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All Posts in Category: Traditional Chinese Medicine

Cordyceps: the killer fungus!

Cordyceps sinensis is a very interesting medicinal mushroom that has been used for medicinal purposes in Asia for centuries. It is used mainly to restore lost energy and vigor and to stimulate a fatigued immune system acting like a general tonic for the body.

In addition to the English term “caterpillar fungus” there are other interesting names of this killer fungus. In Tibetan it is referred to as Yartsa gunbu. The Chinese name is dong chong xia cao (meaning “winter worm, summer grass”). The Latin name cordyceps means “club head”, and sinensis is “from China”. According to the recent DNA review of the genus Cordyceps, the new name for Cordyceps sinensis is actually Ophiocordyceps sinensis.

It grows only in the mountains of Himalaya, on the Tibetan plateau, at the altitude of 3,000-5,000 m in cold snowy marsh lands of China (Tibet), Nepal, India or Bhutan.

This fungus is also known for its unique way of reproducing. It sprouts from the body of dead caterpillar in the wild, entering the body of a live caterpillar while it is in the larval form of a large moth (Thitarodes spp.) native to the region. Upon infection from the spores, strands of filaments called “hyphae” begin to sprout from the spores that then leads to the death of the caterpillar. That’s a parasite with no scruples! The hyphae grow longer and multiply and develop into a relatively large stalk-like fungal fruiting body that emerges from the insect’s carcass after having sapped the caterpillar’s body of all nutrients thus killing and mummifying the remains. This horror movie action makes Cordyceps one of the coolest mushrooms around!

The killer fungus in action!

The fruiting body is usually up to 4 inches (around 10 cm) long and 0.3 inches (1/2 cm) wide. Unlike a typical mushroom, these are curved and finger-shaped like a small cane. They’re usually orange or brown. It can be a very important source of income for people living in rural Tibet.

Cordyceps sinensis – sprouting from buried caterpillars

BBC News reported a few years ago that some Himalayan villagers make their living by collecting the fungus along the mountainous regions of Tibet to sell to a Chinese market that can be as high as tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. In fact, the money to be made is so lucrative that it resulted in multiple homicides as villagers from one region tried to prevent outsiders from cashing in on their limited supply. It was estimated that the price of Cordyceps sinensis on the Tibetan Plateau rose dramatically by 900% between 1998 and 2008 due to the demand from the Western hemisphere and Europe Today, in order to meet this demand, Cordyceps is grown in climate-controlled greenhouses within a grain-based substrate.

Tibetan mountains

Cordyceps fungus has a long history of use in traditional medicine in China and now worldwide. It has numerous bioactive compounds, including polysaccharides and nucleosides (organic molecules that will be converted into building blocks of the genetic material DNA) which have been studied for their broad range of biological activities. Its main constituents are Unsaturated fatty acids, Amino acids and Adenosine, Adenine, Uracil, Uridine and Cordycepin (3′-deoxyadenosine). It is usually standardized to 4% cordycepic acid and 0.25% adenosine (Metagenics). Cordycepin is known as a nucleotide analogue, due to its structural similarities to adenosine.

It is sweet in flavor, slightly warm in nature and in Traditional Chinese Medicine this fungus mainly manifests its therapeutics actions in the Lung and Kidney meridians (enhances Kdnney Yang and replenishes Essence, invigorates the Lungs, stops bleeding and dissolves Phlegm).

In the Western medical world, the health benefits of Cordyceps sisnesis are:

  • Stimulation of the immune function
  • General adaptogen, resulting in more energy, strength and stamina
  • Anti-tumor properties (good for cancer)
  • Anemia (builds bone marrow)
  • Persistent cough (reduces excess phlegm and increases oxygenation in the lungs)
  • General sexual tonic and libido/performance enhancer (“Viagra” of Asia)
  • Reduces cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, VLDl and increases HDL
  • Improves Arrhythmia
  • Improves Tinnitus
  • Hypoglycemic effects (reduces blood glucose and benefits insulin resistence)
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Medicinal Mushrooms

Mushrooms are awesome and a fascinating life form!

