Cordyceps has long been recognized as an important medicinal mushroom in Chinese medical books and Tibetan medicine. It is a rare combination of caterpillar and fungus. Cordyceps grows in Sikkim, an Indian state bordering Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, at altitudes above 4,500 m. There is more than 400 species of Cordyceps. Two of them have become the focus of health research: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.
Cordyceps has beneficial effects on the human body, which include immune, anti-tumor, anti-metastatic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, insecticidal, antimicrobial, hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, anti-aging, neuroprotective, and renoprotective effects (Trusted Source).
Local people of Sikkim and traditional healers recommend Cordyceps sinensis for all diseases either as a single drug or combined with other herbs. Most local folk healers use cordyceps to treat 21 different health disorders (Trusted Source).
In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been hand-picked and dried for centuries to treat fatigue, kidney disease, low sex drive and many more illnesses. That is the reason why food supplements and other products containing Cordyseps extract are gaining so much popularity.
In this article, we look at the 14 potential benefits of Cordyceps based on scientific research.
1. Cordiceps Can Improve Physical Performance
In one study scientists tested the effects of Cordyceps on physical performance. Researchers found that the group given the most of the product containing Cordyceps experienced improved lactate clearance.
They found out that lactate clearance improved due to improved lactate energy metabolism within the cell. Hence the authors concluded that using this CS formulation would enhance lactate clearance and allow athletes greater anaerobic physical performance (Trusted Source).
Another study (2017) found that acute supplementation with a Cordyceps militaris containing mushroom blend may improve tolerance to high intensity exercise, and greater benefits may be elicited with consistent chronic supplementation (Trusted Source).
Studies have shown that taking Cordyceps improves physical performance and tolerance to high intensity exercise. However recent studies have shown that taking Cordyceps or a combination of Cordyceps and roseroot does not improve endurance in trained male cyclists.
2. Cordyceps Reduces Physical Fatigue
One study investigated the effect of Cordyceps on physical fatigue in animals through a forced swimming test.
The results showed that Cordyceps could significantly:
- prolong the exhaustive swimming time of mice,
- decrease concentrations of serum lactic acid, urea nitrogen, creatine kinase, aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase, and malondialdehyde,
- increase liver and muscle glycogen contents,
- increase the concentrations of serum superoxide dismutase, glutathione per- oxidase, and catalase.
The study done on mice suggests that Cordyceps has an antifatigue effect, and it might become a new functional food or medicine for fatigue resistance (Trusted Source).
Another study found, that after taking Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) for 6 weeks, VO2max were significantly increased. VO2max is the maximum or optimum rate at which the heart, lungs, and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise. It is used to measure a person’s individual aerobic capacity.
Researchers concluded, that these findings support the belief held in China that Cs-4 could improve oxygen uptake or aerobic capacity and ventilation function, and resistance to fatigue of elderly people in exercise (Trusted Source).
Studies have shown that taking Cordyceps reduces physical fatigue.
3. Cordiceps Has an Anti-Aging Effect
It is believed, that Cordyceps sinensis is an anti-aging traditional Chinese herb, and now the scientists have proved it to be the true. For example one study made on mice, showed, that mice receiving Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) lived several months longer than mice receiving placebo.
In conclusion, researchers found that Cs-4 reverses age-related changes in gene expression (GE) and extends the lifespan of mice, supporting the traditional belief that Cs-4 conveys anti-aging benefits to humans (Trusted Source).
Also several other studies done on mice have demonstrated that Cordyceps can improve the brain function and antioxidative enzyme activity in mice with d-galactose-induced senescence and promote sexual function in castrated rats. All of these findings suggest that Cordyseps has an antiaging effect (Trusted Source).
Another study found that Cordyceps sinensis oral liquid (CSOL) prolongs the lifespan of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, by inhibiting oxidative stress. So CSOL may thus be explored as a novel agent for slowing the human aging process (Trusted Source).
Mouse experiments show that Cordyseps has an anti-aging effect.
4. Polysaccharides From the Cordyceps Show Antioxidant and Immunoenhancing Activities
Antioxidants are molecules that protect cells from harmful effects by neutralizing diseases and aging-promoting free radicals. Several studies have shown that Cordyseps increases the antioxidant levels in mice (Trusted Source).
In one study, researchers systematically investigated the antioxidant pharmacological properties of Cordyceps taii. In vitro assays revealed the scavenging activities of the aqueous extract and polysaccharides of C. taii against various free radicals. The polysaccharides also significantly enhanced the antioxidant enzyme activities and markedly decreased the malondialdehyde production of lipid peroxidation in aging mouse model.
Interestingly, the immune function of the administration group was significantly boosted compared with the D-galactose-induced aging model group. Therefore, the C. taii polysaccharides possessed potent antioxidant activity closely associated with immune function enhancement and free radical scavenging (Trusted Source).
These findings suggest that the polysaccharides are a promising source of natural antioxidants and anti-aging drugs.
5. Cordyceps Protects Mitochondria
The results of one study showed that CMP (Cordyceps militaris) could inhibit mitochondrial injury, swelling and it also had a significant superoxide anion scavenging effect. Moreover, CMP significantly increased the activities of CAT, SOD, GPx and anti-hydroxyl radicals in mice liver.
