Antrodia camphorata is a mushroom that is considered extremely valuable in the folk medicine of Taiwan. It inhabits the temperate rain forests of the island and it is highly praised for its medical benefits. Antrodia is very rare and extremely hard to find in the wild, which explains its high value. This is because the fruiting bodies can only develop on the surface of Niu-Chang Wood, a specific tree, unlike other mushrooms that live on multiple species. The antrodia mushroom has been used in Taiwan for a long time but modern medicine has only recently started to investigate its properties. Scientists have discovered that antrodia can significantly boost the immune system and improve the health of the urinary tract, liver and breasts, due to the unusually high content of triterpenoids, lectin and beta D-glucan that are found both in the mycelia and the fruiting body.
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The richness in other potentially useful compounds and the very high amount of triterpenoids has attracted considerable interest, even if this obscure mushroom species is only found in Taiwan. Many other bioactive compounds have been identified, such as benzenoids, benzoquinone derivatives, polysaccharides or maleic/succinic acid derivatives.
The native habitat of the species is in the mountains of Taiwan, at altitudes from 450 to 2,000 m. This is because it grows only on Cinnamomum kanehirae, a tree from the cinnamon family that is found in the area. Cinnamomum kanehirai has been heavily exploited and eventually became so rare that the government of Taiwan listed it as a protected tree. This is mainly because the fruiting body of the antrodia mushroom only grows fully after the tree is dead, so many trees were intentionally cut in order to speed the process, due to the extremely high price of A. camphorata that can reach even 15,000 USD per kg. In addition, the wood of the tree is also a very expensive furniture material.
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The high price and rarity in the wild have prompted commercial cultivation of the mushroom, which can be very lucrative. Several methods exist, the fruiting body can be grown but by using liquid fermentation it is possible to harvest either the pure mycelium or mycelial biomass that also includes the substrate. There is a significant difference in quality between these, with the fruiting body being the most expensive because of the higher amount of triterpenes. The pure mycelium is a cost effective option while mycelial biomass is the cheapest and offers the lowest concentration of bioactive compounds. In traditional medicine, the antrodia mushroom is used against many diseases such as hypertension, fatigue, viral infection, liver issues, alcohol intoxication and even cancer.
The people of Taiwan have been using antrodia mushroom for a very long time. They mainly took advantage of its benefits through a traditional soup recipe that has not been changed for generations and was said to keep the people who consumed it in top health.
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Wu-Sha, a traditional Chinese doctor, was the first to report the medicinal use of the antrodia mushroom in Taiwan in the year 1773. He witnessed how the locals were employing it as a counter for alcohol abuse. Scientists have tested these claims and found that both the fruiting bodies and the mycelium of antrodia can protect against fatty liver and hepatitis triggered by alcohol consumption. In addition, in animal experiments the antrodia mushroom controls AST, ALT and ALP levels and histopathological changes while preventing liver damage caused by CCl4 and cytokine. No harmful side effects have been observed.
The hepatoprotective effect of the antrodia mushroom might also be caused by the very high level of antioxidants, which have been attested in multiple research studies. Antrodia is rich in multiple compounds with antioxidant properties, such as total polyphenols, crude triterpenoids and also the protein/polysaccharide ratio of the polysaccharide extract. The polysaccharides in its composition have the ability to protect the liver, especially against hepatitis B. Other compounds, for example derivatives of maleic/succinic acid trigger competitive inhibition that disrupts hepatitis C protease.
Further studies conducted on the antrodia mushroom have found other very important health benefits. A. camphorata can trigger apoptosis in human hepatoma cells and inhibit NF-kappa B, which greatly reduces the threat of liver cancer.
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While the effects on liver cancer are well known, researchers have discovered that the antrodia species is also strong against multiple different tumour forms. It increases apoptosis while limiting both the growth and movement of cancer cells in cervical and oral carcinoma, as well as cancers of the breast, prostate, liver and bladder.
Since antrodia has a strong anti-inflammatory action and improves immunity, it has been considered a possible treatment for asthma. Animal tests with various doses of polysaccharides extracted from this mushroom have resulted in decreases of airway eosinophilia, Th2 immune status and airway hyper responsiveness.
The systemic lupus erythermatosus, better known as SLE, is an auto-immune disease that is notoriously difficult to treat. A. camphorata might be able to protect the kidneys from the devastating damage caused by this condition. Mice that were given a dose of 400mg/kg of mushroom mycelial extracts were shielded from kidney glomerular basement membrane, one of the main signs of this disease. The extract was able to reduce levels of protein and creatinine in urine.
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In traditional medicine, the species has been employed as a treatment for hypertension, atherosclerosis and numerous other types of heart diseases. Modern research has confirmed these benefits and found that extracts can boost vasodilation and reduce the thickening of the walls of blood vessels.
Modern medicine has made numerous advances but so far no method to compensate or replace the liver function has been discovered. It remains one of the key organs of the body, with a critical role in health. Liver failure can't currently be treated in any way, except with a complete transplant. Around 500 separate roles of the liver have been discovered so far but scientists suspect that it performs even more. The main functions are in the body metabolism, detoxification and digestion.
Many of the serious liver problems such as hepatitis, cirrhosis and fatty liver are caused by alcohol abuse. However, this organ can be severely damaged even in the case of people who don't drink at all. One of the most common causes of acute liver failure is the use of Tylenol and Nyquil, two drugs sold over the counter as painkillers that include a compound named acetaminophen. As early as 2011, the FDA forced producers of drugs with a content of acetaminophen to explicitly display a warning on the label. However, many other drugs that hurt the liver are available without a prescription and are used in dangerous doses. Natural products that can repair the damage caused are becoming more and more popular.
Like most mushrooms, antrodia mushroom is extremely rich in bioactive compounds, many of which have not been researched yet. Some of the isolated ones are polysaccharides, b-d-glucan, proteins, immune proteins, triterpenoids, superoxide dismutase, nucleic acids, lectin, amino acids, steroids, lignin and glandlucosides. It is also a source of vitamins like vitamin B, nicotinic acid and lysergic alcohols, as well as calcium, phosphorus, germanium and other trace elements. Antrodia mushroom is stronger than Ganoderma Lucidum, which is another mushroom species highly praised in Asian traditional medicine. Due to the high potential, the mushroom was heavily researched by biotech companies.
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