Cordyceps mushroom has a legendary legacy in Taoist tonic herbalism. First originating in the Qing Dynasty in China, Cordyceps mushroom has been used for over 2000 years (5).
In ancient times, wild Cordyceps was so highly prized and valued by the emperor that they were illegal to possess if you did not belong to the ruling class. The emperor understood how valuable this herb was to be as an overall life-enhancing and anti-aging agent. The emperors wanted to be effective rulers of their kingdom and so they valued Cordyceps as a longevity tonic to prevent illness, strengthen an individual’s constitution and increase vigour (1, 5).
Cordyceps mushroom is traditionally renowned as a potent kidney and adrenal tonic.
In Taoism and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the kidneys are one of the most important organ systems for being the house of “Jing” or our primal essence.
Jing is the foundational energy of the body that nourishes and supports all other organ systems, and stores the emotion of fear, which we can see directly translate and make sense in the Western paradigm, with our kidneys housing our adrenals – which activates the body’s fight or flight response (1).
Cordyceps mushroom first splashed on to the mainstream after the 1993 Chinese National games. During the competition, the Chinese broke numerous world records, dazzling the world.
After being negatively tested for steroids and other banned substances, it was revealed that the coach of the athletics team had their athletes supplementing with a special herbal formula where Cordyceps was the main ingredient. The team attributed their incredible success and historical athletic accomplishments to this powerful medicinal mushroom (1, 6).
Studies show that Cordyceps mushroom may enhance aerobic capacity, strength, stamina, physical performance, promote fast recovery, support the lungs, help lower cholesterol, boost libido and fertility. As a potent antioxidant and immunomodulatory agent, Cordyceps lowers inflammation and fights free radicals (1, 5, 6).
This powerful medicinal mushroom improves many aspects of our health and overall wellbeing. Its anti inflammatory benefits help elevate our energy and performance levels to new heights.
Table of Contents
What are Cordyceps?
So exactly what are Cordyceps?
Cordyceps mushroom is a species from the Clavicipitaceae fungi family. There are over 700 species of Cordyceps mushroom.
The most popular and widely studied species are Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris. These two species are the most widely studied that are used within herbal medicine. They are available on the market as a nutrient dense superfood (6, 13).
Another notable species worth mentioning is the Australian native Cordyceps gunnii.
Their English moniker – Caterpillar fungus - originates from their appearance and as one of the strangest and most powerful biological mutations that occurs in nature.
Essentially, Cordyceps mushroom are a parasitic fungus that naturally takes over the nervous system of different ghost moth caterpillars and other insects. Once the fungus has infected the host body, and in the right environmental conditions, the mushroom fruiting body will sprout through the head of the ghost moth.
Most Cordyceps mushroom species have an unusual appearance that resembles alien-like features. In TCM, their energetic properties are considered warm, acrid, sweet and moist, hinting further to their function and uses within herbal medicine.
Being a medicinal mushroom, Cordyceps has been used for centuries within ancient Chinese and Tibetan medicine to improve longevity, restore vigor, strength and support fertility and immune function (1).
Cordyceps is incredibly unique in its ability to be both a Yin-nourishing and Yang-invigorating herb that helps balance and enhance numerous bodily functions and systems.
Cordyceps supports the kidneys and adrenals, boosts energy, fights fatigue and modulates the immune system (1, 4, 5).
Where do they originate from?
Cordyceps was first recorded over 2000 years ago, and like all adaptogens, has an epic origin story.
Cordyceps grows at elevations high up 3800m above sea level in the cold, harsh meadows of the Himalayan mountains in Tibet and Bhutan (1, 2, 5, 6).
The lifecycle of wild Cordyceps begins with its spores inhabiting the larvae of ghost moth caterpillars which takes over the nervous system when the environment and weather conditions are ideal, the fruiting body will sprout from the caterpillars head, releasing more spores and continuing its reproductive cycle (1, 2, 5, 6).
