How do Cordyceps Fight Diabetes?

Last Updated: May 8, 2024

Cordyceps is a fungus that grows on the larva of a caterpillar. It’s been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Although it has some side effects, it can be used to lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.1

It works by increasing insulin sensitivity, which helps the body utilize more of the glucose sugar available in your bloodstream. This can be very beneficial to people with diabetes since it allows them to maintain healthy levels of glucose in their bodies without needing to inject insulin or take other medications.2–6

By improving insulin sensitivity, cordyceps also help to reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals that damage cells and eventually lead to chronic diseases like diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus is a long-term disease in which a person suffers from elevated blood sugar levels. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. If you’re confused between these two types, here’s all you need to know:

The NHS simply puts it like this:7

Type 1 diabetes – where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin

Type 2 diabetes – where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin

Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1.

In this article, we’re mainly concerned with the effect of cordyceps on type 2 diabetes.

Cordyceps and Diabetes

The science behind the effect of cordyceps on managing diabetes lies within a special type of sugar it has that imitates the function of insulin in the blood to transport glucose into the cells and produce energy which in turn keeps it in check and prevents it from exceeding the normal level.8–10

Many pre-clinical and clinical studies aimed to identify the safety and efficacy of cordyceps in combating diabetes mellitus, here’s what we know so far:

  • Cordyceps helps with managing depression associated with diabetes (i.e. diabetes distress)11
  • Cordyceps may prevent unwanted complications and other comorbidities related to diabetes (i.e. kidney damage, renal failure, diabetic nephropathy)
  • Cordyceps reduces blood glucose levels in the blood and helps with increasing insulin secretion12
  • Cordycepin (a component of cordyceps) plays an important role in promoting antioxidant and antidiabetic effects
  • Cordyceps helps with transporting glucose inside the cells to utilize it for energy

Nevertheless, these claims were drawn from animal studies, and further investigations done in human trials are still needed to identify the efficacy and safety of cordyceps in treating diabetes.

Antidiabetic Effect of Cordyceps — Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology

This study was published back in 2012 in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, to determine the antidiabetic effects of cordyceps on lab rats with induced type 2 diabetes mellitus.13

Upon analyzing the results of the study, the researchers concluded that cordyceps had a positive impact on reducing insulin resistance and boosting antioxidant properties as well.

They added, “Cordyceps significantly increased serum insulin, HDL-cholesterol, total antioxidant capacity levels, β cell function percent, and pancreatic reduced glutathione (GSH) content.”

The Link Between Cordyceps and Diabetes — Journal of Phytotherapy Research

According to a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Phytotherapy Research, Cordyceps can lower plasma glucose by stimulating the secretion of insulin and activating other chemical pathways involved in reducing glucose sugar in the blood of lab rats.14

In fact, the statistical analysis of the final results revealed a 21% decrease in plasma glucose while simultaneously increasing insulin secretion by 54.5% after 30 minutes proving their efficacy.

The Role of Cordyceps in Combating Diabetes — Journal of Biomed Research International

This study was published in the Journal of Biomed Research International in 2014 and focused on confirming the antidiabetic effect of cordyceps in the diet on lab rats with type 2 diabetes.15

These rats were given water extract or alcohol extract at 0.05 g/kg and 2 g/kg for 3 weeks, and then, the following parameters (blood glucose, lipid, free radicals, and kidney disease) were calculated.

Accordingly, these were the conclusions provided by the research team:

  • Cordyceps was able to reduce glucose levels in the blood via promoting glucose metabolism and suppressing total cholesterol in serum.
  • Cordyceps has a noticeable effect on reducing free radicals and promoting antioxidant effects.
  • Cordyceps plays a role in protecting against diabetes complications (i.e. diabetic nephropathy) through inhibiting blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, uric acid, and proteins in the blood.

Thus, they declared that Cordyceps extract has excellent effects when it comes to preventing diabetes and associated kidney disease complications making it a great a new candidate for diabetes treatment.

The Value of Cordycepin and Its Potential — Journal of 3 Biotech

Aside from its antidiabetic and antioxidant functions, cordyceps is also known for its anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. It’s believed that all these functions stem from its rich nutritional profile which contains numerous active compounds, these include the following:

  • Cordycepin (3′-Deoxyadenosine)
  • Ergosterol Peroxide
  • Adenosine
  • Fibrinolytic Enzyme
  • Polysaccharides
  • Nucleosides
  • Six Nucleobases — Cytosine, Uracil, Thymine, Adenine, Guanine, And Hypoxanthine
  • Peptides (i.e. cordymin)
  • Tryptophan

Building on that a study published in the Journal of 3 Biotech in 2014 provides insight into the pharmacological and therapeutic potential of cordyceps with a specific focus on cordycepin and their health benefits.16

The authors reveal the benefits of cordycepin on human health including anti-diabetic, anti-tumor, anti-oxidative, immunomodulatory, sexual potentiator, and anti-aging effects, and recommend spending more effort in future research towards improving the bioactivity and production of Cordycepin for its commercial use in pharmacological and medical fields.

Clinical Usage and Biological Activity of Cordyceps — The Journal of Frontiers in Pharmacology

A very recent review study published in 2022 in the Journal of Frontiers in Pharmacology, summarizes compiled data from multiple studies on the potential functions of cordyceps and how they can be used to treat patients with several chronic disorders.17

Despite having many functions, cordyceps was praised in this study for its impact on preventing diabetic kidney disease and regulating glucose levels in the blood which in turn provides stability and protection.

