- The benefits of Cordyceps as a type of mushroom well-known for their adaptogenic properties, compounds found in plants that are believed to help improve our body’s response to stress.
- Cordyceps are believed to provide anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties, improve exercise performance, improve blood sugar management, help with cancer prevention, and provide benefits for heart health.
- It’s best to take cordyceps in powder or capsule form, such as that found in Human Tonik’s Red Tonik or Greens and Reds which provides 1000mg of cordyceps extract per serving and can easily be mixed into food or liquids.
What Are Cordyceps?
Cordyceps are a type of mushroom that is well-known for their adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens are compounds found in plants that are believed to help improve our body’s response to stress.
Researchers have been looking more in-depth into these compounds as chronic stress is associated with many conditions that affect human health. (Source)
As mentioned above, cordyceps can be found growing on the larvae of various insects. Also known as a parasite fungus, cordyceps infect their host through spores that spread throughout the insect’s body, eventually killing it.
Once this fungus gets all the nutrients from its host, its fruiting body then breaks through the host’s carcass to spread more spores. Each cordyceps species has its own insect host that it targets.
The cordyceps mushroom’s fruiting body is then taken and used in teas or ground down and added to various dishes. These sometimes also contain the insect host.
There are over 300 species of this adaptogenic mushroom, and of those, researchers have discovered about 35 varieties that may contain potential medicinal benefits. Only 2, however, have become the focus of recent research; cordyceps sinesis and cordyceps militarist. (Source)
Cordyceps can be found all over the world however, most species are in Asia, specifically Nepal, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Cordyceps sinesis has been commonly used in ancient Chinese medicine to treat ailments such as fatigue, cough, low libido, and kidney disease. (Source)
Cordyceps sinesis is the most popular species of cordyceps because of its long-time use in Chinese medicine. It’s also referred to as Dong Chong Xia Cao, which translates to “worm in winter, grass in summer.”
It is considered one of the rarest forms of cordyceps as it typically grows in the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas on ghost moth larvae.
Because cordyceps sinesis is so rare, many have started cultivating it in different regions or using the next best alternative which is cordyceps militarist.
These two species are very similar, and research has found that they provide many of the same medicinal benefits. Both mushrooms can also be cultivated in a lab to allow for a more accessible and inexpensive option. (Source)
Nutritional Benefits Of Cordyceps
The nutrients in the cordyceps mushroom are similar in comparison to most fungi, including your standard white or portabella mushroom.
They are low in calories and often considered a good source of plant protein however, contrary to popular belief mushrooms do not contain a good complete protein source despite their frequent use as a meat alternative in vegan and vegetarian dishes.
The nutritional benefits of cordyceps, however, are significantly different. For example, cordyceps, including sinesis and militaris species, are believed to provide anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties, improve exercise performance, improve blood sugar management, help with cancer prevention, and provide benefits for heart health.
Although the research on these effects is promising, it is important to note that many studies conducted using cordyceps were done so on animals or in test-tube studies, and further research using human trials is still needed. (Source)
Medicinal Uses For Cordyceps
There are no proven medicinal uses for cordyceps in the United States currently.
Although there is a lot of promising research on the potential cordyceps benefits for the prevention or management of certain conditions, further research remains warranted, specifically in human trials.
However, cordyceps are currently approved for medicinal use in China. Traditional Chinese medicine recognizes cordyceps as non-toxic and Cordyceps CS-4 (synthetically grown cordyceps) has been approved by the Chinese government for hospital use. (Source)
Cordyceps And Immunity
There are studies available that support the role of cordyceps in improving immunity.
These studies showed cordyceps to help boost immune response and antioxidant activity in immunosuppressed mice.
Cordyceps And Athletic Performance
Some studies have found a possible connection between the properties of cordyceps and improved athletic performance.