They belong neither to the plant nor animal kingdoms, and they actually share more DNA with animals that they do with plants. Adding to their strangeness, the largest organism ever discovered on the planet is a network of mushroom mycelium that weaves across a colossal 2,200 acres underneath Oregon’s ancient Malheur National Forest!

Human use of medicinal mushrooms has a long and rich history, and the valuable medicines of mushrooms are important elements in protecting our health. Fungi have developed incredible properties to ward off bacteria and mold that would compete with them. When humans consume these fungi, most of all they are imparted with a strong immunity. This will be an important theme throughout the article and in general, and of vital importance in our day and age. These benefits and many more can be yours when you embrace the mushroom medicine! I did!

A large amount of the world’s population live on a mostly vegetarian diet. Especially in Asia, they consume Mushrooms as a staple food. This could well be the secret to their longevity and success!

One of the misconceptions about mushrooms is that they carry little nutritional value. However this is further from the truth. Apart from being a low calorie highly nutritional food source, mushrooms carry unique compounds such as for example an antioxidant called L-ergothioneine and are choked-full of B vitamins. Also 5 little button mushrooms contain more potassium than an orange!

But the most important here is that mushrooms have been scientifically proved to having anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties which assist the body in fending off diseases like Polio, Hepatitis B, HIV, Influenza, HSV-1 and HSV-2 as well as the small pox virus. There is a number of compounds in fungi that can stimulate immune function and inhibit tumor growth. In particular, compounds called polysaccharides, which are large, complex branched chain-like molecules built from many smaller units of sugar molecules, have been intensively studied since the 1950s. Time and time again they have been shown to have antitumor and immune-stimulating properties, not only from many of the medicinal mushrooms studied, but also from lichens (such as usnea), bacteria, and even from the cell wall of a yeast (called zymosan). Recently, German researchers have demonstrated that immune-activating polysaccharides similar to those found in many fungi are also found in other plants, such as the widely popular Echinacea, and Astragalus (an important Chinese herb).

One of the most important and researched polysaccharide is called beta glucan and it was studied for its effects on the immune system and its anti-tumor properties. An assay to detect the presence of beta-D-glucans in the human blood is marketed as a means of diagnosing invasive fungal infection in patients.

The polysaccharides are not the only immune-modulating compounds found in mushrooms but only the most important one. There is seven primary constituent classes, or “pillars”, that all together add up to the immunity enhancing effects of mushrooms. These are:

  • Polysaccharides (ex. Alpha & Beta-glucans): Immunomodulating effects
  • Glycoproteins (ex. PSK): Immunomodulating effects
  • Triterpenes (Sterols, ex. sistosterols, stigmasterols, campesterols)
  • Lipids: Cholesterol modulating effects
  • Proteins (Enzymes): Antioxidants properties
  • Cyathane derivatives (ex. erinacines & hericenones, nerve growth stimulant factors)
  • Secondary Metabolites

Beside the immuno-modulating properties, mushrooms also offer other potentially important health benefits, including liver protection, antioxidants, anti-hypertensive and cholesterol-lowering properties, as well as anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-viral and anti-microbial properties. These properties have attracted the interest of many pharmaceutical companies, which are viewing the medicinal mushroom as a rich source of innovative biomedical molecules.

Shiitake mushrooms

The Chinese and the Egyptians were among the first people to appreciate the value of the mushroom. Egyptians associated mushroom with immortality and since they revered their Pharaohs, they included mushroom as a specialty in the diet of the royal family. Many countries in Asia and Eastern Europe too have been fascinated by the mushroom for centuries. China in particular associated it with longevity, a good immune system and strength.

Others like the Romans, however, went to the other extreme by chastising the mushroom for its poisonous potency since it apparently killed their Emperor Claudius in a premeditated murder.

