In the enchanting realm of natural remedies and traditional medicine, Cordyceps emerges as a fascinating and versatile player.
Cordyceps, a genus of fungi found in various regions around the world, has captured the attention of both traditional medicine practitioners and modern researchers due to its potential health benefits.1–3
This article delves into the extensive research surrounding Cordyceps, categorizing its benefits into two distinct sections: ‘Evidence-based benefits vs. Potential benefits’!
From enhancing athletic performance to boosting the immune system, Cordyceps has garnered attention for its potential to promote well-being. However, like any natural supplement, it’s essential to delve into the scientific evidence and differentiate between proven benefits and promising possibilities.4
What are the Proven Benefits of Cordyceps Established So Far?
1. Enhanced Exercise Performance:
One of the most renowned benefits of Cordyceps is its potential to boost exercise performance. It’s often touted as a natural aid that may improve endurance and stamina. Research indicates that Cordyceps may enhance oxygen utilization, thereby potentially improving overall athletic capacity. An animal study revealed that C. militaris has the possibility of improving exercise performance, which could be associated with an increase in ATP production rather than a decrease in muscle fatigue during exercise.5,6
Enhanced Exercise Performance — Journal of Dietary Supplements
This study published in 2017 was conducted on 28 individuals that used Cordyceps supplementation for the duration of three weeks. After taking the supplementation 3 times a day, the researchers measured their improvements after one week, then after 2 weeks following that – results revealed that acute supplementation with a cordyceps militaris containing mushroom blend may improve tolerance to high-intensity exercise; greater benefits may be elicited with consistent chronic supplementation.
2. Antioxidant Properties:
Cordyceps contains bioactive compounds that exhibit antioxidant properties. These compounds help combat oxidative stress and reduce cell damage caused by free radicals. By doing so, Cordyceps may contribute to overall cellular health and longevity.7–10
Antioxidant Effect of Cordyceps – Journal of Molecules
A review study published in 2020, in the Journal of Molecules, discussed in depth the mechanism of Cordyceps’s antioxidant activity, proving that reported by various authors. Cordycepin has been reported to significantly increase the levels of antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase activities in damaged cells.
3. Immune System Support:
Traditional medicine has often turned to Cordyceps for its purported immune-enhancing properties. Preliminary research suggests that certain compounds found in Cordyceps may stimulate immune responses and promote overall immune system health. However, the exact mechanisms are still being explored.11–13
Modulating Immune Function – Journal of BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine
This clinical trial took part and was published in 2019 in the Journal of BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine to confirm the efficacy and evaluate the safety of Cordyceps in regulating immune system functions. For this study, participants were categorized into two groups for 8 weeks:
Group I: 39 healthy adults receiving 1.68 g/day of Cordyceps daily in capsule form.
Group II: 40 healthy adults were considered as the control group and received a placebo.
To determine the outcome and compare the two groups, immune cells were assessed initially and after 8 weeks as well.
The results revealed that Cordyceps is safe and effective for enhancing cell-mediated immunity in healthy adults.
4. Improving Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD):
Cordyceps contains bioactive compounds that exhibit antioxidant, and immunomodulatory properties, which could be beneficial in managing CKD-related complications. Some studies suggest that Cordyceps supplementation might help improve renal function, regulate blood pressure, and reduce oxidative stress in CKD patients.14–16
Improving Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease – Journal of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity
This study published in 2019, suggests that Cordyceps militaris may modulate pathways, leading to reduced oxidative stress and improved renal function in CKD patients.
For this trial, 98 CKD patients were recruited and randomly assigned into cordycepin (COG, the patients received 100 mg of Cordyceps militaris/d) and control (CG, the patients received dried chickweed herb placebo/d) groups. This lasted for 3 months and after that biomarkers specific for kidney functions were evaluated to determine the efficacy of Cordyceps.
Results revealed that Cordyceps delayed the progression of CKD through its antioxidant properties.
