The name cordyceps comes from the Latin words cord for “club” and ceps for “head” which describes its unique appearance. That’s not all that makes cordyceps unique though. It is a parasitic fungus that grows on insect larvae and is found naturally in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. Historical references reported that yak herders noticed that yaks became especially feisty and energetic whenever they grazed in areas with abundant cordyceps growth. This may have led to cordyceps eventually being used in traditional medicine to boost energy and even virility. Today, this is still one of the prominently touted benefits of cordyceps, though many others have been discovered.
Mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years to treat a wide array of health conditions. Medicinal mushrooms were highly regarded for their ability to promote health and well-being. The healing properties of mushrooms were used to boost the immune system, prevent cancer, regulate blood sugar, reduce blood pressure, improve brain and heart health, slow aging, boost energy, and much more.
Like other medicinal mushrooms, cordyceps has been found to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which may be beneficial for many health conditions. Compared to other mushrooms, the following three benefits stand out with cordyceps.
1. Boost Energy, Reduce Fatigue
The majority of research on cordyceps and other medicinal mushrooms focuses on cancer and other life threatening conditions due to the potential to significantly impact society. However, in traditional medicine, cordyceps has long been used to boost energy and reduce fatigue.
Research has shown that supplementation with extracts from cordyceps can improve tolerance to high intensity exercise (1)Pubmed Central Cordyceps militaris improves tolerance to high intensity exercise after acute and chronic supplementation. Measures of athletic performance such as VO2max and time-to-exhaustion(TTE) were used to evaluate results. The maximal improvement in performance was seen after three weeks of supplementation.
Another study in mice treated with cordyceps demonstrated reduced fatigue by improvements in the capacity to perform endurance activities (2)Pubmed Central Evaluation of anti-fatigue property of the extruded product of cereal grains mixed with Cordyceps militaris on mice. The researchers suggest that the improvements seen were likely a result of increased glycogen, increased ATP, reduction in lactic acid, and increased antioxidant enzymes which were observed in the study.
2. Improve Cardiovascular Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and throughout the world. The most common form of heart disease is Coronary Artery Disease(CAD), which occurs when blood flow is impaired in arteries that supply blood to the heart. According to the CDC, about every 40 seconds someone in the US dies from heart disease (3)Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Heart Disease Facts. Heart disease is considered an age-related disease, however its continued rise in prevalence is believed to be a result of changes in diet and lifestyle in developed countries, especially in the US.
Cordyceps has long been thought to promote health, vitality, and longevity. These general health benefits and longevity may be a result of increased circulation and support for the cardiovascular system.
Scientific research such as this study shows that cordyceps may limit cardiac hypertrophy(thickening of heart muscle) (4)Pubmed Central Cordycepin ameliorates cardiac hypertrophy via activating the AMPKα pathway. This is important because cardiac hypertrophy can contribute to heart failure. This study study suggests that cordycepin, a derivative of adenosine, may inhibit cardiac hypertrophy by stimulating adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase α (AMPKα) which also reduces oxidative stress on heart muscle cells.
Hyperlipidemia is a condition where the blood contains has high levels of fats (lipids) such as cholesterol or trigylcerides. Hyperlipidemia is contributes to significant increased risk of heart disease. Published research shows that cordyceps may help treat hyperlipidemia (5)Apolipoproteins, Triglycerides and Cholesterol CH10:Therapeutic Properties and Anti-Lipidemic Activity of Cordyceps sinensis. In this review of literature, several studies confirm that cordyceps is able to reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides, especially when caused by high fat diets (6)Molecules Cordycepin for Health and Wellbeing: A Potent Bioactive Metabolite of an Entomopathogenic Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps with Its Nutraceutical and Therapeutic Potential. One of several proposed mechanisms of action may be through the effects of cordycepin on the previously mentioned AMPK pathway (7)Apolipoproteins, Triglycerides and Cholesterol CH10:Therapeutic Properties and Anti-Lipidemic Activity of Cordyceps sinensis.
In addition to lowering cholesterol and trigylcerides, cordyceps may also benefit cardiovascular health by reducing the risk of thrombosis, or blood clotting. Thrombosis is also a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease. Most medications to prevent thrombosis also contribute to increased anticoagulant effects, or in other words, increased risk of bleeding. However in this study, cordyceps was shown to reduce blood clotting through its antiplatelet effects without causing increased risk of bleeding or anitcoagulant effects (8)Mycobiology Antithrombotic and Antiplatelet Effects of Cordyceps militaris.
3. Relief from Asthma or Bronchitis
Cordyceps is a widely known herbal remedy for the treatment of airway diseases such as asthma and bronchitis. Asthma is a chronic health condition that results from inflammation and hypersensitivity of the upper respiratory tract. Because cordyceps has many reported anti-inflammatory effects, it may also be of some help in treating asthma and bronchitis.
Asthma can have varying degrees of impact on the physical, psychological, and social well being of those it affects. In this study, patients who added cordyceps to their standard treatment regimen showed improvement in their health-related quality of life (HR-QOL) scores (9)Pubmed Central Herbal Medicine Cordyceps sinensis Improves Health-Related Quality of Life in Moderate-to-Severe Asthma. The improved scores were a result of reduced asthma symptoms and decreased markers of inflammation.
Another study in mice also showed a reduction in hypersensitivity reaction and inflammation of the airways due to induced asthma. The results also suggest that cordyceps may help relieve asthma complications with little or no side effects (10)Pubmed Central Anti-Inflammatory Effects of a Cordyceps sinensis Mycelium Culture Extract (Cs-4) on Rodent Models of Allergic Rhinitis and Asthma.
Like many other medicinal mushrooms, cordyceps has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Cordyceps has long been used to promote health and longevity. Cordyceps seems to promote health by improving physical endurance improved respiratory health. Longevity may be improved through reduced cholesterol and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. There are many bioactive molecules found in cordyceps, such as cordycepin, which have shown promising results in helping boost athletic performance, improve heart health, and reduce asthma symptoms. Cordyceps is a remarkable medicinal mushroom that could help improve overall health and quality of life.