Cordyceps are a strange-looking fungus classified as mushrooms that almost resemble some sort of crawling insect. Sure enough, it’s a fungus that consumes insects like caterpillars and ants and shoots out of them after consuming them. Amazingly, they happen to be one of the healthiest fungi on the planet for human consumption. They’ve been highly regarded in Asian systems of folk medicine for thousands of years. Today, you can take cordyceps in tablet, powder or capsule form to take advantage of its therapeutic properties.
A true natural medicine, cordyceps contains a laundry list of antioxidants, vitamins and enzymes responsible for its healing abilities. Their effects have been studied in labs and found to improve exercise performance, slow down the aging process, fight cancer, lower inflammation, stabilize blood sugar and improve heart health. Here are 11 ways cordyceps can enhance your health in the short- and long-term:
1. Fights Free Radicals
Free radicals are unstable molecules that wreak havoc on the body’s cellular and DNA structures by stealing electrons in order to balance themselves. Free radical damage has been linked to premature aging and an acceleration of the aging process in older individuals. It also can play a huge role in the development of cancer. Antioxidants are nutrients that neutralize free radicals by lending them the electrons they need in order to stabilize, thereby preventing damage from occurring to healthy molecules that make up your body.
Cordyceps are a source of superoxide dismutase, which is an antioxidant that “recycles” antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenes from your diet that have already neutralized free radicals. Once an antioxidant compound lends electrolytes to balance out free radicals and prevent them from damaging healthy cells, it becomes inactive and useless. Superoxide dismutase is an antioxidant superhero, re-setting these other antioxidants so they can continue scavenging free radicals in your body .
2. Promotes Longevity
Cordyceps have been shown in studies to extend the lifespan of animals and insects. A study on fruit flies showed that by reducing free radical damage, cordyceps increased the lifespan of fruit flies . Meanwhile, another study showed that mice that consumed cordyceps outlived mice that did not by several months . While a similar study hasn’t been conducted on humans, these studies suggest that cordyceps may have longevity-promoting abilities, most likely caused by their powerful fight against free radicals.
3. Prevents and Combats Cancer
Out of all the research on the effects of cordyceps on health, its anti-cancer potential has been studied the most. Researchers have pinpointed multiple anti-tumor effects of cordyceps on lymphoma and melanoma. They’ve also found anti-cancer effects on several types of cancers, including colorectal, lung, liver and skin cancers. Because of its ability to reduce free radical damage and kill cancerous cells, cordyceps could be used as a health supplement to help prevent cancer. Its effects on cancer patients are still being studied, but preliminary research suggests it can be used alongside conventional treatment for cancer.
4. Improves Chemotherapy Treatment and Reduces its Side Effects
Leukopenia is the most common side effect of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which are the conventional treatments for cancer. It drastically reduces your immune system’s white blood cell count, weakening its ability to fight cancerous cells and pathogenic infections.
In a fascinating study on mice that developed leukopenia after radiation treatments and chemotherapy drugs, cordyceps was shown to reverse the leukopenia. This led researchers to conclude that cordyceps could lower or prevent complications involved with cancer treatment .
5. Regulates Blood Sugar Levels
Cordyceps provide a type of sugar that helps lower high blood glucose levels by mimicking the activity of insulin–the hormone responsible for transporting glucose into your cells where it’s converted to energy. The effects of this could be incredibly helpful for prediabetics and other people who need to watch their blood sugar levels. In studies on diabetic mice, cordyceps are shown to lower blood sugar. While human studies on diabetic patients haven’t been done, animal studies suggest that cordyceps could potentially help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels naturally .
6. Improves Kidney Health
In traditional Chinese medicine, cordyceps was considered a tonic for your kidneys. Kidney disease is a common diabetes complication, and cordyceps has been shown to improve kidney function in people who experience it. A meta-analysis of 22 studies on the effect of cordyceps on kidney disease in human participants, researchers concluded that cordyceps effectively improves symptoms of kidney disease by restoring kidney function .
