(NaturalNews) For thousands of years, the mushroom known as Cordyceps has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat problems ranging from coughs and fatigue to impotence and cancer. And once Western scientists started considering that anecdotal reports of the mushroom's curative powers might be something more than "folk tales", research started accumulating that backs up many ancient claims about Cordyceps' health benefits. For example, scientists from the University of Nottingham in Great Britain say they've documented how Cordiceps can fight cancer -- and the new discovery could increase the effectiveness of mushroom-derived cancer treatments.
For the study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Dr. Cornelia de Moor of the University of Nottingham and her colleagues investigated a drug called cordycepin, which was originally extracted from wild growing Cordyceps and is now prepared from a cultivated form of the mushroom.
"Because of technical obstacles and people moving on to other subjects, it's taken a long time to figure out exactly how cordycepin works on cells. With this knowledge, it will be possible to predict what types of cancers might be sensitive and what other cancer drugs it may effectively combine with. It could also lay the groundwork for the design of new cancer drugs that work on the same principle," Dr. de Moor said in a statement to the media.
The University of Nottingham scientists found that the Cordyceps-derived treatment has two important effects on cells that could impact the growth of malignant tumors. At low doses, cordycepin inhibits the uncontrolled growth and division of cells while at high doses it prevents cells from sticking together, essentially blocking the cells from growing.
The research team concluded that each of these effects most likely is the result of a single underlying mechanism -- cordycepin interferes with how cells make proteins. Specifically, low doses of the mushroom-derived treatment interfere with the production of mRNA (the molecule that directs cells to assemble a protein) and at higher doses cordycepin directly interacts with the making of proteins.
"Our discovery will open up the possibility of investigating the range of different cancers that could be treated with cordycepin," Dr de Moor stated. "We have also developed a very effective method that can be used to test new, more efficient or more stable versions of the drug in the Petri dish.This is a great advantage as it will allow us to rule out any non-runners before anyone considers testing them in animals."
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Scientists at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, published research in the November 30th edition of the journal Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy showing that oral Cordyceps can reduce the occurrence of cancer spreading to the lungs in metastatic breast cancer. Although the researchers found that Cordyceps does not reduce the growth of the primary breast tumor, they noted that deaths from breast cancer are primarily due to the development of metastases. That means a treatment that stops the spread of metastatic tumors could save countless lives.
Although various medical therapies currently exist that attempt to stop the growth of cancerous metastatic tumors, they have little effect -- so this makes the Dalhousie University research into Cordyceps very important. The Canadian researchers stated the evidence they have so far suggests that the mushroom reduces the growth of metastases due to Cordyceps' effects on the tumors' cell cycles.