Cordyceps – a powerful medicinal mushroom has been acknowledged in Chinese medical books and Tibetan medicine for a long time. This plant 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. Two of the over 400 species of Cordyceps have become the main priority of health research – Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis.
Some studies suggest, that different strains of cordyceps, or some components inside this mushroom may have different beneficial effects on the human body, which include immune, anti-tumor, anti-metastatic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, anti-aging, neuroprotective, and renoprotective effects (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 , 10, 11, 12, 13). However, more studies need to be done on humans, so do not start to self medicate before you fully learn about cordyceps different strains and consult your doctor.
Traditional healers and local people of Sikkim suggest Cordyceps sinensis for multiple health problems as a single drug or together with other herbs. For instance, these folk healers use it to cure as much as 21 different health conditions (2, 15).
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. The long history and the potential benefits of Cordyceps might be the reasons why food supplements and other products containing Cordyceps are achieving so much admiration (14, 22).
Therefore, in this article, we look at the 14 potential benefits of Cordyceps different strains based on scientific research.
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1. Cordyceps May Improve Physical Performance
One study (2017) suggested 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 (17).
Studies have shown that taking Cordyceps may improve physical performance and tolerance to high intensity exercise. However, according to some recent studies, consuming Cordyceps or a combination of roseroot and Cordyceps does not improve physical durability in trained male cyclists (18). See the Cordyceps products availability online.
2. Cordyceps May reduce Physical Fatigue
One study investigated the effect of Cordyceps on physical fatigue in animals through a forced swimming test (19).
The results suggested 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,
- in addition, icrease the concentrations of serum superoxide dismutase, glutathione per- oxidase, and catalase.
The study done on mice suggested that Cordyceps may also have an effect against fatigue (19).
In addition, another study in elderly people suggested that after taking Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) for 6 weeks, VO2max was significantly increased. VO2max is the maximum (or optimum) rate at which the muscles, lungs and heart can efficiently use oxygen in the course of exercise. It is used to measure a person’s individual aerobic capacity.
Therefore, 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 (20).
3. Cordyceps May Have an Anti-Aging Effect
It is believed that Cordyceps sinensis is an anti-aging traditional Chinese herb, and now the scientists have proved it may be true. For instance, one study made on mice demonstrated, that mice who received Cs-4 (C. sinensis) lived several months longer than mice who received placebo (21).
In addition, second study done on mice and rats demonstrated that Cordyceps may improve the brain function and antioxidative enzyme activity in mice with d-galactose-induced senescence and promote sexual function in castrated rats (22).
Another study found that C. sinensis oral liquid (CSOL) prolongs the lifespan of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, by inhibiting oxidative stress. Therefore, CSOL may be explored as a novel agent for slowing the human aging process (23).
All these studies indicate that Cordyceps may have an anti aging effect (21, 22, 23). However, more research needs to be done to declare Cordyceps anti-aging effects on humans. Cordyceps sinensis is available to purcase online.
4. Polysaccharides From the Cordyceps Show Antioxidant and Immune Enhancing Activities
Antioxidants are molecules that protect cells from harmful effects by neutralizing diseases and aging-promoting free radicals and Cordyceps may have a positive effect on these beneficial molecules (24).
For example, in one study, researchers systematically investigated the antioxidant pharmacological properties of Cordyceps taii.
Interestingly, the administration group demonstrated significantly boosted immune system function compared with the D-galactose-induced aging mouse model group. Therefore, the C. taii polysaccharides had potent antioxidant activity, which is closely associated with the improvement of immune function and removing free radicals (24).
These findings suggest that the polysaccharides from the Cordyceps taii may be a promising source of natural antioxidants and anti-aging drugs. However, more research needs to be done to validate the same effects on humans.
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5. Cordyceps May Protect Mitochondria
The results of one study on mice indicated that CMP (Cordyceps militaris) may inhibit mitochondrial swelling and increase the activity of antioxidases. Moreover, the use of CMP significantly increased the activities of catalase (CAT), superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and anti-hydroxyl radicals in mice liver (25).
These results indicate that CMP protects mitochondria by:
- scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS),
- inhibiting mitochondrial swelling,
- and increasing the activities of antioxidases (25).
