking, but its certainly worth asking your health care provider if reishi is right for you.


Dr. Melissa Carr is a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. In practice since 2001, Dr. Carr has a passion for sharing health information. She has been a nutrition instructor and a health consultant, lecturer, and writer for 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper, Fraser Health Authority, UBC, and the David Suzuki Foundation, amongst others.
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  2. Wang CZ, Basila D, Aung HH, Mehendale SR, Chang WT, McEntee E, Guan X, Yuan CS. Effects of ganoderma lucidum extract on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in a rat model. Am J Chin Med. 2005;33(5):807-15. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X05003429. PMID: 16265993