From boosting physical performance to its anti-aging properties, Cordyceps remains one of the notable mushrooms in traditional Chinese medicine.
This is because it can provide many benefits, each with suitable backing from science.
As a result, this beneficial medicinal mushroom is gaining more popularity in contemporary medicine, becoming a reliable candidate as a potent adaptogen.
What is Cordyceps?
Cordyceps is an adaptogen known by many names, including Dong Chong Xia Ca, Champignon Chenille, and Caterpillar mushroom because of its thin, tubular form.
It is a medicinal mushroom that lives on certain caterpillars in China, within the high mountain regions. Therefore, cordyceps grows majorly in Asia, and there are two prominent species of Cordyceps:
- Cordyceps sinensis (an immunomodulatory agent)
- Cordyceps militaris
The latter is a more commercially cultivated type of adaptogen to treat illnesses. Adaptogens are a rare combination of herbs and mushrooms in traditional medicine with known effects of causing stabilization of physiological well-being.
Traditional Chinese medicine suggests its use for treating fatigue, cancers, chronic kidney disease, and sickness remains significant to date.
Other notable Cordyceps benefits include boosting libido, antitumor properties, insecticidal, antimicrobial, hypoglycemic, and anti-aging effects. It’s also common for helping to reduce the risks of kidney damage.
Most of the evidence on Cordyceps circles around animal and lab studies, and consequently, more human studies are needed to be done. However, there’s little to no doubt about its promising potential effects.
How Do Cordyceps Mushrooms Work?
It works by stimulating certain chemicals in the body, and as a result, supplementation with Cordyceps improves the immune system. However, there’s still ongoing research on its overall functioning, especially regarding its effects on the brain.
Researchers carried out a study on animals to discover how Cordyceps militaris work compared to other herbs (1). The study showed that it improved memory impairments in the brain.
It also supports the recovery of various neuroinflammatory disorders and vascular dementia in the brain. It also proves to improve neurobehavioral function.
Cordyceps extract boosts the brain’s defense system against cerebral ischemia (2). Most of the mushroom’s functions and effects on the brain are due to antioxidant activity, including those relating to lesion pathogenesis.
Compounds like cordycepin, polysaccharides, GABA, and ergothioneine also play essential roles in the effect of the Caterpillar fungus. It may improve adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels. ATP provides energy to the human cells for activities like muscle contraction.
What Are The Health Benefits of Cordyceps?
In alternative medicine, individuals use it to protect against or treat different health problems. These conditions include tiredness, high cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and asthma.
In some scenarios, the mushroom also helps athletic performance. For better comprehension of the health benefits of Cordyceps, here’s what to note:
Boosts Exercise Performance
Human studies show the increase in the production of ATP after consumption of Cordyceps for energy.
Since ATP delivers the strength to the muscles, it may significantly boost exercise, improve oxygen uptake or aerobic capacity, enhance ventilation function, and support athletic performance.
Cordyceps may boost athletic performance by improving the use of oxygen in younger adults and older people.
Researchers reviewed the effects of Cordyceps on exercise performance in 30 healthy older individuals by measuring V02 max and checking the ventilatory threshold.
Evidence shows adults who had the supplement experienced a significant boost in fitness and exercise performance as major effects fungus Cordyceps (3).
Another research in 20 healthy older individuals showed improved exercise performance in individuals with CS-4 (Cordyceps extract).
In addition, early research shows that those who take Cordyceps experience better lactate clearance resulting from improved lactate energy metabolism. Therefore, it helps athletic performance or high-intensity exercise in younger adults.
Improves Brain Function
Cordyceps may be highly beneficial in improving learning and memory (4). From a study, it works by preventing oxidative damage. Note that oxidative damage describes the disturbance in oxygen species production and antioxidant defenses, causing a problem with balance.
The fungus is an alternative and complementary medicine that improves brain function by protecting the nervous system and scavenging oxygen-free radicals.
As one of the traditional Chinese medicines, it’s common and effective for boosting human brain performance. The neuroprotective nature of Cordyceps sinensis makes it very effective in preventing brain damage.
In addition, research proves that an increased level of oxygen in the brain promotes blood flow to the brain to protect against mental stress. Consequently, individuals may take Cordyceps for anxiety (5).
Ongoing research also proves that Cordyceps sinensis improves cognitive performance, including memory and learning capacity, which may result in better productivity and ease the brain fog.
Due to Cordyceps’s effects on the brain, it may also help with aging. It decreases the risks of age-related cognitive declines like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition, several studies show that mushrooms also potentially help treatment and recovery from brain conditions.
