Whether you’re eyeing a particular Cordyceps mushroom supplement or checking out those cool grow-it-yourself Cordyceps spawn bags, you may also be scratching your head with curiosity. What is Cordyceps used for? What’s the benefit in incorporating this medicinal mushroom supplement into your daily wellness regimen?
Most often, people using Cordyceps are chasing particular performance-enhancing benefits, and the mushroom supplement has become increasingly popular among athletes for that reason. But there’s more–Cordyceps may also host an array of potential anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunoregulatory, brain boosting benefits, and more.
Let us set the record straight. This is what you need to know about Cordyceps, how it’s used (traditionally and as a modern supplement), and exactly how you can make use of it yourself. Let’s go:
Table of Contents
Most often, Cordyceps is used to improve athletic and cognitive performance.
Cordyceps may offer other benefits, like lowering inflammation, improving heart health, stabilizing blood sugar, and more.
The quality of your Cordyceps supplement greatly affects the benefits you will experience.
What is Cordyceps?
Cordyceps is a unique mushroom with a lengthy history of use in traditional medicine. This medicinal mushroom belongs to the Ascomycetes family and is native to high-altitude regions of the Himalayas, Tibet, and certain parts of China. It has gained significant popularity in recent years due to its potential health benefits, particularly its effects on cognitive function and overall well-being.
There are two common varieties of cordyceps available–sinensis and militaris–with great similarities between them. Both Cordyceps Sinensis and Cordyceps Militaris have significant benefits, and generally are thought to overlap in their use.
There are, however, a few significant differences between them that make the choice clear for consumers. Sinensis, the wild-grown strain of Cordyceps that grows on caterpillar hosts, is incredibly difficult to cultivate or forage and can cost upwards of $20,000 per kilogram. Cordyceps Militaris, on the other hand, is the type of cordyceps that is cultivated for supplemental use, and is the type of Cordyceps we will focus on throughout the scope of this article.
If you want to learn more about the differences between the two mushroom varieties, read “Cordyceps Sinensis Benefits (vs Militaris).”
Let’s dig further into Cordyceps supplements, made from Cordyceps Militaris and what Cordyceps is used for:
Historical Usage: What was Cordyceps Traditionally Used For?
Cordyceps has been an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It was initially documented in ancient Tibetan texts and was known as "yartsa gunbu," which translates to "winter worm-summer grass." The fungus was highly valued for its purported rejuvenating and revitalizing properties, especially in relation to energy, vitality, and longevity.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Cordyceps was used to tonify the kidneys and lungs, strengthen the immune system, and enhance overall vitality. It was believed to improve physical performance, increase stamina, and promote longevity. Cordyceps was also used to alleviate symptoms of respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic bronchitis, as well as to support kidney and liver health.
Modern Scientific Studies and Active Compounds
Cordyceps benefits may date back centuries, but modern research has helped us to uncover some of the best ways to use Cordyceps supplements. First, let’s look at some of the research concerning Cordyceps’ bioactive compounds, and then we’ll talk about how to apply it (i.e. how Cordyceps is used).
Modern scientific research has shed light on the bioactive compounds present in Cordyceps and their potential therapeutic effects. The mushroom contains a variety of active constituents, including polysaccharides, nucleosides, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Polysaccharides, such as beta-glucans, are one of the key components responsible for the immunomodulatory effects of Cordyceps. These compounds have been found to enhance immune function by stimulating various immune cells and promoting the production of immune-regulating cytokines.
Beta-glucans are the primary bioactive component of most medicinal mushrooms, but they aren’ present in all prepared mushroom products. If you want to reap the full benefits of medicinal mushrooms, you need to be sure that you choose a high-quality mushroom formula with at least 20% beta-glucans or more. This means avoiding myceliated products and whole mushroom powder and instead choosing a mushroom extract made from fruiting bodies only.
You can learn more about this by reading:
- Mushroom Mycelium: What is It and How Can We Use It to Our Advantage?
- Mushroom Powder vs Extract: What’s the Difference & Which is Best?
Adenosine is a nucleoside that occurs naturally in all cells of the body. Cordyceps supplements have been shown to help increase adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production in the body, which may help to reduce physical fatigue during energy exertion and improve athletic performance.