When we dive into the origins of Cordyceps Mushroom, we learn its utilization as both a tonic food and medicinal herb is deeply embedded within Traditional Chinese and Tibetan Medicine.
Originally only reserved for the Emperor and Royal family, the unique properties of Cordyceps mushroom and its rarity in nature reveal the herb as a superior adaptogen of the highest level.
Cordyceps was first uncovered when Yak herders observed their yaks becoming increasingly energized after eating the fungus in the fields surrounding the Himalayas.
One thousand years after this first observation, the Chinese Emperors’ physician learnt of this phenomena and began to cultivate and use Cordyceps mushroom as an aphrodisiac (2).
It wasn’t until the 1400’s that Cordyceps was first documented (Note: most herbal medicine was recorded and passed down verbally, rather than written).
In the western world, Cordyceps was first uncovered in the 1800’s by British mycologist M.J. Berkelesy when he first described the mushroom. It’s name originates from the Latin word meaning Cordl (club) and ceps (head) (2).
Fast forward to today, Cordyceps mushroom is known throughout the biohacking community and is a popular herbal supplement used by many high performing athletes, entrepreneurs, herbalists, naturopaths and scientists.
It’s unique compounds have been studied and applied to prevent and treat numerous diseases ranging from bronchitis, asthma, high cholesterol, cancer, infertility, chronic fatigue and autoimmune conditions.
What are the benefits of taking Cordyceps?
Cordyceps mushroom has been widely studied for decades and offers many potential health benefits.
Cordyceps may enhance exercise performance, endurance, stamina and recovery. As a potent antioxidant, Cordyceps helps fight free radicals and thus, increase longevity and reverse the ageing process.
The immune modulating properties of Cordyceps have shown the ability to shrink and halt tumour growth. It’s blood sugar and blood cholesterol lowering properties, and it’s vasodilating benefits may help improve cardiovascular health, energy production and overall well being.
1. May help elevate exercise performance
Cordyceps mushroom is perhaps best known for its ability to improve physical activity and performance.
Cordyceps has been shown to increase nitric oxide production, aerobic capacity and the utilization of cellular energy stores (1, 13).
The production of nitric oxide causes vasodilation within blood vessels which helps improve oxygen utilization and the clearing away of lactic acid; improving circulation, skeletomuscular and cardiovascular abilities (7, 13).
The ability of Cordyceps to liberate stored glucose (cellular energy) enables a steady production of cellular energy – ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) which attributes to its anti-fatigue ability improving athletic endurance.
One specific and well-known study on mice showed the introduction of Cordyceps enhanced endurance and resistance to fatigue after three weeks of administration when compared to the placebo group (2).
In human studies, three week utilization of Cordyceps militaris in healthy individuals showed an improvement in VO2 max, time till exhaustion and ventilatory threshold (10). Whereas the utilization of Cordyceps to improve aerobic capacity in professional athletes is unsupported (10, 13).
Cordyceps also improves and elevates exercise performance through it’s ability to increase testosterone, estrogen and progesterone levels (1, 8, 9, 11, 13).
In mice studies, the introduction of Cordyceps stimulated Leydig cells to produce testosterone. This is due to cordycepin being the identified active constituent and phytosteroid compounds stimulate receptor activity in hormone target sites. (8, 9)
Cordyceps has also shown to lower cholesterol and acts as a potent antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage (1, 13).
Studies show that cholesterol build up causes plaque and platelet aggregation within blood vessels, decreasing circulation and cardiovascular function, inhibiting optimal aerobic and exercise performance.
Perhaps one of the coolest functions of Cordyceps is its compound – cordycepin – which mimics caffeine in its ability to bind to adenosine receptors (1, 13).
Adenosine is our sleepy compound that builds up throughout the day causing the body to tire and feel fatigued, When we sleep, adenosine is “washed away”. When Cordyceps acts on these receptors, it plugs into these receptors and helps prevent fatigue, increases ATP production (cellular energy) and improves endurance–three key factors in improving exercise performance.