7. Lowers Inflammation
Whether you have an inflammatory condition or not, lowering inflammation in the body is known to improve your health. When inflammation is chronic, it can cause diseases, including cancer. Cordyceps is shown to suppress the body’s inflammatory response, thereby effectively reducing inflammation .
If you require medication to help manage a chronic inflammatory disease like an autoimmune disease, or if you have chronic pain, taking cordyceps to relieve inflammation could potentially lower the dose of medicine you need to combat inflammation and pain. In experiments on mice, cordyceps has even been shown to improve asthma by lowering inflammation in their airways . It also lowers inflammation on the skin when applied topically .
8. Improves Athletic Performance
One of the most exciting and well-studied areas of research on cordyceps is its ability to boost exercise performance. It seems to work by increasing oxygen use during physical activity, which is something all athletes covet. It also increases energy by boosting the body’s production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which delivers glucose to your muscles .
Several human studies have been done allowing researchers to understand how cordyceps improves athletic performance. In a 6-week study, 30 healthy elderly adults exercised on stationary bikes. One group received 3 grams of cordyceps per day or a placebo. The results showed that the group that took cordyceps had raised their VO2 max by 7 percent, while the placebo group experienced no change from using the exercise bikes. VO2 is a measurement of fitness level related to the body’s ability to utilize oxygen rapidly and efficiently. By increasing VO2 in the participants, this study suggests, cordyceps effectively improved their fitness level. Or rather, it could be said that cordyceps improved their exercise performance during training, which had the effect of raising their fitness level because their bodies worked harder .
9. Boosts Libido and Improves Sexual Function
One of the ways cordyceps was traditionally used as medicine in Asia was to enhance libido in both men and women, as well as to remedy reproductive dysfunction of any sort. In animal studies, cordyceps is shown to enhance libido by increasing blood flow and oxygen utilization. By increasing energy metabolism and overall markers of physical stamina, it helps improve sexual performance .
Besides increasing sexual desire, satisfaction and performance, cordyceps also improves vaginal lubrication, pain disorders like vaginismus, and erectile dysfunction. Research in this area is lacking, but traditionally, cordyceps has been used to promote fertility .
10. Improves Cardiovascular Health
Through its ability to lower oxidative stress and inflammation, cordyceps mushrooms help protect your cardiovascular health. Heart disease and atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”) are worsened by oxidative damage to the arteries and other blood vessels. In one study, cordyceps mushroom extract lessened the damage done to the heart and liver in animals with kidney disease.
The protective mechanisms of cordyceps for your heart extends to its ability to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. This helps reduce the buildup of plaque in your arteries, in turn lowering your risk for heart attack and stroke. Cordyceps can also lower triglycerides, which are stored fats that add inches to your waist and put strain on your heart.
11. Helps Prevent and Treat Strep Throat
Strep throat is one of the most contagious infections, and it often needs to be treated with antibiotics. However, research on mice has found that cordyceps inhibits the proliferation of streptococcus (strep) bacteria. If you’re taking cordyceps on a regular basis, it could mean you’re keeping strep throat at bay .
Safety Tips and Considerations
Cordyceps from the wild are very hard to harvest, which is why most cordyceps supplements come from synthetically grown cordyceps, known as cordyceps CS-4. When choosing a cordyceps CS-4 supplement, find one that is certified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International (NSF) so that you know it’s been third-party tested for quality and purity.
At recommended doses, cordyceps CS-4 is considered very safe and free of side effects. In fact, it’s approved in China for use in hospitals. You can get it as capsules and take it daily to boost your energy, give your body antioxidant support, manage your blood sugar and help lower cholesterol and triglycerides. You can also add cordyceps extract or powder to smoothies or other drinks. Be sure to follow the dosage recommended on your product label for the best results.
Especially when combined with a nutrient-rich diet, regular exercise and an overall healthy lifestyle, supplementing with cordyceps can pay off in the long-run.
10. Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers