The cordyceps mushroom has been a staple of Chinese medicine for millennia. Usage of these fungi is increasing as its proponents cite a host of possible health benefits. There are approximately 400 different cordyceps species. However, two specific species are now the focus of detailed research: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.
Usage of these fungi is increasing as its proponents cite a host of possible health benefits.
In this article, we look at what cordyceps mushrooms are, along with their purported benefits. We also include information on popular cordyceps supplements and possible side effects.
What Are Cordyceps Mushrooms?
The cordyceps fungus grows like a parasite from the brains of spiders and insects. Each cordyceps species infects a specific bug. It begins with cordyceps spores landing on the victim. These spores germinate, and hyphae, tiny filaments that resemble thread, start growing inside the insect.
The spores turn into mycelium, which attacks the insect from the inside. Once the insect is consumed fully, and the conditions are right, a mushroom grows from the insect’s head.
Cordyceps sinensis is the best-known medicinal species. This particular mushroom has a brown or orange-brown color and is shaped like a finger. Wild cordyceps is extremely rare, and one kilogram can cost around $20,000. Purchasing such a supplement is an expensive process! As a result, most of the supplements on sale contain lab-grown cordyceps.
While the formation of cordyceps sounds horrifying, it could have an enormous array of benefits. At present, much of the research relates to animal or lab studies. As a result, scientists are unable to ascertain the efficacy of the fungi on humans. Nonetheless, this Himalayan Gold has a long history of medical use in Chinese and Tibetan medicine.
Those interested in sourcing fresh cordyceps must be prepared to travel. It is native to Vietnam, Thailand, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Korea, Bolivia, Peru, and a handful of other exotic locations.
Cordyceps Mushrooms Benefits
The list of potential cordyceps benefits is lengthy. In theory, it could improve immunity by stimulating certain chemicals and cells within the immune system. The fungi could also reduce the size of tumors, particularly in skin or lung cancers.
There is a link between cordyceps and improved athletic performance. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2010 yielded interesting results. A daily cordyceps supplement seemed to modestly improve the exercise performance of adults aged 50-75.
A more famous example occurred during the 1993 Chinese national games. A host of athletes annihilated track and field records. Wang Jungxia beat the 10,000m women’s world record by an incredible 42 seconds. Three days later, she was runner-up in the 1,500m but beat the old world record in the process! Two days later, Wang broke the 3,000m world record, which still stands today.
Their coach, Ma Junren, claimed the athletes ran so fast because of a combination of turtle blood and Cordyceps sinensis. However, most of his athletes later failed drug tests. As a result, we don’t know how much cordyceps had to do with their performance, or whether it had any impact at all!
Are There Any Cordyceps Health Benefits?
The health benefits of Cordyceps are disputed because of a lack of evidence involving humans in clinical trials. The suggestion is that the fungi have the following benefits:
- Management of type 2 diabetes
- Anti-aging properties
- Improved heart health
- Anti-tumor effects
A review published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine in 2011 looked at the medicinal uses of Cordyceps sinensis. The paper’s authors noted that in Sikkim, local folk healers use the fungi to treat 21 ailments. They concluded that cordyceps had promising medicinal value. However, they also noted the lack of study on human subjects.
Cordyceps & Kidney Disease
One of the few reviews of studies on cordyceps’ effect on people was published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2014. The researchers went through over 20 studies featuring more than 1,700 patients with chronic kidney disease. Those who consumed the cordyceps supplement benefited from improved kidney function.
However, the authors also conceded that most of the studies were of a low-quality. As a consequence, they were unwilling to conclude the review.
Cordyceps & Anti-Aging
Traditionally, in Chinese medicine, the elderly use the fungi to boost strength, fight fatigue, and even increase their libido. One possible reason is due to the high antioxidant content of cordyceps.
A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine in 2015 looked at how cordyceps affected fruit flies. The researchers found that it prolonged the lifespan of the flies by reducing oxidative stress.
Cordyceps & Heart Health
In China, the fungi are approved for treating arrhythmia. This is a condition where the heartbeat is too fast, slow, or is irregular. A Chinese study published in 2011 found that cordyceps reduced triglyceride levels in mice. Triglycerides are a form of fat in the blood, and high levels have a link with increased heart disease risk.
