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Cordyceps

In 1993 werd Cordyceps even wereldnieuws. Tijdens de Nationale Spelen van China verpletterden Chinese atletes met onwaarschijnlijk snelle tijden de wereldrecords van negen midden- en lange afstand loopnummers. Een jaar later, tijdens de wereldkampioenschappen Atletiek in Rome, wonnen zij 12 van de 16 loopnummers en vestigden daarbij vijf nieuwe wereldrecords. Volgens hun trainer waren de resultaten te danken aan de Spartaanse training en... het gebruik van Cordyceps.

Cordyceps de keizerlijke paddestoel
Cordyceps is een van de meest exotische en krachtige middelen, die de Traditionele Chinese Geneeskunde heeft voortgebracht. Duizenden jaren lang stond Cordyceps bekend als het geheimzinnige organisme dat in staat was afwisselend de dierlijke gedaante van een worm en de plantaardige gedaante van gras aan te nemen. De Chinezen noemden het daarom dong chong xia cao, ofwel winterworm-zomergras. Ook bij ons groeien er verwante schimmels vooral Cordiceps militaris, de Rupsendoder die mogelijk een gelijkaardige werking hebben.

Cordyceps sinensis / Winterworm-Zomergras
Cordyceps is altijd schaars geweest, en vanwege de grote vraag ernaar vrijwel onbetaalbaar. In de oudheid kostte Cordyceps meer dan zilver. Cordyceps werd daardoor vrijwel uitsluitend gebruikt aan het keizerlijk hof. Om aan de stijgende vraag tegemoet te komen, startten Chinese wetenschappers in 1972 een ambitieus project. Uit alle streken van China werden variëteiten van wilde Cordyceps verzameld, en onderzocht op chemische samenstelling, geneeskrachtige eigenschappen, veiligheid voor menselijke consumptie en de mogelijkheid tot commerciële kweek. Uit 200 variëteiten kozen zij tenslotte voor de paddestoel uit de provincie Qinghai, een gebied dat van oudsher bekend stond om Cordyceps. Zij noemden deze variëteit Cordyceps Cs-4. In 1987 werd het door het Chinese ministerie van Gezondheid toegelaten als zijnde geschikt voor menselijke consumptie.

Wat doet Cordyceps in het lichaam?
Cordyceps wordt algemeen geroemd om zijn versterkende en opwekkend werking op lichaam en geest, en beschouwd als een bijzonder krachtig en effectief tonicum . Volgens de Traditionele Chinese Geneeskunde versterkt Cordyceps de niermeridiaan en de longmeridiaan. De tonische werking van Cordyceps wordt verklaard uit de stimulering van een tweetal energiesystemen: de Jing (een primaire energie die in de nieren is opgeslagen, en verantwoordelijk is voor de voortplanting, ontwikkeling en rijping. Niet te verwarren met Yin of Yang), en de Qi of Chi (de essentiële levensenergie die in de longen -met behulp van de ademhaling- wordt opgewekt, en met ondersteuning van de nieren door het lichaam wordt verspreid) 2,4
Veel Chinese onderzoeken die meer op westerse leest zijn geschoeid, hebben de meer stoffelijke effecten van Cordyceps op het menselijk lichaam in kaart gebracht. Hieronder volgt een overzicht:

Bevordering van de vitaliteit
Cordyceps bevordert de cellulaire energie-produktie. Na toediening van bij muizen nam de verhouding adenosinetrifosfaat/anorganisch fosfaat (ATP/P) in de lever toe met 45-55%. ATP is het belangrijkste energie-leverende molecuul in het lichaam. Cordyceps bevordert de benutting van zuurstof in het lichaam. Na kunstmatig opwekking van zuurstoftekort leefden muizen die deze zwam kregen toegediend, 2 tot 3 keer zo lang als de muizen in de controlegroep.

Cordyceps bevordert de doorbloeding van het lichaam. Allereerst is een gunstig effect aangetoond op de werking van het hart. Bovendien is bewezen, dat Cordyceps bij stress de gladde spieren in de vaatwanden ontspant. Zo vonden Japanse onderzoekers dat de diameter van een 'gestresste' aorta met gemiddeld 40% toenam nadat Cordyceps was toegediend 3. Intraveneuze toediening van Cordyceps bij verdoofde honden leidde tot afname van de weerstand van de coronaire arteriën met gemiddeld 49%, en afname van de weerstand van vertebrale arteriën met gemiddeld 75%. Door deze effecten neemt de doorbloeding sterk toe van hart, organen, extremiteiten en hersenen. Dit verklaart mogelijk, waarom Cordyceps het prestatievermogen van atleten vergroot. Ook verklaart het, waarom mensen die Cordyceps gebruiken zich doorgaans lichamelijk fitter en geestelijk helderder voelen.

Cordyceps en het zenuwstelsel
Cordyceps heeft een regulerende werking op het neuro-endocriene systeem. Aangetoond is, dat het de afgifte van bijnierschorshormonen stimuleert. Bovendien bevordert Cordyceps het herstellingsvermogen en de integriteit van de hypothalamus-hypofyse-bijnieras. Een gedeelte van deze werking wordt toegeschreven aan de hoge gehalten aan L-tryptofaan, de voorloper van de 'rustgevende' neurotransmitter serotonine. Waarschijnlijk het meest werkzaam is een groep stoffen waarvan de bekendste Cordycepine is. Adenosine is een nucleotide dat actief is in het lichaam als neurotransmitter. Adenosine beschermt het zenuwstelsel, en is bijvoorbeeld verantwoordelijk voor de ontspanning van de gladde spieren in de vaatwanden bij stress.

