Did you know that your brain has about 86 billion brain cells (neurons)?
Before we are born, these neurons have to travel along specific pathways and then undergo substantial changes, including building long projections from the cell body—called axons and dendrites—to connect with other neurons, making trillions of connections. This all happens during prenatal and early postnatal periods, giving our brains good foundations for learning and reacting. It’s complicated. So, it’s not surprising that disruptions can cause neurodevelopmental disorders like ASD.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been known since 1938, with current estimates of 70 million worldwide affected, but it often remains overlooked and poorly understood. Autism is a neurological disorder that is typically identified during early childhood development, and it can create a lifelong challenge, interfering with people’s ability to communicate and socialize with others.
Though there seems to be some genetic link and there is an increased risk of ASD associated with taking the drugs valproic acid and thalidomide during pregnancy and for children born to older parents, we don’t yet have clear guidelines of how to prevent or treat it.
Early diagnosis and therapy to help the child walk, talk, and interact with others is one of the few conventional treatment options. Thus, with so few mainstream therapy options available, many turn to the natural world for solutions, including remedies like reishi mushroom.
The benefits of choosing reishi mushrooms for autism
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), reishi mushrooms—called ling zhi—hold high esteem. These therapeutic fungi offer up a host of health benefits to boost wellbeing and quality of life.
Dubbed the “Mushroom of Immortality,” people have looked to reishi mushrooms to help improve immunity, stimulate cellular health, improve sleep, manage stress, lower cancer risk, reduce chronic inflammation, and address neurological disorders like autism.
While the nutraceutical world classifies reishi mushroom as an adaptogen—helping the body adapt to stressors and return to balance (homeostasis)—TCM places reishi with other herbs that help soothe the nervous system. It is also often employed as a “tonic” herb, helping to provide more calm energy. This can be particularly helpful for addressing the anxiety, repetitive behaviours, and violent outbursts that can arise because of the deficits in communication and interaction with others. And because reishi is not a sedative, it can be taken in the morning or at night, and it will neither make you drowsy nor overstimulated.
Those with ASD appear to have a number of areas of dysfunction with the neurons, including problems with how the neurons migrate during developmental stages and how the neurites—axons and dendrites—connect. Interestingly, reishi mushrooms have been found to increase the outgrowth of neurites, which is key to helping with brain development and cognitive function.
Another potential issue for those with ASD is an alteration in the healthy gut microbiota (the community of microorganisms, including bacteria, in your body). In addition to the co-existing digestive issues that many with ASD experience, there is growing research into the microbiota-gut-brain-axis. This is how the bacteria in your gut affect your brain, including cognitive and mood. Reishi mushroom’s potential to support healthy gut bacteria has also been researched, particularly as some of its most recognized compounds, called polysaccharides, are prebiotics, serving as food for the good bacteria.
We still have a lot more research to do to figure out how reishi mushroom can help with ASD, but because of the limited conventional treatment options and reishi mushroom’s generally safe profile, it’s worth looking into more!