Cordyceps are believed to help boost adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels, the molecules responsible for providing energy to your muscle tissue. This helps to boost stamina and reduce muscle fatigue so you can get more out of your workout. (Source)(Source)
Although the studies are promising, there still is not sufficient evidence to suggest the use of cordyceps for improved athletic performance.
Additionally, other studies have found that cordyceps did not improve athletic performance in trained athletes. (Source)
Cordyceps And Respiratory Health
A common use for cordyceps in Ancient Chinese medicine was for lung health.
Studies available suggest cordyceps may protect against certain lung diseases, such as lung fibrosis and obstructive pulmonary disease.
Based on the research, there is hope for the potential use of cordyceps for the treatment or management of certain lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Cordyceps And Cancer Prevention
Some studies have discovered that cordyceps may provide cancer-protective properties by exerting an anti-tumor effect.
Several studies have found that cordyceps can inhibit tumor growth for specific cancers, including non-small cell lung cancers, colorectal cancers, and liver cancers; however, these were limited to test-tube studies. (Source)(Source)(Source)
Additional studies in mice found that cordyceps could be used to help treat potential side effects of cancer, such as leukopenia, which can increase the risk of developing infections.
There is limited research on this involving human studies therefore cordyceps cannot yet be considered an effective treatment for cancer or the associated side effects. (Source)
Other Potential Benefits Of Cordyceps
Aside from potential uses for conditions such as respiratory diseases, athletic performance, cancer prevention, and improved immunity, cordyceps have been researched for other possible uses, including blood sugar management.
Several studies on rats found that the type of sugar found in cordyceps may mimic the action of insulin which can help to decrease blood sugar levels. There is even a review of several human trials available that shows cordyceps may help prevent certain adverse side effects from diabetes, such as kidney disease. However, the results remain inconclusive at this time as many of the studies were low-quality and lacked sufficient evidence. (Source)(Source)(Source)
Cordyceps have also been studied for their potential role in heart health. This fungus is even approved in China to be used as a treatment for an irregular heartbeat.
Although all studies were conducted on animals, cordyceps appear to help improve heart health by reducing heart injuries in rats with chronic kidney disease suggesting a cardio-protective effect.
Other studies have found that cordyceps help to decrease LDL (a.k.a “bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels which are known to result in a greater risk of heart disease when elevated. (Source)(Source)(Source)
Additionally, cordyceps may help heart health and protect against various diseases by acting as an anti-inflammatory. Some research supports cordyceps as an anti-inflammatory supplement and has the potential to help treat certain conditions, including asthma; however, it is not more effective than prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs. (Source)(Source)
Lastly, cordyceps are believed to help provide an anti-aging effect by regulating energy metabolism.
Sometimes referred to as “Himalayan Viagra”, cordyceps are thought to help reduce fatigue, improve libido, and increase sex drive. (Source)
How To Use Cordyceps
Cordyceps have been taken several different ways throughout history. Whether they were eaten whole, dried, created into a tincture, steeped into a tea, or added to a pill or capsule, the best way to take cordyceps at this time is likely through powder or capsule form as this is what has the most available research and is most easily accessible.
Taking cordyceps in capsule or powdered form also allows for it to be concentrated to higher levels, which is associated with more favorable effects.
You can take it on its own or in a combination supplement, such as Human Tonik’s Red Tonik superfood powder or Greens and Reds superfood powder which both contain 1000mg of cordyceps extract per serving.
As a bonus, many customers report this supplement to be extremely helpful in boosting overall fruit and veggie intake through their customer reviews.
Naturally grown and harvested cordyceps sinesis is very pricy and difficult to find. Because of this, many supplements provide synthetically grown cordyceps. You can find this listed on the supplement labels as “Cordyceps CS-4.”
Unfortunately, supplements are not strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and many products claim to include cordyceps in their ingredients without having to provide proof. You also may be getting lesser amounts of this ingredient and therefore might not be getting the purported benefits.
It’s also not required that brands tell you the specific species of cordyceps they provide in their products, which means you could be getting one that is not strongly associated with the claims listed on the product itself. Because of this, it’s important to get your cordyceps supplements from trusted brands.
Although supplements allow you to get larger doses, those who prefer to know exactly what they are consuming may prefer to eat cordyceps mushrooms as a part of their diet.
Although they are safe to consume on their own and have been described to have a mild savory, and earthy flavor, most prefer to cook them or add them to various dishes such as soups or casseroles.
Although if you do plan to eat cordyceps mushrooms, you will likely be consuming cordyceps militaris as it is a lot more available and less expensive than sinesis.
In fact, there is a huge domain of recipes utilizing the cordyceps mushrooms available online and can range from sweet items such as snickerdoodle ice cream shakes using cordyceps to more savory, such as cordyceps butter biscuits.
A common favorite among many cordyceps consumers includes adding it to coffees and teas in lieu of caffeine.
If you aren’t feeling adventurous then taking a cordyceps supplement may be more your style.
Before taking cordyceps, be sure to get a high-quality cordyceps supplement.
Look for products that contain the “United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) seal on their label.
Other important things to look for are supplements that provide third-party testing for quality and purity, and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification, both of which can be found on Human Tonik’s Red Tonik and Greens and Reds supplement. (Source)
Currently, there is no conclusive research on effective doses of cordyceps in supplements. Researchers have used between 1,000 to 3,000mg doses in many studies as this has not been associated with side effects.
Although other countries such as China have recognized cordyceps as a safe and potentially effective natural drug, there are no studies available that have examined the safety of taking cordyceps in humans. (Source)
Potential Side Effects Of Cordyceps
Although cordyceps aren’t known to cause severe adverse reactions, there are some side effects that researchers have discovered are associated with taking these mushrooms, which include gastrointestinal upset such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Because cordyceps mushrooms may mimic the action of insulin, it is not recommended for individuals with diabetes or who struggle with hypoglycemia to take cordyceps as they may cause your blood sugar levels to drop too low.
It is recommended for individuals who have had an organ transplant to avoid taking cordyceps supplements as it could interfere with the anti-rejection medications.
Additionally, those who struggle with certain autoimmune disorders, such as fibromyalgia, may want to avoid cordyceps as it might result in a flare-up of the condition. (Source)
Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant should also avoid cordyceps supplements as there is no research available on the potential effects of this fungus on pregnancy or if it crosses into breast milk.
Always speak to your doctor or healthcare provider before adding a cordyceps supplement into your routine, especially if you are taking any medication for a chronic condition as it could result in a medication interaction.
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Potential cordyceps mushroom benefits are far-reaching however, they are not yet proven through sufficient research using human trials.
Based on available studies, a cordyceps supplement containing 1000-3000mg of synthetic cordyceps (Cordyceps CS-4) is unlikely to provide any adverse side effects and may even contain benefits such as improved blood sugar control, improved heart health, and anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating benefits.
Taking a synthetic cordyceps supplement in capsule or powder form is likely the best available option, such as Human Tonik’s Red Tonik superfood powder or Greens and Reds superfood powder which both contain 1000mg of cordyceps extract per serving.
Always choose products that provide transparency to their consumers using third-party testing and check for seals such as USP, NSP, and GMP certified.
Avoid cordyceps supplements if you suffer from conditions such as diabetes, or autoimmune disorders or if you are pregnant, nursing, or planning to become pregnant.
Always speak to your doctor or healthcare provider before adding a cordyceps supplement to your routine, especially if you are taking any medications for a chronic condition.
Meghan is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from San Jose, California. She received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Following an unexpected cross-country trip that landed her in Florida, she completed her didactic training through AdventHealth Orlando.
Meghan has extensive experience in multiple aspects of dietetics including critical care, motivational interviewing, writing, and research. She is passionate about health and wellness and has dedicated her free time to breaking down complicated nutrition topics and disseminating them to the public through the arena of writing.