Cordyceps blijkt ook een remmende werking te hebben op het enzym monoamine-oxidase (MAO). MAO-remmers worden algemeen ingezet tegen depressies, en ook van bijvoorbeeld Sint Janskruid is bekend, dat de anti-depressieve werking gedeeltelijk berust op remming van het enzym MAO.

Bevordering van de seksualiteit
Cordyceps geniet grote faam als afrodisiacum, als middel dat de sexualiteit stimuleert. In de oudste Chinese geschriften wordt hiervan al melding gemaakt. Volgens de overlevering werd Cordyceps in de Chinese oudheid gezien als onmisbare hulp voor de keizer, die een groot aantal gades sexueel moest onderhouden. Gedurende de laatste decennia is met name in China en Japan veel wetenschappelijk onderzoek verricht naar het effect van Cordyceps op de geslachtsdrift. Kort samengevat, zijn de uitkomsten de volgende: Cordyceps wordt gezien als het veiligste en meest effectieve natuurlijke middel voor behandeling van impotentie en andere seksuele stoornissen, zowel bij mannen als bij vrouwen. De werking van Cordyceps als afrodisiacum berust waarschijnlijk op een combinatie van verschillende effecten op het lichaam. De zwam heeft een stimulerende werking op de geslachtsorganen, op de aanmaak van geslachtshormonen, op de neurologische systemen die bij de voortplanting en geslachtsdrift zijn betrokken.

Van 21 oudere vrouwen met 'verminderde libido en andere sexuele problemen' die deel namen aan een dubbelblind, placebo-gecontroleerd onderzoek vertoonde 90% verbetering van de klachten na gebruik van Cordyceps, tegen 0% in de controlegroep.

Cordyceps bevordert de rijping van de geslachtsorganen. Bij mannelijke muizen die nog niet geslachtsrijp waren nam het gewicht van de testes met meer dan 90% toe na zes dagen lang toediening van Cordyceps. Bij onrijpe, vrouwelijke muizen werd een gewichtstoename van de uterus gevonden van meer dan 40%. Na drie maanden toediening van Cordyceps aan mannelijke konijnen was het gewicht van de testes 30% groter dan dat van de controlegroep. Cordyceps bevordert de spermatogenese. Mannelijke konijnen die drie maanden Cordyceps hadden gebruikt, produceerden driemaal (!) zoveel zaadcellen als de controlegroep. Uit een ander onderzoek bleek, dat de kwaliteit en vitaliteit van het sperma significant was verbeterd na gebruik van deze paddestoel. Verschillende onderzoeken bij mensen wijzen uit dat Cordyceps een regulerende werking heeft op de plasma niveaus van zowel mannelijke als vrouwelijke geslachtshormonen.

Cordyceps militaris / Rupsendoder
De aan de Cordyceps sinensis verwante Cordyceps militaris heeft waarschijnlijk dezelfde androgene eigenschappen als Cordyceps sinensis. Chinese onderzoekers ontdekten dat ratten met kanker langer leefden als ze Cordiceps militaris kregen, dat hun cortisol- en testosteronspiegels stegen en dat hun geslachtsorganen zwaarder werden. Deze onderzoeken zijn wel met dieren gedaan, of onze inheemse Rupsendoder wel veilig is en of ze die werking ook bij mensen hebben, moet verder onderzocht worden.

Regulering van het imuunsysteem
Er zijn sterke aanwijzingen dat Cordyceps werkt als een zogenaamde bi-directionele immuunregulator. Dat wil zeggen, dat het de werking van een te zwak afweersysteem kan versterken en van een overactief afweersysteem kan afremmen. De meest actieve immuun-componenten van Cordyceps zijn langketenige suikermoleculen, ook wel bekend als polysacchariden. Een reeks onderzoeken heeft uitgewezen, dat de werking van Cordyceps doorgaans dosering-afhankelijk is, dat wil zeggen: hoe meer Cordyceps, hoe groter het effect. De volgende invloeden van Cordyceps op het afweersysteem zijn aangetoond : stimulering van de aanmaak van T-helpercellen. leukocyten en lymfocyten en stimulering van de cktiviteit van Natural Killer (NK) cellen

Bescherming tegen vrije radicalen.
Cordyceps blijkt de werking van de natuurlijke anti-oxidantsystemen in het lichaam te bevorderen. Uit een placebo-gecontroleerd, Chinees onderzoek onder 59 oudere patiënten van 60-84 jaar, bleek Cordyceps in staat om de concentratie van het enzym Superoxidase Dismutase (SOD) in de rode bloedlichaampjes significant te verhogen. De SOD-concentratie was zelfs significant hoger geworden dan die van een controlegroep bestaande uit gezonde, jonge volwassenen. Tegelijkertijd nam de plasmaconcentratie van malon-dialdehyde (MDA) significant af, tot vergelijkbaar niveau van de controlegroep jonge volwassenen. SOD wordt gezien als het belangrijkste anti-oxidantenzym in het lichaam. MDA geeft een maat voor lipoperoxide, een vrij radicaal dat ontstaat na oxydatieve aantasting van vetzuren.

Veiligheid
Cordyceps staat bekend als een veilig voedingssupplement. Verschillende onderzoeken met proefdieren hebben geen LD-50 (de dosering waarbij 50% van de proefdieren dood gaat) kunnen aantonen, zelfs niet bij inname van 80 g/kg (dit komt overeen met een inname van 5,6 kg Cordyceps voor een volwassen persoon van 70 kg!). Ook zijn uit studies naar mogelijke toxiciteit nooit schadelijke bijwerkingen of toxische effecten gebleken. Sommige mensen krijgen milde buikklachten (zoals diarree) na gebruik van Cordyceps. Deze verschijnselen zijn echter niet ernstig en doorgaans van voorbijgaande aard. Voorzichtigheid is echter gepast voor mensen die inhalatoren gebruiken. Omdat Cordyceps een ontspannende werking heeft op de (gladde spieren van de) luchtwegen, kan het de werking van het geneesmiddel versterken.

