Top Health Benefits of Cordyceps Mushroom
|What is Cordyceps?|
|How do cordyceps work?|
|Health Benefits of Cordyceps|
|History of Cordyceps and Interesting Facts|
|Side Effects and Interactions|
Cordyceps are a type of fungus, better known as a species of edible medicinal, nutritionally beneficial mushrooms. While closely related to other mushrooms, cordyceps aren’t technically the same as most mushrooms and instead are classified as a powerful form of Ascomycetes fungus.
The most interesting health benefits of Cordyceps include its ability to improve respiratory health, increase oxygen uptake, boost heart health, detoxify the body, and prevent certain types of cancer. It slows the aging process, increases energy, and improves the immune system.
When these fungi attack their host, they replace its tissue and sprout long, slender stems that grow outside the host’s body.
The remains of the insect and fungi have been hand-collected, dried and used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to treat fatigue, sickness, kidney disease and low sex drive.
The name cordyceps describes a genus of fungi that includes more than 400 unique species of parasitic types. Fungi are essential parts of many ecosystems, but this particular genus also has a great deal of importance for people, as it has been traditionally used in herbal medicine for centuries. These “club head” mushrooms have a wide range of chemical components and compounds that make them valuable in traditional medicine, as they are globally available and relatively inexpensive. The widespread of the Cordyceps genus makes it desirable. Cordyceps fungi varieties contain certain biochemicals that mimic current pharmacological substances in a natural way.
The unique, amazing cordyceps mushroom made international headlines after Chinese runners broke two world records by unbelievably huge margins at the Asian Games in 1993. It seems the secret to their remarkable athletic performances was the so-called caterpillar fungus − cordyceps.
As it turns out, cordyceps mushroom (known scientifically as Cordyceps sinensis) has been used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine since at least the 15th Century. An extremely rare combination of a caterpillar and a fungus, it is found at altitudes above 4,500 meters (over 14,000 feet) in the Himalayas, on the Tibetan plateau, and at other high-altitude locations worldwide.
In Tibet this fungus is known as yartsa gunbu, or “summer grass, winter worm.” It was initially identified when local herders observed that yak, goat, and sheep that ate cordyceps while grazing became very strong and stout. This observation led to a deeper examination and eventual understanding of its many uses and benefits.
How do cordyceps work?
Prized for their natural ability to fight free radicals, infections and inflammation, cordyceps are impressive disease-fighting mushrooms that have been used for centuries to reduce symptoms of respiratory disorders, coughs, colds, liver damage and much more. They’re a true “superfood” in the way that they fight the effects of aging and stress, help keep the body free from disease, and also increase energy levels.
Cordycep fungus is parasitic in nature because it grows on a type of caterpillar and then winds up eating its own host! The base of the mushroom forms from the insect’s larva and is dark brown to black, attaching itself to the organism and growing about six inches long. Once it fully matures, cordyceps actually consume more than 90 percent of the infected insect. They then swell up and enlarge to become about 300–500 milligrams in weight.
The first people to discover cordyceps’ benefits initially observed animals eating the wild fungus and growing strong in the process. Farmers and herders began to use the fungus in powder form and to make tonics and teas. Some of the first uses for these tonics were increasing milk production and improving reproductive capacity of livestock. Later on, people began drying cordyceps in sunlight to preserve their benefits.
It’s believed that the many anti-inflammatory benefits of cordyceps come from their ability to positively affect the immune system, fighting oxidative stress and stimulating protective cells that keep the body free from mutations (like cancerous cells) and infections. Studies have found that cordyceps can act like natural cancer treatments in some cases, preventing the growth of tumors (especially in the lungs and on the skin).
Considered a type of natural “immuno-potentiating drug,” corycep supplements are now used to bring the immune system back to normal following life-threatening infections or illnesses. Cordyceps can help control autoimmune disorders, excessive inflammation and tissue damage while speeding up healing time. Additionally, research shows that cordyceps can act like mild stimulants or “adaptogen herbs,” fighting stress or fatigue and naturally increasing energy levels. Some of the most researched benefits of corceyps also include improving athletic performance, increasing immunity against viruses and even promoting longevity.
Health Benefits of Cordyceps
Let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of this fungi.
One of the most undeniable health benefits of cordyceps is its ability to significantly boost energy levels. It has long been known among athletes for the bursts of energy it can provide. It increases the amount of oxygen uptake in the body and enhances cellular energy production, thereby providing that extra push for people who need a shot of energy.
