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CORDYCEPS: 10 Health Benefits of this Medicinal Mushroom!

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Cordyceps is a type of medicinal mushroom that has been a staple in holistic medicine for centuries and has long been revered for its potent anti-ageing, health-promoting properties.

In recent years, research on the Cordyceps mushroom has turned up even more impressive findings – reporting that this ‘super supplement’ can also enhance athletic performance, promote heart health, decrease inflammation, improve your sex drive, and keep you feeling your best!

How this ‘weird fungus’ could help you slow ageing, prevent illness and feel your best!

About Cordyceps Sinensis – ‘The Caterpillar Fungus’

There are 400 species of cordyceps, most of which are native to Bhutan, China, Korea, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. The most well-known medicinal species is Cordyceps sinensis. As a valued medicinal fungus in China, it is used for its invigorating effects in strengthening the body and restoring energy.

Cordyceps sinensis is a parasitic fungus that grows on the larvae of insects. This is why Cordyceps sinensis is often referred to as the ‘caterpillar fungus’ because the fungus grows in the larvae of moths. The remains of the larvae and fungi have been hand-collected, dried and used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries.

So valued is wild Cordyceps in China, that a kilogram often costs in excess of $20,000. Most supplements today are made from an engineered fungal culture that has the biological characteristics of Cordyceps sinensis but cannot produce the mushroom itself. This is also a benefit, as the fruiting bodies harvested in nature usually contain high amounts of arsenic and other heavy metals – so they are potentially toxic. This has resulted in sales of wild-harvested Cordyceps being strictly regulated by the CFDA (China Food and Drug Administration) since 2016.

wild cordyceps fungus bhutan
Wild Cordyceps: highly priced, and potentially toxic!

Supplements containing Cordyceps extract have become increasingly popular in the West, due to their many health benefits – and these potential health benefits are promising!

How can this ‘weird fungus’ help you slow ageing, prevent illness and feel your best?

Here are 10 Benefits of Cordyceps Mushroom

1. Can Help You Slow Ageing

Cordyceps are jam-packed with antioxidants that can help fight free radical damage, prevent oxidative stress and help slow the signs of ageing to optimise your health. Although research on the anti-ageing effects of this medicinal mushroom is primarily limited to animal studies, research shows that it can boost brain function, enhance memory, and even extend longevity.1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27433838

For example, in the journal ‘Phytotherapy Research’, a study showed that taking cordyceps extract increased the activity of antioxidants like superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase in the blood. Not only that, but it also helped boost brain power and enhance sexual function in ageing rats.2)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18803231

Similarly, another study out of China found that administering Cordyceps extract to fruit flies significantly prolonged their lifespan by blocking oxidative stress to the cells, confirming the potent anti-ageing properties of Cordyceps.3)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4564082/

2. Can Improve Stamina & Endurance

Several studies suggest that cordyceps can boost athletic performance – improving physical abilities, endurance and stamina – partially because they boost the body’s supply of ATP, one of the primary sources of energy during exercise.4)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1847515/

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine demonstrated that supplementation with Cordyceps sinensis improved exercise performance and contributed to overall markers of wellness in older adults.5)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20804368 Considered an ‘energising adaptogen’, cordyceps are often used to help fight fatigue, treat muscle aches and prevent weakness.

Cordyceps mushrooms are also thought to improve the way your body uses oxygen, especially during exercise. In one study, researchers tested their effects on exercise capacity in 30 healthy older adults using a stationary bike. By the end of the study, VO2 max had increased by 7% in participants who had taken the cordyceps, while participants given the placebo pill showed no change.6)https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02836405 VO2 max is a measurement used to determine fitness level.7)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17218891

Back in 1993, Cordyceps was in all sports headlines when, at the Chinese National Games, nine world records (including the 10,000 metres, won by an astonishing 40 seconds) were broken by the Chinese team. It turned out that their supplemental routine included Cordyceps.

In 2004, the New Zealand Herald published an article about a clinical trial on the effect of Cordyceps.8)Connor, S. Chinese mushroom remedy found to boost fitness. New Zealand Herald, 2004 The experiment revealed that, for the 131 volunteers in the trial, there was a significant increase in aerobic fitness when participants took extracts of Cordyceps.

The study also showed that Cordyceps extract is effective in enhancing aerobic exercise capability, endurance exercise performance and exercise metabolism and alleviating fatigue in healthy people.

In addition, Cordyceps reduces lactic acid build-up in muscles, which makes muscles sore after a workout.9)Mindell, E. Dr Earl Mindell’s peak performance bible. USA: Simon & Schuster Incorporation, 2001

3. Can Improve General Energy & Vitality

Relief of fatigue is a well-known effect of Cordyceps. When it comes to energy, you may think about carbs to gain energy, but what it all comes down to at the cellular level is ATP (the molecule that actually releases energy in the cell).

