Question by Kevin7: What is the cordyceps fungus ;how is it used in medicine?
Answer by Ted H
Cordyceps is a genus of ascomycete fungi (sac fungi) that includes about 400 described species. All Cordyceps species are endoparasitoids, mainly on insects and other arthropods (they are thus entomopathogenic fungi); a few are parasitic on other fungi. When a Cordyceps fungus attacks a host, the mycelium invades and eventually replaces the host tissue, while the elongated fruiting body (ascocarp) may be cylindrical, branched, or of complex shape. The ascocarp bears many small, flask-shaped perithecia containing asci. These in turn contain thread-like ascospores, which usually break into fragments and are presumably infective.
The Cordyceps mushrooms have a long history as medicinal fungi. The earliest clear record is a Tibetan medical text authored by Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje in the 15th Century outlining the tonic propensities of Yartsa gunbu – Cordyceps sinensis renamed now to Ophiocordyceps sinensis, especially as an aphrodisiac. Although there are often-repeated claims of thousands of years of use in Traditional Chinese medicine, so far no clear textual source has surfaced. Cordyceps has been used to treat several conditions, recently also cancers. Extracts from both mycelium and fruiting bodies of C. sinensis, C. militaris and other Cordyceps species showed significant anticancer activities by various mechanisms such as, modulating immune system and inducing cell apoptosis. Some polysaccharide components and cordycepin (3′-deoxyadenosine) have been isolated from C. sinensis and C. militaris, which acted as potent anticancer components.
Some work has been published in which Cordyceps sinensis has been used to protect the bone marrow and digestive systems of mice from whole body irradiation. An experiment noted Cordyceps sinensis may protect the liver from damage. An experiment with mice noted the mushroom may have an anti-depressant effect. Researchers have noted that Cordyceps has a hypoglycemic effect and may be beneficial for people with insulin resistance.
Discovered by yak herders in the Himalayas of ancient Tibet and Nepal, nature’s disclosure of the Cordyceps organism was secondhand. Recognizing the ardent behavior of their animals after grazing on Cordyceps at high altitudes in the spring, these herdsmen sought the causal agent. The cap-less mushroom they eventually found has been used in traditional Chinese medicine ever since, to treat kidney, lung, and heart ailments, male and female sexual dysfunction, fatigue, cancer, hiccups, and serious injury, to relieve pain, and the symptoms of tuberculosis and hemorrhoids, to restore general health and appetite, and to promote longevity. More potent than Ginseng and worth four times its weight in silver in ancient times.
Tibetan peoples have been gathering increased amounts of cordyceps over the high-altitude expanses of Tibetan regions, and this activity has become one of their most important sources of income in certain parts of the country. The fungus has the properties of increasing the energy of the body, of restoring semen functionality, and of increasing its production. Furthermore, it increases kidney strength and heat, it cures all the disorders caused by unbalance of the humor wind (rlung nad) and the disorders caused by unbalance of the humor bile (mkhris nad). It also prevents increasing of the humor phlegm (bad kan). Gawe Dorje reports that, according to a treatise compiled in the 19th century, cordyceps is among the 4 best plants to treat the ailments concerning sexual virility.
The fungus is a medicinal mushroom which is highly prized by practitioners of Tibetan medicine, Chinese medicine and traditional Folk medicines, in which it is used as an aphrodisiac and as a treatment for a variety of ailments from fatigue to cancer. It is regarded as having an excellent balance of yin and yang as it is apparently both animal and vegetable (though it is in actuality not vegetable, but fungi). Assays have found that Ophiocordyceps species produce many pharmacologically active substances. They are now cultivated on an industrial scale for their medicinal value. However, no one succeeded so far growing the larva cum mushroom artificially. All artificial products are derived from mycellium grown on grains or in liquids.
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