In many cultures, mushrooms are enjoyed for their taste and meaty texture and their deliciously-nutritious properties. As well as containing a whole host of antioxidants, protein, vitamins and minerals, they are also rich in polysaccharides according to Hui-Chen Lo et al writing in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. Hence some mushrooms have been used for their medicinal benefits for thousands of years.
One particular mushroom used traditionally and currently being studied for its medicinal effects is Cordyceps sinesis, otherwise known as caterpillar mushroom. Named because the mushroom grows on the larvae of insects (although modern production does not involve insects), caterpillar mushroom has officially been listed as a herbal medicine in the Chinese pharmacopoeia since 1964.1
In fact, in China, caterpillar mushroom is known as soft gold due to its extremely high cost. Its value lies in its many (over 30) bioactive compounds isolated from the wild mushroom.2 Studies suggest that the immune-boosting effects of caterpillar mushroom might be because of its ability to stimulate the immune system. And, the pharmacological actions of caterpillar mushroom are primarily due to bioactive polysaccharides, modified nucleosides (which make up genetics material), and cyclosporine-like metabolites - cyclosporine is an immunosuppressant).3
A closer look at caterpillar mushroom
The active ingredient of caterpillar mushroom is cordycepin, shown to have many pharmacological effects - anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antioxidant and immune-boosting; and has been shown to modulate (control) cell proliferation.
Other research suggests that caterpillar mushroom promotes apoptosis (cell death). Normal body cells naturally destruct when they’re damaged but dysfunctional cells don’t. Plus, because caterpillar mushroom contains antioxidants, it provides further protection against free radical damage while also protecting the body’s own antioxidants including glutathione, known as the master protective antioxidant because of its many and powerful antioxidant actions.
Caterpillar mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years and we’re only just learning the many positive effects of mushrooms. Anyone for mushroom stir-fry?
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