Therefore, C. militaris may have pharmaceutical values for mitochondrial protection and anti-aging (25). However, more research needs to be done to validate the same effects on humans.
6. Cordyceps May Improve Brain Function and Boost Sex Drive
The elderly have traditionally used Cordyceps to reduce fatigue, improve memory, boost strength and sex drive. While there has been little studies to prove that Cordyceps can aid in case all these conditions on humans – according to one review – Ophiocordyceps sinensis supplementation increased the total sperm number, the percentage of motile sperm cells, and serum testosterone (26).
One study, where researchers explored the mechanisms by which C. militaris improves learning and memory in a mouse model – suggested that Cordyceps polypeptide may improve learning and memory in the scopolamine-induced mouse model of learning and memory impairment by scavenging oxygen free radicals, preventing oxidative damage, and protecting the nervous system (27).
One other study investigated the impact of Cordyceps sinensis extract (CSE) on castrated rats. The influence of CSE on the sexual ability of castrated rats was analyzed by measuring the mount latency, penis erection latency, and ejaculation latency. It appeared that CSE decreased mount latency and penis erection latency in castrated rats.
Therefore, this study demonstrated that CSE may promote sexual function in castrated rats (22).
7. May Have Potential Antitumor and Anticancer Activity
Recently, the researchers have been taking an interest in the potential anticancer and antitumor action of Cordyceps. Extracts from fruiting and mycelium bodies of C. sinensis, C. militaris and other Cordyceps species have shown promising anticancer activities by various mechanisms. Also some polysaccharide components and cordycepin (3′-deoxyadenosine) in C. sinensis and C. militaris have acted as potent anticancer components (28).
Study made in 2015 suggested that methanolic extract of C. militaris may inhibit the growth of some type of cancer cells. According to researchers this supports the potential of this extract as a source of bioactive compounds, which may be used in anticancer strategies (29).
In second study done on mice the water extract of Cordyceps sinensis (WECS) showed a strong cytotoxicity against Lewis lung carcinoma (LLC) and B16 melanoma cells, while cordycepin (3′-deoxyadenosine), an active component of WECS, was not cytotoxic against these cells. These findings suggested that water extract of C. sinensis has an anti-metastatic activity that is probably due to components other than cordycepin (31).
In addition, in another study, the cultivated mycelium of a Cordyceps sinensis (Cs) fungus was sequentially extracted by petroleum ether (PE), ethyl acetate (EtOAc), ethanol (EtOH) and hot water.
All solvent extracts except hot water extract showed a significant and dose-dependent inhibitory effect on the proliferation of four cancer cell lines:
- MCF-7 breast cancer,
- B16 mouse melanoma,
- HL-60 human premyelocytic leukemia,
- HepG2 human hepatocellular carcinoma (30).
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. Therefore, according to researchers, these results suggested that the EtOAc extract of Cs has strong antitumor activity and is a potential source of natural anti-tumor products (30).
Although some studies suggest that some types of Cordyceps extracts may have promising antitumor activities, further human studies are needed. Do not self medicate and consult your doctor before taking any dietary supplements.
8. Cordyceps May 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.
However, some experiments in diabetic mice have shown promising results.
For instance, the results of one study revealed that fruiting body of Cordyceps reduced the diabetes-induced weight loss, polydipsia and hyperglycemia, and these improvements suggest that fruiting body of Cordyceps may be a prospective to be a useful food for diabetes (32).
In addition, according to another study C. militaris fruiting body showed antinephritic and antidiabetic action in diet-streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats (33).
Finally, the results of the third study made in mice demonstrated that novel combination of fruiting body and mycelia powder of C. militaris nr 1 (CmNo1) increased insulin sensitivity and decreased blood glucose level without changes in body weight. According to researchers, these results indicated that CmNo1 possesses strong anticholesterolemic, hypoglycemic and antihypertriglyceridemic activity and may be an economical alternative for Diabetes Mellitus (DM) care (34).