2. May Possess Anti-Aging Properties
Cordyceps has traditionally been used as a longevity tonic that may help prevent and slow down the ageing process. This is due to Cordyceps rich antioxidant compounds that help fight off the production of free radicals (1, 7, 12, 13).
Free radicals, also known as ROS (reactive oxygen species), are unstable molecules in the body that damage cellular DNA and cell function. Free radicals cause oxidative stress and accelerate the ageing process.
We often define ageing as simply the physical changes or decline in our appearance, however, ageing is happening to our cells constantly. The body is always creating new cells to replace the old, damaged, worn out cells and Cordyceps is able to support this entire cascade by fighting free radicals that are naturally produced and caused by our lifestyles.
The body naturally needs reactive oxygen species to elicit immune responses and for healthy cell turnover. When the balance of pro and antioxidants become out of balance, this is when we see disease and symptom formation.
Free radicals are also increased during times of stress. Whether the stress is caused by environmental, physical or mental – the sun, deadlines, over-exercising, heavy metals, pro-inflammatory foods etc. all these stressors cause an increase of free radicals in the body.
The anti inflammatory and adaptogenic properties of Cordyceps mushroom therefore, help buffer the stress response and support the HPA axis (Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) to prevent additional free radicals and lower oxidative stress and thus, cellular ageing that occurs.
One study showed the potent effects of water-extracted Cordyceps to inhibit the production of superoxide anions and hydroxyl radicals – two key ROS’ - within humans. Further, Cordyceps improves brain function and increases the production of key antioxidant enzymes–SOD (Superoxide dismutase), glutathione and catalase (12, 13).
3. Possibly can slow the growth of tumours
The topic of cancer and tumours is a sensitive subject that often cannot be discussed openly. However, through the works of world renowned mycologist; Paul Stamets, the normalcy and effectiveness of medicinal mushrooms and Cordyceps in the shrinking and inhibition of tumours is becoming widely explored.
As a potent immunomodulatory agent, Cordyceps has been showed to have an inhibitory and cytotoxic effect on carcinomas, melanomas and lymphomas within both human and mice models (1, 6, 7, 12, 13).
The unique combination of active compounds in Cordyceps–cordycepin and immune-modulating polysaccharides– elicit anti-tumour effects and have shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in oral, colorectal, bladder, breast and prostate cancer cells (1, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13).
The anti-tumour activity of Cordyceps has been attributed to its immunopotentiation function as well as it’s antioxidant, antiangiogenic, antimutagenic, antimetastatic, and antiviral activities (12).
Further, looking at tumour growth from a holistic perspective, we can see Cordyceps function as an adaptogen that buffers stress and supports healthy adrenal and nervous system function inhibiting oxidative stress that drives cellular miscommunication and cancer growth.
4. May help control Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is driven by lifestyle factors which cause a resistance to insulin and leptin and an increase in risk for all-cause mortality and metabolic disease.
Research has shown Cordyceps mushroom has hypoglycemic effects. Cordyceps triggers insulin release, increases hepatic uptake of glucose, increases insulin sensitivity and improves cholesterol levels (12,13).
In studies, Cordyceps has been demonstrated to improve fasting glucose levels, improve glucose tolerance and enhance GLUT4 function (1, 7, 12, 13).
GLUT4 is a specific transporter within the small intestine that carries glucose from the GI tract into the bloodstream to be stored by muscles and the liver. Enhancing the function sees a greater clearance and utilization of glucose and thus, improved blood sugar balance.
Stress, poor sleep, inactivity and an increase in free radicals all drive blood sugar imbalances and risk of type 2 diabetes. Cordyceps mushroom shows has numerous benefits to supporting healthy blood sugar and the control of type 2 diabetes.
