Cordyceps, the amazing fungi is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, used throughout history to improve energy levels, enhance libido, boost immunity, and fight inflammation. Cordyceps nutrition is very rich, containing multiple vitamins and bioactive compounds.
Having over 400 species spread throughout the world, cordyceps is mainly growing in Tibet, Yunnan, Schuan, India, and Nepal. As part of Traditional Chinese Medicine it’s considered a Yin-Yang Balancing and tonifying herb that can promote our bodies with Yin-nourishing and Yang-invigorating properties.
- Cordyceps Benefits
- 1. Improves Endurance & Exercise Performance
- 2. Anti-aging properties, Longevity tonic
- 3. Organ Purifier, Liver-Kidney-Heart Nourishment, and Detox
- 4. May Improve Brain function, Exert Neuroprotective Activities
- 5. Heart-Friendly, Improving Cholesterol Profile
- 6. Can Enhance Libido and Boost Sex Drive
- 7. Can Boost Energy & Fight Fatigue
Cordyceps are species that belong to the Ascomycota division, in the Cordycipitaceae family. They are parasitic on insects or other fungi, so cordyceps spores will target the insect and hyphae will start growing from the inside, turning into mycelium. After the mycelium consumes the insect, a fruiting body, mushroom-like will start growing off the insect’s head.
Cordyceps name is derived from the Greek word which means “club” and the Latin word “caput” which means head. The two main types well studied are Cordyceps sinesis and Cordyceps militaris.
Forms & Uses
This half-caterpillar, half-mushroom is used mainly for its energy-boosting and fatigue-fighting effects along with other plants. Cordyceps contains bioactive components that are responsible for most of its benefits.
The most potent use of cordyceps has to do with its nootropic effects on the brain. Similar supplements like Bacopa Monnieri, Lions Mane, and Caffeine have also shown potential in improving one’s focus and memory, elevating cognitive function, improving mood, and promoting neuroprotection.
Cordyceps supplements do not contain the wild fungus we see in photos, but rather some of its bioactive components. As a supplement, different forms of cordyceps exist, so we have a variety of powders, tablets, capsules, and even tincture (extracts) forms.
The most popular form, used as a supplement is known as CS-4, which is Cordyceps Sinensis. There are different types of cordyceps (mycelium grown through liquid culture or grown on rice) suitable for vegans too, that are grown a little bit differently.
What is cordyceps good for?
Cordyceps is one of the most popular mushroom with long history of use. It is known to have the potential to support brain function, exert neuroprotective effects, improve cognitive performance, boost energy, fight fatigue, increase endurance and stamina, act as a longevity tonic, purify the organs, improve cholesterol profile, aid in liver detox and improve blood flow.
Is cordyceps an adaptogen, a mushroom, or a fungus?
Technically, cordyceps is all three, a mushroom, a fungus, and an adaptogen. Fungus is any spore-producing organism that feeds off of organic matter. So mushrooms are technically fungi, and cordyceps is an adaptogen too. Adaptogens are the foods considered to adapt to one’s needs, hence why their main trait is balancing hormones.
|Vitamin E, K||Cordycepin||lysine|
|B-vitamins||Cordycepic acid||glutamic acid|
|iron, zinc, calcium||Adenosine||proline|
|nucleosides and sterols||Dipicolinic acid|
Cordycepin is the miracle molecule that is responsible for multiple Cordyceps health-optimizing properties. Cordycepin is a derivative of nucleoside adenosine, which has a similar form to adenosine and because of this some enzymes cannot separate/discriminate between both of them. This is why cordycepin can be part of some biochemical reactions. (3) It is thought to have many potent anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. (4)
1. Improves Endurance & Exercise Performance
Endurance is the ability of our bodies to persist during intense activity and it is highly correlated with VO2max values and ATP production in the body. VO2max stands for maximal oxygen consumption during an intense workout – endurance athletes have it higher. It is a fitness level test. ATP is adenosine triphosphate – chemical, human usable energy.
