The nickname “zombie mushroom” makes Cordyceps sound like something of the dead, but these funky little fungi may actually have life-giving benefits. Sure, it’s endoparasitic, meaning that Cordyceps naturally grows on bugs in a parasite-like fashion, but modern researchers believe that Cordyceps’ benefits are unmatched by other functional mushrooms. In fact, cordyceps is easily the most popular nootropic mushroom for enhancing energy.
Curious to know more? We’ll break down everything researchers currently know about Cordyceps mushrooms below:
Research is still limited, but some of the primary benefits of Cordyceps may include:
- Supplying fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants
- Improving athletic performance
- Anti-aging benefits
- Improving cholesterol levels and heart health
1. Cordyceps is a superfood.
It’s no secret that mushrooms are chock full of vitamins and minerals. Cordyceps is no different, and these little superfood mushrooms may supply:
- B-complex vitamins
- Vitamin D
- Amino acids
2. It may boost athletic performance.
Some evidence suggests that Cordyceps may help to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the body. ATP is essential for various biological functions, including muscle contraction and protein synthesis. According to research, this action of cordyceps may be advantageous for increasing endurance by improving oxygen flow in the body during physical activity.
In a 2016 study, mice were able to continue swimming significantly longer after taking cordyceps. A placebo-controlled study from 2006 confirmed similar results in humans while doing exhaustive running exercises.
A 2004 study tested the effects of a strain of Cordyceps called Cs-4, or cordyceps Sinensis, on exercise capacity in 30 healthy older adults. Participants received either a dose of 3 grams of Cordyceps or a placebo pill daily.
Over the course of 6 weeks, 7% of the cordyceps group experienced increased fitness levels, while the placebo group experienced no change. Another 2010 study involving 20 healthy elderly patients produced similar results.
Another 2017 study found that a mushroom blend containing cordyceps had similar results on young adults, but further research suggests that cordyceps may have no impact on athletic performance in high-performing athletes. In other words, Cordyceps mushrooms may have a beneficial impact on the athletic performance of people who have not yet reached their full athletic potential.
3. It may have anti-aging benefits.
Traditionally, elders have used cordyceps to boost libido and reduce fatigue, but there may be more to the story thanks to modern research. A 2016 study suggests that anti-aging effects may be due to Cordyceps’ antioxidant properties. Various studies (2009, 2010, 2012) have found that Cordyceps helps to boost antioxidant levels in aged mice, leading to various benefits, like improved sexual function and improved memory.
Antioxidants help to fight free radicals, rogue molecules that damage the body’s cells and tissues. Free radicals are thought to lead to tissue damage in the brain that causes conditions like Alzheimer's, and they are also the cause behind various signs of aging in the skin.
Over time, free radicals may be responsible for much of the aging process and a boost in antioxidants may help to slow this process, and may even increase vitality. One study found that mice who were given regular doses of cordyceps lived longer than the placebo group. A similar result was witnessed when giving cordyceps to fruit flies. More research is needed, however, to evaluate the effectiveness of these anti-aging effects in humans.
4. It may have anti-tumor effects.
Most superfood mushrooms have been evaluated for their anti-cancer potential, and Cordyceps is no different. More research is needed before it could ever be established as a tumor therapy, but the potential benefits are there nonetheless.
Three similar studies from the same year (2015, 2015, 2015) found that Cordyceps was able to inhibit the growth of many types of human cancer cells, including lung, colon, skin and liver cancers, but only in test-tube samples. Various studies over two decades (1990, 1999, 2005, 2007) found cordyceps to potentially have anti-tumor effects on lymphoma, melanoma, and lung cancer. More evidence is needed to understand how these potential benefits may translate to human subjects, however.
5. Cordyceps may help control blood sugar.
Cordyceps contains a special carbohydrate that is thought to be useful in managing blood sugar levels. More specifically, some researchers believe that it may help to manage Type 2 Diabetes.
Various animal studies (2004, 2015, 2016) found Cordyceps capable of decreasing blood sugar levels by mimicking the actions of insulin.
Some evidence suggests that they may also protect against kidney disease, a common complication of diabetes. In a 2014 review of 22 studies, researchers concluded that subjects who took cordyceps often experienced improved kidney function. However, the authors of this review pointed out that many of these studies used were flawed, so more conclusive evidence is needed to understand how effectively Cordyceps could be used in this aspect
6. Cordyceps may be good for heart health.
Cordyceps is an approved treatment for heart arrhythmia in China, a condition characterized by an irregular heartbeat. Further research suggests that Cordyceps may have various benefits for health health. For instance, one animal study found that Cordyceps supplementation could help to reduce the risk of heart damage caused by kidney disease, subsequently reducing the risk of heart failure.
Some evidence has associated these heart-healthy benefits with cordyceps’ potential ability to increase adenosine, an RNA building block that naturally occurs in the body, but is used in the formulation of medications designed to treat arrhythmia.
