Antrodia cinnamomea is an edible, medicinal mushroom endemic to Taiwan. A. cinnamomea, known as 牛樟芝 or “Niu-Chang-Chih” in Chinese, is a treasured natural resource due to both its scarcity and its medicinal properties.1 The mushroom gained mainstream attention in the West almost 30 years ago, but it has been widely used in ethnomedicine for more than 2000 years.2
Antrodia cinnamomea is very specific about its growth habitat. It only grows on the tree trunks of one species: Cinnamomum kanehirae,3 the small-flowered camphor tree. This tree species is endemic to Taiwan and only grows on altitudes between 450m – 1200m.4 A. cinnamomea has yellowish orange to brownish orange fruiting bodies that take on irregular shapes, such as a horse’s hoof, a plate-like shape, or a tower-like shape.1
The growth rate of wild Antrodia cinnamomea is extremely slow. It takes one full year for the mushroom to grow to the size of a 1 euro coin.5 The scarcity of the natural host tree combined with the slow growth rate has seen A. cinnamomea dubbed “the ruby of Taiwanese forests”. The scarcity has also led to the development of four major cultivation techniques: solid support culture, cutting wood culture, submerged fermentation, and dish culture.5 These four cultivation techniques have been studied extensively and have been proven to provide A. cinnamomea of the same high quality as the one that grows naturally in the Taiwanese forests.5
Scientific research on Antrodia cinnamomea started in the early 1990s.5 One of the first challenges for researchers was deciding on a legitimate name. Four different names have been associated with the mushroom: Ganoderma camphoratum, Taiwanofungus camphoratus, Antrodia camphorata and Antrodia cinnamomea.5 These names have previously been used interchangeably to indicate A. cinnamomea, but according to a recent ruling from the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi and plants (ICN) the legitimate name for this fungus is Antrodia cinnamomea.6
Over the last 15 years the research on Antrodia cinnamomea has shifted from evaluating the total biological activity of the mushroom to identifying active compounds and evaluating their effectiveness and underlying mechanisms in treating various diseases.3 In 2013 more than 78 active compounds had already been identified. These active compounds include polysaccharides, terpenoids, benzoquinone derivatives, maleic and succinic acid derivatives, lignans and benzenoids.1,7-9
A large number of phytochemical studies have been carried out on Antrodia cinnamomea, and it has been studied both in vitro and in vivo.3 The active compounds found in A. cinnamomea have also
been tested both topically and internally.5 According to recent research the biological activities of A. cinnamomea include antidiabetic activity,10 hepaprotective activity,11 anticancer effects,12 anti-obesity effects,13 immunostimulatory effects,14 and anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory effects.15
Extracts from the mushroom’s fruiting body and mycelium have been proven to stimulate the immune system, improve insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, reduce oxidative stress on cells and prevent liver damage.3 This makes Antrodia cinnamomea especially effective in preventing and treating different types of cancer, such as head and neck cancer, brain cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer.3 It has also made A. cinnamomea a promising candidate for treating hypertension, hepatitis, diabetes and the chronic inflammatory skin condition psoriasis.3,5
Antrodia cinnamomea has been used in ethnomedicine by aboriginal Taiwanese tribes for centuries.5 These tribes have mainly used A. cinnamomea to treat abdominal pain and food poisoning and to enhance both liver function and the peripheral nervous system.5,16
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