Today, outside the medicinal use, the mushroom is part of expensive cuisines in luxurious restaurants all over the world. Mushroom is also used as an effective leavening and fermentation agent in food processes.

An in-depth analysis of mushrooms a few decades ago also led to some interesting discoveries. Scientists discovered that some enzymes present in the stipe (the stem of the mushroom) can be used in the manufacture of detergents. On the other hand, toxic elements in some mushroom species that the plant presumably uses to deter predators (including humans), can be used to produce environmentally friendly pesticides.

Mushrooms also seem to have great potential in the field of biotechnology. It is already being used to spur plant growth and or lower the level of bacterial contamination in water. The US Patent and Trademark Office has registered different patents in relation to the specialized fields of myco-remediation, (“myco-“ means fungus) a cleaning process where contaminants are biodegraded to clean the environment and myco-filtration, a filtration process that gets rid of disease causing elements like the bacteria, e.coli and the protozoa plasmodium falciparum.

It is therefore evident from all its various uses, dietary and most importantly medicinal use that the mushroom is the most significant fungus after penicillin.

In the end, I just wanted to introduce here six of the most well-researched anti-cancer mushrooms rich in polysaccharides and beta glucans, the primary active immune-enhancing constituents: Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) “The Mushroom of Immortality”; Shitake (Lentinula edodes) – Black Forest Tree Mushroom; Coriolus (Trametes versicolor) “Turkey tail Mushroom” ; Cordyceps sinensis – Chinese Caterpillar Fungus; Maitake (Grifola frondosa) – Cloud Mushroom; Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) – Black Tree Fungus.

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What is Cupping and why the Rio Olympic athletes use it?

I don’t know if you are a sports fan or not, but I am and I wanted to say that I was pleasantly surprised to see some of the athletes competing in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with mysterious purple, round blotches on their bodies, especially the back or the shoulders. It was very ostensible with swimmers and Michael Phelps was the leading trooper that re-ignited this discussion. What are those, people asked?
It is an ancient technique called Cupping and it’s been used traditionally around the globe because of its effectiveness and safeness. Its origin is shrouded in mystery. None knows where it actually originated. It was documented in Asia, Middle East, Northern Africa, and American First Nations throughout history. Now called Cupping Therapy, also called Suction Cup Therapy, or Fire Cupping, or Chinese Cupping Therapy it as mostly associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine and many Eastern practitioners use Cupping in their daily treatment protocols. I use it too sometimes in our clinic, here are the details.
Cupping therapy has been effectively used to treat lung and respiratory conditions, including asthma symptoms and the common cold. In fact, respiratory ailments are among the earliest recorded conditions for which cupping therapy was deemed beneficial.
The technique is done by lighting flammable liquid (alcohol) in a glass cup. The flame burns away the oxygen in the cup, which creates a mild vacuum. Once the flame goes out, the vacuum creates suction which sticks the cup to the body. You need to do it fast before the vacuum starts disappearing.
Along with the drop in temperature, this sucks the skin away from the body and draws blood to the surface. The red/velvet spots, which typically last for three or four days, are caused by ruptured capillaries beneath the skin. The cup is typically left in place for 5 to 15 minutes at a time and the therapist may choose to use several cups on different points at the same time. Patients receiving cupping therapy can be rest assured that there is rarely any burning of the skin. Just those eye-catching red marks that that have been so visible on Phelps as well as members of the United States men’s gymnastics team. If the bruising effect looks oddly familiar, it’s because it’s the same thing that happens when someone sucks on your neck and leaves a hickey.
Why are the athletes doing it?
Athletes say they are using it to ease aches and pains, and to help with recovery from the physical drudgery of constant training and competing. It’s just another recovery modality and there is nothing particular about it, we were told by the USA team. It is safe, it helps them and it is fast. It makes them feel better and that is enough for most of them.
Supporters of this technique also believe that cupping therapy can reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body. Cupping can also promote mental and physical relaxation and well-being.
Or, as someone has put it …very funny!!…Michael Phelps just fell asleep on his medals!!!!

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