International Blog Spotlight: Thailand

The King of Chinese Herbs

Dr. Jira Thawornpradit (Royal Life Clinic – Bangkok Hospital) 

Cordyceps or worm grass is known in Thailand as “Tang Shao”. It is a famous Chinese medicine with diversity of at least 680 types according to the difference of worms and mushroom spores that grow in the worm. The most famous type that has been mostly studied is Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) is found primarily on the Himalaya and Bhutan.

In China, Cordyceps have been registered as medicine since 1964 for immune stimulation, improving functions of lungs, kidneys and liver, preventions of cancers, reduce fats, promote health and fighting free radicals. It also improves sexual ability so is also called “Himalayan Viagra”. Health benefits of Cordyceps was demonstrated in the 1993 Chinese national competition where three female runners broke world records of 1500, 3000 and 1000 meter races. They were examined thoroughly for stimulants but test results came out negative. After a while, the trainer Mr. Ma Zunren disclosed to the public that the racers took Cordyceps drink. The United States Olympic Committee has then legalized Cordyceps because of the health benefits and safety profile.

There have been several studies in animals and human showing biological and pharmacological benefits of Cordyceps, as follows.

  • Reducing blood sugar
    A study among 20 diabetic patients taking 3 grams of Cordyceps resulted in 95% control of blood sugar compared with 54% cases treated with modern medicine
  • Immune stimulation
    Cordyceps stimulate white blood cells, particularly Natural Killer (NK) cells which play key roles in cancer prevention
  • Reconstitute renal functions
    It was found that renal functions of 51 chronic renal failure cases who took 3-5 grams of Cordyceps a day had improved. Furthermore, after one month, complications of renal failure such as high blood pressure, proteinuria and anemia was reduced. At the same time, an antioxidant, superoxide dismutase (SOD) was found to be increased.
  • Improve sexual function
    A study among 22 male subjects who regularly took Cordyceps found a 33% increase of sperms with reduction of deformed sperms by 29%. Another study among 189 male and female subjects who started to lose sexual functions, taking Cordyceps could improve their libido by 66%.
  • Decrease fatigue and increase overall general body functions
    With clear health benefits, evidence on complications and toxicity are still trace. There are some reports on dry month, nausea, and diarrhea. Prescribing Cordyceps for diabetic patients should be careful as they could further reduce blood sugar. However, the major concern is not only on Cordyceps themselves, but on lead poisoning. There have been some reports where lead filaments were inserted to increase weight of Cordyceps in the market.

Cautions and side effects of using Cordyceps may include:

–Among diabetic patients because Cordyceps could further reduce blood sugar
–Among patients on anticoagulants because Cordyceps also possess some anticoagulation properties
–Among those on immune-suppressive therapy because Cordyceps stimulate immune responses

With various pharmacologic effects, coupled with over a century of effective use, Cordyceps requires increased scientific research and further clinical trials.

Cordyceps must be carefully used. Different types of mushrooms and worms have been cultivated. This requires more research. Data among pregnant and lactating women are still inconclusive.