May Boost Exercise Performance
Cordyceps are thought to increase the body’s production of the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is essential for delivering energy to the muscles.
This may improve the way your body uses oxygen, especially during exercise.
In one study, researchers tested their effects on exercise capacity in 30 healthy older adults using a stationary bike. Participants received either 3 grams per day of a synthetic strain of Cordyceps called CS-4 or a placebo pill for six weeks.
By the end of the study, VO2 max had increased by 7% in participants who had taken CS-4, while participants given the placebo pill showed no change .
VO2 max is a measurement used to determine fitness level .
In a similar study, 20 healthy older adults received either 1 gram of CS-4 or a placebo pill for 12 weeks.
While researchers found no change in VO2 max in either group, participants given CS-4 improved other measures of exercise performance.
One study also tested the effects of a Cordyceps-containing mushroom blend on exercise performance in younger adults.
After three weeks, participants’ VO2 max had increased by 11%, compared to a placebo.
However, the current research suggests Cordyceps are not effective at improving exercise performance in trained athletes
Helping to Manage Blood Sugar Levels
Multiple studies have shown that cordyceps can help in the safe management of blood sugar levels. For instance, in a laboratory study, a polysaccharide (a long chain, naturally-occurring compound made up of sugars bound chemically to each other) isolated from cordyceps was seen to lower blood sugar levels in mice predisposed to high blood sugar levels. This polysaccharide was also seen to lower blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.
Studies in normal rats have shown that consumption of cordyceps extracts helps to improve tissue sensitivity to insulin, while also lowering the insulin response to a carbohydrate challenge.
Indeed, extracts of cordyceps have been shown to slow down weight loss, reduce excessive thirst, improve glucose tolerance, and help to maintain blood sugar levels in a safe range in various laboratory rat models.
Protects Heart Health
Research on the effects of cordyceps has come up with many exciting results, especially in relation to cardiovascular health. One study showed that patients given a powdered supplement of cordyceps were significantly less likely to suffer heart failure. This is mainly due to the anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties of the herb, which can prevent heart arrhythmias and other complications.
Act Like a Natural Aphrodisiac
Traditionally, people of both sexes took tonics made from cordyceps to enhance their libidos and reproductive function. It appears that cordycep supplements can help the body utilize oxygen more efficiently and improve blood flow (so far, in animal studies), which is important for physical health and sexual function. Improved endurance, anti-fatigue effects and lower levels of inflammation are several other reasons that cordyceps improve fertility. Thus, cordyceps may be utilized as a natural treatment for infertility and a natural remedy for impotence.
Supporting Kidney Health
In China, cordyceps is routinely used to help maintain kidney health. Results from laboratory studies as well as clinical trials indicate that cordyceps may help to protect kidneys after transplantation. For example, a preparation made from cordyceps mycelia reduced the rejection rate after kidney transplants, while also helping to maintain kidney and liver function as well as red blood cell production within healthy limits.
Similarly, another cordyceps product known as CS-4 has been shown to help maintain blood levels of urea, creatinine, total blood protein, and calcium within safe, normal levels. In a 2016 laboratory study in mice, powdered extracts of cordyceps were seen to help maintain kidney health.
Two active constituents in cordyceps, d-mannitol cordycepin and 3’-deoxyadenosine, are partially responsible for various physiological actions that help control insulin and blood sugar levels. In animal studies, cordycep supplements have helped combat hypoglycemic effects in normal and diabetic mice. This shows cordyceps may be useful to naturally treat diabetes.
The elderly have traditionally used Cordyceps to reduce fatigue and boost strength and sex drive.
Researchers believe their antioxidant content may explain their anti-aging potential.
Several studies have found that Cordyceps increase antioxidants in aged mice, helping improve memory and sexual function.
Antioxidants are molecules that fight cell damage by neutralizing free radicals, which can otherwise contribute to disease and aging.
One study found that mice that given Cordyceps lived several months longer than mice given a placebo.
Another study found that Cordyceps extended the lives of fruit flies, further supporting the belief that they have anti-aging benefits.
However, it’s unknown if Cordyceps have these same anti-aging benefits in humans.
May Help Fight Inflammation
Cordyceps is said to help fight inflammation in the body.
Although some inflammation is good, too much can lead to diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Research has shown that when human cells are exposed to Cordyceps, special proteins that increase inflammation in the body become suppressed.