Cordycepin is another nucleoside found in Cordyceps that may possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These compounds have been shown to protect against oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, and modulate immune responses. Research shows that only Cordyceps Militaris, and not Cordyceps Sinensis, contain cordycepin.
Cordycepin is perhaps the most unique bioactive compound found in Cordyceps, and it has vast potential. It was originally investigated for its antibiotic potential, but that research fell through to a much wider therapeutic potential. A review published in 2020 stated:
“Cordycepin is known for various nutraceutical and therapeutic potential, such as anti-diabetic, anti-hyperlipidemia, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-aging, anticancer, antiviral, hepato-protective, hypo-sexuality, cardiovascular diseases, antimalarial, anti-osteoporotic, anti-arthritic, cosmeceutical etc. which makes it a most valuable medicinal mushroom for helping in maintaining good health.”
How Cordyceps is Used
So, with all of these active compounds, what does Cordyceps do? How is Cordyceps used as a wellness supplement?
Most often, Cordyceps is used to boost cognitive abilities or improve athletic performance. It does, however, have a slew of potential benefits that make it a good addition to a well-rounded wellness regimen.
Here are the details:
Boosting Physical Performance and Endurance
Some evidence suggests that Cordyceps may help to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the body, which researchers believe may help to improve physical performance by improving oxygen flow in the body during physical activity.
A 2004 study, for instance, tested the effects of a strain of Cordyceps called Cs-4, or cordyceps Sinensis, on exercise capacity in 30 healthy older adults. 7% of the Cordyceps group experienced increased fitness levels over just 6 weeks, while the placebo group experienced no change.
Some evidence also suggests that it may increase endurance, though more human trials are needed.
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.
Nootropic Benefits of Cordyceps
Nootropics, sometimes referred to as “smart drugs,” are substances that enhance cognitive function, memory, focus, and overall mental performance. Cordyceps has gained attention as a potential natural nootropic due to its ability to support brain health and cognitive function.
Research suggests that Cordyceps may exert its nootropic effects through various mechanisms. It has been shown to increase cerebral blood flow, which improves oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain. According to one study, this may help to improve both learning and memory. Additionally, Cordyceps may enhance energy metabolism in brain cells, leading to increased ATP production and improved neuronal function.
Furthermore, Cordyceps exhibits antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help protect the brain against oxidative damage and neuroinflammation. These effects may contribute to its potential in preventing age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.
Other Health Benefits of Cordyceps
Aside from these two main potential benefits, other reasons that Cordyceps may be used include:
Antioxidant (and Anti-Aging) Effects
In Chinese medicine, Cordyceps has been used for centuries to improve endurance and performance (including sexual performance) in elderly people. A 2016 study suggests that these popular anti-aging effects may be due to Cordyceps’ antioxidant properties. Various studies (2009, 2010, 2012) have found that Cordyceps help to boost antioxidant levels in aged mice, leading to various benefits, like improved sexual function and improved memory.
Balancing Blood Sugar
Various animal studies (2004, 2015, 2016) found Cordyceps capable of decreasing blood sugar levels by mimicking the actions of insulin. This is potentially due to a special carbohydrate found in the mushroom, though more trials are needed to fully understand Cordyceps potential for managing diabetes.
Decreasing Diabetic Risk of Kidney Disease.
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.
Improving Heart Health
Cordyceps is an approved treatment for heart arrhythmia in China, a condition characterized by an irregular heart beat, likely because it may increase adenosine, a naturally occurring compound that is also used in medications designed to treat arrhythmia. One animal study found that Cordyceps supplementation may also help to reduce the risk of heart damage caused by kidney disease, subsequently reducing the risk of heart failure.
Lowering Bad Cholesterol
Some evidence suggests that it could also benefit heart health in a less direct way–by helping to manage cholesterol. 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.
In addition to having antioxidant properties that can help relieve inflammation, various studies (1996, 2002, 2003, 2015) have pointed out that Cordyceps may help to increase the production of proteins that help to regulate inflammation in the body, therefore helping to decrease inflammation levels.
To learn more about these benefits, read “Cordyceps Benefits.”
