Australian aboriginal shamans have prescribed jellyfish ointments for burns. It's in daily use in Asia as a table delicacy as well as for gout, arthritis, bronchitis, high blood pressure, ulcers, and digestion. Food scientist Peggy Hsieh has some scientific proof that this gelatinous marine creature spurned by the West, yet revered in the East, may indeed be good medicine, and she thinks she knows why.
In studying cannonball jellyfisha common, little-used species in the Gulf of MexicoHsieh identified the animal's primary protein as collagen, the main building material of cell tissue, cartilage, teeth and bone. For years, scientists have been investigating collagen as treatment for many conditions.
Hsieh's analysis reveals that cannonball collagen is most closely akin to the type of collagen found in cartilage. This type has been used experimentally at Harvard Medical School to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic, debilitating autoimmune disease that causes painful, swollen, and deformed joints.
In Hsieh's small-scale study, rats with antigen-induced arthritiswhich shares clinical features with human rheumatoid arthritiswere fed jellyfish collagen. A control group was not. Animals fed with collagen had significantly reduced incidence, onset and severity of arthritis. Hsieh surmises that the collagen may suppress the body's autoimmune responsethe attack of its own joints.
The promising finding has prompted Hsieh to file a patent for a treatment based on cannonball collagen. If subsequent testing confirms the stuff's power to quell arthritic misery, the world could get yet another welcomed gift from the sea-and Chinese folklore. - P.N.