Can Red Reishi help with Depression?

Depression is a complex disease that accounts for nearly 40% of all psychiatric illness. Characterized primarily by a change in mood, consisting typically as feelings of sadness, anxiety/agitation, loss of interest, insomnia, loss of appetite, body pain, and in it’s extreme, thoughts of death and self-harm; depression for some, is more than just a ‘bad day’.

Because depression can vary in it’s cause and severity, how it presents often differs by individual. Post-partum, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), bi-polar disorder, and major/clinical depression are all examples of depression and it’s spectrum.

Despite the numerous physiological and psychological factors that can contribute to the manifestation of depression, acute and/or chronic stress is reported to be the number one contributing factor in the exacerbation, or worsening of depressive symptoms.

The Stress Connection

Long-term or chronic stress leads to elevated levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol, as well as decreased levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine, which have been linked to depression.  Changes in these chemical systems affects the functioning of ‘normal’ biological processes related to sleep, appetite, energy, and sex drive, as well as the expression of mood and emotion.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, mental, physical and/or emotional stress effectively weakens (consumes), scatters or stagnates the Qi (chi) in various organ systems of the body, resulting in both mental/emotional problems (called “shen” disorders) and physiological disease.

How Red Reishi Can Help

Reishi (called Ling Zhi in Traditional Chinese herbal medicine) has been used to treat disorders of the mind or “shen” for thousands of years. To blend the concepts of Eastern and Western medicine, western science has proven that through specific immune regulating and anti-inflammatory agents (ganoderic acid A), the fruiting body of the Japanese Red Reishi acts as a powerful adaptogen, allowing the body to more easily cope with stress. Through this, a positive effect occurs on the bodily systems most affected by it (stress). A less ‘stressed out’ body translates to a less ‘stressed out’ nervous system, thereby assisting to improve a person’s overall physical and mental health. Additionally, western science has shown Reishi to have positive effects on the hepatic (liver) and cardiovascular (heart) systems, whose functions according to TCM theory, are strongly linked to depression.

The TCM view of mental illnesses such as depression is a holistic one. With a strong focus on prevention and lifestyle change, TCM practitioners take into account many different aspects of a person’s functioning when developing treatment plans. When applied this way, the addition of a high quality supplement like Japanese Red Reishi may be of great benefit for both prevention and treatment of depressive symptoms due to a diminished resistance stress.

Keep in mind, not all supplements are created equal. Natural, wood-log cultivation using hot water extraction (without the use of ethanol) is the best and most desirable.

Let’s Talk About Depression

Emotional “ups and downs” are a normal part of life and are experienced by everyone. Most of us feel temporarily down when things aren’t going our way, such as in the case of the break-up of a relationship, or the loss of a job. True depression, or “major depression” describes the situation where feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness last for a period of more than 2 months.

It is the most commonly experienced mental health disorder among Canadians, and the most unfortunate thing is that it can have serious and sometimes fatal results. The good news is that for most people depression can be treated effectively.

Causes of Depression

There is no single cause of depression, but there are certain risk-factors that can predispose an individual to it. Things like the death or illness of a spouse, friend or family member, job or relationship dissatisfaction, addictions, financial stress, chronic medical conditions, or prior major depressive episodes have all shown to be factors in development of depression.

Recovery from Depression

Remember, depression is an illness that can be treated, and for many the first step in the recovery process is to recognize that it is an illness, not a sign of personal weakness. You are not alone, and help is available. Most importantly, if you or someone you know is having recurring thoughts of suicide, it’s very important that they get medical help immediately.

Talk to People

We are all fantastically individual and unique, and there are therefore many different approaches to recovery. One of the best? Talk. For depression, one of the most common and successful treatments is psychological counseling. But please TALK. Talk to family, friends, co-workers and others. There are also self-help groups that can make a big difference in how well and how quickly a person with depression recovers. Please. Just. Talk.


Exercise releases endorphins in the blood stream. These are the “feel good” chemicals that can improve mood. A Harvard Medical School report found that “exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression, (and) may also play a supporting role in treating severe depression.”. There is no universally-agreed to level of exercise, but most agree that at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise such as a vigorous walk on most days will do wonders for our emotional health. Not only that, but moderate physical activity produces risk-free benefits for people with depression without harmful side-effects. It’s a total win!

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids (EFA), also known as omega-3 fatty acids, or simply fish oils, are highly concentrated in the brain and are important for cognitive and behavioral function. They are called “essential” which means your body can’t make them and you have to get them through your food such as salmon, halibut, anchovy, sardine, krill, some plants, and nut oils. While it’s true that research is inconclusive on whether taking omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve depression symptoms, we do know that symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include mood swings and depression. Several studies show that people who took omega-3 fatty acids in addition to prescription antidepressants had a greater improvement in symptoms than those who took antidepressants alone.

Japanese Red Reishi

One of the Superior Herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, red reishi is a mushroom that has sometimes been called the “Medicine of Kings” owing to the fact that in ancient China it was so rare and valuable that it’s use was reserved for the Emperor. It’s an extremely potent adaptogen. An adaptogen, by definition, is a non-toxic substance that normalizes physiologic function. Basically, it helps the body adapt naturally to the effects of stress, fatigue, trauma, and anxiety. In traditional Chinese medicine, red reishi has a strong ability to calm the mind, returning it to a more balanced state, and helps people to feel calm and happy. That’s one great mushroom!


Another potent adaptogen (and another fungus), cordyceps also has a long-standing history of use in Chinese medicine, and can be another great herb to combat the effects of depression. Grief, in Chinese medicine, affects the lungs, and the cordyceps herb has a particular affinity to the lungs. Much like red reishi, cordyceps has a very calming, relaxing effect on the nervous system. A Chinese study found that cordyceps has an ability to inhibit the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MOA). Drugs that inhibit MOA are routinely employed to treat depression, which suggests that cordyceps could also be useful in treatment.

Depression is a very serious mental health issue that affects many of us. Persons having recurring thoughts of suicide need to seek immediate medical advice. In addition, TALK, exercise, essential fatty acids, and red reishi or cordyceps could be incredibly valuable on your road to recovery.