Catepillar fungus powerful to relieve liver fibrosis

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June 12, 2007  
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CM NEWS - A traditional Chinese medicine as expensive as gold could be more precious than gold as it may now be able to turn back the clock for patients with liver fibrosis.

Cordyceps sinensis, or commonly known as catepillar fungus and dong chong xia cao (????) in Chinese, is an expensive traditional Chinese medicine well-known for the following functions:

  • improves auto-immune system
  • protects kidneys from toxins
  • protects kidneys from exhaustion
  • protects liver from toxins and treats and prevents cirrhosis of liver
  • protect the heart from the damaging effect of ouabain (C29H44O12.8H2O)
  • anti-arrhythmia
  • anti-rejection effect in cornea transplant
  • antibiotic effect
  • inhibits contraction of smooth muscles

In a study done by researchers at the Institute of Liver Diseases of the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the herb was investigated for its effects on dimethylnitrosamine-induced liver fibrosis in rats.

Fibrosis is the formation or development of excess fibrous connective tissue in an organ or tissue as a reparative or reactive process, as opposed to formation of fibrous tissue as a normal constituent of an organ or tissue. Fibrosis is closely related to the amount of collagens present in the organ.

What is fibrous connective tissue? FCT is a type of connective tissue which has relatively high tensile strength, due to a relatively high concentration of collagenous fibers. Such tissues form ligaments and tendons; the majority of the tissue does not contain living cells, the tissue is primarily composed of polysaccharides, proteins, and water.)

In the liver, if liver tissues are continuously replaced by fibrotic scar tissues (collagen I, the most abundant collagen of the human body, is present in such scar tissues) as well as regenerative nodules, it may lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis, most commonly caused by alcoholism and hepatitis C among other factors, would lead to progressive loss of liver function. A frequent complication of cirrhosis is hepatocellular carcinoma, a primary liver cancer. This cancer has a high mortality rate.

What is diethylnitrosamine (DEN)? Diethylnitrosamine is a representative chemical of a family of carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds (for a description of the commonness of N-nitroso, you can read here).

DEN has been found in workplaces, processed meats, tobacco smoke, and whiskey. It may also be derived from metabolism of some therapeutic drugs.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that DEN was carcinogenic in all animal species and that there was sufficient evidence of a carcinogenic effect to classify DEN as a probable human carcinogen, despite the lack of epidemiologic data. Administration of DEN to animals has been shown to cause cancer in liver and, at lower incidences, in other organs as well.

In the Shanghai study, rats were divided into normal control group, untreated group and Cordyceps sinensis-treated group. The rats in each group were fed with corresponding drug for 4 weeks.

The rat’s liver collagen deposition was observed with collagen staining.

To measure the effects, hydroxyproline (Hyp) contents in liver tissue of the rats in 3 groups were determined with HCl hydrolysis. The tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-2 (TIMP-2) and type IV collagen contents were observed. The matrix metalloproteinases-2 (MMP-2) activity was detected by the method of enzyme-picture. Type I collagen was detected by Western blotting.

What is hydroxyproline? Hydroxyproline (Hyp) is produced by hydroxylation of the amino acid proline by prolyl hydroxylase. Hydroxyproline is a major component of the protein collagen. Hydroxyproline and proline play key roles for collagen stability. They permit the sharp twisting of the collagen helix. It helps provide stability to the triple-helical structure of collagen by forming hydrogen bonds. Hydroxyproline is found in few proteins other than collagen. Hydroxyproline content has been used as an indicator to determine collagen and/or gelatin amount.

What are matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs)? MMPs are capable of degrading all kinds of extracellular matrix proteins. MMPs are also thought to play a major role on cell behaviours such as cell proliferation, migration (adhesion/dispersion), differentiation, angiogenesis, apoptosis and host defense. Collagens are the major components of bone and cartilage, and MMPs are the only known mammalian enzymes capable of degrading them.

What are TIMPs? Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMPs) are protease inhibitors that are able to inhibit MMPs.

Results showed that the contents of Hyp, TIMP-2, type IV collagen, and the expression of type I collagen in untreated group were significantly higher than those in the normal control group, while those in Cordyceps sinensis-treated group were significantly lower than those in the untreated group.

The content of MMP-2 in untreated group was significantly lower (meaning more collagens remain undegraded) than that in the normal control group, while that in Cordyceps sinensis-treated group was significantly higher than that in the untreated group.

In conclusion, the study says cordyceps sinensis can considerably relieve the liver fibrosis, and the mechanism may be related to promoting the degradation of the collagens.

[ Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2006 Sep;4(5):514-7.]