When you think of fungi, do edible mushrooms, black mold and other types of fungi come to mind? Recently, scientists believe they may have found a new use for a type of fungi, cordycepts, long used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Cordycpets are a rare type of parasitic fungi found on a specific type of hibernating caterpillar at high altitudes in Tibet (though other species of this fungus do live in other places around the world). The caterpillars become infected with the fungus in the fall, and by summer the fungus kills the caterpillar and uses it as food to sprout and release spores to help create the next generation of cordycepts. Sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie! However, scientists at the University of Nottingham, led by Dr. Cornelia de Moor, have been studying a medicine made from this fungus that might prove useful in treating asthma.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Cordycepts
The use of cordycepts seems to have originated in Tibet, with the oldest known reference to medicinal use of this fungi in the late fourteen hundreds by Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje, a Tibetan doctor. Cordycepts has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine as an aphrodisiac, and to treat other health issues such as fatigue and cancer.
Today, scientists have used cordycepts to produce a drug called cordycepin. Cordyceptin has certain properties that may make it helpful in the fight against cancer, while other studies have shown the fungi may be able to protect the liver from damage, as well as possibly helping with depression. Cordyceptin also has anti-inflammatory properties that may make it useful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, kidney failure, stroke damage and asthma.
Cordyceptin and the Inflammation Process
Our bodyís inflammation process is useful in fighting infections and injuries; without the inflammation process wounds and infections would never heal. However, chronic inflammation can lead to diseases such as allergies, cancer, heart disease, asthma and more.
According to Dr. de Moor, current anti-inflammatory drugs are useful at different points of the inflammation process. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) inhibit chemicals called cyclooxygenases (that target the COX-2 enzyme). Another type of anti-inflammatory drugs is steroids (such as prednisone) that act at the beginning of the inflammation process. Each of these types of drugs works to stop or slow down the inflammation process, but each drug has serious side effects. Cordyceptin seems to work in the final step of the inflammation process by slowing down the cellular responses to tissue damage. Researchers have found that cordyceptin may also work to prevent over-activation of the inflammation process associated with asthma; it seems to help reduce inflammation in the smooth muscles of the airways.
Further Testing of Cordyceptin Needed
Cordyceptin may be a good drug to fight diseases such as cancer, kidney damage, asthma and more. However, itís not been established that cordyceptin is a safe, helpful treatment in the long-term. Scientists have found that cordeyceptin can have negative impacts on wound healing and suppression of the immune system. Dr. de Moor says that more studies are needed to determine if this medication is safe and effective for the treatment of asthma and other diseases.
Beware Crodyceptin Supplements
Cordyceptin appears to be a helpful drug in the battle against inflammatory diseases. However, it will take time and research to ensure its safety when used in humans. Until it has been proven effective for asthma treatment, beware of cordyceptin supplements, as these have not been proven to help fight asthma, and may even do harm. Always talk with your doctor before adding or changing any supplement or medication to your asthma management plan.
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