5. Potential Cardiovascular Benefits
Cordyceps has many potential benefits for the cardiovascular system. Cordyceps enhances oxygen utilisation, improves blood vessel tone, boosts antioxidants and its antilipidemic effects may improve cholesterol levels, decrease plasma cholesterol levels and hyperlipidemia (11, 12).
Cordyceps improves lipid metabolism through the above-mentioned ways. High cholesterol is often driven by lifestyle, an overburdened liver, poor functioning cardiovascular system and leptin and insulin resistance.
Studies show Cordyceps may significantly reduce cholesterol, triglyceride concentration and VLDL synthesis, as well as improve the ratio of HDL:LDL – a marker of healthy cholesterol levels (1, 13, 14).
Cordyceps contain beta-glucan polysaccharides (long-chain sugars) that elicit hypolipidemic activity that entrap cholesterol with bile acids in the GI tract improving excretion (1, 13, 14).
Cordyceps is also hepatoprotective and may help support a healthy functioning liver. The liver is the site of cholesterol synthesis and recycling (the body uses cholesterol to synthesise sex hormones). The liver also receives HDL from the body, breaks it down and excretes it, keeps arteries clear and prevents plaque buildup that cause cardiovascular disease.
When the liver is overburdened, damaged or not functioning at its optimum level, cholesterol levels become out of balance which causes an increase in blood cholesterol, inflammatory markers and metabolic disease.
The liver is also the site of bile synthesis which is stored in the gallbladder and released when we consume dietary fats. Bile mops up cholesterol, binding it to bile acids within the gastrointestinal tract and excretes through the bowels.
Our entire body is so interconnected. The anti inflammatory benefits of Cordyceps mushroom supports both a healthy liver and helps balance cholesterol levels to support the cardiovascular system.
Are there any potential side effects
There is very little scientific evidence that suggests Cordyceps mushroom shows harmful side effects. However, potential side effects and contraindications may occur with Cordyceps and cholesterol lowering drugs, having an additive effect. Additionally, anticoagulant, antiplatelet, cyclophosphamide and immunosuppressant drugs may have interactions.
Aside from these, Cordyceps mushroom has a very low toxicity, with diarrhea, constipation and abdominal discomfort being other noted side effects (15).
It’s also important to note that any herb that works to support liver function may also improve or alter drug metabolism.
In some circumstances, for certain people under proper guidance, it may be best to avoid Cordyceps mushroom.
It is recommended to avoid using Cordyceps while pregnant and breastfeeding. As with most herbal medicine and natural supplements, there is insufficient data and a lack of reliable information regarding the safety of consuming Cordyceps mushroom while pregnant and breastfeeding.
Being immune amphoteric and immunomodulating, Cordyceps mushroom has the potential to stimulate the immune system and may trigger or exacerbate autoimmune conditions.
It is recommended for those with multiple sclerosis (MS), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune conditions to avoid Cordyceps mushroom or use with caution (15).
Due to the anti-platelet aggregating (blood clotting) effects of Cordyceps, it is recommended for those with bleeding disorders or those entering into surgery to avoid using Cordyceps mushroom (15).
Commonly Asked Questions
What is Cordyceps Sinensis?
Cordyceps sinensis (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) is the most well known species of Cordyceps that infects the caterpillar of the Hepialus moth.
In Tibet, Cordyceps sinensis is known as Yarsagumba or yartsa gunbu and in China its pin yin is Dōnɡ Chónɡ Xià Cǎo (冬虫夏草) which translates to summer grass, winter worm.
Today, wild Cordyceps sinensis are so rare and highly regarded that they’re worth more per ounce than gold. Cordyceps sinensis are one of the most expensive herbs in the world, fetching in excess of $20,000 USD per kilogram.
Due to the rapid rise in price on this precious resource it has now been dubbed “himalayan gold” or “himalayan viagra”.
Fortunately today, modern “fermentation” technology has allowed us to grow cultivated Cordyceps sinensis at a far less expense. Studies have shown that the cultivated variety (CS-4) shares all the same benefits and nutritional profile as wild Cordyceps and is just as potent and efficacious.