Literatuur
  • Jones, Kenneth : Cordyceps, Tonic Food of Ancient China; Sylvan Press, Seattk 1997, 50 pp
  • Halpern, Georges M.: Cordyceps, China’s Healing Mushroom; Avery Publishing Group, NY1999, 116 pp (aanwezig in de bib van de vereniging)
  • Stamets, Paul and C. Dusty Wu Yao: Mycomedicinals, An Informational Booklet on Medicinal Mushrooms; MycoMedia, Olympia WA 1998, 46 pp (aanwezig in de bib van de vereniging)
  • Zhu, J.S., Halpern, G.M., and lones, K.: The Scientific Rediscovery of an Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine: Cordyceps sinensis. Part I; Journal of Alternative and complementary Medidne 4(3), 1998: 289-303
  • Zhu, J.S., Halpern, G.M., and Jones, K.: The Scientific Rediscovery of a Precious Ancient Chinese Herbal Regimen: Cordyceps sinensis. Part II; Journal of Alternative and complementary Medidne 4(4), 1998: 429- 457
  • Liu J, Yang S, Yang X, Chen Z, Li J. Anticarcinogenic effect and hormonal effect of Cordyceps militaris Link. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi 1997 Feb;22(2):111-3. [PubMed]


The Fungus Cordyceps sinensis

Cordyceps is a genus of ascomycete fungi belonging to the family Ophiocordycipitaceae (formerly Clavicipitaceae), parasitic mainly on insects and other arthropods. These type of fungi are thus named entomophagous (feeding on insects) fungi. [Authors’ taxonomic note: According to the recent DNA review of the genus Cordyceps, the new name for Cordyceps sinensis is Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Berk.)

G.H. Sung, J.M. Sung, Hywel-Jones & Spatafora.8] Cordyceps sinensis s.l. (in the broad sense) is a parasitic fungus living on lepidopterous (butterflies and moth) larvae. It attacks and grows on caterpillars, specifically on larvae from the genus Thitarodes (Hepialidae, Lepidoptera). Cordyceps sinensis thrives from 3000 to 5000 meters above sea level, in cold, grassy, alpine meadows of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR, Chinese: Xizang), Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan Chinese provinces, and in a few Nepalese, Bhutanese, and Indian Himalayan areas. The infected hosts, of which T. armoricanus (Oberthür) Ueda is the most commonly-mentioned species, live underground on the Tibetan plateau and Himalayan regions in the same areas where C. sinensis thrives, and they spend up to 5 years before pupating.

The spores of C. sinensis are spread by the wind over the soil and onto plants, where they come into contact with Thitarodes larvae, particularly when the caterpillars emerge to feed on roots and herbaceous vegetation. Larvae were observed eating tender roots of alpine meadow species such as Polygonum, Astragalus, Salix, Arenaria, and Rhododendron.9 The caterpillars may eat the spores or the spores lying on their bodies may germinate and enter their bodies through the mouth or the respiratory pores (2 of them are present over each metamere). When C. sinensis attacks T. armoricanus, its mycelium invades the caterpillar’s body, filling its cavity, killing the insect, and eventually completely replacing the host tissue. The dead caterpillar appears yellowish to brown in color. The cylindrical club-shaped fruiting body, 5-15 cm long and dark brown to black in color, grows up from spring to early summer, protruding and developing out of the caterpillar’s forehead. The stroma (mass of fungus tissue) bears many small, flask-shaped perithecia (fruiting bodies) that contain the asci (sacs in which the sexual spores are formed). According to Li et al., C. sinensis spores disperse and break up into 30-60 propagules, which attach themselves to the larval state of the insect; usually 15 days pass between spore dispersion and larval infection.10

In the Lithang area, where most of the fieldwork was conducted, the authors observed C. sinensis between 4000 and 4500 meters of altitude in the alpine grasslands on the northern slopes of the Shaluli Shan Range mountains. The length of the larvae varies roughly from 3 to 6 centimeters. The length of the dry mushroom spans from 3 to 10 centimeters. 

Cordyceps Harvesting

During our fieldwork in east Tibet, we participated in the gathering of cordyceps, both with Tibetan medical practitioners and professional gatherers. The season starts at the beginning of April and lasts until the end of June, although normally the harvesting season spans from the beginning of May until the middle of June. After that period, according to a modern text of Tibetan materia medica, “the body of the ‘worm,’ which is within the ground, gets rotten… until its interior becomes hollow.”5

The gathering of cordyceps represents the principal source of income for many Tibetans from Lithang and neighboring areas.11,12,13 Many people from Lithang—young and old, laymen and monks, men and women—walk everyday along the steep path that leads to the collecting areas. A few Chinese citizens, some of them coming from lowland regions, also participate in the gathering. According to our informants, most of the picking areas are located on the north-facing slopes of the mountains.

Most of the gatherers lie on the ground over the high-altitude expanses, attentively scanning the terrain. The search for the tiny cordyceps in the high altitude grasslands, interspersed with small Rhododendron bushes and various vegetation, still dormant at the beginning of spring, is a difficult task, requiring concentration and patience. In fact, the height and thickness of the fungus are so small that it cannot be easily seen: in spring the ground is covered with short vegetation stumps as brownish as the tiny cordyceps. But Tibetan people generally seem happy to perform this work since it is not considered particularly strenuous, the enterprise is highly profitable, and because they like spending their time together in the mountains.

