We've received a few emails throughout the years about potential liver toxicity associated with the use of herbs and mushrooms. The source of these inquiries come from studies like this one regarding the use of reishi powder.
In the study, it was found that patients who take traditionally boiled Lingzhi experience zero toxic effects. However, after switching to reishi in powder form for 1-2 months, hepatotoxic episodes occur. 1
Upon carefully reading this study, the cause of harm is due to one very simple mistake, one that would be noticed and avoided by Chinese herbalist. As the study indicates, traditionally prepared reishi, through a strong decoction, has no toxic effects. However, a powdered reishi does induce toxic effects on the liver.
In short, all raw mushrooms are toxic to the human body. Mushrooms in their raw state contain a protein called chitin, which is indigestible to the human GI tract. As a result of the indigestion, there is an inflammatory and toxic effect. Now in the study, they used two types of reishi, a traditional decoction that had no toxic effects and a reishi powder, which is essentially raw dried reishi mushroom that has been ground up, not to be confused with a powdered extract like what VitaJing sources.
To the non-herbalist, it would be very easy to become confused upon reading this study. Traditional preparations of herbs and mushrooms involved either hot water decoction or alcoholic extraction, which make the herb/mushroom digestible and bioavailable and therefore, non-toxic. However, newer technologies have allowed us to take liquid extractions and turn them into powders, which is not the same as a raw, whole mushroom/herb powder. Even to the naked eye, a skilled herbalist or someone familiar with herbal extracts and powders could notice the difference, but this was not something clarified in the studied.
Reishi mushroom or any mushroom extract for that matter, long with most herbs need to be properly prepared to not only avoid toxic effects but to reap the medicinal value. For most herbs and mushrooms, your best bet is to take either an extract, powdered extract, or if you are dealing with the raw herb/powder to make a strong tea (also known as a decoction) and strain it before drinking.
Each of these methods have their gains, alcohol extractions are very potent but take a long time to prepare. Decoctions are quick, only taking a few hours to prepare but are less potent. Dual extractions of both water and alcohol make all the medicinal chemicals available for use. Then there are powdered extracts like the VitaJing products which bring you the best of all worlds, potency, quality and convenience. They are prepared for you, and dissolve easily into hot water without the need of brewing.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours, but as the study points out, just be sure to avoid taking any raw powdered mushroom and herb extracts unless you are going to decoct or extract them yourselves.