9. Cordyceps and Chronic Kidney Disease
There has been several researches done to study if Cordyceps may help in case kidney disease, however, the results differ. A review of 22 studies involving a total of 1,746 patients with chronic kidney disease showed some kind of result, but did not prove that Cordyceps may improve kidney function (35).
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 (35).
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Cordyceps 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. May Improve Liver Function
Hepatitis B virus (hepatitis B) can cause the swelling (inflammation) of the liver. However, according to some early proof – taking Cordyceps orally might better liver function in hepatitis B patients (36).
11. Possible Benefits for Heart Health
Fresh studies are growingly showing the benefits of Cordyceps to the heart’s health. In China (since 1964) only C. sinensis has been recorded officially as an herbal drug in Chinese pharmacopoeia (37).
In one study made in 2014, the oral administration of C. sinensis significantly reduced the liver and heart injuries in rats with chronic kidney disease. Cardiac injury caused by chronic kidney disease is thought to increase the risk of developing heart failure (38).
The results of another study which used the Langendorff mouse heart model, showed a repressive role of C. sinensis in ischemic contracture. According to researchers, the results indicate that C. sinensis affords cardioprotection possibly through enhanced adenosine receptor activation (39).
12. May Lower Triglyceride and LDL Cholesterol (Bad Cholesterol) Levels
Cordyceps may also have a good effect on cholesterol levels. One study done on mice demonstrated that hot-water fraction from cultured mycelia of C. sinensis may decrease the level of bad LDL cholesterol (40). 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 (41).
The results of 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 (41).
Meanwhile, administering orally cordycepin extracted from C. militaris resulted in reduced levels of:
- serum TC,
- as well as LDL-C/HDL-C (high density lipoprotein cholesterol),
- and TC/HDL-C ratios (41).
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 atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (42).
In conclusion, Cordyceps may be beneficial for heart health by helping to prevent arrhythmias and by lowering triglycerides and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels. However, do not self medicate, because all the studies are made in animals and this topic needs further investigation.
13. Cordyceps May Help Against Inflammation
Although inflammation can sometimes be good, excessive inflammation may 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 C. sinensis (43).
Researchers also propose that the C. pruinosa extract represses inflammation because it suppresses NF-kappaB-dependent inflammatory gene expression. Therefore, the C. pruinosa may be useful in treating endotoxin shock or sepsis (44).
Cordyceps also demonstrated topical anti-inflammatory action in the croton oil-induced ear edema in mice (45). In brief, this study demonstrated that C. militaris possesses anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive activities. Also related antioxidant, anti-angiogenic, and NO production-inhibitory activities.
The results of one study demonstrated that water-soluble fraction of CBG-CS-2 (a strain of Cordyceps) has high anti-inflammatory activity and it suppresses the production and expression of:
- NO, iNOS (mediators of inflammation),
- and pro-inflammatory cytokines in LPS-activated macrophages via inhibition of NF-κB and AP-1, which may play an important role in inflammation.
14. Potential Relieve for Asthma
According to a study, Cordyceps can modulate airway inflammation in asthma. However, this mushroom appears to be less effective than commonly prescribed drugs (47).
However, another study concluded that a formulation of C. sinensis improved the health-related quality of life, asthma symptoms, lung function, and inflammatory profile of the patients with moderate-to-severe asthma (48).
Taking Cordyceps Dietary Supplements
The price per kg of Cordyceps is extremely high because it is difficult to harvest. Therefore, supplements mostly contain a laboratory grown form called CS-4. In conclusion, to ensure you buy high-quality supplements, always read the product label and look for the respected brands such as Ecosh.
Due to limited human studies, there is no consensus on dosage. However, 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. Therefore, 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. However, C. sinensis long-standing use in traditional Chinese Medicine suggests that it is not toxic and safe to use (49).
NB! The information provided here is for informational purposes only, so do not consider it as health care or medical diagnosis and treatment. Do not consider this information as a guarantee of the results you want to achieve. In addition, this information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional.
Even more, you should not use it to diagnose or treat a health problem. Before changing or discontinuing your existing medication, treatment, or care, or taking any dietary supplements, be sure to consult with your healthcare professional or doctor before starting any diet or program, or if you suspect you may have a medical condition.
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