Cordyceps fungus is sometimes called the caterpillar fungus in the high mountain regions of China. Most cordyceps supplements are made in a lab. Cordyceps might improve immunity by stimulating cells and specific chemicals in the immune system. It might also help fight cancer cells and shrink tumor size, particularly with lung or skin cancers.
Natural cordyceps is hard to get and might be expensive. People most commonly use cordyceps for athletic performance, kidney disorders, liver problems, and sexual problems, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses. It’s parasitic in nature because it grows on a type of caterpillar and then winds up eating its own host!
The first people to discover the many benefits of cordyceps initially observed animals eating the wild fungus and growing strong in the process. Farmers and herders began to use the fungus in powder form to make tonics and teas. Of the more than 400 species of Cordyceps discovered, two have become the focus of health research: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.
Increases immune function
Sharma et al., (2014) studies suggest that consuming cordyceps benefits immune function and can help optimize the health of the cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and reproductive systems. This is as a result of the anti-inflammatory compounds like polysaccharides, modified nucleosides and cyclosporines.
Lue et al., (2008) also argues that taking cordyceps may be especially helpful in the treatment of inflammatory-related conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, arthritis, leaky gut and asthma.
Their animal model study conducted by the Chung Shan Medical University Hospital demonstrated that they were effective at reducing inflammation in the airways of mice, possibly aiding in the treatment of asthma.
Decreases aging and promotes mental clarity
One animal study conducted by Cai et al., (2009) published in the journal Phytotherapy Research demonstrated that eating cordyceps extract increased the activity of antioxidants like superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase in the blood. Apart from that, it also helped boost brain power and enhance sexual function in aging rats.
Another same animal study conducted by Zhou et al.,(2015) in China found that administering cordyceps extract to fruit flies significantly extended their life spans by blocking oxidative stress to the cells, confirming their potent anti-aging properties.
Improves exercise performance
A 2010 study by Chen et al demonstrated that supplementation with Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) improved exercise performance and contributed to overall markers of wellness in older adults. It is further regarded as an energizing adaptogen like other superfood herbs such as maca or cacao, cordyceps are often used to help fight fatigue, treat muscle aches and prevent weakness.
Another study by Ko & Leung (2007) revealed Cordyceps can boost athletic performance. Thus, improving physical abilities, endurance and stamina — partially because they boost the body’s supply of ATP, one of the primary sources of energy during exercise.
A previous 1994 study by Foster et al. also suggest that Cordyceps contain adenosine, a type of nucleic acid that is required to make ATP, an “energy carrier” that is worn-out in the muscles during physical activity.
Boost sexual function
We know that, both males and females were using tonics brewed from cordyceps to enhance libido and improve reproductive function. One animal models study conducted by Manabe et al., (2000) affirmed that cordyceps supplements can help the body utilize oxygen more efficiently and improve blood flow, which is significant for physical health and sexual function.
Cordyceps also improved endurance, increased energy and lower levels of inflammation are several other reasons that cordyceps may improve fertility and libido. Hence, Cordyceps may be used as a natural treatment for infertility as well as a natural remedy for impotence.
Controls blood sugar levels
Two active ingredients in cordyceps, d-mannitol cordycepin and 3’-deoxyadenosine, are partly answerable for diverse physiological actions that help stabilize insulin and blood sugar levels. Yu et al., (2015) conducted animal models which revealed that cordyceps supplements decreased high blood sugar levels while also reducing insulin levels to protect against insulin resistance.
Provides cardio support
One animal study by Liu et al. (2014) found a strong link between cordyceps and cardio support. The study demonstrated that Cordyceps could help protect the heart against damage and lower cholesterol levels to prevent coronary heart disease. The study concluded that cordyceps extract helped reduce damage to the heart and liver in rats with kidney disease.
A previous animal model study by Guo et al., (2010) also demonstrates that cordyceps could help lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol to prevent arteriosclerosis, a condition characterized by plaque buildup in the arteries and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Finally, a similar animal model study by Gao et al. (2011) found that Cordyceps may also reduce high triglycerides, another major risk factor for heart disease.
Fight cancer cells
Several promising in vitro studies have found that cordyceps could possess powerful anti-cancer properties and may help block the growth and spread of several different types of cancer (Levy, 2018). In vitro studies show that cordyceps extract may be effective at reducing the growth of liver, lung and colorectal cancer cells(2015).
An earlier study by Liu et al (2008) argues that the anti-cancer effects of cordyceps go beyond stopping cancer growth. A similar study also by Liu et al.,(2009) cements that these medicinal mushrooms could reduce the risk of side effects caused by cancer treatment, including leukopenia, a condition sometimes caused by chemotherapy or radiation that results in a decrease in the amount of white blood cells in the body and a higher risk of infection and illness.
Supports Mental Health
A recent study by Ashraf et al. (2020) examined the diverse therapeutic effects of these medicinal mushrooms. The study demonstrated that cordyceps can act as nutraceuticals that can support mental health by both fighting environmental stress and oxidative stress in the body.
Hu et al., (2013) study examined the effects of cordycepin, which naturally found in cordyceps, to see if it’d help increase natural sleep in rats. The study found that cordycepin increases nonrapid eye movement sleep in rats.
The authors note, “… this experiment can provide basic evidence that cordycepin may be helpful for sleep-disturbed subjects”.
Ingredients found in Cordyceps
The following ingredients are found in cordyceps mushroom:
- Cordycepic acid
- Ergosterol and ergosteryl esters
- Acid deoxyribonuclease
- Superoxide dismutase
- Dipicolinic acid
Studies in humans have used 1,000–3,000 milligrams per day, which doesn’t seem to be associated with any common side effects.
Risks and side effects
Cordyceps are generally safe for most people, but there are some potential cordyceps side effects and interactions to be aware of, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking certain medications (Link, 2021).
It should be avoided in pregnant or breast-feeding mothers.
For those with autoimmune disease, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis, some doctors warn that cordyceps might worsen the problem. Link (2021) states: “Because they stimulate the immune system, cordyceps may interfere with medications for these diseases or over-activate certain immune cells, so talk to your doctor before taking them.”
She further held that, “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 the influence on blood clotting”.
According to Link (2021):
- Cordyceps are a type of mushroom that have been used medicinally for centuries and are associated with many beneficial effects on health.
- Some of the potential cordyceps benefits include improved immunity and heart health, slowed aging, enhanced athletic performance and sexual function, better blood sugar levels, and protection against cancer cell growth and development.
- Available primarily in capsule, tablet and powder form, the exact mushroom dosage can vary based on the specific type of supplement you’re using, but most studies have used between 1,000–3,000 milligrams daily.
- Although safe for use in most people, people with autoimmune disorders and blood clot disorders should discuss with their doctors before starting supplementation. Additionally, because cordyceps fungus human studies looking at the effects on pregnancy are limited, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should limit use as well.
- When paired with a nutritious diet, active lifestyle and a rotation of other medicinal mushrooms, adding these mushrooms to your routine can bring some serious health benefits in the long run.
>>>the writer is the president of Nyarkotey college of Holistic Medicine and final year LLB Law student.
I. Rachel Link(2021) Cordyceps Benefits for Anti-Aging, Sleep, Exercise Performance & More. https://draxe.com/nutrition/cordyceps/
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