The gatherers proceed slowly on hands and knees, or bending the body and leaning on a small hoe. They usually carefully scan the area in front of them, keeping their faces close to the ground. If they do not recognize any cordyceps, they take a few steps forwards and proceed in the search to an adjacent area. Cordyceps is extracted from the soil with a hoe or a small knife. It is important not to damage the larva, because it would lose value. We have noticed many gatherers carrying thin sticks of wood (like toothpicks) that may be used to repair cut or broken larvae or to increase the weight of the product, once inserted in them.

Some gatherers claim that they may find 30 to 40 worms a day. Nawan Tashi, an independent doctor who often spends a few days of the gathering season collecting cordyceps, says that the average amount collected in that area does not usually exceed 20 specimens a day; the maximum specimen number that he has found in one day has been 27. On the day that we met with him, he arrived home late in the afternoon with only 14 specimens in his leather bag. After drying the amount collected, Nawan Tashi saved some of it in his store room with other herbal materials. He generally sells most of the product on the local market to make some money, with which he then buys other medicinal plants, usually manufactured Tibetan pills from the Derge Tibetan Medical Institute. At the time of our fieldwork, a few small bags full of cordyceps were hanging from the wooden ceiling of his home. He had decided to sell them the next winter when the price would be higher.

Cordyceps Use at the Popular Level

Traditionally, Tibetan people perceive cordyceps as a single substance that undergoes a metamorphosis on passing from spring to summer. They refer to it as yartsa gunbu, meaning “summer-grass winter-worm,” although they frequently shorten the name to bu (“worm”) at the popular level. All the Tibetans with whom we spoke believe that, during winter, cordyceps lives as a worm and that, after a metamorphosis occurring at the beginning of spring, it changes into a kind of grass. In certain confined areas, such as a few sacred sites, cordyceps seems to have connections with the local popular religion. Its gathering was banned, for example, in the Dzachuka (rDza chu kha) and Sertha (Se tha) regions (located in Sêrxü County and Sêrtar County, respectively, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province).14 Animals that dwell underground in burrows, as Huber reports, “are negatively associated with the archaic cosmology. These species are considered to be too close to the realm of the local subterranean and sub-aquatic deities, who are believed to be easily offended and also quick to cause harm to humans and their livestock in retribution for human encroachment upon their realm.”15

The use of cordyceps is not particularly common at the popular level in Lithang County and in the other fieldwork areas. Several Tibetan medical practitioners agree on the fact that, in general, this substance is seldom used as a medicine or diet supplement among Tibetans, who essentially regard it as a trade item.

The few people who consume the product typically do so as a tonic in the form of a beverage that may be prepared in different ways. We have sometimes observed Tibetans sipping small amounts of these potions from tiny bottles while conducting activities such as carving religious prayers on stones and gambling. Nearly 80 informants (i.e., gatherers of and traders in cordyceps, plus Tibetan traditional doctors) maintain that these potions are helpful to the body’s general health and for increasing strength and vigor, and that they are also a good aphrodisiac. Our informants from Lithang explain that these potions are prepared by dipping a few cordyceps specimens into a container filled with arak (a rag), a local alcoholic spirit processed from barley or rice. The number of specimens may vary according to the quantity of a rag held in the container and the potion strength required. Usually 3 to 5 specimens of cordyceps are used for each half-liter of a rag. The potion is ready after having been kept in a cool place for 2-3 months. Some people wait a year or more before consuming it, claiming that the long period of the drug permanence in the alcohol increases the potion potency and effectiveness. When the a rag is exhausted, some more may be added by filling the container again. Most informants state that the refilling can be done several times and are aware that, in this case, the potion’s overall potency decreases. Some people may add other ingredients, as is often done by traditional doctors. Winkler reports that “in Lithang there is already a distillery that produces liquor (qingke jiu) from regionally grown barley with a few caterpillar fungi or fritillary bulbs floating in the bottle.”13

A few scholars provide evidence that cordyceps is employed at the popular level in other regions inhabited by populations of Tibetan language and culture. In the Dolakha District (Central-east Nepal), the Sherpa people use cordyceps as an aphrodisiac and tonic: “One to two fruiting body are orally administered with milk, once a day.”16 According to Sacherer, in the Rolwaling Valley of the same District, the product is popularly used as a tonic and aphrodisiac and “it is eaten in its entirety, caterpillar and fungus, mostly by middle aged men.”17 In Nar (Central Nepal, Manang District), it is said that “if a person mixes yertsagumbu with 13 other herbs and takes the mixture over a period of three years, he will become as thick as an elephant, quick as a horse and pretty as a peacock,”18 and it has been assessed that “the product is ground, boiled in milk and drunk with honey or rock candy.”18 According to a publication by the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation of Nepal, in the Thak areas (Central Nepal) cordyceps “is taken orally in combination with Dactylorhiza hatagirea (Orchidaceae), honey and cow’s milk,” and it is also administered as a tonic to yak and sheep.19 A similar use is attested also among the Tibetan practitioners of Dolpa District (West Nepal).20 According to Phuntsho Namgyel, who has been conducting extensive survey in Bhutan on cordyceps as an economic resource for local people, in several areas of this country the fungus is also known as a medicine at the popular level (e-mail to A. Boesi, March 10, 2004).

Cordyceps in Tibetan Medicine

Cordyceps in Tibetan Medical Texts. In Gawe Dorje’s modern text about Tibetan materia medica, the term tsa tachi (rtswa da byid, “grass da byid”) is given as the main name for yartsa gunbu.6† We have never heard Tibetan doctors employing this designation, although a few of them claim to have known of the term from that same text. To our knowledge, apart from this occurrence, the expression has never been mentioned to indicate yartsa gunbu in classic or other modern Tibetan materia medica. A modern Tibetan medical dictionary presents the entry tsatachi as a synonym of yartsa gunbu.21 This designation has probably been devised recently in connection to the drug named tachi, which according to Gawe Dorje, corresponds to a salamander (Batrachuperus pinchonii).6 Zurkhar Namnyi Dorje, who devotes an entire chapter to describing the so-called tachi and its varieties, affirms that this term connotes several other substances from plants, minerals, and animals that share the same properties as yartsa gunbu, although yartsa gunbu itself is never mentioned.3 Attributing this new denomination to yartsa gunbu has possibly been done to include it in the same group as the most powerful aphrodisiacs and tonics, and it is probably due to Chinese influence: Aphrodisiacs, notably cordyceps, represent highly praised drugs in Chinese medicine. It seems that, only in the past few decades, the use of cordyceps has been spreading in modern Tibetan medical institutes located in Central Tibet.

