Red mushroom, the ancient Chinese secret of health and longevity, is emerging as an elixir of life for many in India suffering from various ailments, including cancer, claim doctors in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
"It is not disease-specific or organ-specific. It is a dietary supplement, which corrects the disorders of the body mainly by enhancing immunity and rebuilding lost or damaged cells," says Dr S Ranjan, a leading cardiologist in Chennai.
Dr N K Venugopal, a medical practitioner at Muvattupuzha in Kerala's Ernakulam district, says he has been prescribing products made out of ganoderma for over six years and claimed to have found total cure in about 1,000 patients suffering from various ailments.
"The regular intake of ganoderma along with medication has proven that cancer can be cured in early stages," he says, adding that the polysaccharide fractions in ganoderma are mainly responsible in developing immunity against tumours.
Prof K K Janardhanan of the Department of Microbiology, Amala Cancer Research Institute, Thrissur, says he was impressed by anti-cancer properties of ganoderma during various studies.
"Our research has shown that methanolic extract of ganoderma lucidium, the variety commonly found in South India, possesses significant anti-tumour and anti-oxidant activities," he says.
"When mice were administered a dose of 500mg of ganoderma per kg of body weight after implanting a tumour, it was found that the tumour load was reduced by 97.7 per cent within 10 days," he says.
Venugopal says he has noticed that even in patients in their final stages of cancer, ganodema increases life-expectancy, reduces pain substantially, improved quality of life and reduces the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Dr Ranjan also says it was the anti-cancer effect of ganoderma on a person with myelomonocytic leukemia that exposed him to the virtues of the mushroom.
"A friend of mine was having blood cancer in its final stages in 1999 when he started having ganoderma products. Within days, he showed signs of remission. He had a more comfortable living for four more years," he says.
The effect of mushroom was found to be cent percent in diabetics, psoriasis, liver and cardiovascular disorders, says Dr Venugopal.
Prof M T Joseph of Thodupuzha in Kerala's Idukki district says he was suffering from acute psoriasis eight years back. "Different systems of treatment, including allopathy, ayurveda and homeopathy, could not bring any relief. Then, I came across ganoderma through a friend who was cured of acute diabetics. After consulting a few experts, I started having ganoderma and, to my surprise, within a few months I fully recovered," he says.
"Another remarkable thing I found was that many other smaller problems like ulcer in the stomach and bleeding of the gum also were cured," he says, claiming that apart from building up immunity of the body, the mushroom also has anti-ageing properties.
Various products of ganoderma are being consumed by people in around 60 countries, says Dr Vengugopal, adding that these have been certified by United States Food and Drug Authority and approved by Japan in anti-cancer care.
While Indonesia has an approved diploma course in ganotherapy, various species of ganoderma have been included in Chinese pharmocoepia.
In China, mushrooms were in use for over 4,000 years for physical and mental well being. Known as 'Ling zhi' in local parlance, it was an expensive tonic mostly reserved for emperors and the rich.
The medicinal properties of various varieties of red mushroom, especially those found in India, have special reference in the ancient Ayurvedic texts, adds Dr Venugopal.
Agricultural research centres in India, including National Research Centre for Mushrooms, in Solan, Himachal Pradesh, and Kerala Agricultural University have successfully grown some species of ganoderma.
As much as 6,000 tonnes of ganoderma extracts are produced yearly across the globe, with China, Japan and the two Koreas being the main producers. The total trade touches $4 billion, he says.
Dr Ranjan says researchers worldwide are trying to isolate molecules to be used in the allopathic system of medicine. "Though some researchers have developed Ganomycin A and B, the clinical tests are still not complete," he says.
Dr Venugopal wants the Central government to give more emphasis on research in the field and make the products locally available at cheaper rates.