Reishi Mushroom and Your Dog
Reishi mushrooms, known as Ling Zhi in Chinese, have been used in Chinese medicine for over two thousand years. They are now globally known as one of the most medically important fungi. This potency is due to the scope of the active ingredients naturally found in these mushrooms, which all act independently and give these fascinating plants a huge range of biological impacts.
Reishi mushrooms are used in canine medicine to support the immune system. Dogs, incurably curious as they are, often find themselves eating or interacting with a whole host of things no sensible human would touch. With that in mind, the immunosupportive nature of these mushrooms is a key benefit of reishi for dogs, and a common reason for giving reishi-based dog supplements.
As well as their immunomodulating effects however, reishi mushrooms can do much more and actually are indicated in a whole range of conditions. Reishi supports dogs with allergic disease, with cancer, and with any form of oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress is the cell damage from oxygen radicals, and this damage is associated with many canine diseases, including chronic liver and kidney disease, cognitive dysfunction (canine dementia) and neoplastic processes.
The full potential of this potent ingredient is still being discovered, with growing bodies of scientists investigating both the effects, and the source of these effects, in clinical trials. Perhaps this is why reishi mushrooms have also been branded the “mushroom of immortality”!
So, what makes these naturally occurring mushrooms such a hot-bed of helpful properties? The long list of health benefits for dogs lies in four key ingredients: triterpenes, β-glucans, the Ling-Zhi-8 protein and antioxidants.
Triterpines are a class of molecule found in all plants, animals and fungi, and they form the basis of many key molecules within the body, such as steroids. Reishi mushrooms produce high levels of a specific class of triterpene, produced only in these mushrooms, known as the ganoderic acids. A lot of the research into ganoderic acids is on its anti-tumour effects – they have been show to work against osteosarcomas, lymphomas and meningiomas, all cancers we see in dogs. Impressively, ganoderic acids have also been shown to slow the spread of cancer around the body (a process called metastasis). Slowing metastasis increases life expectancy from cancers and supports return to health.
Triterpines also work against common allergies. Dogs very regularly suffer with allergies, and these can be from sources, such as food, seasonal pollens and dust mites. Often it is impossible to avoid these allergens, either due to an inability to narrow down which allergen is offensive, or due to the ubiquitous nature of the allergen. Triterpines can help dogs with allergies by inhibiting the release of a chemical called histamine. Histamine is a strong inflammatory agent, released in response to allergic stimulus. By preventing the release of histamine, the inflammatory dermatological and gastrointestinal signs associated with allergic disease can be mitigated.
Water-soluble polysaccharides, included β-glucans
Water soluble polysaccharides form a key part of the reishi mushroom’s therapeutic properties. They often act as prebiotics; non-fermentable food ingredients which alter the balance of the bacteria within the gut. Fermentation by the gut bacteria produces short chain fatty acids, products which then feed colonocytes within the gut, promoting healthy intestinal functions. Short chain fatty acids also have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. This effect is so strong that prebiotics can help with irritable bowel disease, a stressful and incurable condition found in dogs as well as humans.
The water-soluble polysaccharides, as well as interacting with the bacteria in the gut, also work directly on immune-modulating cells in the body called toll-like receptors (TLRs). In inflammation, polysaccharides dull the immune response by working on these TLRs, reducing both inflammation and the associated clinical signs. This immune-dampening action is enough that water soluble polysaccharides have been shown to even protect the gut during chemotherapy.
Ling Zhi-8 protein
Ling Zhi-8 (LZ-8) is a protein and, like other active ingredients in reishi mushrooms, acts on the immune system, supressing the immune response in key cells. Again, this is a vital role in any disease process, as with both infectious and non-infectious disease there is stimulation of an inflammatory response. Inflammation leads to oxidative stress, scarring, and propagation of disease, and should be addressed as quickly as possible.
LZ-8, in mice studies, also protected the cells of the pancreas which produce insulin. By doing this, LZ-8 prevented the onset of autoimmune diabetes, giving scientists a fascinating look at the potential benefits of this natural remedy.
Direct Anti-Oxidants: Zinc, Vitamin C and Selenium
Antioxidants fight free radicals, dangerous molecules that damage surrounding cells and are raised in oxidative stress. In inflammatory conditions the free radicals within the body increase, leaving the natural antioxidants levels struggling to keep up. Vitamin C and selenium are direct antioxidants, helping keep free radicals and the threat of oxidative stress at bay. Zinc also supports the body’s own antioxidants, as a hugely important cofactor for one of the body’s strongest antioxidants, superoxide dismutase.
Reishi mushrooms, after extensive historical use, are becoming of increasing interest to modern science. Their range of bioactive ingredients exert influence over key mediators of inflammation and, combined with antioxidative effects, give reishi mushrooms huge therapeutic scope. Most canine chronic conditions involve both inflammatory influence and oxidative stress, not least gastrointestinal or cancerous processes, both of which have a high prevalence in canine medicine. Unfortunately, the struggle against both of these pathologies is difficult even for pharmaceutical intervention and the addition of naturally supportive molecules is a huge boon for the management of these animals.
With such a wide range of actions, reishi can be part of a management plan for many conditions, or taken as a tonic to aid good general health. Dogs can be indiscriminate eaters, but clearly, part of any dogs diet should be a good dose of reishi mushrooms.
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