9 Science-Backed Health Benefits Of Cordyceps

Written by Sindhu Koganti , BTech (Biotechnology), Diploma In Nutrition

Cordyceps mushrooms are remains of fungi and insects with rare medicinal values. They have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. This highly valued parasitic fungus grows on the larvae of insects. The outgrowth of the host is collected, dried, and sold as Cordyceps supplements. These mushrooms are rich in antioxidants and polysaccharides, and have anti-inflammatory properties. They help enhance exercise performance, reduce cancer risk, help manage diabetes, and improve heart health.

In this article, we explore the health benefits of Cordyceps, its supplements, and the possible side effects. Continue reading.

Health Benefits Of Cordyceps

1. Increase Exercise Performance

Polysaccharides (polycarbohydrates) are active components in Cordyceps and possess anti-fatigue properties (1). A study by the University of North Carolina, USA, found that acute supplementation of Cordyceps may improve tolerance to high-intensity exercise. It indicated greater benefits with consistent chronic supplementation (2). Cordyceps also boost the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) molecules and enhance the body’s oxygen consumption during exercise (3). These mushrooms are also found to increase oxygen uptake (VO2) and resistance to fatigue among older people during exercise (4). Another study by the University of California, USA, suggests that taking Cordyceps capsules thrice a day for 12 weeks boosts exercise performance. They may also contribute to wellness (5).

2. May Help Reduce Cancer Risk

Cordyceps have an anti-cancer effect (6). Cordycepin, the first isolated drug from Cordyceps militaris, prevents the spread of cancer cells besides inhibiting their growth. It works by suppressing tumor through different pathways (7). The polysaccharides and other bioactive compounds in Cordyceps also act as potent anti-cancer agents (8). A study suggests that the methanolic extract of C. militaris inhibits the growth of several tumor cells (9). Similarly, the ethanol extract of Cordyceps has a high cytotoxic (damaging or killing cells) activity that can prevent the growth of colon and liver cancer cells (10), (11).

3. May Have Anti-Aging Properties

The polysaccharides in Cordyceps have antioxidant and anti-aging properties that may slow down the signs of premature aging (12). As per a review published in the International Journal Of Molecular Medicine, Cordyceps sinensis oral liquid (CSOL) was found to improve the lifespan of the fruit flies by inhibiting oxidative stress (13). C. sinensis has also been shown to reverse age-related changes in gene expression and prolong the lifespan of mice (14). However, more studies are needed to understand this phenomenon of cordyceps in humans.

4. May Help Manage Diabetes

A study by Chang-Jung Christian University, Taiwan, on diabetic rats suggests that the fruiting body of Cordyceps can serve as a functional food for those with diabetes (15). In addition, a combination of powders of fruiting bodies and the mycelia (the vegetative parts) of Cordyceps was found to protect the kidneys of those with diabetic nephropathy (16).

5. May Improve Heart Health

Cordycepin, a bioactive component in Cordyceps militaris, has lipid-lowering effects (17). Besides, Cordyceps have been approved to treat arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) in China (3). Oral administration of C. sinensis could also treat heart injuries in a rat model with chronic kidney disease (18). The extracts of mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis have cardioprotective and antioxidant properties. They were found to help reduce contracture (deformity due to tightness of muscles) in the heart (19). Also, a study on hamsters found that cordycepin can prevent hyperlipidemia (20). However, more human studies are needed to understand these benefits of Cordyceps.

6. May Help Fight Inflammation

Cordyceps militarisis used in Chinese medicine to treat lung and bronchial inflammation. In a study, it could effectively reduce airway inflammation in mice with asthma (21). In addition, the methanol extracts of Cordyceps pruinosa were found to suppress the inflammation-causing genes (22). A review published in Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine suggests that Paecilomyces hepiali (a strain of Cordyceps spp) has anti-inflammatory effects that help reduce the expression of inflammatory genes (23). However, more studies are warranted to understand this benefit of Cordyceps in humans.

Insufficient Evidence For

7. May Increase Sex Drive

Ophiocordyceps sinensis has medicinal properties that can enhance sexual performance and libido (sexual desire). It is shown to increase sperm count, mobility, and serum testosterone levels (24). Cordyceps sinensis extract (CSE) also promoted sexual function in castrated rats (25).

8. May Help Treat Kidney Disease

A study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, China, found that Cordyceps sinensis may be used to treat kidney disease (26). Cordyceps preparations, as an adjuvant therapy to conventional medicine, showed potential promise to alleviate complications of chronic kidney disease. However, evidence is too limited to arrive at any definitive conclusion.

9. May Improve Liver Health

Cultured Cordyceps sinensis mycelia may have the potential to improve liver function (27). However, limited studies are available to prove this claim.

Cordyceps are available in different forms. In the following section, we will discuss what to look for when buying its supplement form.

Cordyceps Supplements

Cordyceps supplements are available as capsules, tablets, or powders. You can also buy dried Cordyceps mushrooms online. Dried forms are often used to make extracts while powdered Cordyceps can be blended into tea, smoothies, or protein shakes. Always look for NSF or USP seals on the labels while buying supplements. Ensure the product is yeast-free.

What is the recommended dosage of Cordyceps? Read to know the answer.

