Fungi are one of the most misunderstood life forms here on earth. We see them as small, unassuming and sometimes unpleasant growths that just get in the way of the more aesthetically pleasing plants and flowers. But one should never forget that one of the most important breakthroughs in the field of medicine was associated with a fungus.
Penicillium fungi were critical to the development of the first viable antibiotic that saved millions of lives during the world wars. Here, we will talk about another fungus with the potential to save millions more of lives against disease we have no weapon against, cancer.
What is Cordyceps Sinensis?
This is a rare, one of a kind fungus that is found only in the high altitude of the Qinghao-Tibetan Plateau. The conditions that make this fungus grow are complex as well as mystifying. It only grows out of the head of a dead Himalayan Ghost Moth caterpillar (Thitarodes armoricanus).
The first account of this exotic medicine came about with stories of Chinese travelers who saw a plant that turned from a plant into an animal in the summer and back into a plant in the winter. Tibetan scholars then wrote about the healing plant/animal from the 15th century to the 18th century. Somewhere around the 18th century, the first scientific description of the fungus was written by Wu-Yiluo during the Qing dynasty. Cordyceps fungus comes from the Latin words “Cord” meaning club and “ceps” meaning head. Suffice to say, this description sums up what the medicinal fungus looks like at first glance.
Properties of Cordyceps fungus
The initial properties of interest of Cordyceps fungus are its nutritional content. It has all the essential amino acids, the ones that the body cannot produce on its own and therefore must get from dietary intake. It contains Vitamin E, an important anti-oxidant, Vitamin K, necessary for creating clotting factors as well as containing water-soluble vitamins Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2) and Pyridoxine (B12). It has substantial amounts of various sugar structures, mono-, oligo- and polysaccharides are present, each with various desired effects on the human body. This is not to mention the many micro and macro elements such as sodium, potassium, vanadium, and zirconium to name a few.
The most important properties of interest are the bioactive components Cordycepin [3’-deoxyadenosine] and Cordycepic acid [d-mannitol] first isolated from its relative fungus Cordyceps militaris. Cordycepin was distinguished from 2’-deoxyadenosine using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and Infrared Spectroscopy (IR) from Cordyceps fungus. These compounds are believed to have various effects on the body such as immunosuppression (in the case of autoimmune diseases) as well as boosting energy levels via increased intracellular Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) stores in the body.
Just like the Penicillium mold found by Alexander Fleming to hold the key to the first viable, mass-produced antibiotic, The Cordyceps fungus holds great promise into producing the first ever effective anti-cancer agents against a majority of neoplasms. But before we go to it, Cordyceps fungus has a lot of reputed indications, which while not heavily researched into, are already used for and display remarkable efficacy.
Cordyceps like medicine
It has been indicated for lung, kidney, liver and heart disease. It has been prescribed as an aphrodisiac for both men and women and also has applications to lower hyperlipidemia. It’s also believed to be an effective immunosuppressant in the case of autoimmune disease as well an important adjunct to cancer therapies.
Cordyceps is also prescribed as an energy booster to those who are constantly plagued with fatigue. What’s interesting to note of Cordyceps is that while it’s an immunosuppressant to autoimmune disease, it’s an immunomodulator/booster that allows the body to fight off colds and simple infections. Although wide and exciting, much more research has to be dedicated to truly find out the complete drug profile this promising medicine has to offer in order to promote safety as well as improve outcomes when using this drug to treat conditions.
Cordyceps fungus anti cancer properties
Nowadays, the Cordyceps fungus finds itself in use by two groups of people; athletes and elderly people. This is because of the reputed energy boosting properties of Cordyceps due to the unique sugar components within. It is believed that these effects are the result of increased intracellular ATP as well as blood sugar metabolism stabilization.
Animal Studies on water extracts with Cordyceps administered to mice inoculated with cancer cells reveal that mice had longer survival times than the control group demonstrating the fungus has the potential to stop metastasis. It is theorized that the anti-cancer properties are a result of the activating more macrophages to secrete Granulocyte Monocyte Colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) which in turns cause the bodies’ natural soldiers to be more aggressive in seeking out way-ward cancer cells. Interleukin-6, another important cytokine that regulates the inflammation process is also up-regulated and controls the harmful effects that inflammation has on the body. This would count as evidence that the anti-cancer properties are a result of the host immune response rather than direct cytotoxicity.
Clinical trials are being conducted in China and Japan on real cancer patients. The experiment reveals that tumor size was reduced by up to 50% and there was improved tolerance to radiation and chemotherapy. It has long been acknowledged that the use of radiation and chemotherapy has a harmful effect of suppressing the immune system, leaving the body with no soldier to fight off a simple infection.
With the advent of Cordyceps use, there is a great promise that the fungus will not only decrease the tumor burden but also strengthen the immune system to fight off both the daily microbes as well as the insidious and often hidden cancer that dwells within the patient.
All in all, the Cordyceps fungus is one of the most promising natural medicine that deserves looking into. The more research that can be done and more efficient and cost-effective ways are found to harvest them, the more likely we will be able to find the one true cure for cancer that has devastated so many lives.
Cordyceps fungus helps to many health problems. Is it real? Check what are the main properties and medicine advance of Cordyceps sinensis
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