The first Tibetan author who described yartsa gunbu seems to be the famous Tibetan doctor Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje (1439-1475) mentioned above, the practitioner who founded the so-called Zur medical tradition. In his treatise Ten Millions of Instructions: a Relic (commonly and incorrectly also referred to as “Oral Instructions on a Myriad of Medicines”), he mentions yartsa gunbu among the drugs that cure the rotsa (ro tsa) ailments—those concerning sexual virility.3

The fundamental treatise of Tibetan medicine, The Four Tantras (rGyud bzhi), of which the first edition dates between the 8th and the 12th century, does not mention this medicinal fungus.22 Also, The Crystal Rosary (Shel phreng), a text devoted to Tibetan materia medica, composed by the Tibetan doctor Deumar Geshe Tenzin Phuntsok in east Tibet in the 18th century and still considered the fundamental reference for Tibetan practitioners owing to its completeness and details in medicinal substance description, surprisingly does not mention yartsa gunbu.23 Cordyceps is a very common product in eastern Tibetan regions, and certainly at that time it already represented an important trade item as documented from several sources. For example, Rockhill reports that “this mountain [in the valley called Lit’ang Golo] is famous as producing that curious worm-plant known as the Shar-tsa gong-bu (tung-chung hsia-ts’ao in Chinese), called by botanist Cordyceps sinensis.”24 Yartsa gunbu is also not included in a Tibetan materia medica describing the plants used at the Lhasa Medical and Astrological Institute in the first part of the 20th century.25

The medicinal fungus is, however, described in the illustrated Tibetan materia medica written by Jampal Dorje in the 19th century, where it is mentioned among the “herbaceous medicines,” nomen (sngo sman), the so-called category that includes medicinal plants growing mostly in the higher zones of the mountains, exhibiting an herbaceous aspect, slender stem, and tiny underground organs.4 The author provided an illustration of the fungus, in which he depicted some specimens already prepared in bundles kept together by small strings, ready to be sold, exactly as is customary today in some traditional Chinese pharmacies. This figure testifies to the importance of the product as a trade item at that time. It is also possible that among Tibetan peoples cordyceps was already more famous as an item of trade than as a medicine, exactly as it happens at the present time. Jampal Dorje describes yartsa gunbu as follows: “It grows on high mountains, during summer the root is similar to a worm, the leaves are similar to the ones of the ‘mountain garlic’ rigok (ri sgog, Allium spp., Liliaceae), the flower is similar to that of the plant called Awa”(A wa, a plant belonging to the Gramineae).

Contrary to traditional treatises, in Chinese Tibetan cultural areas, all recently-published modern texts devoted to describing Tibetan materia medica give a large emphasis to cordyceps. The fungus is included in the first modern Tibetan materia medica published at Lhasa in 1973.26 Certainly under Chinese influence, in the modern pharmacopeia of Gawe Dorje, cordyceps has been added to the so-called “essence medicines,” tsimen (rtsi sman) category, which includes peculiar medicinal substances coming from animals, minerals, and plants such as camphor (ga bur, Cinnamomum camphora, Lauraceae), cardamom (sug smel, Elettaria cardamomum, Zingiberaceae), saffron (gur kum, Crocus sativus, Iridaceae), musk, bear bile, and bitumen.6 Even a small amount of them is considered very powerful, and they share a particular fragrance. Differently, Karma includes the product in the category named tangmen (thang sman, “medicines of the plains”), which includes bulky herbaceous or sometimes tiny woody plants usually not growing at high altitude, and reports that throughout Tibetan regions there are 5 different varieties of it.5 We have never obtained this last piece of information during our fieldwork.

Tibetan doctors from Lithang state that they do not frequently employ and do not highly value cordyceps, claiming to know other herbs that, once mixed, have the same properties but give more effective results, particularly wang lag or wangpo lagpa (dbang po lag pa, Gymnadenia orchidis, Orchidaceae);6 G. crassinervis and G. conopsea;5 and Dactylorhiza hatagirea (Orchidaceae).20 The Gymnadenia species is also deemed a good tonic and aphrodisiac according to Tibetan medical treatises.

The utilization of cordyceps was not very common also at the Kumbum Medical Institute (Qinghai Province) and at the Lhasa Medical and Astrological Institute before the arrival of the Chinese. Today it seems that the product is utilized more frequently in central Tibet (particularly at Lhasa) according to information given by several doctors at the 2000 Lhasa International Tibetan Medicine Congress, who lamented that cordyceps had become rare in the last decades. As was noted earlier, it has been reported that local Tibetan practitioners frequently use this product in the region of Dolpo (Nepal),27 and it is also employed in the Nepalese region of Manang.28 According to Phuntsho Namgyel, although knowledge of cordyceps as an important medicinal plant exists in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the Bhutanese traditional medicine system, which is similar to Tibetan medicine, started incorporating it in its formulations only a few years ago.

