A Calm Support for Autism

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!

Autism and Red Reishi

Autism is a very complex neuro-developmental disorder that occurs in early childhood. It affects how a child perceives the world, plays, learns, communicates, and relates to others. Since the exact cause of autism is unknown, finding preventative and treatment therapies can be a challenge.

While there is no medical “cure” for autism, there have been some wondrous breakthroughs using a combination of behavioural therapies, nutritional adjustments, and natural remedies to treat this disorder.

Symptoms of autism

Children with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, will often exhibit signs of the condition around 18 months of age, including the inability to make eye contact and failure to react to their own name.

As the child grows older and ASD progresses, persistent deficits in social communication and interaction may manifest as violent outbursts, increased anxiety, repetitive behaviours, and difficulty sharing. That being said, ASD symptoms have been known to decrease with age, and in some cases, children have so completely improved that they have overturned their diagnosis.

How to help your child cope with ASD

When a child is diagnosed with autism, the first question every parent has is, “What do I do?” With so many treatment and therapy options, choosing the “right” intervention plan can be frustrating and confusing for many families. Fortunately, much can be done to help your child cope with autism.

There are support groups, behaviour consultants, occupational and physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, nutritionists, integrative therapies, nutritional supplements, and more. Because everyone is different, there is no one path.

However, some basic principles are generally best applied. A healthy diet supports healing and cellular repair and regeneration. Many who are autistic are sensitive to sounds, touch, and visual cues. So, in addition to working with chosen therapists, supplementation that helps calm an often hyperactive nervous system can be helpful.

The amazing benefits of red reishi

Celebrated in Chinese medicine as the “mushroom of immortality,” reishi has been used for thousands of years for its astounding health benefits. This fantastic fungus has been used to ward off heart disease, fight cancer, relieve inflammation, and boost the immune system.

Reishi also has great potential for treating people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This miraculous mushroom has been shown to reduce anxiety and promote brain and cognitive health, helping to improve attention and learning. In fact, Chinese medicine classifies reishi mushroom as a calming herb that also supports energy, i.e. doesn’t make you drowsy. There are many ways that reishi is demonstrating its benefits for those with ASD.

Studies on Ganoderma lucidum (that’s the fun scientific name of reishi) show that this mushroom reduces the death of brain cells, promotes the growth of new brain cells, and also stimulates the activity of these cells. Red reishi mushroom may actually be supporting healthy rewiring of the brain.

Furthermore, this is what holistic pediatrician John Hicks has to say: “The immune shift that people on the spectrum get is a TH2 shift. This leads to suppression of the cell-mediated side. This is the shift that mushrooms address. I have been using mushrooms successfully to shift the TH2 immune dysfunctions.” In other words, because those on the autism spectrum may not properly fight off pathogenic (bad) bacteria, viruses, and yeast and over-react to toxins, allergens, and normal (good) bacteria, reishi may be helping those with autism because it helps regulate the immune system, bringing it back into balance.

While it’s important to discuss treatments with your health professionals, many have anecdotally shared their positive experiences with using reishi mushroom supplements to treat autism spectrum, including non-verbal children who start speaking, increases in eye contact and social interaction, calmer behaviour, showing of affection, fewer meltdowns, and improved learning.

Because high quality products of Japanese red reishi are safe and useful for such a wide array of symptoms (that’s because it’s an adaptogenic—helps the body deal with stressors), you may want to consider it for those with ASD to help them achieve their full potential.