Cordyceps mushrooms refer to a genus of ascomycete fungi (also known as “sac fungi”) that includes approximately 400 species. Most species are “endoparasitoids”. Endoparasitoids live on (and feed off of) primarily insects and other arthropods, eventually leading to the host’s death. However, a few species of cordyceps fungi are parasitic on other fungi.
Though cordyceps are classified as a parasitic fungus that will eventually destroy its host, it paradoxically has the potential to offer many physiological benefits to humans. Primarily through, its anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties. Cordyceps, along with Reishi have been used for thousands of years by practitioners of traditional medicine. Everything from helping ward off or fight certain ailments, to promoting general wellness and holistic healthcare.
Most research into the health benefits of cordyceps is focused on one of two species:
- Cordyceps sinensis (the wild mushroom cited in Traditional Chinese Medicine records)
- or Cordyceps militaris (a cultured variety of cordyceps).
The effects of either species appear relatively comparable. Although some research is focused on investigating whether either species may be preferable for certain conditions or desired outcomes.
History of Cordyceps Mushrooms
Cordyceps sinensis has been utilized in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Use of cordyceps was first recorded in Ben Cao Bei Yao by Wang Ang in 1694. The variety of cordyceps found in China was named “Cordyceps sinensis” by Italian scholar Saccardo in 1858. In China, cordyceps sinensis is found at elevations of 3500–5000 meters. It has traditionally been used to treat a range of medical needs, including fatigue, cough, hyposexuality, post-illness weakness, and kidney dysfunction and failure.
Benefits of Cordyceps Mushrooms for Your Health
Cordyceps mushrooms are commonly recommended for a wide range of medical conditions and wellness benefits. Included at the top of the list is cordyceps’ ability to:
- enhance athletic activity
- promote increased endurance
- has immunomodulatory, antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties
- may help manage Type 2 diabetes
- possibly improve heart health
- contains “anti-aging” benefits, including increased vigor and longevity, and improved sexual function
Enhance Athletic Activity
Adenosine triphosphate – commonly known as “ATP” – is a molecule found within our body. The primary function of ATP is to deliver energy to all of our body’s cells. This includes those that make up our muscles. Cordyceps extract has been shown to increase our body’s production of ATP. This means it is especially beneficial before exercise or physical activity, as it may help increase endurance and prevent fatigue. They are also believed to increase lung capacity, an excellent benefit for almost any type of exercise or physical activity.
Cordyceps are not only recommended prior to a workout but are a beneficial post-workout supplement, as well. Their anti-inflammatory effects can help reduce swelling and muscle fatigue. Plus, their energy-boosting properties can help fight a post-workout crash so that you can continue your day with less down-time.
Similarly to reishi, cordyceps is believed to have a potent immunomodulatory effect within the body. Thus, it may help the immune system to fluctuate as necessary for optimal health. Many chronic conditions and autoimmune disorders are related to an overactive or hypersensitive immune system. This can manifest as a range of problematic and sometimes dangerous symptoms. However, an under-active or overly-fatigued immune system is also problematic, as it may not protect us from infections; a vital part of human wellness, especially in modern times. Substances that help regulate the immune system can help us to maintain wellness even in the most precarious environments.
Antioxidant, Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Tumor Benefits
One of the primary components of Cordyceps extract is a novel bio-metabolite called “Cordycepin”. This substance has strong anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer benefits.
Antioxidants are a popular topic among wellness enthusiasts. This is because oxidative effects are believed to be responsible for a range of negative health consequences. This includes damage to cell membranes and lipoproteins. Oxidative effects are often a typical part of aging. This is due to the body being less able to defend against the damage of free radicals. Free radicals are substances naturally produced by the body in response to environmental stressors, as well as a byproduct of metabolic processes. Antioxidant substances help to protect against this type of damage. Consequently may help the body to avoid some of these harmful effects. Along with many other species of edible mushrooms including reishi, cordyceps have been shown to have potent antioxidant properties.
Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Tumor
Inflammation is a normal, healthy biological response to cell or tissue injury caused by physical or chemical stimuli, or by bacteria, viruses, or toxins. This response helps to protect the body and facilitate healing and recovery. However, the same substances that induce an inflammatory response within the body can sometimes become unregulated. This leads to prolonged inflammation that is commonly associated with chronic illness and even cancer. Helping the body to moderate and reduce this inflammatory response is a critical part of both modern and traditional medicine. This is due to effective anti-inflammatories being one of the most sought after and recommended therapies for a wide range of symptoms and conditions. Cordyceps helps to reduce this inflammatory response by inhibiting pro-inflammatory cytokines. Plus, they decrease the production of nitric oxide and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) expression.
In both in vitro and in vivo studies, cordyceps has shown potential promise as an effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of certain types of cancer. Cordycepin may inhibit tumor growth, as well as help to reverse some of the negative effects of chemotherapy.
It is important to note that cordyceps may have adverse interactions with certain medications, or cause effects such as lowering blood sugar or thinning of the blood, or allergic reaction, which could be problematic for certain patients. You should always consult with your own personal trusted medical provider before introducing any new therapies to your routine, and especially before undergoing any medical procedures.
May Help Manage Type 2 Diabetes
In addition to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor benefits, cordycepin is also believed to potentially have value in the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. In animal studies, cordycepin has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels, as well as to help regulate glucose metabolism. Additionally, cordycepin may help to protect against kidney and spleen injury, a common concern among patients with diabetes.
Support Heart Health
Cordyceps has long been recommended for its protective effects on many organs, including the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys. The cardiovascular effects of cordyceps are probably one of the most highly touted benefits. It is also an increasingly popular area of research. As of this time, we know that cordyceps benefits heart health through a variety of possible ways, including by:
- lowering blood pressure via direct dilation of blood vessels,
- improving blood circulation in both the heart and brain through M-cholinergic receptors
- may help rectify abnormal heart rhythms
- may increase cardiac output when utilized in addition to conventional treatments for chronic heart failure
- decrease blood viscosity and fibrinogen levels which may help to prevent heart attack.
Anti-Aging Benefits & Sexual Health
Cordyceps is often promoted as beneficial for its “anti-aging” properties, especially in more ancient literature. These effects are usually described as “increased vigor” and “longevity”. While more recent research has helped us to explain how cordyceps work to protect against organ damage, promote energy, and help to fight fatigue, it has also been hypothesized that cordyceps may be helpful for improving sexual health. Cordyceps has been shown to increase libido and restore reproductive function. Both of these effects are related to the enhancement of testosterone release in plasma through the cAMP (adenosine monophosphate)-protein kinase A signal pathway. As a decrease in sexual vitality is often associated with (and a normal component of) aging, the ability to potentially reverse these changes is nevertheless exciting and appreciated by many.
Where can I find Cordyceps Mushrooms?
As we have mentioned before in our Guide To Medical Mushrooms, it is always important to research before purchasing any natural supplement. This is due to a lack of industrial regulation results in many products remaining available for sale, despite having questionable ingredients or unsustainable production methods.
We want you to feel confident when shopping for your supplements, and our mission at Growing Organic is to improve holistic wellness while caring for and healing our planet. Every product sold in our Apothecary is produced ethically and sustainably, with ingredients listed on product labels and on our website’s product pages. Additionally, if you have any questions, concerns, or recommendations, we are only a message away.
We are very happy to include a high-quality Cordyceps Tincture from North Spore in our shop. This tincture is made entirely from wild cordyceps fruiting bodies, instead of mycelium, for maximum potency and health benefits. Cordyceps can be taken up to three times daily as needed. However, due to its energy-enhancing effects, if you are just beginning a cordyceps routine, have trouble sleeping, or tend to be sensitive to energy-enhancing supplements, we suggest taking cordyceps either in the morning or early afternoon, depending upon your personal schedule and needs. All mushroom tinctures can be consumed directly, or added to water, juice, coffee, tea, or matcha according to your preference.