Recommended Dosage Of Cordyceps

No recorded dosage recommendations of Cordyceps are available as most of the studies are limited to animals. However, most anecdotal studies suggest that taking 1 to 3 grams of Cordyceps is per day is safe and has no side effects.

In the following section, we understand how you can store Cordyceps.

How To Store Cordyceps?

Keep them in a cool and dry place. Store unsealed supplements in a refrigerator. Place them in the freezer if you want to consume them for a long time.

That said, consuming them for extended periods may cause side effects in some individuals. Let us understand more in the next section.

Possible Side Effects Of Cordyceps

Cordyceps are generally considered safe if you use them in the short run. They are also considered non-toxic, but some people may experience nausea, diarrhea, and dry mouth. Avoid them if you have rheumatoid arthritis (chronic inflammatory disorder affecting many joints) (28). Pregnant and lactating women should avoid them due to limited data on their safety. Consult your doctor before using Cordyceps if you are on any medication.

The Takeaway

Cordyceps are extensively used in traditional Chinese medicine for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Their consumption helps boost exercise performance, reduce the risk of cancer, and slow down signs of premature aging. They also help improve heart health, manage diabetes, and fight inflammation. Consult your doctor before using Cordyceps as no recorded dosage recommendations are available. Always look for third-party certifications on the labels to avoid buying contaminated supplements.

References:

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  1. Effect of Polysaccharide from Cordycepsmilitaris (Ascomycetes) on Physical Fatigue Induced by Forced Swimming
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28094746/
  2. Cordycepsmilitaris Improves Tolerance to High-Intensity Exercise After Acute and Chronic Supplementation
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27408987/
  3. Cordyceps as a Herbal Drug
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92758/
  4. Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordycepssinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02836405
  5. Effect of Cs-4 (Cordycepssinensis) on exercise performance in healthy older subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20804368/
  6. Anticancer and antimetastatic effects of cordycepin, an active component of Cordycepssinensis
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272750546_Anticancer_and_antimetastatic_effects_of_cordycepin_an_active_component_of_Cordyceps_sinensis
  7. Anti-tumor and anti-metastatic roles of cordycepin, one bioactive compound of Cordycepsmilitaris
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319562X1830127X?via%3Dihub
  8. Cordyceps Mushroom: A Potent Anticancer Nutraceutical
    https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Cordyceps-Mushroom%3A-A-Potent-Anticancer-Khan-Tania/9157909cc7e8dceaccebb8e557a59848227e0bc5?p2df
  9. Cordycepsmilitaris (L.) Link Fruiting Body Reduces the Growth of a Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Cell Line by Increasing Cellular Levels of p53 and p21
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26263965/
  10. Anti-cancer effect of Cordycepsmilitaris in human colorectal carcinoma RKO cells via cell cycle arrest and mitochondrial apoptosis
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26141646/
  11. Anti-tumor effect of Cordycepsmilitaris in HCV-infected human hepatocarcinoma 7.5 cells
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26115996/
  12. Antioxidant and anti-aging activities of polysaccharides from Cordyceps cicadae
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32339570/
  13. Cordycepssinensis oral liquid prolongs the lifespan of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, by inhibiting oxidative stress
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4564082/
  14. Cordycepssinensis Cs-4 restores aging-associated changes in gene expression and extends lifespan in normal aged mice
    https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.25.1_supplement.1090.13
  15. The anti-hyperglycemic activity of the fruiting body of Cordyceps in diabetic rats induced by nicotinamide and streptozotocin
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15050427/
  16. Cordycepsmilitaris Treatment Preserves Renal Function in Type 2 Diabetic Nephropathy Mice
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27832180/
  17. Lipid-lowering effect of cordycepin (3-deoxyadenosine) from Cordycepsmilitaris on hyperlipidemic hamsters and rats
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21882527/
  18. Cordycepssinensis protects against liver and heart injuries in a rat model of chronic kidney disease: a metabolomic analysis
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4814030/
  19. Cardiovascular protection and antioxidant activity of the extracts from the mycelia of Cordycepssinensis act partially via adenosine receptors
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23192916/
  20. Cordycepin prevents hyperlipidemia in hamsters fed a high-fat diet via activation of AMP-activated protein kinase
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20724804/
  21. Effects of the immunomodulatory agent Cordycepsmilitaris on airway inflammation in a mouse asthma model
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19133568/
  22. Methanol extract of Cordycepspruinosa inhibits in vitro and in vivo inflammatory mediators by suppressing NF-kappaB activation
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12831777/
  23. Anti-inflammatory effects of Cordyceps mycelium (Paecilomyceshepiali, CBG-CS-2) in Raw264.7 murine macrophages
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4371127/
  24. Review of Naturopathy of Medical Mushroom, OphiocordycepsSinensis, in Sexual Dysfunction
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4791983/
  25. Antiaging effect of Cordycepssinensis extract
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18803231/
  26. Cordycepssinensis (a traditional Chinese medicine) for treating chronic kidney disease
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25519252/
  27. Short-term curative effect of cultured Cordycepssinensis (Berk.) Sacc. Mycelia in chronic hepatitis B
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1693509/
  28. Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13205-013-0121-9

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