Cordyceps sinensis has been shown to be more advantageous to stressed out, depleted individuals and those wanting to improve physical endurance, aerobic capacity and immune support (17).
What is Cordyceps Militaris?
Cordyceps militaris is a relative species to Cordyceps sinensis and grows and thrives throughout Europe.
Cordyceps militaris is the less expensive substitute to Cordyceps sinensis and has slightly different pharmacological properties including higher levels of cordycepin.
Studies show the benefits of Cordyceps militaris are more advantageous for improving mood and exercise capacity–lengthened the time to exhaustion and increased breathing capacity during high-intensity exercise (5, 16-19).
How to take Cordyceps Mushroom?
A high quality organic concentrated extract of Cordyceps mushroom is slightly earthy and bitter tasting.
For fast absorption, mix 1-3 grams directly to make coffee with Cordyceps, hot tea or your favourite nut milk for an instant tonic elixir.
Cordyceps mushrooms also make a delicious and healthy addition to your pre and post workout smoothies, hot chocolates, soup broths, salad dressings, raw desserts, baked goods and more. Cordyceps mushroom extracts are not sensitive to heat.
Cordyceps mushroom is a highly regarded tonic herb in Taoist herbalism and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Being an adaptogen, Cordyceps is safe to consume every day over the long term.
The health benefits of Cordyceps extract accumulate over time, therefore, for best results, we recommend consuming in small doses (1-3 grams per day) over the long term for a minimum of 100 days.
Where are Cordyceps found?
Wild Cordyceps mushroom (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) are found growing in the high elevation alpine grasslands on the foothills of the Himalayan mountains in Tibet and Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu.
Cordyceps sinensis can also be found less abundantly in India, Nepal, and Bhutan.
How much Cordyceps should I take?
For optimal health benefits and results, we recommend consuming 1-3 grams of Cordyceps mushroom concentrated extract powder or supplement per day for a minimum of 100 days.
Where to buy Cordyceps?
When choosing to buy the best Cordyceps mushroom product, you must select a certified organic source that is dual-extracted (water and alcohol extraction), CS-4 cultivated from authentic Di Tao regions, third party tested (safe levels of heavy metals and other contaminants), guaranteed potency (beta-D-glucan levels) and contains no added grains, starch, mycelium or fillers to ensure the highest quality and most efficacious product.
Any Cordyceps product produced in North America is most likely grown on myceliated grains with starch and fillers that often end up in the final product that drastically reduces its overall effectiveness and bioavailability (16).
Science is yet to discover how to grow Cordyceps Sinensis fruiting bodies.
Unlike other Cordyceps supplements and extracts, Teelixir Cordyceps mushrooms are grown using a strain of the wild fungi material (fruiting body species of Cordyceps sinensis) which is liquid fermented in large tanks (vegan-based medium) and then produced into a potent and highly absorbable extract powder. This process is very different compared to inferior mycelium grown on grain Cordyceps products.
Teelixir Cordyceps contains no added grains, starch, preservatives or fillers in our Cordyceps extract.
Teelixir Cordyceps is a certified organic CS-4 concentrated extract, independently tested with a guaranteed potency of >17% beta-D-glucans and <2% starch.
Originally revered and reserved for the emperor and the royal family of China, the rarity of wild Cordyceps mushroom confirmed its status as a super tonic herb and also, a royal one at that.
In Chinese medicine, Cordyceps mushroom is sweet, warm and enters the lung and kidney meridians, and has been used for millennia to enhance treat Yin and Yang deficiencies and strengthen the strength, stamina and Jing of the individual consuming it.
In modern Western times, Cordyceps has been shown to improve aerobic capacity, exercise performance, cholesterol, blood sugar, energy levels, libido, and immune function and is honestly such a potent and powerhouse of an adaptogen, one in which we can all benefit from taking.
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