Like many other brain-boosting mushrooms, it also helps regulate hormones responsible for mood stabilization. The regulation functions are due to the adaptogenic mushroom properties that may be helpful in mood stabilization.
Reduces Mental and Physical Fatigue
Research shows the fungi have anti-fatigue properties that boost strength. For example, one study highlights the effects of Cordyceps on subjects undergoing forced swimming.
Results suggest that individuals with Cordyceps experienced reduced levels of physical fatigue, helping them focus in daily activities.
Extracts reduced urea nitrogen concentrations, aspartate aminotransferase, and urea nitrogen, all of which relate to physical fatigue.
The extract causes an increase in glycogen in the liver and muscles, which influences liver function. In addition, it may increase concentrations of catalase, glutathione peroxidase in the liver, and superoxide dismutase, providing effects to reduce fatigue.
Another study involving taking Cordyceps sinensis for six weeks proved V02 max heightened significantly. Due to the results, researchers concluded that it could improve physical fatigue due to better oxygen intake or aerobic activity.
Has Anti-Aging Effects
One of the most common applications of Cordyceps among traditional healers in Chinese medicine for older people was its anti-aging benefits. Many studies point to the tendency of individuals benefiting from its anti-aging property due to its antioxidant properties (6).
Various animal studies also show that species of Cordyceps increase antioxidants, which also play imperative roles in sexual function and memory.
Note that antioxidants help against cell damage by neutralizing free radicals, which results in anti-aging or sickness properties.
Research on fruit flies took place after exposure to H2O2 or paraquat. H2O2 or hydrogen peroxide is a chemical compound typically used as an oxidizer. With Cordyceps sinensis oral liquid (CSOL), the fruit flies experienced prolonged life.
It makes lifespan extension possible due to the anti-oxidative stress pathway involving the upregulation of CAT and SOD1 activity. Note that CAT represents catalase, and SOD1 is short for superoxide dismutase. Both of those enzymes are responsible for the first-line antioxidant defense.
Cordyceps has anti-inflammatory properties which may help against heart conditions and cancer. Researchers found that when it interacts in the human system, there’s a suppression in the particular proteins that increase inflammation (7).
Note that one of the unique proteins that may increase inflammation in the body is the C-reactive (CRP) protein, and high levels of CRP protein causes inflammation.
Therefore, CRP levels may increase due to foods like processed sugars, which increase the risk of chronic inflammation. However, researchers believe it can be a great anti-inflammatory supplement due to the adaptogen’s potential effects.
In addition, further research shows that it helps reduce inflammation in the airways, which is a potentially efficient therapy for asthma. However, early research shows that it may be less effective than other commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs.
However, the fungi may have topical applications. For example, one study shows it reduces skin inflammation when applied topically to mice.
Helps To Control Diabetes
Cordyceps contains a sugar (polysaccharide) that may help control or cure type 2 diabetes.
In humans, the condition occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin. The hormone insulin is responsible for transporting the glucose into the body for strength.
When the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or respond appropriately, glucose doesn’t enter it (insulin resistance). Instead, it stays in the system and increases the blood glucose level.
When there’s a high level of sugar in the bloodstream, it may result in serious health problems. Hence, it’s imperative to keep the blood sugar levels in check.
Cordyceps helps keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range by duplicating the functions of insulin (8). In addition, the fruiting body of Cordyceps fungus also helps attenuate diabetes-induced weight loss.
Other evidence proves that the adaptogen helps against diabetes complications like chronic kidney disease or kidney damage.
In a review involving over 1700 people with chronic kidney disease, individuals who took Cordyceps supplements (CS-4) had improved kidney function (9).
People who take the adaptogen may reduce kidney damage caused by its effect against diabetes. As a result, taking Cordyceps is helpful in the regulation or control of type 2 diabetes and may also treat certain complications.
May Protect Against Cancer
Certain preliminary studies prove that Cordyceps supplements may be efficient in inhibiting the growth of cancerous cellular structures and help the immune system. Note that it includes breast and colon cancer cells.
According to a 2008 study, consuming Cordyceps could trigger apoptosis in breast cancer cells. However, the experiment was on test-tube studies.
Further research proves that some sugar constituents and cordycepin in Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis are potent against human cancer cells and tumor growth.
In addition, continuous tests prove it has antitumor effects on melanoma, lymphoma cells, and lung cancer.
According to a study, the cultivated mycelium of Cordyceps sinensis displayed significant dose-dependent inhibitory responses on the proliferation of cancer lines.
