January 1, 2008, Updated September 19, 2012

Chinese tradition refers to the reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) as ‘the lucky fungus’, for its powers in alleviating complaints such as arthritis, insomnia and chest tightness. And 2,000 years after its first use, the ancient remedy is still proving somewhat of a charm, after researchers from the University of Haifa announced their success in preliminary efforts to slow the growth of prostate cancer cells using reishi extracts.

The scientists, led by Dr Ben-Zion Zaidman of the university’s Institute for Evolution, found that molecules extracted from Ganoderma lucidum blocked the action of androgen – the male sex hormone – upon cancerous cells. Without intervention, said Zaidman, the hormone otherwise works as a chemical ‘switch’, stimulating the cells – especially in early stages of the disease – to multiply uncontrollably into tumor tissue.

“These results give rise to hope about developing new medications to treat prostate cancer,” said Zaidman.

While the research is still in the petri-dish stages, stresses Zaidman, one day it could lead to a new way to combat the disease, which every year is diagnosed in nearly 700,000 men worldwide, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Existing drugs, such as Flutamide, also work by interfering with the action of androgen receptors. But the mushroom extract molecules, said Zaidman, had a far more dramatic effect.

“The extracts worked in a different way. We think they actually prevented androgen receptors from binding to the DNA,” he told ISRAEL21c.

The reishi, a fungus native to densely wooded areas in North America, Europe and Asia has been used in traditional medicines for centuries – and is currently experiencing renewed popularity among the health-conscious, popping up on the shelves of health food stores and organic supermarkets around the world.

“Recently, mushroom extracts of every kind have become available,” notes Zaidman. “But the preparations are water soluble and very weak. You’d have to eat a lot of mushroom soup to get any kind of effect,” he laughed.

Eschewing the kitchen in favor of the laboratory, his team has spent the last three years cooking up active metabolites using alcohol-based solvents. They will now seek to pinpoint the precise relationship between the chemical structures and their cell-based activity, refining the crude extracts into isolated molecules.

If they succeed in their research, then it will confirm the long-standing notion that the reishi mushroom is very lucky indeed.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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