Chinese herbal medicine is increasingly being recognised by Western medicine practitioners for its effectiveness in healing and maintaining good health. A common Chinese herbal supplement is Ganoderma lucidum - or lingzhi, a herb with healing benefits. Lingzhi is a bracket fungus that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 4,000 years. Found in remote mountain forests, this fungus is known for its potency and is free from any negative side-effects. The best lingzhi requires the right balance of good soil and humidity. As a polypore mushroom that is firm when fresh, corky and flat, lingzhi is classified into six groups according to colour. Each colour is believed to nurture a specific body part - the heart, joints, liver, lungs and skin, spleen, and kidneys and brain. Known as the 'herb of spiritual potency', lingzhi is known to prevent diseases and illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis, cirrhosis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and auto-immune and cardiovascular diseases. The main components of lingzhi are triterpines, namely ganoderic acids A and B, and 137 other lanostane-type triterpenoids. These components purportedly aid counteracting tumour growth, lowering blood glucose levels, adjusting immune responses to desirable levels (immunomodulation), inhibition of cholesterol synthesis, lowering blood pressure and combating the effects of HIV. A study conducted by Professor Brian Tomlinson of the Chinese University of Hong Kong's medicine and therapeutics department shows the therapeutic effects of lingzhi on cardiovascular, metabolic, antioxidant and inflammation parameters, and its impact on borderline diabetes patients. A previous study comparing the effects of lingzhi on the hepatic phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) gene expression of mice with and without diabetes over the course of four weeks, showed changes in the diabetic mice including lowered serum glucose levels, reduced body weight, lower mental fat and decreased hepatic PEPCK gene expression. The precise regulation of PEPCK gene expression in animals will maintain a regular blood glucose level. An over-expression of this enzyme would result in the symptoms of type II diabetes mellitus in mice - the most common form of human diabetes. After reviewing the effects of lingzhi in mice, Tomlinson conducted a cardiovascular and metabolic study on 26 patients with borderline hypertension and borderline hyperlipidemia at the Prince of Wales Hospital. 'We chose the subjects because they have borderline abnormalities in blood pressure and lipids,' said Tomlinson. 'We chose them with levels which we thought were relatively safe and would not need treatment with conventional drugs over this period of time.' Subjects that participated in his study fit either one or more of the following criteria: prehypertension or hypertension of mild severity, mild to moderate hyperlipidemia while on a lipid-lowering diet with or without lipid-lowering drug therapy, and patients with type II diabetes if it is reasonably well-controlled. 'According to the Interheart study, abnormal lipids are the most common risk factor that leads to acute myocardial infarction in Asian populations,' said Tomlinson. 'It is followed to some extent by abdominal obesity in Southeast Asia and Japan, and diabetes. So these things are very important cardiovascular risks.' The study was randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled and was a cross-over study. 'This sort of design is quite powerful because it allows us to use the patients as their own control,' he said. The patients first came in for a four-week run-in period, then they were given two lingzhi capsules or two capsules of a matching placebo, provided by Vita Green, twice daily for 12 weeks. After that, patients had to go through a four-week wash-out period with the placebo and finally they received the alternative treatment where those who took lingzhi during the first 12 weeks later took the placebo and vice versa. The study took anthropometric and biochemical factors into account including age, gender, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, lipid indices and plasma and urinary electrolytes. Beyond the above factors, the study also examined biochemical and hormonal parameters such as fasting glucose and insulin by carrying out the homeostatic model assessment, using the ferric reducing antioxidant power assay to measure antioxidant and oxidative stress status, lymphocyte subsets, renal cortisol metabolism, urinalysis and haematology. Although the study's results showed only slight to mild changes, they are encouraging because participants did not suffer from severe illnesses. 'There were some benefits in terms of glucose and insulin because these tended to increase in the placebo, but not with the lingzhi,' said Tomlinson. 'Lingzhi seems to prevent the natural progression of these things.' High-density lipoprotein or 'good' cholesterol increased and triglycerides decreased with lingzhi compared with the placebo in the first part of the study. The study reflects on Vita Green Lingzhi's ability to improve the well-being of patients, while it is known to aid health maintenance for those who are healthy, and Vita Green Lingzhi has no negative side-effects. Named Hong Kong's Choice by Superbrands this year, Vita Green Lingzhi has been Hong Kong's best-selling lingzhi product for seven consecutive years, according to Nielsen.