5. Libido and Sexual Health:
Some traditional uses of Cordyceps involve its potential benefits for sexual health and libido. While this area is intriguing, the scientific evidence remains inconclusive. Some animal studies suggest that Cordyceps might influence hormone levels and sexual function, but further research is needed to validate these findings in humans.17–19
The Effect of Cordyceps in Reducing Sexual Dysfunction – Journal of Pharmacognosy Reviews
This review article published in 2016, provides a descriptive overview of the natural properties of the medicinal fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis in addressing sexual dysfunction. The paper presents findings indicating that supplementation with O. sinensis resulted in elevated total sperm count, an increased proportion of active sperm cells, and higher levels of serum testosterone – an essential hormone for males.
Potential Benefits of Cordyceps
- Regulating Blood Sugar Levels: Cordyceps has been associated with beneficial effects for diabetic patients struggling with blood sugar regulation. Some studies suggest that Cordyceps extract might help enhance insulin sensitivity and support healthy blood sugar levels. However, this evidence was only from animal studies – proof is warranted when it comes to its effect on humans.20–26
- Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Preliminary studies suggest that Cordyceps might possess anti-inflammatory properties in diseases like asthma and allergic rhinitis. While there is some evidence to support this claim in mouse models, further research is needed to fully understand how Cordyceps modulate inflammatory pathways and their potential application in managing inflammatory conditions.27–29
- Anticancer Properties: Some studies have explored the potential of Cordyceps to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and even induce apoptosis (programmed cell death). However, these findings are primarily based on cell and animal studies, and more rigorous clinical trials are required to ascertain Cordyceps‘ effectiveness in cancer treatment.30,31
- Neurological Health: There is emerging interest in Cordyceps‘ impact on brain health. Animal studies propose that Cordyceps may have neuroprotective properties and could be beneficial in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. However, human studies are limited, and the mechanisms behind these potential effects require further exploration.32–34
- Respiratory Health: In traditional Chinese medicine, Cordyceps has been used to support respiratory health. There is emerging research indicating that Cordyceps might have potential benefits for conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, more comprehensive clinical studies are required to establish its effectiveness in these areas.35–37
Now that you’ve learned all about Cordyceps: Benefits, potential, and all! What’s next?
Considerations and Precautions
While Cordyceps presents an exciting array of potential benefits and is generally safe – and even though it’s not confined in the World Health Organization’s exclusive list for fungal pathogens, individuals may experience mild side effects such as gastrointestinal discomfort.38 Always prioritize your health and consult a healthcare provider with any concerns.39
Cordyceps exhibits a truly captivating life cycle where primarily infects insects and other arthropods, using them as hosts for its growth. This intriguing relationship has not only intrigued scientists but has also spurred interest in its potential benefits for human health.40
Dr. Mark Ramsdale, a professor in molecular microbiology at the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology told Sky News “There are about 600 species of Cordyceps.” After that, he added: “They are predominantly insect pathogens. It’s their insect host that they manipulate and change their behavior. And so, from that perspective, there is some basis there.”
The Cordyceps Awakening: A Personal Journey
I am an active person, and I was intrigued by cordyceps when I discovered that it increased energy levels, especially for exercise. As a result, I started using a reputable cordyceps supplement. Within weeks, I felt an incredible change. My energy levels surged, offering a constant and stable boost that rivaled the effects of caffeine. Notably, my workouts became more fulfilling, complemented by an unexpected mental clarity. I’m still young (at least I think I am), so I don’t see any other health benefits to me at this point, after taking it for a few weeks.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, Cordyceps is a fascinating fungus with a range of potential health benefits. While some benefits are supported by solid evidence, others remain under investigation, awaiting further studies on humans to determine their efficacy.
Similar to any natural supplement, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating Cordyceps into your routine, especially if you have existing health conditions or are taking medications.
As research continues to unfold, Cordyceps may prove to be a valuable addition to our toolkit for promoting wellness and vitality.
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