These results indicate that CMP protects mitochondria by:
- scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS),
- inhibiting mitochondrial swelling,
- and increasing the activities of antioxidases.
Therefore, CMP may have pharmaceutical values for mitochondrial protection and also anti-aging. CMP was the major bioactive component in C. militaris (Trusted Source).
6. Cordyceps Improves Brain Function and Boosts Sex Drive
The elderly have traditionally used Cordyceps to reduce fatigue, boost strength and sex drive. Early research shows that taking a specific cordyceps product (Cs-4) daily for 40 days might improve sex drive in people with low sex drive.
One experiment studied the effect of Cordyceps sinensis extract (CSE) on mice and castrated rats to analyse its anti-aging effect. Tests made to examine the effect of CSE on learning and memory. CSE shortened escape latency, prolonged step-down latency and decreased the number of errors in mice aged by d-galactose.
The effect of CSE on the sexual function of castrated rats was evaluated by measuring the penis erection latency, mount latency and ejaculation latency. CSE appeared to shorten penis erection latency and mount latency in castrated rats. The study also measured the effect of CSE on the activity of age-related enzymes. The results showed that CSE improved the activity of superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and catalase and lowered the level of lipid peroxidation and monoamine oxidase activity in the aged mice (Trusted Source).
The study demonstrated that CSE can improve the brain function and antioxidative enzyme activity in mice with d-galactose-induced senescence and promote sexual function in castrated rats.
7. Potential Antitumor and Anticancer Activity
Recently, the potential antitumor and aticancer activity of Cordyceps has emerged as a focus of interest for researchers. Extracts from both mycelium and fruiting bodies of C. sinensis, C. militaris and other Cordyceps species have shown significant anticancer activities by various mechanisms such as, modulating immune system and inducing cell apoptosis.
Several studies have shown that Cordyceps can inhibit the growth of several human cancer cells, including lung, colon, skin and liver cancer cells. This supports the potential of this extract as a source of bioactive compounds, which may be used in anticancer strategies (Trusted Source).
Tests on mice have shown that Cordyceps can also have antitumor effects on lymphoma, melanoma cells, and lung cancer (Trusted Source).
In one study, the cultivated mycelium of a Cordyceps sinensis (Cs) extracts showed a significant and dose-dependent inhibitory effect on the proliferation of four cancer cell lines, breast cancer, mouse melanoma, human premyelocytic leukemia and human hepatocellular carcinoma.
In an animal test, the EtOAc extract showed significant inhibiting effect on B16-induced melanoma in mice, causing about 60% decrease of tumor size over 27 days. These results suggest that the EtOAc extract of Cs has strong anti-tumor activity and is a potential source of natural anti-tumor products (Trusted Source).
Tube and animal studies have shown that Cordyseps can be helpful in treating cancer, decrease tumor as well as mitigating some of the side effects of cancer treatment. However, further human studies are needed.
8. Cordyceps Can Help to Control Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease in which the body either does not produce insulin or is resistant to it. Insulin is a hormone that transmits glucose to the cells where it is converted into energy.
When your body does not produce enough insulin or the body develops resistance to it, glucose cannot enter the cells and will remain in the blood. Over time, excess blood glucose can lead to serious health problems. Therefore, diabetics should monitor their blood glucose levels.
Several experiments in diabetic mice have shown promising results.
For example, the results of one study revealed that fruiting body of Cordyceps attenuated the diabetes-induced weight loss, polydipsia and hyperglycemia, and these improvements suggest that fruiting body of Cordyceps has a potential to be the functional food for diabetes (Trusted Source).
In an other study Cordyceps displayed antidiabetic and antinephritic activities in diabetic rats (Trusted Source).
Finally, the results of the third study indicated that Cordyceps (Cm) lowered the blood glucose level by increasing insulin sensitivity, while no change in body weight was observed. The results suggested that Cm possesses strong hypoglycemic, anticholesterolemic, and antihypertriglyceridemic actions and is more economical alternate for Diabetes treatment (Trusted Source).
9. Cordyceps Helps to Treat Chronic Kidney Disease
There is also evidence to suggest that it helps to prevent a common complication of diabetes, kidney disease. A review of 22 studies involving a total of 1,746 patients with chronic kidney disease showed that patients taking Cordyceps supplements had improved kidney function.
More specifically, they found that Cordyceps preparation, showed potential promise to decrease serum creatinine, increase creatine clearance, reduce proteinuria and alleviate chronic kidney disease associated complications, such as increased hemoglobin and serum albumin. However, definitive conclusions could not be made because of the low quality of evidence (Trusted Source).
Cordyseps effect on other kidney injuries
- Kidney injury caused by certain antibiotics (aminoglycoside nephrotoxicity). Research shows that using Cordyceps with the drug amikacin might reduce kidney damage caused by the drug in older people.
- Long-term kidney disease (chronic kidney disease or CKD). Early research shows that taking Cordyceps along with standard therapy for chronic kidney disease may improve kidney function.
