Medicinal mushrooms seem to be all the rage right now, with the cordyceps mushroom being one of the most unique. A staple of Chinese medicine for millennia, cordyceps are parasitic fungi that include over 400 different species. However, two species have become the core focus of health research: Cordyceps Sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.
Known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, cordyceps have a host of potential benefits, such as improving exercise performance, maintaining heart health, and slowing down aging.
Implementing this health tonic into your wellness regime is as simple as buying cordyceps mushroom capsules. Consumed in much the same way as other vitamins or pills, you can simply swallow the capsule as needed with a glass of water.
This article will take a more in-depth look at what cordyceps are and how they can benefit your health.
What are Cordyceps Mushrooms?
Cordyceps is a parasitic mushroom that grows on living insects. It takes over the insect’s body by infiltrating the brain and muscle tissue. Technically, this is known as wild cordyceps and goes by the name Cordyceps Sinensis. It commonly grows in the Himalayan foothills of Tibet and Bhutan.
It’s extremely rare to find Cordyceps in the wild, though, and if they are “wild” (Cordyceps sinensis), they’re very expensive, with one kilogram costing around $20,000. Therefore, a variety called Cordyceps militaris has been developed for cultivation. Research suggests that Cordyceps militaris has similar benefits to the wild variety.
The medicinal use of the cordyceps mushroom dates back thousands of years. The first people to discover the benefits of the mushroom were local herders who observed their livestock growing stronger after eating the wild fungus. Eventually, people started drying the mushroom in sunlight to preserve its potent benefits, and it became increasingly popular for human health.
Traditionally, cordyceps was used as a tonic for the lung and kidneys, specifically for respiratory issues and fatigue. Today, cordyceps are touted for their ability to support vitality, endurance, and stamina.
Health Benefits of Cordyceps Mushrooms
In alternative medicine, cordyceps is often thought of as a natural energy booster. Proponents also claim that it can slow the aging process, boost libido, and protect against certain cancers. However, there is a lack of evidence involving humans in clinical trials to support these claims. Research so far consists mostly of animal studies.
Nonetheless, here is what we currently know about how Cordyceps mushrooms may benefit one’s health.
According to one 2016 study, the high antioxidant content of cordyceps may explain their anti-aging properties. Antioxidants are known to combat free radical damage, thereby helping to slow down the signs of aging. Several other studies report that cordyceps increase antioxidants in aged mice, helping to improve libido and fight fatigue.
Increase athletic performance
Cordyceps are believed to increase adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule responsible for delivering energy to the muscles. Since cordyceps promote the production of ATP, it may improve the way the body uses oxygen, especially during exercise. Specifically, research suggests that cordyceps may boost athletic performance by improving endurance and stamina.
Similar findings were demonstrated in a 2010 study in which a group of older adults were administered a cordyceps supplement daily. The study reported a moderate improvement in exercise performance by those who consumed the supplement.
Helps combat inflammation
Functioning as a natural anti-inflammatory, the cordyceps mushroom may help fight inflammation in the body. Although some inflammation is good, too much can lead to certain diseases, like cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it’s important to keep inflammation under control.
Additionally, the anti-inflammatory effects of cordyceps mean the mushroom may be helpful for immunity. Decreasing inflammation helps restore balance in the immune system, which means the body is better equipped to fight off pathogens. Plus, less inflammation also generally means less pain.
Maintain Heart Health
Although more human studies are needed, animal studies suggest that cordyceps may be good for the heart. A 2014 study on rats with chronic kidney disease found that cordyceps extract helped reduce damage to the heart after only eight weeks.
Several other studies report that cordyceps may lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol), thereby reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. Plus, they may also decrease high triglyceride levels, another risk factor for heart disease.
Final Thoughts on Cordyceps
Cordyceps are a unique type of fungus that grows like a parasite on the brains of insects. Since it’s rare to find in the wild and expensive, a special species has been cultivated to be used in cordyceps supplements.
A number of potential benefits have been linked to the cordyceps mushroom, including the enhancement of athletic performance, reducing inflammation, and maintaining a healthy heart. However, most studies to date involve lab rats or mice. More human trials are necessary to determine just how effective cordyceps are when it comes to these and various other medical conditions.