The popular series today, The Last of Us, reveals the infection of the fungus Cordyceps which can cause humans to become zombies. Is that right?
Is it true that Cordyceps mushrooms can turn people into clickers like in The Last of Us? (web screenshot mdpi.com)
This story is based on Sony's video game with the same title. It is said that planet Earth was hit by a pandemic caused by a Cordyceps fungal infection. The series, which airs on HBO, stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as the two main characters, Joel and Ellie.
Not just any pandemic. The fungus turns positively infected patients into zombie-like creatures with different skill levels, namely runners, stalkers, clickers, bloaters, shamblers, to rat kings.
Joel is in charge of saving Ellie who seems to be immune or not immune to infection. Ellie is also considered the hope of mankind to develop a vaccine and end this mushroom pandemic nightmare.
Although the series is fictional, the cordyceps mushroom actually exists. In a journal entitled Cordyceps spp.: A Review on Its Immune-Stimulatory and Other Biological Potentials, experts actually reveal the benefits of this mushroom.
The name Cordyceps comes from the Greek 'kordyle' which means club and the Latin 'ceps' which means head. This fungus does 'infect' other creatures, especially arthropod insects and other fungi.
They can escape the host's immune system by harmonizing the host's life cycle with survival and multiplication intentions.
Cordyceps grows and reproduces according to the host plant. Their life cycle is divided into three phases.
In the first phase, Cordycseps spp. infects plants in the larval stage through ascospores. It is released into the air from mature mushrooms during the summer and early fall and from sprouts.
In some cases, infection with Cordyceps spp. occurs through ingestion of contaminated food. Furthermore, in the parasitism phase, Cordyceps spp. eat from the intestines of its host.
The fungal cells then spread throughout the body and multiply rapidly during winter. In this way, they consume all of the internal organs of the larva, leaving the exoskeleton intact.
During this process, environmental conditions are poor, and the fungus must withstand snow and cold conditions.
When spring begins and the outside temperature increases, the endosclerotium germinates and extrudes through the host's oral cavity, ripens in summer, forms fruiting bodies, and begins to release ascospores (saprophytic stage).
Cordyceps spp is commonly found at an altitude of 3600 to 4000 meters above sea level. They can also be found in North America, Europe, Asia especially in countries like China, Japan, Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam, Korea and Thailand.
In India, Cordyceps spp grows in regions such as the Kumaun Himalayas and Garhwal Himalayas. Furthermore, Cordyceps species C. gunni is also found in Australia.
Quoting an article on the MDPI website, the use of Cordyceps spp. as a medicine is a long tradition in Asia because of its adaptogenic, tonic effect, and its ability to reduce fatigue and stimulate the human immune system.
Those who use Cordyceps spp. are people in China, Tibet, Nepal, and India.
People in the area usually take Cordyceps spp when they are herding. Among the Cordcyeps spp. which are often used as medicine are C. Sinensis and C. Militaris.
Communities in the area utilize Cordyceps spp. through the centuries to adapt their bodies to the extreme conditions in the mountains.
In addition, traditional Chinese medicine also recommends the use of Cordyceps spp to treat several disorders in humans such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, kidney and liver disorders, cancer, diabetes, infectious and parasitic diseases, and sexual dysfunction.
Because of these benefits, experts examined the contents of C. militaris and C. sinensis. It is known that C. militaris has more content than C. sinensis.
C. Militaris, among others, has high levels of nucleosides, polysaccharida, carotenoids, and organic selenium. For this reason, C. militaris has more benefits than C. sinensis.
"Scientific studies show that there are more diverse biological activities in C. militaris than in C. sinensis. C. militaris has been shown to carry out the following activities: ergogenic, immunostimulating, antitumor, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, neuroprotective, and hypolyemic," the authors wrote. expert in the article entitled Cordyceps militaris: An Overview of Its Chemical Constituents in Relation to Biological Activity.
However, toxicological studies still need to be carried out to ensure its safety as a drug.
Here are a number of health benefits of cordyceps mushrooms that you need to know.
"In general, cordyceps is touted as an energy booster, and research shows that cordyceps mushrooms have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antitumor effects," said Carrie Dennett, a registered dietitian nutritionist in the Pacific Northwest and owner of Nutrition By Carrie, quoted from US News. ,
1. Fight Free Radicals
Cordyceps mushrooms contain antioxidant properties that help reduce inflammation in the body. Studies show that compounds in mushrooms increase antioxidant activity in the body, which is necessary to neutralize free radical damage to cells.
"These free radicals often target pancreatic, heart, and blood vessel cells, among others," says Nancy Mitchell, a registered nurse with more than 37 years in geriatric care.
2. Prevent Cancer
At least one study showed that the methanol extract obtained from cordyceps sinensis was found to have cytotoxicity to cancer cells, meaning that it can kill cancer cells and prevent further division and growth of cancer cells.
Another study showed that extracts from cordyceps sinensis could inhibit tumor growth and become a potential adjuvant chemotherapy agent. Adjuvant chemotherapy is a type of augmentation therapy that is usually used in addition to the main therapy to maximize the effectiveness of the treatment.
3. Controls Blood Sugar
Cordyceps has been shown to reduce inflammation to help control blood sugar. According to Mitchell, because of its anti-inflammatory properties, this mushroom is often considered important in the diet to protect against type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"Insulin is the hormone responsible for lowering blood glucose levels and keeping them within a safe range," says Mitchell.
"When your cells don't respond efficiently to insulin, it often leads to chronic high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes."
High blood glucose levels are known to damage other cells in the body, such as the kidneys and blood vessels. Both organs play a fundamental role in the cardiovascular system. Disrupted blood supply often leads to heart disease.
4. Immune System Support
According to a Frontiers literature review, a number of compounds present in cordyceps exhibit immunostimulating activity, meaning it modifies the response of the immune system. Boosting the immune response can help the body fight infection and keep a person healthy.
Most of the information relating to cordyceps' effects on the immune system actually comes from research in cancer.
Even though it has many benefits, this mushroom also has side effects if consumed, such as nausea to stomach pain. In addition, there is not enough evidence for this mushroom to be safe for consumption during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
"So to be safe, it shouldn't be used by women at that time," says Dennett.
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