- Cordyceps mushrooms have been found to influence both VO2max and ATP levels in the body. (5)
Cordyceps may stimulate mitochondrial ATP generation, which leads to improvement in cellular and mitochondrial antioxidant status. It also improves myocardial ATP generation capacity and improves mitochondrial electron transport. (6)
- Used in a mushroom blend, cordyceps had a significant effect on time to exhaustion and VO2max improvement, after the third week of consumption. (7)
- In 12 weeks of CS-4 supplementation metabolic lactate threshold increased by 10.5% and the ventilatory threshold increased by 8.5%. In healthy elderly patients, cordyceps may improve cardiovascular and respiratory health & performance. (9)
- Cordyceps has specific effects that may enable the body to clear it’s Lactate off faster, as the experimental group who tried cordyceps was more efficient than the placebo. (8)
- However, it is worth mentioning that this isn’t the same case scenario with younger, trained athletes. (Cyclist) (10)
2. Anti-aging properties, Longevity tonic
Cordyceps Militaris contains special polysaccharides that have protective effects on mitochondria, due to scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS). Besides this antioxidant-like effect, CMP (a bioactive component in C. militaris) inhibited mitochondrial swelling and increased the activities of antioxidative enzymes, thus promoting longevity. (11)
Cordyceps, medicinal fungi used in traditional Chinese Medicine, has been hypothesized to have anti-aging effects, due to the radical scavenging (antioxidant) effects it can exert. Now it is backed up by science that this fungus might prolong lifespan and improve mitochondrial function.
- In mice, CS-4 treatment lead to increased longevity by improvements in energy-production mechanisms, including glucose, lipid, and energy metabolism. (12)
- By inhibiting oxidative stress, this fruit fly – Drosophila melanogaster was able to live longer after oral liquid treatment with Cordyceps sinensis. (13)
- CS extract showed antigenotoxic potential on human peripheral blood cells from 6 healthy participants tested. It turned out that CS extract did not cause any toxicity, but rather decreased oxidative stress damage which is believed to be due to the stimulation of DNA repair and antioxidant properties. (14)
3. Organ Purifier, Liver-Kidney-Heart Nourishment, and Detox
This fungus has been used as an anti-aging throughout history. It is no surprise since the Yin and Yang balancing of this, and many other plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine had an effect on nourishing the internal organs, hormone balancing, and improvement in circulation.
Cordyceps has many cardioprotective properties, the main mechanism underneath being an enhancement of adenosine receptor activation. It reduced post-ischemic diastolic dysfunction and improved coronary flow and pressure development recovery. (15)
In a rat model with chronic kidney disease, Cordyceps sinensis was beneficial for protecting liver and heart injuries. It had significant rescue effects on the liver and heart, due to regulating (reversely) levels of metabolites that are typically perturbed in CKD. (16)
More Research: Cordyceps on TNF-alpha, Inflammation and Liver Detox
- In Mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease fed with 1% extract of Cordyceps militaris for 10 weeks, Cordyceps helped in reducing serum glucose and free fatty acid levels. Besides that, it decreased triglycerides and total hepatitic lipids content. On top of this, it was also efficient in decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines like IL-6 and TNF-α. (17)
- Cordyceps sinensis contains an active component Polysaccharide, which has anti-liver injury effects. In this study, CS-PS helped with liver fibrosis in rats, which was induced by carbon tetrachloride. By reducing some enzymes like alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, total bilirubin, and many more, CS was shown to have anti-fibrotic effects. (18)
- Supplementing with cordyceps was shown to reduce serum creatinine, increase creatine clearance, reduce 24-hour proteinuria, and might be a potential agent in treating complications related to chronic kidney disease. However, results from this review must be taken cautiously, and more research data must be conducted, to provide stronger evidence. (19)
- Another study on Cordyceps militaris has shown that it may improve CKD (chronic kidney disease) by affecting the TLR4/NFkB Redox signaling pathway. Cordycepin activity was measured in human embryo kidney cells, after 3 month of treatment, cordycepin reduced blood urea nitrogen, urinal protein, and creatinine by around 12.5%, 36.7%, and 18.3%, respectively. (20)
4. May Improve Brain function, Exert Neuroprotective Activities
Cordyceps contains a component known as Cordycepin, a derivative of the nucleoside adenosine which may help with improving brain function. Cordycepin was studied in animals, Rat and Mice models and it improved memory, learning, mitochondrial function, and neuroinflammation.
- Cordyceps had an effect on decreasing AchE (acetylcholinesterase) and increasing ATPase activity, GABA, and Glu content in the mice group treated with higher Cordyceps polypeptide dosages. (21) This shows potential for neuroprotection.
- Cordyceps militaris was shown to improve memory and learning impairments in mice with ischemia-induced neuronal death and cognitive impairments. It may act as a potential agent in hippocampus neuroprotection and recovery from various neuroinflammatory diseases. (22)
- In a Rat model, Cordycepin can exert neuroprotective effects through an anti-apoptotic mechanism in the mitochondrial pathway. It was shown that it can protect dopamine neurons by improving mitochondrial dysfunction. (23)
5. Heart-Friendly, Improving Cholesterol Profile
HDL, known as “the good cholesterol” can carry LDL to the liver, where LDL is broken down. Having too low levels of HDL isn’t good for our heart health, and may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Triglycerides are fat cells that carry excess energy found in the human body and blood. They are not cholesterol, although these terms are used interchangeably, but rather a fat cell, which if it’s too high, can increase the risk of heart disease.
- Cardioprotective benefits of Cordyceps are believed to be exerted through enhanced adenosine receptor activation. Cordyceps reduced post-ischemic diastolic dysfunction and improved coronary flow along with the recovery of pressure development. (24)
- In mice studies, cordycepin was effective in the reduction of total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density-lipoproteins (LDL), and very-low-density-lipoproteins (VLDL) levels. (25) and preventing hyperlipidemia. The main underlying mechanism was the activation of AMP-activated protein kinase. (26)
- It was found that hot water fraction from cultured mycelia of this fungus (Cordyceps Sinensis) helped reduce total cholesterol levels in mice who were fed a cholesterol-enriched diet. (27)
6. Can Enhance Libido and Boost Sex Drive
These popular fungi are known for their aphrodisiac-like properties used in the past. People even started comparing Cordyceps with Viagra. What is the main mechanism behind it and is it worth comparing to Viagra? Let’s find out.
- In the Chinese population, this fungus was used for its aphrodisiac effects, mainly to improve sexual stamina and testosterone production at 3 mg/ml (28)
- Cordyceps had multiple positive effects on sex hormones. It elevated levels of serum testosterone and luteinizing hormone and decreased BPA-induced reproductive damage by activating some antioxidants like SOD, GSH-PH, and GSH. (29)
- Cordyceps also significantly affected/raised testosterone levels in both mature and premature mice in treatment for 3/7 days. (30)
- In 30 male Sprague-Dawley rats, treatment with Cordycepin resulted in increased sperm motility while improving sperm movement. (31)
7. Can Boost Energy & Fight Fatigue
Cordyceps’ performance-enhancing properties are tightly connected to the energy-boosting and fatigue-fighting properties it offers. Being known as a Yang tonifying herb, it can stimulate mitochondrial ATP generation which leads to better mitochondrial antioxidant status. (32)
Polysaccharides derived from Cordyceps militaris decreased lactic acid, creatine kinase, and urea nitrogen as well as some other enzymes. At the same time, it improved muscle and liver glycogen contents while prolonging the time to exhaustion in the swimming time of mice, suggesting an anti-fatigue effect. (33)
There are many supplements containing cordyceps along with different herbs, vitamins, amino acids, or plants, believed to promote endurance, improve strength, and maintain body balance. Certain bioactive compounds are believed to be responsible for this fungi’s performance-enhancing effects. (34)
Disclaimer: The content on this Site is for informational purposes only, and it is NOT intended to give or replace medical advice. Make sure you consult your physician, doctor, or health professional before using any supplement, for its dosage, uses, precautions, and interactions.