- Kidney damage caused by contrast dyes (contrast induced nephropathy). Some early research shows that taking Cordyceps while undergoing an exam using contrast dye reduces the chance of kidney damage caused by the dye. But other early research shows no benefit.
- Kidney damage caused by the drug cyclosporine. There is early evidence that taking Cordyceps with cyclosporine can reduce kidney damage caused by cyclosporine in people with kidney transplants.
- Kidney transplant. Early research shows that taking Cordyceps with low-dose cyclosporine can improve 1-year survival, prevent transplant rejection, and reduce the risk of infection similar to taking standard dose cyclosporine in people who received a kidney transplant. It might also reduce the risk of long-term impaired kidney function called chronic allograft nephropathy, which is the leading cause of kidney transplant failure.
10. Improves Liver Function
Hepatitis B virus (hepatitis B) can cause the swelling (inflammation) of the liver. Early evidence shows that taking Cordyceps by mouth might improve liver function in people with hepatitis B. However, Cordyceps seems to be less effective than the supplements astragalus and fo-ti.
11. Possible Benefits for Heart Health
Recent findings are increasingly demonstrating the benefits of Cordyceps to heart health. China has officially approved this drug for arrhythmia (a condition where the heart beat is too slow, too fast or irregular (Trusted Source).
In one study, the oral administration of Cordyceps sinensis significantly redused the liver and heart injuries in rats. Cardiac injury caused by chronic kidney disease is thought to increase the risk of developing heart failure (Trusted Source).
The results of an other study demonstrated a suppressive role of Cordyseps in ischemic contracture. Cardiovascular protection and antioxidant activity of the extracts from the mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis act partially via adenosine receptors (Trusted Source).
12. Lowers Triglyceride and LDL Cholesterol (Bad Cholesterol) Levels
Cordyceps can also have a good effect on cholesterol levels. Animal studies have shown that Cordyceps lowers the level of so-called bad LDL cholesterol (Trusted Source). LDL cholesterol causes cholesterol to build up in the arteries. Excess cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease.
Cordyceps has also been shown to have lipid-lowering effect in hyperlipidemic hamsters and rats (Trusted Source).
The results on one study suggested that levels of:
- serum total cholesterol (TC),
- triglyceride (TG),
- low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C),
- and very low density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C) increased markedly in the two animal models by feeding high-fat diet.
Meanwhile, Cordyceps reduced levels of:
- serum TC,
- as well as LDL-C/HDL-C (high density lipoprotein cholesterol),
- and TC/HDL-C ratios.
Triglyceride-rich (TG) lipoproteins are a type of fat in the blood. Their high levels in the body are associated with an increased risk of heart disease (Trusted Source).
Cordyceps can be beneficial for heart health by helping to prevent arrhythmias and by lowering triglycerides and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels.
13. Cordyceps Can Help Against Inflammation
Although inflammation can sometimes be good, excessive inflammation can cause diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Studies have found that Cordyceps sinensis is an immunomodulatory agent, and that immunosuppressive ingredients are contained in Cordyceps sinensis (Trusted Source).
Researchers also suggest that the Cordyseps extract suppresses inflammation through suppression of NF-kappaB-dependent inflammatory gene expression, meaning that the C. pruinosa extract may be beneficial for treatment of endotoxin shock or sepsis (Trusted Source).
Cordyseps showed also topical anti-inflammatory activity in the croton oil-induced ear edema in mice (Trusted Source). In brief, this study demonstrated that Cordyceps militaris possesses anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive activites. Also related antioxidant, anti-angiogenic, and NO production-inhibitory activities.
The results of one study demonstrated that Cordyceps suppresses the production and expression of:
- NO, iNOS (mediators of inflammation),
- and pro-inflammatory cytokines, which may play an important role in inflammation.
These findings suggest that Cordyceps has modulatory effects on the inflammatory system in macrophages, and that it can serve as a useful anti-inflammatory dietary supplement or drug (Trusted Source).
14. Potential Cure for Asthma
Cordyceps reduces inflammation in the airways in mice, making it a potential cure for asthma. However, fungus appears to be less effective than commonly prescribed drugs (Trusted Source).
Early research suggests that taking Cordyceps alone can reduce asthma symptoms in adults. However, other early research shows that taking Cordyceps along with other herbs for 6 months does not reduce the need for medication or improve asthma symptoms in children.
Taking Cordyceps Dietary Supplements
This Chinese herbal drug is difficult to harvest, so the price per kg is extremely high. Therefore, most Cordyceps supplements contain a laboratory grown version called CS-4. To ensure you buy high-quality supplements, search for the respected brands such as Ecosh and look the product label.
Due to limited human studies, there is no consensus on dosage. In general, doses ranging from 1000 mg to 3000 mg per day have been used in human studies. Within this range, the dose has not produced any side effects. If you take Ecosh Cordyceps supplements, take 2 capsules twice a day.
Side effects and safety
The safety of the use of Cordyceps in humans has not been studied. But its long-standing use in traditional Chinese Medicine suggests that it is not toxic and safe to use. In addition, the Chinese government has approved the use of CS-4 in hospitals and has recognized it as a safe natural medicine (Trusted Source).
Photos: Pexels.com, Pixabay.com