Thanks to these potential effects, researchers believe Cordyceps may serve as a useful anti-inflammatory supplement or drug.
In fact, Cordyceps have been shown to reduce inflammation in the airways of mice, making them a potential therapy for asthma. However, the fungi appear to be less effective than commonly prescribed drugs used to provide relief for inflamed areas of the body.
Cordyceps may also have topical uses. One study found it reduced skin inflammation when applied topically in mice, further demonstrating its anti-inflammatory properties.
The potential inflammation-fighting properties of Cordyceps have yet to be observed in humans.
Cordyceps has traditionally been used for helping to maintain libido and sexual function in many Eastern societies.
Laboratory experiments on animals confirm that cordyceps can help to improve reproductive activity, while consumption of cordyceps has been shown to help maintain libido and sexual activity in both men and women
Boosting the Immune System
In a 2012 study, cordyceps polysaccharides were seen to overcome induced immunosuppression, while also helping to maintain lymphocyte and macrophage function within normal levels in mice. Lymphocytes are known to be potent orchestrators of the immune system’s response to infections and injury. Macrophages are a type of cell responsible for detecting, engulfing, and destroying pathogens and damaged and dying cells in the body.
Cordyceps polysaccharides also improved antioxidation activity in mice with suppressed immune systems, while also raising the levels of the natural antioxidants superoxidase dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase.
Regulates Respiratory Function
Cordyceps is able to increase the amount of oxygen taken in by the lungs, and while this is helpful for athletes, it is also beneficial for those suffering from respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic bronchitis.By increasing your oxygen intake, you help prevent respiratory distress and weakness. Also, increasing oxygen levels help oxygenate the body’s extremities better, so the organ systems as a whole run more efficiently.
Treats Sexual Dysfunction
Cordyceps impact the sexual dysfunction in men. Numerous studies have shown that men suffering from low levels of sexual energy or poor libido saw clear improvement after adding its herbal supplements to their diet.
Detoxifies the Body
Although the exact chemical pathway of this is unclear, studies have shown that kidneys health improve notably after only one month of regular cordyceps herbal usage.
History of Cordyceps and Interesting Facts
Cordyceps (species name cordycep sinensis) are considered a time-honored superfood that first originated in Traditional Chinese Medicine at least 5,000 years ago! Their medicinal uses were described in old Chinese medical books, and traditional holistic healers have been using them to cure dozens of diseases without the use of chemical medications for generations. Local folk healers were said to use cordyceps either alone or in combination with other TCM herbal treatments to fight more than 20 different ailments, such as bronchitis and heart disease.
Cordyceps and other medicinal plants have long been used in Chinese, Christian and Hindu religious ceremonies and are believed to be linked to longevity and immortality. In Ayurvedic medicine, for example, mushrooms are said to be beneficial for enhancing “vigor and vitality.” Traditional healers in Sikkim recommended the fungus/mushrooms, including cordyceps, “for all illnesses as a tonic, because they claimed that it improved energy, appetite, stamina, libido, endurance, and sleeping patterns.”
Taking Cordyceps Supplements
Cordyceps sinensis is difficult to harvest and carries a price tag of more than $9,000 USD per pound.
For this reason, the majority of Cordyceps supplements contain a synthetically grown version called Cordyceps CS-4.
To ensure you buy high-quality Cordyceps supplements, look for brands that carry the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International (NSF) seal.
These are third-party organizations that ensure supplements contain the ingredients listed on the label, without impurities.
Due to limited research in humans, there is no consensus on dosages.
The dosage commonly used in human research is 1,000–3,000 mg per day. This range is not associated with side effects and has been found to have certain health benefits.
Side Effects and Interactions
Cordyceps are considered safe for most people, but there are some potential side effects to be aware of, especially for pregnant women and people with a history of autoimmune diseases. If you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, you likely want to steer clear of taking cordyceps since their safety hasn’t been well-researched or confirmed in this population.
For anyone with a known autoimmune disease (for example, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis), some doctors warn that cordyceps might worsen the problem. Because they stimulate the immune system, it’s possible that cordyceps can interfere with medications for these diseases or overactivate certain immune cells. The same warning goes for anyone with a known bleeding or blood clot disorder, since medical mushrooms can sometimes interfere with proper blood clotting. You also should not take cordyceps two weeks before any scheduled surgery, due to its influence on blood clotting.