Ganoderma lucidum, an oriental fungus, has a long history of use for promoting health and longevity in China, Japan, and other Asian countries. It is a large, dark mushroom with a glossy exterior and a woody texture. The Latin word lucidus means “shiny” or “brilliant” and refers to the varnished appearance of the surface of the mushroom. In China, G. lucidum is called lingzhi, whereas in Japan the name for the Ganodermataceae family is In Chinese, the name lingzhi represents a combination of spiritual potency and essence of immortality, and is regarded as the “herb of spiritual potency,” symbolizing success, well-being, divine power, and longevity. Among cultivated mushrooms, G. lucidum is unique in that its pharmaceutical rather than nutritional value is paramount. A variety of commercial G. lucidum products are available in various forms, such as powders, dietary supplements, and tea. These are produced from different parts of the mushroom, including mycelia, spores, and fruit body. The specific applications and attributed health benefits of lingzhi include control of blood glucose levels, modulation of the immune system, hepatoprotection, bacteriostasis, and more. The various beliefs regarding the health benefits of G. lucidum are based largely on anecdotal evidence, traditional use, and cultural mores. However, recent reports provide scientific support to some of the ancient claims of the health benefits of lingzhi.
Polysaccharides and Peptidoglycans
Fungi are remarkable for the variety of high-molecular-weight polysaccharide structures that they produce, and bioactive polyglycans are found in all parts of the mushroom. Polysaccharides represent structurally diverse biological macromolecules with wide-ranging physiochemical properties . Various polysaccharides have been extracted from the fruit body, spores, and mycelia of lingzhi; they are produced by fungal mycelia cultured in fermenters and can differ in their sugar and peptide compositions and molecular weight (e.g., ganoderans A, B, and C). G. lucidum polysaccharides (GL-PSs) are reported to exhibit a broad range of bioactivities, including anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, antiulcer, antitumorigenic, and immunostimulating effects
Polysaccharides are normally obtained from the mushroom by extraction with hot water followed by precipitation with ethanol or methanol, but they can also be extracted with water and alkali. Structural analyses of GL-PSs indicate that glucose is their major sugar component (Bao et al. 2001; Wang et al. 2002). However, GL-PSs are heteropolymers and can also contain xylose, mannose, galactose, and fucose in different conformations, including 1–3, 1–4, and 1–6-linked β and α-D (or L)-substitutions (Lee, Lee, and Lee 1999; Bao et al. 2002). Branching conformation and solubility characteristics are said to affect the antitumorigenic properties of these polysaccharides (Bao et al. 2001; Zhang, Zhang, and Chen 2001). The mushroom also consists of a matrix of the polysaccharide chitin, which is largely indigestible by the human body and is partly responsible for the physical hardness of the mushroom (Upton 2000). Numerous refined polysaccharide preparations extracted from G. lucidum are now marketed as over-the-counter treatment for chronic diseases, including cancer and liver disease (Gao et al. 2005).
Various bioactive peptidoglycans have also been isolated from G. lucidum, including G. lucidum proteoglycan (GLPG; with antiviral activity; Li, Liu and Zhao 2005), G. lucidum immunomodulating substance (GLIS; Ji et al. 2007), PGY (a water-soluble glycopeptide fractionated and purified from aqueous extracts of G. lucidum fruit bodies; Wu and Wang 2009), GL-PS peptide (GL-PP; Ho et al. 2007), and F3 (a fucose-containing glycoprotein fraction