Cordyceps & Anti-Tumor Properties
There is a suggestion that the fungi have anti-tumor effects, which they exhibit in several ways. Various test-tube studies found that cordyceps had anti-tumor effects on lung cancer, lymphoma, and melanoma.
A study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine in 2009 looked at cordyceps’ effects on leukopenia. It is a condition where white blood cell counts decrease. This process increases the risk of infection by lowering the body’s defenses. The researchers found that cordyceps reversed the condition in mice.
Cordyceps & Anti-Inflammatory Properties
While a certain level of inflammation is beneficial, too much increases the risk of numerous diseases, including cancer. Researchers believe that cordyceps could act as an anti-inflammatory.
A study published in Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine in 2015 suggested that cordyceps has modulatory effects on the inflammatory system in macrophage cells. As a result, it could prove useful as an anti-inflammatory drug or supplement.
Overall, research on how it impacts humans is still ongoing, although there are many promising signs.
Cordyceps Mushroom Supplement
Most cordyceps supplements contain cordyceps CS-4, a synthetic version. This is due to the high price of the real thing, plus the difficulties involved in harvesting. There are many options online, so consumers have to exercise caution. It is best to stick with brands that have either the NSF International or United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal.
In general, cordyceps is classified as safe for short-term usage. That is, as long as you purchase from a reputable provider. The Chinese government has approved Cordyceps CS-4 for use in hospitals.
Regarding dosage, it depends on the age, health, and general condition of the user. There isn’t enough scientific evidence available to outline specific dosages. However, scientists tend to stay in the 1,000 – 3,000mg of Cordyceps per day range in human research.
Some patients have reported mild side effects in clinical trials, including dry mouth, nausea, and stomach discomfort. Women are advised to steer clear when pregnant or breastfeeding. Individuals with an autoimmune disease such as MS should also avoid using cordyceps. When consumed orally, it could increase immune system activity. Oral consumption could also slow blood clotting.
There is a possibility that the fungi could interact with the following medications:
The above is not an exhaustive list. Consult with a doctor before consuming cordyceps if you are currently on any prescription medication.
Let’s check out the most commonly available cordyceps supplements. Also, not all of them come from Cordyceps sinensis. Instead, they are potentially Cordyceps militaris or mixed with reishi mushrooms.
Cordyceps Mushroom Tea
Cordyceps tea is one of the most popular products. It involves chopping the mushroom into small pieces. Alternatively, you can purchase a cordyceps powder. Mix a tablespoon of the powder or pieces with a pot of hot water. Allow it to simmer on low heat for up to 15 minutes. You may need to do it for 45 minutes when using the militaris species.
Strain the mixture into a cup, and add sweetener if you wish. Not everyone likes the taste of cordyceps, so you may want to include ginger, honey, and lemon, to make it more palatable.
Cordyceps Mushroom Powder
The fungi are dried and crushed into a powder. You can use cordyceps powder to make mushroom tea as outlined above.
Other manufacturers dry cordyceps and place them in capsules. In general, the average amount included is 400mg of the fungi. It is a convenient and fast way of consuming the fungi, and users need not worry about the taste. Look for pure cordyceps capsules that have the aforementioned seal from a reputable source.
There is also a cordyceps tincture on the market. They tend to implement a double extraction process to extract alcohol-soluble antioxidants and water-soluble polysaccharides.
Summary of Cordyceps Mushrooms
Ultimately, the jury is out on Cordyceps mushroom benefits. The vast majority of studies to date involve lab rats or mice. Also, much of the available research is of questionable quality. Hopefully, the growing popularity of the fungi will lead to a more detailed investigation into their properties.
Hopefully, the growing popularity of the fungi will lead to a more detailed investigation into their properties.
The Chinese and other cultures have used these mushrooms for thousands of years. They could help with issues such as inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and heart conditions. Cordyceps are rich in antioxidants, with possible anti-tumor properties. There is also a suggestion they could help boost exercise performance.
The most popular cordyceps supplements are powder and capsules. You can also make mushroom tea. If you want to purchase cordyceps, make sure the product has a USP or NSF label.