The Energetics of Cordyceps in Tibetan Medicine. According to the modern texts of Tibetan materia medica, the fungus must be gathered between spring and summer (May-June).5,6 Both the worm and the grass are used after removing the earth that encapsulates the larva. Also the worm’s white-to-yellowish mycelium that encapsulates the larva must be peeled off. The fungus is then cleaned and dried in a cool place at a constant temperature. The therapeutic properties mentioned in the texts are described according to the pharmacological theory of Tibetan medicine. The taste of the dbyar rtswa dgun ‘bu is sweet (mngar mo) and salty (lan tshwa ba), its post-digestive taste is sweet, its potency is unctuous (oily; snum) and hot (drod). 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.6

Tibetan doctors from Lithang prepare 2 slightly different potions that contain cordyceps. These 2 recipes seem to be devised by mixing together medicinal herbal preparations deemed to be good tonics and aphrodisiacs in order to get a strong and effective preparation. Practitioners prepare both recipes by adding cordyceps and other materials to a container filled with a rag, which is then kept in a cool place for 2-3 months, as described earlier. The first recipe includes the following ingredients: cordyceps, dugme (dug med, Fritillaria cirrhosa, Liliaceae) bulbs, the root of a herbaceous plant not yet identified, and a fragment of shara (sha rwa, deer’s antler, probably Cervus albirostris, white-lipped deer, or C. elaphus macneilli, a red deer). The second recipe includes cordyceps, dugme bulbs, and dretserma (‘dre tsher ma, Lycium barbarum, Solanaceae; aka goji or wolf berries). These 2 medicines do not represent typical Tibetan medical preparations. They are not reported on written sources and most likely originate from oral transmitted knowledge influenced by Chinese tradition.

A preparation aimed at improving physical strength and sexual virility,7 administered as a pill, includes as the main ingredient 50 grams of crushed cordyceps, to which the following powdered medicinal substances are added: aruserdog (a ru gser mdog, Terminalia chebula, Combretaceae); the so-called sanpodrug (bzang po drug), dzati (dzwa ti, Myristica fragrans, Myristicaceae; nutmeg), lishi (li shi, Eugenia caryophyllata, Myrtaceae; clove), chugan (cu gang, Bambusa textilis, Poaceae), gurkum (gur kum, Crocus sativus, Iridaceae; saffron), sukmel (sug smel, Elettaria cardamomum, Amomum compactum, Zingiberaceae; cardamom), and kakola (ka ko la, Amomum subulatum, A. tsao-ko, Zingiberaceae). The following substances are also added: powari (pho ba ris, Piper nigrum, Piperaceae; black pepper), giwan (gi wang, bezoar), tomtri (dom mkhris, bear bile), tandromkarpo (thang phrom dkar po, Przewalskia tangutica, Solanaceae), and lantantse (lang thang rtse, Hyoscyamus niger, Solanaceae; henbane).

Cordyceps is also employed in another preparation, named tachi chusum (da byid bcu gsum, “tachi 13”), similarly administered as a pill.7 This preparation’s main constituent is tachi, and it includes the following 13 ingredients, most of them coming from animal substances: tachi (da byid), wangpo lagpa, drekar (‘bras dkar, white rice), ghiacil gomar (rgya mchil mgo dmar, sparrow [meat]), samsha (sram sha, otter meat), tsangnya (gtsang nya, river fish), tugdre (thug ‘bras, ram testicles), ciwisha (‘phyi ba’i sha, marmot’s meat), pukronsha (phug rong sha, pigeon’s meat), chilwisha (mchil ba’i sha, sparrow [meat]),‡ kimchasha (khyim bya’i sha, cock’s meat), cordyceps, and gonmosha (gong mo’i sha, Tibetan partridge’s meat). The medicine, administered early in the morning with honey, has the property of boosting the body’s energy, supporting the 5 senses, and increasing life span.

Although the primary focus of this paper is not about reviewing the modern pharmacological and clinical data on cordyceps, it is constructive to mention a few recent clinical studies that have investigated the efficacy of cordyceps preparations. Human clinical trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of C. sinensis fermented mycelia in combating decreased libido and virility.29,30 In a clinical study of elderly patients with chronic fatigue, results indicated that most of the subjects treated with C. sinensis pure mycelium reported a significant clinical improvement in the areas of fatigue, cold intolerance, dizziness, frequent nocturia, tinnitus, hypo sexuality, and amnesia, while no improvement was reported in the placebo group.31,32,33 In recent years, C. sinensis has been investigated in animal and in vitro studies for anti-aging effects, activity on sexual function, and immune modulation, among other potential uses.34,35


Sustainability Issues

The increased harvesting of cordyceps all over its distribution area certainly implies sustainability issues. Winkler reports that, “according to current official statistics, yartsa gunbu harvest was below 40,000 kg for Tibet [Tibet Autonomous Region] between 1999 and 2001, reached nearly 44,000 kg in 2002 and 2003, and then 50,544 kg in 2004.”1 Unfortunately, at present no data regarding the long-term impact of this intensive collection are available. At the time of the fieldwork, Lithang gatherers and traders stated that they had not noticed a reduction in the abundance of cordyceps since they had come into the business, except for some seasonal decreases attributed to bad weather conditions in early spring. Collectors and dealers interviewed by

Winkler reported the same data but complained about reduced harvesting rates per individual due to steadily-increasing competition.1 Winkler applied to this issue the “Rapid Vulnerability Assessment” (RVA) technique, as developed by ethnobotanist Tony Cunningham (after Wong 2000)36 and formalized for analysis by Wild and Mutebi.37 He obtained a score of 20, indicating a moderate degree of vulnerability. Namgyel, by applying the same technique, obtained a score of 26 for Bhutan’s cordyceps species, noting that the score would be slightly lower “if the traditional rights of the collectors are recognized and a community-based natural resources management system is put in place.”38


Conclusion

Since C. sinensis grows over much of the area traditionally inhabited by populations of Tibetan language and culture, and since its citation in Tibetan medical treatises pre-dates by 2 centuries its mentioning in Chinese medical texts, it may be assumed that Tibetan people were probably the first to notice this fungus thriving on the high pasturelands, examine its morphological traits, understand its biological features, assess its qualities and therapeutic properties, and to attribute it a name. It is remarkable and difficult to explain that this medicinal fungus, so highly praised as a tonic and aphrodisiac by Zurkhar Namnyi Dorje in the 15th century,3 is not mentioned in many Tibetan materia medica. While this interesting fungus is used in some Tibetan medicinal formulations, it is certainly not employed as heavily as in Chinese culture. Its popularity within Chinese medicine, however, has certainly made the fungus an important economic resource for Tibetan people.

