Diabetes, heart disease and obesity are on the rise in Australia, thanks to our sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. Now researchers are set to test if an ancient mushroom once used by Chinese royalty can help western medicine tackle 21st century health problems.
A team from the University of Western Sydney's Centre for Complementary Medicine Research (CompleMED) is working with the Cardiac Health Institute to find out if the medicinal mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum, can reduce high blood sugar, often a precursor to diabetes - as well as treat other health problems.
The clinical trial is the first of its kind to rigorously test the mushroom - known in Asia as the 'King of herbs', because of its huge range of medicinal properties - and needs 170 Sydneysiders to take part.
UWS PhD researcher Nerida Klupp hopes the findings contribute to western medicine's knowledge of this Chinese herb, and provide much-needed clinical evidence of a possible new treatment for people with metabolic syndrome.
"Many people in Australia have high blood sugar, which is often classified as diabetes or pre-diabetes. Many also have other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol," she says.
"Scientists and doctors now know these conditions are linked, and a person with at least three of these health problems is diagnosed with a condition called metabolic syndrome - also called 'Syndrome X'."
"Affluent countries with lazy lifestyles and bad diets are at particular risk, with 44 per cent of Americans aged over 50 years of age diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. While we don't really know how prevalent the condition is here in Australia, we suspect similar trends to those in the United States," Ms Klupp says.
"Statistics show many Australian adults already have key indicators of metabolic syndrome, with more than 50 per cent overweight, almost a quarter have problems controlling blood sugar, and a fifth with high blood pressure - anyone with all three has the syndrome and risks shortening their life expectancy," she says.
Dr Hosen Kiat, director of the Cardiac Health Institute says it can be difficult to treat those with multiple health problems.
"Currently there is no single pharmaceutical treatment for metabolic syndrome, which is why we are conducting the first randomised clinical trial to test if this medicinal mushroom can offer western medicine an effective, long-term treatment to help lower blood sugar as well as control other problems associated with the condition," he says.
Nerida Klupp says the mushroom has been revered in Asia for over 2000 years.
"Ganoderma lucidum, which is also known as Reishi, has long been used to fight a wide range of diseases, and was thought to be the 'elixir of immortality' - enhancing vitality and helping to delay ageing," she says.
"At its most rare, it was only available to Chinese royalty due to its mystical properties."
Thankfully, there has been increased cultivation of the herb over the last thirty years, and preliminary animal and human pilot studies have proved promising, suggesting it can have a positive effect on blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels and blood fats.
Traditionally, Ganoderma lucidum has been considered to be even more potent when taken in combination with another medicinal mushroom called Cordyceps sinensis.
"Cordyceps is also thought to have significant health properties, so we want to find out if Ganoderma is effective on its own, or whether it works better in combination with the second mushroom," says Ms Klupp.
Dr Dennis Chang, from the UWS CompleMED Centre and a supervisor on the trial, says the study will be the first of many for a newly formed collaborative research team.
"The Cardiovascular Research Group draws together expertise in complementary medicine through CompleMED at UWS and the clinical expertise of the Cardiac Health Institute. The group will investigate complementary medicines as potential treatments for cardiovascular disease, which still kills more Australians than other disease," says Dr Chang.
To be involved in the trial or to obtain further information, contact the trial centre on (02) 4620 3759.
Patients will receive the formula in capsule form, and will be treated over 16 weeks. Patients will be divided into three groups: Group 1 receiving capsules with Ganoderma lucidum, Group 2 receiving capsules with both Ganoderma and Cordyceps, and Group 3 receiving a placebo.
Patients recruited to the trial must be over 18 years of age, and will undergo a medical screening by the trial physician to test their eligibility. They must be diagnosed with high blood sugar, and also suffer from at least two of the following: high blood pressure, be overweight, have reduced good cholesterol or have high blood fats.
The trial participants will need to make monthly visits to the Cardiac Health Institute in Eastwood, NSW so researchers can monitor their progress over five months.
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