These four cancer cell lines include breast cancer, mouse melanoma, human hepatocellular carcinoma, and human promyelocytic leukemia cells.
Has Positive Effects on Heart Health
The positive effects of Cordyceps on heart health are becoming significant worldwide. For example, in China, it is acceptable to treat arrhythmia, which is a heart condition.
Arrhythmia describes the state of the heart beating too slow, too fast, or irregular. When it’s slower than usual, the condition is called tachycardia, but it’s bradycardia when it beats too slow. The most typical type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, which beats irregularly.
According to health research, oral administration of Cordyceps reduced heart damage in subjects with kidney disease. Heart injuries from chronic kidney disease happen due to poor kidney function and may increase the risks of heart failure.
An example is chronic allograft nephropathy, and reducing such injuries may help prevent heart failure. Some researchers linked its ability to decrease heart injuries to its adenosine content. Adenosine is a compound with significant heart-protective effects.
Animal studies show that supplementation with Cordyceps helps decrease LDL cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease due to the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries.
In addition, Cordyceps also prove to decrease triglyceride levels in animal subjects. Triglycerides are lipids that don’t play an essential role in the system and store up in the fat cellular structures. High levels of triglyceride in the bloodstream increase the risk of heart disease.
How To Take Cordyceps?
Harvesting Cordyceps is relatively complex. For this reason, most Cordyceps supplements contain the synthetically grown version (CS-4).
Various forms determine how to take Cordyceps in the proper dosages, including supplements, capsules, powder, extract, and tea.
Cordyceps supplements (CS-4) are typically made in the labs. Dietary supplements are notable for their energizing and promising adaptogenic properties since they contain bioactive compounds like polysaccharides and nucleosides.
Many brands make the capsule available in a dissolvable shell that serves as a safe alternative to tablets. Therefore, the capsules are more accessible to formulate for combined nutrients than tablets.
In the powdered form, it’s easy to dissolve adaptogenic mushrooms in different substances, including clean water. Some product brands offer scoops to get the correct measurement taking Cordyceps.
The tea form is suitable for older adults or individuals who prefer drinking it hot, with or without health conditions.
In its tea form, it’s possible to take it alongside a meal for the treatment of different diseases as described in traditional herbal medicine.
In human research, the typical Cordyceps dosage falls between 1000 – 3000 mg per day. For this reason, the suggested dose is 3 grams per day in tea form or 1050 mg extract two to three times per day.
After taking Cordyceps, evidence shows it may take a week or more to see visible results of Cordyceps in the body system.
However, some other advantages against infection become evident with its daily usage. The effect of Cordyceps in the system ultimately depends on the intake.
Depending on the dosages, the best time to take Cordyceps may vary, but the daily dose is split into two parts and taken in the morning and night.
Note that for treatment of a specific immune-suppressed condition, the doses may range from 2-3 capsules three times daily.
Does Cordyceps Have Side Effects?
Cordyceps is relatively safe in short-term use with only mild side effects like nausea, diarrhea, stomach ache, or dry mouth.
Most of those symptoms will decrease or completely disappear once the individual stops its usage. However, note that some mild side effects of Cordyceps, like a lingering metallic taste, may take longer to resolve.
Slow clotting is one of the significant possible side effects in people with bleeding disorders taking Cordyceps. Hence, someone with a long history of such conditions shouldn’t take the adaptogen when using anticoagulants or blood thinners.
People who take anticoagulants are at a higher risk of bleeding and easy bruising. It may also be imperative for those who are about to have surgery to stop using Cordyceps in any form. Also, people allergic to yeast or molds may have a higher tendency to get allergic to the adaptogen.
Due to the tendency of the adaptogen to reduce blood sugar, people taking commonly prescribed drugs for diabetes should avoid Cordyceps.
Combining the adaptogen with those medications can result in hypoglycemia, a condition where the sugar in the bloodstream is lower than usual.
Cordyceps improve the body’s production of ATP and increase antioxidants. For this reason, someone who takes it tends to experience a boost in physical performance and anti-aging effects.
In addition, for those with type 2 diabetes, Cordyceps may help by keeping the blood sugar low.
Also, it’s commonly used to treat fatigue, fight inflammation, and protect against cancer in Chinese medicine. With scientific backing, it’s evident that the CS-4 extracts promote overall brain and body well-being.
Therefore, it’s best to take the supplement form of Cordyceps if you want to experience its various health benefits or improve your quality of life.