Uses, Side effects, Drug Interactions, Precautions, Dosing
There are many uses of Cordyceps in modern-day life, ranging from neuroprotective benefits to energy boosting and fatigue-lowering effects. It is important to note that Cordyceps is not studied enough to be a replacement for the treatment of a serious medical condition, but rather to improve health and act as a potential agent in improving performance. (35)
Side Effects /Precautions
There is insufficient evidence of Cordyceps, being used in:
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Liver Inflammation
- Heart arrhythmia
- Liver disorder
- CKD or Chronic kidney disease
- Liver inflammation (caused by hepatitis B)
Cordyceps is possibly safe taken by adults, as prescribed by doctorss or supplement labels, in a responsible dosage. Besides some side effects like stomach discomfort, diarrhea, and constipation, any serious side effects in short-term usage haven’t been reported yet.
Who Should Stay away?
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding women, not enough data to confirm their safety
- People with bleeding disorders, since Cordyceps might slow down blood clotting.
- People with Autoimmune diseases, since cordyceps can activate the immune system
- Immunosuppressants (medications that decrease immune system function) because cordyceps can elevate immune system function.
- Prednisolone interacts with Cordyceps because they have opposite effects on the immune system, so Cordyceps may make prednisolone less effective.
- Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar) interacts with cordyceps too, since its main function is to decrease the immune system.
Dosing of Cordyceps depends on several factors including age, health condition, goals, and supplement form (capsule, extract, powder). There is not sufficient research to have a specific recommendation of cordyceps dosage.
*Studies have some limitations, important to evaluate the validity of their results. Here’s a highlight of some and NOT ALL studies (and limitation), shown in this article, for context.
- In-vitro and in vivo research on cordycepin *consumption may have different effects
- Further research is needed, larger, more complex studies and experiments to understand the underlying mechanisms of medicinal mushrooms, and verify the ergogenic effect of Cordyceps.
- Study with poor choice of variables, determinants, and factors *may alter the validity of their association strength.
- Research based on animal models, might not be replicable in humans *mouse model, ICR mouse, Parkinson’s Disease (PD) rat model, Syrian golden hamsters, hyperlipidemic hamsters and rats, etc.
- Relatively short study/experiment duration only shows acute effects *one week, 14 days.
- Relatively small sample size to establish strong or statistically significant results *6 individuals.
- Theory-based approach is dominantly focused on Traditional Medicine *not purely evidence-based.
Cordyceps is a very popular fungus, with a long history and use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is considered a Yin-Yang balancer, an adaptogen with anti-inflammatory, cognition-improving, and libido-boosting properties. Cordyceps is a nutritionally packed supplement full of vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds. It has the potential to improve athletic performance, promote longevity, and help with liver detoxication and brain function.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of Cordyceps mushroom for the brain?
The main power of cordyceps lies in its bioactive compound Cordycepin which may have significant effects on the brain. Cordyceps has been mentioned for brain-function use back in the traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurveda. Cordycepin may improve memory, learning, reduce neuroinflammation, increase acetylcholine and improve mitochondrial function.
How can Cordyceps improve libido?
By vasodilation, Cordyceps can improve blood flow which can result in libido boost. Aside from this, it has aphrodisiac effects and has been used as the natural Viagra alternative. Cordyceps may elevate testosterone levels, through activating certain antioxidants. The main bioactive compound in it, cordycepin has also been shown to increase sperm mobility and movement.
What are the benefits of supplementing with cordyceps?
Some of the potential benefits from Cordyceps supplementation include:
– neuroprotection and reduced neuroinflammation
– improved exercise (aerobic) performance
– increased sex drive and libido
– increased energy and reduced fatigue
– cardiovascular health support
– improved cholesterol profile
Which one is better Cordyceps sinesis or Cordyceps militaris?
Cordyceps militaris has more concentrated content of bioactive components, which are also more tested and researched, as the growing conditions are controlled. Cordyceps sinesis is a bit more expensive, and the its population is slowly decreasing. Structurally, they’re both quite similar. For supplement products, militaris is used more frequently.