Furthermore, some evidence suggests that Cordyceps may help to decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and lower triglyceride levels, both of which could also have a beneficial impact on heart health.
7. Cordyceps may have anti-inflammatory benefits.
In line with these anti-oxidant effects is Cordyceps potential ability to help lower inflammation. Inflammation is known to be at the root of all disease, including most chronic illnesses. Inflammation plays a role in regulating nerve and immune system functions, but too much inflammation can cause tissue damage, physical discomfort, and blood pressure problems, and can even result in permanent damage to the organs.
Thankfully, various studies (1996, 2002, 2003, 2015) have found that Cordyceps may help to increase the production of proteins that help to regulate inflammation in the body.
Some research calls for the use of Cordyceps as an anti-inflammatory medication, though more research is needed before a Cordyceps-based medication will gain FDA approval.
Cordyceps has been renowned for centuries as a vitality-boosting natural supplement, but researchers have only taken a deeper interest in Cordyceps’ potential benefits in the last two decades.
Still, current evidence shows plenty of potential, and future research will most likely dig deeper into Cordyceps’ potential ability to increase blood flow, lower inflammation, decrease aging, and support overall wellness.
Most of the research available to help us understand Cordyceps’ benefits involves animal trials that may or may not accurately translate to human studies. More evidence is needed to understand how Cordyceps can be used to effectively target specific health ailments.
For now, Cordyceps is not FDA approved to treat any illness or condition, but Cordyceps supplements are still being used by natural-wellness proponents all over the world.
To reap Cordyceps’ benefits safely and effectively, you need to look for a high-quality Cordyceps supplement that’s made by a trusted manufacturer. Avoid products that are contaminated or do not come with lab reports for quality assurance. To learn more about how to use Cordyceps to your advantage, you may want to read:
- “Effect of Polysaccharide from Cordyceps militaris (Ascomycetes) on Physical Fatigue Induced by Forced Swimming”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28094746/
- “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” https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02836405
- “Effect of Cs-4® (Cordyceps sinensis) on Exercise Performance in Healthy Older Subjects: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110835/
- “Cordyceps militaris improves tolerance to high intensity exercise after acute and chronic supplementation” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5236007/
- “Cordyceps Sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) supplementation does not improve endurance exercise performance” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15118196/
- “Cordyceps sinensis: Genotoxic Potential in Human Peripheral Blood Cells and Antigenotoxic Properties Against Hydrogen Peroxide by Comet Assay” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27433838/
- “Antiaging effect of Cordyceps sinensis extract” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18803231/
- “Protective effects on mitochondria and anti-aging activity of polysaccharides from cultivated fruiting bodies of Cordyceps militaris” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21061463/
- “Cordyceps sinensis oral liquid prolongs the lifespan of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, by inhibiting oxidative stress” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4564082/
- “The lifespan-extending effect of Cordyceps sinensis Cs-4 in normal mice and its molecular mechanisms” https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.25.1_supplement.599.1
- “Anti-cancer effect of Cordyceps militaris in human colorectal carcinoma RKO cells via cell cycle arrest and mitochondrial apoptosis” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26141646/
- “Anti-tumor effect of Cordyceps militaris in HCV-infected human hepatocarcinoma 7.5 cells” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26115996/
- “Augmentation of various immune reactivities of tumor-bearing hosts with an extract of Cordyceps sinensis” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2206772/
- “Inhibitory effect of Cordyceps sinensis on spontaneous liver metastasis of Lewis lung carcinoma and B16 melanoma cells in syngeneic mice” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10230862/
- “Pharmacological actions of Cordyceps, a prized folk medicine” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16354395/
- “Inhibitory effects of ethyl acetate extract of Cordyceps sinensis mycelium on various cancer cells in culture and B16 melanoma in C57BL/6 mice” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16423520/
- “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/
- “Antidiabetic and Antinephritic Activities of Aqueous Extract of Cordyceps militaris Fruit Body in Diet-Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Sprague Dawley Rats” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27274781/
- “Cordyceps sinensis (a traditional Chinese medicine) for treating chronic kidney disease” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25519252/
- “Chapter 5 Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92758/
- “Cordyceps sinensis 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/
- “Cardiovascular protection and antioxidant activity of the extracts from the mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis act partially via adenosine receptors” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23192916/
- “Lipid-lowering effect of cordycepin (3'-deoxyadenosine) from Cordyceps militaris on hyperlipidemic hamsters and rats” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21882527/
- “Cordyceps sinensis as an immunomodulatory agent” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8874668/
- “Immunomodulatory functions of extracts from the Chinese medicinal fungus Cordyceps cicadae” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12413710/
- “Methanol extract of Cordyceps pruinosa inhibits in vitro and in vivo inflammatory mediators by suppressing NF-kappaB activation” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12831777/
- “Anti-inflammatory effects of Cordyceps mycelium (Paecilomyces hepiali, CBG-CS-2) in Raw264.7 murine macrophages” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4371127/