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Toxicity of a traditional Chinese medicine, Ganoderma lucidum, in children with cancer

BACKGROUND: Cancer is one of the most common severe diseases in Canadian children, and chemotherapy treatment leads to numerous, potentially fatal, adverse side effects including febrile neutropenia and leukopenia. In an attempt to prevent opportunistic infections, Ganoderma lucidum, a mushroom that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, is being used by some people as an adjunctive to chemotherapy to help boost the immune system. Although extensive research is being conducted to determine its immunostimulatory properties, there is essentially no data on toxicity.

OBJECTIVES AND METHODS: The purpose of this study was to determine toxicity of low and high concentrations of 3 different extracts of G. lucidum (GL, Reishi and PSGL) on the viability of 1) Jurkat E6.1 cells, 2) LG2 cells, and 3) PBMCs isolated from a) healthy adults, b) healthy children, and c) paediatric patients undergoing chemotherapy.

RESULTS: When Jurkat E6.1 and LG2 cells were treated with increasing concentrations of the 3 extracts, both time- and concentration- dependent decreases in cell viability were observed. However, when human PBMCs were treated with the same extracts, variable results were obtained. Although there was no consistent pattern, toxicity was observed in PBMCs.

CONCLUSION: This is the first study that examines the toxicity of 3 different extracts of G. lucidum in both adults and children’s PBMCs. Contrary to previous belief, our results suggest that extracts of G. lucidum should be used with caution as there appears to be potential for toxicity.