As mentioned before, Cordyceps increases the cellular ATP level and oxygen utilisation, which leads to a real increase in actual energy that is available for use – not just during exercise!

Plus, as Cordyceps increases oxygen availability, (which means easier breathing) many high-altitude climbers use Cordyceps regularly to increase oxygen capacity and get an energy boost.10)Holliday, J. et al. On the Trial of The Yak Ancient Cordyceps in the Modern World. 2004.

You don’t need to be a high altitude climber to receive the boost! Clinical studies conducted in elderly patients with fatigue have shown significant improvement in the level of fatigue, ability to tolerate cold temperatures, memory and cognitive capacity, and sex drive.11)Talbott, SM. A guide to understanding dietary supplements. New York: Haworth Press, 2003.

After taking Cordyceps for 30 days:

  • 92% of individuals showed a reduction of chronic fatigue
  • 89% showed a reduction in feeling cold
  • 83% showed a reduction in dizziness.

Another study with healthy older volunteers (average age 65) that administered Cordyceps 6 weeks while exercising on stationary bikes -showed that a group had significant increases in energy and oxygen capacity.12)Holliday, J. et al. On the Trial of The Yak Ancient Cordyceps in the Modern World. 2004.

4. Can Help You Regulate Blood Sugar Levels

Cordyceps has long been used as a traditional treatment for diabetes in China. A number of clinical trials (in animals and humans) have shown the potential of Cordyceps as a blood sugar regulation agent. Two active constituents in cordyceps, d-mannitol cordycepin and 3’-deoxyadenosine, are partially responsible for various physiological actions that help control insulin and blood sugar levels.

In animal models, cordyceps supplements have helped combat high blood sugar levels while also reducing insulin levels to protect against insulin resistance.13)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4519550/

A 2012 study from Taiwan reported that a four-week course of a cordyceps extract was able to improve cholesterol levels and reduce weight in diabetic mice but did nothing to alter blood sugar levels or improve insulin resistance.

Despite this, the researchers suggested that the benefits of weight loss in controlling diabetes may be significant. Moreover, an improved cholesterol profile is generally associated with increased insulin sensitivity.

Various animal trials showed that Cordyceps improves blood glucose metabolism, increases insulin sensitivity and increases the liver’s output of the glucose-regulating enzymes.14)Zhao CS. et al. Cordyceps Cs-4 improves glucose metabolism and increases insulin sensitivity in normal rats. J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Aug;8(4):403-5; Kiho T. et al.  15)Hypoglycemic activity of a polysaccharide (CS-F30) from the cultural mycelium of Cordyceps sinensis and its effect on glucose metabolism in mouse liver. Phytother Res 2000 Dec;14(8):647-9; Tai-Hao, H. et al. Biological activity of Cordyceps (Fr.) Link Species (Ascomycetes) Derived from a Natural Source and from Fermented Mycelia on Diabetes in STZ-Induced Rats. Inter J of Med Mush 4; 111-125.

5. Supports Heart Health

Research has found a strong link between Cordyceps and heart health, with studies showing that it could help protect the heart against damage and lower cholesterol levels to prevent coronary heart disease.

One study showed that cordyceps extract helped reduce damage to the heart and liver in rats with kidney disease.16)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24632844 Other research shows that cordyceps could help lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol to prevent arteriosclerosis, a condition characterised by plaque build-up in the arteries and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.17)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20724804 18)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12520179 Other animal models show that it may also reduce high triglycerides, another major risk factor for heart disease.19)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21882527

The research materials published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggest that Cordyceps can lower high blood pressure and correct cardiac arrhythmia, extend its latent period and reduce the duration of cardiac arrhythmia attacks.20)Zhu, JS, Halpern, GM, Jones, K. The scientific rediscovery of a precious ancient Chinese herbal regimen: Cordyceps sinensis. Part II. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1998, 4(4), 429–457

Numerous studies of people with chronic heart issues also show that the long-term administration of Cordyceps in combination with conventional treatments significantly improves general physical condition, mental health, sexual drive and cardiac function, compared to the control group who receive conventional treatments only.21)Chen D.G. Effects of JinShuiBao Capsule on the Quality of Life of Patients with Heart Failure. Journal of Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine 5 (1995): 40-43.

Particularly interesting is Cordyceps’ ability to reduce coronary vascular resistance by 49% and the pressure in the lumen by 116% which leads to increased blood flow in the vessels by 35%. Cerebral vascular resistance was reduced mostly to 75%.22)Feng, Y.-M., Sun, J.-L., Tong, G.-X., Zhang, X.-T., & Zhang, Y.3. (1987). Studies on the structure and function of transferrin: 1. Isolation and purification of pig serum transferrin and its application in serum-free cell cultures. Acta Biochim. Biophys. Sin. 19,322-327.