Precautions

While a wide body of research suggests taking cordyceps is safe and effective for treating diabetes, there are some precautions you should take before starting any diet or supplement regimen.

  • Do not take cordyceps if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Do not take cordyceps if you have a history of heart disease or kidney disease
  • Do not take cordyceps if you have cancer or a bleeding disorder
  • Do not take cordyceps if you’re prone to having allergies specifically when it comes to fungus, mold, or yeast. Subsequently, you should stop taking cordyceps immediately if you experience any signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction

Thus, it’s essential to consult your doctor first before taking cordyceps capsules or adding them to your food regimen to best avoid any unwanted complications as well as decide on the suitable dosage for you.

Additionally, taking cordyceps may cause some mild side effects including an upset stomach, nausea, and mouth dryness.

That being said, the FDA encourages anyone to report any unpleasant experience or negative side effects encountered from taking any type of supplement or medication through the FDA MedWatch website.

Cordyceps Products

There is a diverse range of cordyceps products, these include the following:

  • Capsules
  • Cordyceps Tea
  • Mushroom Powder
  • Food Types (Ex. Granola)

The Bottom Line

Many herbal products have been used for centuries to treat diabetes. Cordyceps is one of them and has been proven to be effective. However, before using it make sure that you consult your doctor first.

References

  1. Lin BQ, Li SP. Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects: Second Edition [Internet]. 2011 Mar 28 [cited 2022 Sep 11];73–105. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92758/
  2. Jędrejko KJ, Lazur J, Muszyńska B. Cordyceps militaris: An Overview of Its Chemical Constituents in Relation to Biological Activity. Foods [Internet]. 2021 Nov 1 [cited 2022 Sep 11];10(11). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34828915/
  3. Ashraf SA, Elkhalifa AEO, Siddiqui AJ, Patel M, Awadelkareem AM, Snoussi M, et al. Cordycepin for Health and Wellbeing: A Potent Bioactive Metabolite of an Entomopathogenic Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps with Its Nutraceutical and Therapeutic Potential. Molecules. 2020 Jun 1;25(12).
  4. Tuli HS, Sandhu SS, Sharma AK. Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin. 3 Biotech [Internet]. 2014 Feb [cited 2022 Sep 11];4(1):1–12. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28324458/
  5. Yan JK, Wang WQ, Wu JY. Recent advances in Cordyceps sinensis polysaccharides: Mycelial fermentation, isolation, structure, and bioactivities: A review. J Funct Foods [Internet]. 2014 Jan [cited 2022 Sep 11];6(1):33–47. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32362940
  6. Chen PX, Wang S, Nie S, Marcone M. Properties of Cordyceps Sinensis: A review. J Funct Foods [Internet]. 2013 Apr [cited 2022 Sep 11];5(2):550–69. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32288794/
  7. Diabetes – NHS [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 11]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes/
  8. Zhang G, Huang Y, Bian Y, Wong JH, Ng TB, Wang H. Hypoglycemic activity of the fungi Cordyceps militaris, Cordyceps sinensis, Tricholoma mongolicum, and Omphalia lapidescens in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2006 Oct;72(6):1152–6.
  9. Cui JD. Biotechnological production and applications of Cordyceps militaris, a valued traditional Chinese medicine. Crit Rev Biotechnol. 2015 Jan 1;35(4):475–84.
  10. Das SK, Masuda M, Sakurai A, Sakakibara M. Medicinal uses of the mushroom Cordyceps militaris: current state and prospects. Fitoterapia [Internet]. 2010 Dec [cited 2022 Sep 11];81(8):961–8. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20650308/
  11. Guo JY, Han CC, Liu YM. A Contemporary Treatment Approach to Both Diabetes and Depression by Cordyceps sinensis, Rich in Vanadium. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med [Internet]. 2010 Sep [cited 2022 Sep 11];7(3):387. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC2887337/
  12. Yue K, Ye M, Zhou Z, Sun W, Lin X. The genus Cordyceps: a chemical and pharmacological review. J Pharm Pharmacol [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2022 Sep 11];65(4):474–93. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23488776/
  13. el Ashry FEZZ, Mahmoud MF, el Maraghy NN, Ahmed AF. Effect of Cordyceps sinensis and taurine either alone or in combination on streptozotocin induced diabetes. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2012 Mar 1;50(3–4):1159–65.
  14. Cheng YW, Chen YI, Tzeng CY, Chen HC, Tsai CC, Lee YC, et al. Extracts of Cordyceps militaris Lower Blood Glucose via the Stimulation of Cholinergic Activation and Insulin Secretion in Normal Rats. Phytotherapy Research [Internet]. 2012 Aug 1 [cited 2022 Sep 11];26(8):1173–7. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ptr.3709
  15. Dong Y, Jing T, Meng Q, Liu C, Hu S, Ma Y, et al. Studies on the Antidiabetic Activities of Cordyceps militaris Extract in Diet-Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Sprague-Dawley Rats. Biomed Res Int [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2022 Sep 11];2014. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC3967809/
  16. Tuli HS, Sandhu SS, Sharma AK. Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin. 3 Biotech [Internet]. 2014 Feb [cited 2022 Sep 11];4(1):1–12. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28324458/
  17. Liu W, Gao Y, Zhou Y, Yu F, Li X, Zhang N. Mechanism of Cordyceps sinensis and its Extracts in the Treatment of Diabetic Kidney Disease: A Review. Front Pharmacol. 2022 May 13;13:1793.

Share This Story:

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Get tips on living a healthy flavorful lifestyle.