Could ancient mushroom magic
banish a modern medical scourge?
Diabetes, heart disease and
obesity are on the rise in Australia, thanks to our sedentary
lifestyle and poor diet. Now researchers are set to test if an
ancient mushroom once used by Chinese royalty can help western
medicine tackle 21st century health problems.
A team from the University of
Western Sydney’s Centre for Complementary Medicine Research
(CompleMED) is working with the Cardiac Health Institute to find
out if the medicinal mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum, can reduce
high blood sugar, often a precursor to diabetes – as well as treat
other health problems.
The clinical trial is the first of its kind to rigorously test the
mushroom - known in Asia as the ‘King of herbs’, because of its
huge range of medicinal properties – and needs 170 Sydneysiders to
UWS PhD researcher Nerida Klupp hopes the findings contribute to
western medicine’s knowledge of this Chinese herb, and provide
much-needed clinical evidence of a possible new treatment for
people with metabolic syndrome.
“Many people in Australia have high blood sugar, which is often
classified as diabetes or pre-diabetes. Many also have other
medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity and high
cholesterol,” she says.
“Scientists and doctors now know these conditions are linked, and a
person with at least three of these health problems is diagnosed
with a condition called metabolic syndrome - also called ‘Syndrome
“Affluent countries with lazy lifestyles and bad diets are at
particular risk, with 44 per cent of Americans aged over 50 years
of age diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. While we don’t really
know how prevalent the condition is here in Australia, we suspect
similar trends to those in the United States,” Ms Klupp says.
“Statistics show many
Australian adults already have key indicators of metabolic
syndrome, with more than 50 per cent overweight, almost a quarter
have problems controlling blood sugar, and a fifth with high blood
pressure – anyone with all three has the syndrome and risks
shortening their life expectancy,” she says.
Dr Hosen Kiat, director of the
Cardiac Health Institute says it can be difficult to treat those
with multiple health problems.
“Currently there is no single pharmaceutical treatment for
metabolic syndrome, which is why we are conducting the first
randomised clinical trial to test if this medicinal mushroom can
offer western medicine an effective, long-term treatment to help
lower blood sugar as well as control other problems associated with
the condition,” he says.
Nerida Klupp says the mushroom
has been revered in Asia for over 2000 years.
“Ganoderma lucidum, which is also known as Reishi, has long
been used to fight a wide range of diseases, and was thought to be
the ‘elixir of immortality’ - enhancing vitality and helping to
delay ageing,” she says.
At its most rare, it was only available to Chinese royalty due to
its mystical properties.
Thankfully, there has been increased cultivation of the herb over
the last thirty years, and preliminary animal and human pilot
studies have proved promising, suggesting it can have a positive
effect on blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels and blood
Traditionally, Ganoderma lucidum has been considered to be
even more potent when taken in combination with another medicinal
mushroom called Cordyceps sinensis.
“Cordyceps is also
thought to have significant health properties, so we want to find
out if Ganoderma is effective on its own, or whether it
works better in combination with the second mushroom,” says Ms
Dr Dennis Chang from the UWS CompleMED Centre and a supervisor on
the trial says the study will be the first of many for a newly
formed collaborative research team.
“The Cardiovascular Research
Group draws together expertise in complementary medicine through
CompleMED at UWS and the clinical expertise of the Cardiac Health
Institute. The group will investigate complementary medicines
as potential treatments for cardiovascular disease, which still
kills more Australians than other disease,” says Dr