“Cordyceps militaris is pretty much the coolest mushroom ever(ref).” It is a caterpillar killer that gets inside a pupa or larva (usually of a butterfly or moth). From there it grows inside and bursts outside the insect shell in a horror scene that could have been in an Aliens movie. The fungus has also long been known as a delicacy and as a medicinal substance. “Perhaps one of the most fascinating Cordyceps is C.sinensis found in China and Tibet. This is a highly prized edible fungus found in the mountains of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet. It is made into soup and the best specimens will still be attached to their parasitised pupae. More than a culinary delicacy, it is one of the best medicinal mushrooms. It is known in Chinese as Dong Chong Xia Cao, (winter insect, summer grass). It grows in grasslands over 3000m in altitude and is usually collected at the summer equinox before the last snows have melted. In former times, its use was restricted to the Emperors’ palace due to its rarity(ref).’ Its history goes back to the Tang Dynasty in China and is “Considered particularly beneficial to kidneys and lungs in traditional Chinese Medicine(ref).”Western-style science in its quest for new cancer cures has taken an interest in Cordyceps militaris. I recapitulate some recent research reports here.
· The title of the 2009 research report, Induction of apoptosis and inhibition of telomerase activity in human lung carcinoma cells by the water extract of Cordyceps militaris, tells the basic story. “Taken together, the data from this study indicate that WECM induces the apoptosis of A549 cells through a signaling cascade of death receptor-mediated extrinsic and mitochondria-mediated intrinsic caspase pathways. It was also conclude that apoptotic events due to WECM (water extract of C. militaris) were mediated with diminished telomerase activity through the inhibition of hTERT transcriptional activity.
· This 2005 research report, Growth inhibition of U937 leukemia cells by aqueous extract of Cordyceps militaris through induction of apoptosis, says that more or less the same story is true for leukemia cells. “It was found that AECM (aqueous extract of C. militaris) could inhibit cell growth of U937 cells in a dose-dependent manner, which was associated with morphological change and apoptotic cell death such as formation of apoptotic bodies and DNA fragmentation.– Taken together, these results indicated that the anti-proliferative effects of AECM were associated with the induction of apoptotic cell death through regulation of several major growth regulatory gene products such as Bcl-2 family expression and caspase protease activity, and AECM may have therapeutic potential in human leukemia treatment.”
· Another 2998 research report suggests the same story holds for breast cancer cells: Induction of apoptosis by aqueous extract of Cordyceps militaris through activation of caspases and inactivation of Akt in human breast cancer MDA-MB-231 Cells. “Exposure to AECM induced apoptosis, as demonstrated by a quantitative analysis of nuclear morphological change and a flow cytometric analysis. AECM increased hyperpolarization of mitochondrial membrane potential and promoted the activation of caspases. — The results indicated that AECM-induced apoptosis may relate to the activation of caspase-3 and mitochondria dysfunctions that correlate with the inactivation of Akt.”
· The PowerPoint presentation The anti-proliferation effect of Cordyceps militaris on human mucoepidermoid pulmonary carcinoma discusses the molecular mechanisms involved in the anti-cancer effects of Cordyceps militaris and makes a strong case for considering use of this substance as a therapy.
Research has also been conducted on other possible medicinal properties of Cordyceps fungi. For example”
· Study on effect of Cordyceps sinensis and artemisinin in preventing recurrence of lupus nephritis reports” Cordyceps and artemisinin could prevent the recurrence of LN and protect kidney function.”
· Antifibrotic effect of extracellular biopolymer from submerged mycelial cultures of Cordyceps militaris on liver Fibrosis induced by Bile duct ligation and scission in rats. “These results indicate that EPC (extracellular biopolymers from myceiial liquid culture of Cordyceps militaris) (30 mg/kg/day for 4 weeks, p.o.) has an antifibrotic effect on fibrotic rats induced by BDL/S (bile duct ligation and scission).”
It remains to be seen if, when and how the mainline cancer establishment will embrace therapies or adjunct therapies based on Cordyceps militaris.
In the interim, many different cordyceps-derived supplement products are sold in the US and in China and other Asian countries. For example, a Korean company manufactures Codycepin, derived from Cordyceps militaris which it sells as a supplement and purports to be an “anti-cancer substance.”* * Note that in this blog I do not support any claims made by supplement companies related to the ability of a supplement to treat or cure any disease. Please also note the Medical Disclaimer for this blog.