The recent drop in sales of cordyceps may therefore have serious economic consequences for some Tibetan communities, and it remains to be seen whether sales of cordyceps will rebound to or surpass previous levels as the global economy stabilizes. With further clinical investigation, it is possible that use of cordyceps may eventually spread to or increase within other cultures. As Tibetan people continue to gather cordyceps for medicinal use and/or international markets, it will be important to occasionally reassess sustainability and environmental impact.

Alessandro Boesi, Tibetologist, received his PhD in Biological Anthropology in 2004 from the Université de la Méditerranée, Marseille, France. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Tibetan cultural regions, and his present research interests focus on the ethnobotany of Tibetan peoples and the materia medica of Tibetan medicine. His most recent publication is a translation from Tibetan into Italian of a rare illustrated Tibetan materia medica handbook written about 2 centuries ago, which describes medicinal plants and their therapeutic properties (www.shangdril.org).

Francesca Cardi obtained her PhD in Medical Anthropology in 2004 at the Université de la Méditerranée, Marseille, France. For 10 years, she has conducted extensive research in Tibetan regions, focusing on pharmacopeias, medical preparations, and traditional doctors’ practice. She is a member of the research center Shangdril (Italy) and collaborates with scientific institutions on drug development and clinical research. She and Dr. Boesi co-wrote the article “Classification and Utilization of Natural Products Used as Materia Medica in Tibetan Traditional Medicine” in HerbalGram issue 71.

‡Sparrow meat is listed twice with different names. The 2 different Tibetan designations indicate 2 species belonging to the genus Passer. The latter is identified as P. montanus; the identification of the former is not confirmed in modern Tibetan materia medica.

*According to Daniel Winkler, MSc, following economic liberalization in the early 1980s, cordyceps prices increased dramatically from Chinese yuan (CNY) 1,800 (8 CNY = $1 USD in 2005) per kg in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, to CNY 8,400 in 1997 (an increase of 366%), then to CNY 36,000 in 2004 (a further increase of 1,900%). In June 2005, prices in Tibet ranged from CNY 10,000–60,000 (USD 1,250–7,500) per kg. Yet in late 2008, due to the global crisis, prices went down significantly. [References: Winkler D. Yartsa gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis) and the fungal commodification of Tibet’s rural economy. Economic Botany. 2008;62(3):291-305 and Winkler D. Present and historic relevance of Yartsa Gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis). An ancient myco-medicina in Tibet. Fungi. 2008;1(4):6-7.]

†Traditional treatises utilize the term “yartsa gunbu;” the notion of “cordyceps” is not known in such documents. 

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By Alessandro Boesi, PhD, and Francesca Cardi, PhD

Wetenschappelijke referenties over Cordyceps militaris / Rupsendoder

Vruchtlichaam tong- tot knotsvormig, 2-6 x 0,5-1 cm. Hoed verbreed, fijn wrattig, oranje tot oranjegeel. Steel bleekoranje tot okergeel.
Op poppen van (dag)vlinders in matig of niet-bemeste graslanden, loof- of gemengde bossen en lanen op voedselarme, droge zand- of leembodem, vaak tussen haakmossen. Parasitair. Vrij algemeen.
Cordyceps militaris is also known as the rare Chinese caterpillar fungus (1) and has benefits for the human body including effects on the circulatory, immune, respiratory, and glandular systems. It is commonly used in the orient to replenish the kidneys and soothe the lung as well as in the treatment of hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia (2,3), renal dysfunction, and liver disease (4); it is also thought to have anti-mutagenic (5) and anti-angiogenesis (6) capabilities. Recently, several studies demonstrated that extracts of Cordyceps militaris had multiple pharmacological actions which included anti-inflammatory activity (6), improvement of insulin resistance and insulin secretion (2), and tumor suppression activity. Addition, it possesses antioxidant activity to a greater extent than Cordyceps sinensis or Cordyceps kyushuensis (7). Because natura lCordyceps militaris is rare and expensive, many scientists have examined its life cycle with the aim of developing techniques for the isolation of fermentable strains. Even though the immunomodulatory role of CME in immune response is being explored and further elucidated, the regulatory effects of CME on specific functions of macrophages has yet to be fully explained.

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Ouderen fitter door Cordyceps sinensis (J Altern Complement Med. 2010 May;16(5):585-90.)

Extracten van de schimmel Cordyceps sinensis geven ouderen meer uithoudingsvermogen. Dat ontdekten voedingsonderzoekers van de University of California in Los Angeles toen ze proeven deden met 15 mannen en vrouwen van 50-75 jaar.
De klassieke Chinese geneeskunst gebruikt Cordyceps sinensis, net als het verwanteCordyceps militaris, al eeuwen als revitaliserend middel voor ouderen. Niet zonder grond, want experimenten met cellen in reageerbuizen en dierproeven laten zien dat de schimmels detestosteronspiegel verhogen en het uithoudingsvermogen van proefdieren verbeteren.

