Posts Tagged ‘Chinese medicine’

Nature Ramble

 

Once again, we often see tigers and bigger animals facing extinction in the news, but we rarely see the smaller beasties.

Especially the rarer ones.

If I were to mention the pangolin, most people would think I was talking about a Chinese ukelele… no that’s a mandolin. Which also goes to demonstrate how good our education system is, but that is another issue.

‘Shocking’ scale of pangolin smuggling revealed

Official records show that pangolins are being illegally traded on a “shocking” scale, according to a report.

The globally threatened animals are sought for their scales which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Annual seizures have been estimated at roughly 10,000 animals but experts warn the illegal trade is far greater

Chinese enforcement officials worked with researchers from the UK to assess the extent of the problem.

Zhao-Min Zhou, from the Public Security Bureau for Forests in China’s Yunnan province, worked with researchers from the University of Oxford to analyse official records of pangolins seized from smugglers.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“The numbers of pangolins traded are shocking, and all the more so considering the pharmaceutical pointlessness of the trade. This trade is intolerably wasteful,” said Prof Macdonald, director of the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), and a co-author of the paper.

He praised the leadership of Mr Zhou in the study, which gives conservationists the first glimpse of official records of seizures.

The research team uncovered records that 2.59 tonnes of scales, representing approximately 4,870 pangolins, along with 259 intact pangolins (220 living; 39 dead) have been seized since 2010, resulting in 43 enforcement cases.

There are eight species of pangolin, four of which are found in Asia and four of which live in Africa.

Chinese and Sunda pangolins are listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Indian and Philippine pangolins are considered Near Threatened, as are Africa’s giant and white-bellied species.

The animals roll into a ball for protection but this only makes it easier for poachers to collect and transport them unnoticed.

Mr Zhou examines the bodies of seized pangolins

In traditional Chinese medicine, roasted pangolin scales are thought to detoxify and drain pus, relieve palsy, and stimulate lactation.

Rapid economic growth in Asia has resulted in soaring demand in recent years.

Pangolins by post

In addition to smuggling whole animals, traffickers use the postal system to transport their contraband.

In the report, Prof Macdonald and colleagues highlight that last November, Beijing customs officials intercepted five parcels of pangolin scales weighing 70kg each.

They subsequently discovered a further tonne of scales had been shipped in this way since April, the equivalent of 1,660 individual animals.

Prolific smugglers have received prison sentences from 11 years to life but with demand out-stripping supply, the trade is only becoming more lucrative.

According to the report, pangolin scales are currently worth £360 ($600) per kilo, twice the amount they traded for in 2008.

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Magic Mushrooms

We typically imagine magic mushrooms

We typically imagine magic mushrooms

But the real magic mushroom is not so glamourous…

Psilocybe semilanceata

Psilocybe semilanceata

Magic mushrooms have been used since ancient times, even appearing in stone age cave paintings. Apart from their psychedelic properties, did ancient man know more?

Are mushrooms magic in more ways than one?

Could mushrooms be the cure for cancer?

Mushrooms are being hailed as a miracle cure for cancer. But can a shiitake stir-fry really work wonders?

From left: shiitake, reishi and maitake mushrooms. Photograph: Getty/Alamy

Behold the mighty mushroom. Neither plant nor animal, the mysterious fungus is a class, or kingdom, of its own, and has fascinated cultures around the world for centuries. But while they do make a tasty omelette filling, does the real magic of mushrooms lie not in their flavour, but in their potential to combat one of our biggest killers – cancer?

The ancient Egyptians believed eating mushrooms brought long life. While their scientific method was perhaps not entirely sound, modern scientists investigating the medicinal properties of the organism are beginning to produce some fascinating results. There are thousands of species of mushroom growing in the wild, but most studies have focused on three main varieties – reishi, maitake and shiitake.

Reishi, otherwise known as ganoderma, has been used in Chinese medicine for 2,000 years and numerous studies have investigated its much-vaunted anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties. In a paper published last year in the US’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, a team of scientists linked its use to cancer-cell death. The team, from the Taiwanese research centre Academia Sinica, found that F3 polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate molecule found in reishi mushrooms, can induce antibodies to recognise and kill antigens associated with tumours or cancer cells.

Maitake mushrooms are believed to have similar qualities. In a human trial, conducted by Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Centre in 2009, maitake was shown to stimulate the immune systems of breast cancer patients. Laboratory in vitro research by Sensuke Konno, associate professor of urology at New York Medical College, found that non-toxic concentrations of the GD or PL “fractions” found in maitake mushrooms, when combined with vitamin C, not only reduced growth of bladder cancer cells by 90% in 72 hours, but were also highly effective in killing them.

But perhaps the best known of all the medicinal mushrooms is the shiitake. Not only is it a delicious ingredient, but it is also famed for its compound lentinan. Several papers have found the polysaccharide could help increase the survival rate of cancer patients, including research carried out by a team of scientists at Harbin University, China, in 2008, which found that lentinan was “beneficial in terms of increasing mean survival duration, tumour necrosis and reducing the recurrence rate”.

The shiitake extract Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC) is the second most popular form of alternative medicine used by cancer patients in Japan – Agaricus subrufescens, another mushroom, is the first. A study in 2011 by researchers in Texas found that AHCC may also be effective in protecting the body against viruses and infections, including flu.

Mushrooms for sale at a herbal medicine shop in China Mushrooms for sale at a herbal medicine shop in China. Photograph: Prisma Bildagentur AG/Alamy

“These mushrooms have attributes you can’t synthesise, because the molecules are often too complex,” says medicinal plant expert Chris Kilham. He considers the immune value of many of these fungi to be “critically important”, and just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the possible health benefits. He complains that many doctors are still ignorant of their potential in modern medicine.

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