The effect of Cordyceps extract was tested on 34 patients with chronic heart failure, using echocardiography to compare their cardiac output to a control group of 30 patients who had received conventional treatment. After administration of Cordyceps, cardiac output increased by 60% and compared to only 25% in the control group. Cordyceps extract surpassed both modern antiplatelet agents, which are considered promising, as well as conventional medications for the treatment of heart disease.23)Chen D.G. Effects of JinShuiBao Capsule on the Quality of Life of Patients with Heart Failure. Journal of Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine 5 (1995): 40-43

A clinical trial was conducted on 38 elderly patients with arrhythmia.24)Jiang H, Wu D, and Simon MI (1994) Activation of phospholipase C4 by heterotrimeric GTP-binding proteins. J Biol Chem 269: 7593-7596

After three months of receiving Cordyceps at a high dose, the results were:

  • supraventricular arrhythmia treatment success was observed in 24 patients (83%)
  • ventricular arrhythmias success rate was 80% (10 patients).

Want to learn more about optimising Heart Health?

In the ‘7 Steps for a Healthier Heart’ WEBINAR – we do a ‘deep dive’ into the steps addressing some of the underlying causes of Heart Disease, and introduce you to the Savvy Team’s ‘Healthy Heart Challenge’!

6. May Help Fight Cancer Cells

Several promising in vitro studies have found that cordyceps could possess powerful anti-cancer properties and may help block the growth and spread of several different types of cancer. In particular, in vitro studies show that cordyceps extract may be effective at reducing the growth of liver, lung and colorectal cancer cells.25)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26141646 26)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26115996 27)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26263965

However, the anti-cancer effects of cordyceps extend beyond stopping cancer growth. Animal studies also show that these medicinal mushrooms could also reduce the risk of side effects caused by cancer treatment, including leukopenia, a condition sometimes caused by chemotherapy or radiation that results in a decrease in the number of white blood cells in the body and a higher risk of infection and illness.28)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2775070/

7. Can Enhance Sexual Function

Traditionally, people of both sexes took tonics made from cordyceps to enhance libido and improve reproductive function. Based on animal models, it appears that cordyceps supplements can help the body utilise oxygen more efficiently and improve blood flow, which is important for physical health and sexual function.29)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10743500

Improved endurance, increased energy and lower levels of inflammation are several other reasons that cordyceps may improve fertility and libido. So cordyceps may be used as a natural treatment for infertility as well as a natural remedy for impotence.

The results of human clinical trials published in The Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine demonstrated that Cordyceps is effective in increasing sex drive and affects sexual functions either via sex hormone systems or by directly acting on the sexual organs.

For example, three separate studies were conducted on a total of 756 people with decreased sex drive who were given either a placebo or Cordyceps for 40 days. The results of those studies demonstrated that 64.8% of the Cordyceps users reported significant improvement in sexual function compared with 23.8% of the placebo group.30)Zhu, J. et al. The Scientific Rediscovery of an Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine: Cordyceps sinensis The Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine [part 1]Volume 4, Number 3, 1998, pp. 289—303 [part 2] Volume 4, Number 4, 1998, pp. 429 – 457.

The results of another controlled study conducted on elderly men and women with decreased libido, impotence and other sexual dysfunctions who were given Cordyceps for 40 days, showed increased sperm survival time and increased sperm count as well as a majority of patients reporting improvement in libido and sexual health.31)Zhu, J. et al. The Scientific Rediscovery of an Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine: Cordyceps sinensis The Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine [part 1]Volume 4, Number 3, 1998, pp. 289—303 [part 2] Volume 4, Number 4, 1998, pp. 429 – 457 

8. Can Improve Immune Function

Some studies suggest that consuming cordyceps benefits immune function, as the extract contains anti-inflammatory compounds like polysaccharides, modified nucleosides and cyclosporines. The immune system is responsible for the body’s defence against viral and bacterial infections, and keeping it working optimally is important for long-term wellbeing.

Cordyceps can stimulate the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells – our body’s first line of defence against various infections and illness.32)Holliday, J et al. Encyclopedia of dietary supplements. Dekker Encyclopedias, Taylor and Francis Publishing, 2005 Because of this quality, Cordyceps is often recommended as a rejuvenator for increasing energy while recovering from an operation or a serious illness.

The Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional Western Medicine published that Cordyceps enhanced the immune system in healthy individuals as well as in patients with leukaemia: the white blood cells’ activity was increased by 74% in healthy individuals and by 400% in leukaemia patients.33)Talbott, SM. A guide to understanding dietary supplements. New York: Haworth Press, 2003

The book Cordyceps: China’s Healing Mushroom describes numerous immune-boosting effects of Cordyceps: an increase in the number of white blood cells, T-helper cells, NK cells and macrophages, which manifests itself as increased cellular immunity against infections, especially viral and fungal.34)Halpern, G.,Cordyceps: China’s healing mushroom, Avery Publishing Group, New York, 1999

Taking cordyceps may be especially beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory-related conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, arthritis, leaky gut and asthma. In fact, one animal model conducted by the Chung Shan Medical University Hospital showed that cordyceps were effective at reducing inflammation in the airways of mice, potentially aiding in the treatment of asthma.35)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19133568

Want to learn more about optimising your Immune System?

Download the Special Report – ’11 SUPERFOODS & Herbs for Defending Yourself Against the WINTER Bugs & Blues!’

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9. Can Help ‘Open the Airways’

Traditional Chinese medicine has promoted Cordyceps as a guardian of respiratory health for more than a thousand years.

Cordyceps extract has the ability to alleviate the symptoms of various respiratory illnesses including chronic bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, and phlegm.

It is believed that this is mainly due to the anti-inflammatory properties of Cordyceps and its tendency to relax the bronchial walls and promote enhanced oxygen utilisation efficacy.36)Ganxhon, L et al. The essentials of traditional Chinese herbal medicine (5th edition). USA: Foreign Language Press, 2003

Cordyceps sinensis inhibits tracheal contractions and allows for increased airflow to the lungs, which is especially important for people with asthma. A clinical study involving 50 asthma patients showed that a group treated with Cordyceps demonstrated an 81.3% improvement rate within an average of 5 days, compared to 61% within an average of 9 days of the group treated with conventional antihistamines.37)Halpern, G. Cordyceps, Chinas healing mushroom. Avery Publishing 1999: 63-70.

There has been very extensive trials in humans that demonstrated a positive tendency in treatment by Cordyceps of various respiratory illness, including asthma, COPD, and bronchitis.38)Zhu, J et al. The Scientific Rediscovery of an Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine: Cordyceps sinensis The Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine [part 1]Volume 4, Number 3, 1998, pp. 289—303 [part 2] Volume 4, Number 4, 1998, pp. 429 – 457.

Plus, mice fed Cordyceps and subjected to an extremely low oxygen environment were able to utilise oxygen more efficiently (30–50% increase), better tolerate acidosis and hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and live 2–3 times longer than a control group. A powerful result!39)Talbott, SM. A guide to understanding dietary supplements. New York: Haworth Press, 2003

10. May Help Fight Systemic Inflammation

Cordyceps is said to help fight inflammation in the body. Although some inflammation is good, chronic inflammation has been linked to diseases like heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

Research has shown that when the body cells are exposed to Cordyceps, special proteins that increase inflammation in the body become suppressed!40)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8874668 41)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12831777 42)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12413710 43)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4371127/

Thanks to these potential effects, researchers believe Cordyceps may serve as a useful anti-inflammatory supplement for long-term use.44)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4371127/

Concluding Thoughts & Extra Tips

Chinese herbs such as Cordyceps can really help your body withstand physiological or nervous stress, plus keep your stamina and endurance higher for daily activities.

This extra endurance will help you get more out of your fitness regime by allowing you to power through your physical training and help the body’s ability to recover from exercise much quicker.

If you are allergic to moulds or yeast, you may be best to avoid Cordyceps. We have rarely seen this as an issue, and many community members have actually found over time, their reaction to moulds lessens and they correct the underlying imbalance in the body and follow the anti-inflammatory Eat Savvy Diet.

People on diabetes medications may need to avoid cordyceps as the combined use may result in an extreme drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia). 

People with bleeding disorders or who take anticoagulants (‘blood thinners’) or anti-clotting drugs may need to avoid cordyceps as well. Taking them together may increase the risk of bleeding or easy bruising. Of course, it makes sense to work with your doctor is these cases and reduce the medication.

We use a blend that also contains the medicinal mushroom Reishi, along with other supportive ingredients in the formula 

There are no universal guidelines for the appropriate use of cordyceps or cordyceps supplements. As a rule of thumb, never use more than the recommended dosage on the product label. If you develop any unusual symptoms after consuming cordyceps, stop and let your doctor know. Be sure to keep the product packaging to show the doctor.

We use a blend with Cordyceps sinensis as part of programs such as our workplace-wellness focused ‘High-Performance Wellbeing’ Program for Executives & Entrepreneurs. You can view the Masterclass we conducted for that here.

Have questions? Want to know what we suggest?

Reach out to your Savvy Team contact, chat with us via Facebook Messenger or use our contact page.

If you’d like to try the blend we suggest, it is available in the Australia / New Zealand region and we will hook you up with a $10 credit towards your first order. If you have a Savvy Team Wellness Guide already – please ask them.

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