In 1993 schreven kranten over cordyceps nadat de Chinese atletes Wang Junxia, Qu Yunxia en Zhang Linli records braken op de 1500, 3000 and 10.000 meter. De sporters schreven dat toe aan cordyceps, maar toen tien jaar later Amerikaanse sportwetenschappers cordyceps uittestten op duursporters vielen de resultaten vies tegen.
Wielrenners die 5 weken achtereen dagelijks 3 gramCordyceps sinensis slikten merkten daar helemaal niets van. [Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Apr;14(2):236-42.] In de studies had ook een combinatie van Rhodolia rosea en Cordyceps sinensis geen effect op de prestaties van wielrenners. [J Strength Cond Res. 2005 May;19(2):358-63.] [Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Mar;36(3):504-9.]

De voedingsonderzoekers van de University of California gaven cordyceps echter nog een kans. Zij gebruikten geen sporters als proefpersoon, maar ouderen. Acht proefpersonen kregen elke dag 3 gram van het gestandaardiseerde cordycepsextract Cs-4, 12 weken achter elkaar. Zeven andere proefpersonen slikten een placebo. Voor en na de 12 weken moesten de proefpersonen fietsen zodat de onderzoekers hun conditie konden meten.
De onderzoekers vonden geen effecten op de zuurstofopname. Ze ontdekten wel dat cordyceps de intensiteit, waarbij je niet meer genoeg hebt aan aerobe verbrandingsprocessen en overschakelt op anaerobe processen, verhoogt met 10.5 procent. De intensiteit waarbij dat gebeurt heet de metabolic threshold. De tijdsduur waarin je die intensiteit kunt volhouden is beperkt.

Als je de metabolic threshold overschrijdt merk je dat aan je ademhaling. Je gaat ineens stukken dieper ademhalen. Bewegingswetenschappers zeggen dan dat je de ventilatory threshold overschrijdt. Ze voegen daar dan meteen aan toe dat de ventilatory thresholden metabolic threshold niet helemaal hetzelfde zijn, maar dat ze je niet zullen vervelen met een complex verhaal waar je nu even niks aan hebt. Doen wij dus ook niet.
Het inspanningsniveau waarbij de proefpersonen ineens dieper gingen ademen nam door de suppletie met 8.5 procent toe.
Hoe cordyceps precies werkt hebben de onderzoekers niet bestudeerd, maar ze citeren een dierstudie waarin cordyceps zorgt voor meer ATP in spiercellen. In cordyceps zitten verbindingen die lijken op adenosine, en de onderzoekers vermoeden dat die iets met dat effect van doen hebben.




Ophiocordyceps sinensis is a fungus that parasitizes larvae of ghost moths and produces a fruiting body valued as a herbal remedy. The fungus germinates in the living larva, kills and mummifies it, and then the stalk-like fruiting body emerges from the corpse. It is known in English colloquially as caterpillar fungus, or by its more prominent foreign names (see below): Yartsa Gunbu (Tibetan: དབྱར་རྩྭ་དགུན་འབུ་, Wylie: dbyar rtswa dgun 'bu, literally "winter worm, summer grass"), or Dōng chóng xià cǎo (Chinese: 冬虫夏草). Of the various entomopathogenic fungi, Ophiocordyceps sinensis is one that has been used for at least 2000 years[2] for its reputed abilities to treat many diseases related to lungs, kidney, and erectile dysfunction. This fungus is not yet cultivated commercially,[3] despite the fact that several fermentable strains of Ophiocordyceps sinensis have been isolated by Chinese scientists.[4] Overharvesting and over exploitation have led to the classification of O. sinensis as an endangered species in China.[5] Additional research needs to be carried out in order to understand its morphology and growth habit for conservation and optimum utilization.

The moths in which O. sinensis grows are ambiguously referred to as "ghost moth", which identifies either a single species or the genus Thitarodes, and the species parasitized by O. sinensis may be one of several Thitarodes that live on the Tibetan Plateau (Tibet, Qinghai, West-Sichuan, SW-Gansu & NW Yunnan), and the Himalayas (India, Nepal, Bhutan).

O. sinensis is known in the West as a medicinal mushroom, and its use has a long history in Traditional Chinese medicine as well as Traditional Tibetan medicine.[6] The hand-collected fungus-caterpillar combination is valued by herbalists and as a status symbol;[7] it is used as an aphrodisiac and treatment for ailments such as fatigue and cancer, although such use is mainly based on traditional Chinese medicine and anecdote.


"Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Berk.) G.H. Sung, J.M. Sung, Hywel-Jones & Spatafora 2007". MycoBank. International Mycological Association. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
^ Jump up to:a b c d e Shrestha, B., Weimin, Z., Yongjie, Z., & Xingzhong, L. (2010). What is the Chinese caterpillar fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Ophiocordycipitaceae)?. Mycology: An International Journal On Fungal Biology, 1(4), 228-236. doi:10.1080/21501203.2010.536791.
^ Jump up to:a b c d e Hsieh, C., et al., A Systematic Review of the Mysterious Caterpillar Fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis in Dong-ChongXiaCao and Related Bioactive Ingredients. Vol. 3. 2013. 16-32.
^ Jump up to:a b c d e Zhu JS, Halpem GM, Jones K. 1998. The scientific rediscovery of an ancient Chinese herbal medicince: Cordyceps sinensis. I. J Alt Complem Med 4:289-303.
Jump up^ Xiao-Liang, W., & Yi-Jian, Y. (2011). Host insect species of Ophiocordyceps sinensis: a review. Zookeys, 12743-59. doi:10.3897/zookeys.127.802
Jump up^ Halpern, Miller (2002). Medicinal Mushrooms. New York, New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc. pp. 64–65. ISBN 0-87131-981-0
Jump up^ http://www.npr.org/2011/10/09/141164173/caterpillar-fungus-the-viagra-of-the-himalayas

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