How to Use Cordyceps to Reap Therapeutic Benefits
So, now that we’ve ironed out the reasons that Cordyceps is used, let’s talk about the ways that it is used. There are two main options here:
- Whole Cordyceps Mushroom
- Cordyceps Extract
Whole Cordyceps Mushrooms (or Whole Mushroom Powder)
Whole mushroom powder products are super useful as nutritional supplements because they have a composition that is closest to the whole mushroom in its raw form. That means it will contain all of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other nutritional compounds found in raw cordyceps.
However, these products are not usually used for supplemental purposes because the beta-glucans and cordycepin are widely unavailable to the human body until it is extracted. This is due to the fungal chitin, the polymer that makes up mushroom tissue, being notoriously hard to digest.
The exception to this rule is when whole mushrooms are used to make tea, which is a hot-water extraction that breaks away the chitin layers and makes these bioactive compounds more bioavailable. However, most people just opt for an extract instead when they want to reap the medicinal benefits of Cordyceps.
This type of cordyceps product has already undergone the extraction process necessary to “unlock” beta-glucans and cordycepin. Choosing a cordyceps extract is often the best way to go, but you need to check for several quality markers:
It should be made via single, hot water extraction. Some manufacturer’s use “dual extraction” which involves an alcohol component that may do more harm than good. Read “Dual Extract Mushroom vs Hot Water Extract: Which is Best for Mushroom Supplements?” to learn more.
It should be sourced from fruiting bodies and NOT mushroom mycelium, which is low in beta-glucans and often contaminated with grains and starches. Read “Mycelium vs Fruiting Body: Which Makes the Best Mushroom Supplements?” to learn more.
A good mushroom supplement will have a beta-glucan content of at least 20% or more, and this should be shown on the label. (Remember, there are more regulations concerning what a product can put on their label compared to what they are allowed to say in marketing or on their website.)
Other Safety Precautions and Dosage Recommendation
Cordyceps is generally considered safe for most people when consumed in recommended doses. However, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement, especially if you have underlying health conditions, are taking medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
As with any supplement, it's crucial to source Cordyceps products from reputable manufacturers to ensure quality and purity. Look for products that have undergone third-party testing and adhere to good manufacturing practices (GMP).
The recommended dosage of Cordyceps can vary depending on the form and concentration of the extract. It's advisable to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer or consult a healthcare professional for appropriate dosing guidance. Read “Cordyceps Dosage: How Much Cordyceps Should I Take?” to learn more.
Where to Buy Cordyceps Supplements
Looking for a high-quality Cordyceps supplement? Consider pairing Cordyceps with other medicinal mushrooms and botanical nootropics for the ultimate brain and body awakening.
Our Lucid mushroom+nootropic formula contains a hearty dose of Cordyceps, plus other mushrooms and nootropics, including:
This synergistic mix is designed to enhance cognitive capacity while improving cellular energy and endurance so that you feel good inside and out. Read "Why We Chose Our Ingredients: What’s in a Lucid Stack?" to learn more. Or check out one of our three flavor varieties:
- “Cordycepin for Health and Wellbeing: A Potent Bioactive Metabolite of an Entomopathogenic Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps with Its Nutraceutical and Therapeutic Potential” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7356751/#__ffn_sectitle
- “Immunomodulatory Effects of Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Bioactive Immunoregulatory Products” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/346759543_Immunomodulatory_Effects_of_Edible_and_Medicinal_Mushrooms_and_Their_Bioactive_Immunoregulatory_Products
- “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 Polysaccharide from Cordyceps militaris (Ascomycetes) on Physical Fatigue Induced by Forced Swimming” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28094746/
- “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/
- “Polysaccharides from the Medicinal Mushroom Cordyceps taii Show Antioxidant and Immunoenhancing Activities in a D-Galactose-Induced Aging Mouse Model” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22536281/
- “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/
- “Hypoglycemic Activity through a Novel Combination of Fruiting Body and Mycelia of Cordyceps militaris in High-Fat Diet-Induced Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Mice” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4519550/
- “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/
- “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/
- “Functional Cordyceps Coffee Containing Cordycepin and β-Glucan” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7333010/#:~:text=%CE%B2%2DGlucan%20contents&text=The%20%CE%B2%2Dglucan%20content%20of,total%20glucan%20content%20of%209.70%25.