If you’ve played the PlayStation game The Last of Us, watched the 2016 film The Girl With All The Gifts, or read the 2013 novel the film was adapted from, chances are you’ve already heard about the cordyceps fungus.
Or maybe you’re a nature enthusiast, and have heard about the fascinating way the cordyceps fungus infects ants.
This clever little fungus infects ants in the rainforest with its spores. It then rewires their brain, encouraging them to climb up stems to an environment better suited to the fungus.
The ants secure their mandibles on the stems, and the fungus grows out of their head. When the fungus matures, it releases more spores into the environment, ready to infect more ants.
After such rich inspiration, it’s easy to see why the cordyceps fungus has been taken up by science fiction enthusiasts! But this impressive little fungus actually has a whole range of health benefits for humans.
Today we’re going to help separate fact from fiction and tell you everything there is to know about the cordyceps fungus, including its benefits, uses, and history.
What is cordyceps?
Cordyceps is a fungus that is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine.
There are over 400 species of this incredible fungus, but there are two that are most commonly used in human medicine: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.
There are several different compounds in addition to the 400 different species, but these two varieties are the ones most commonly used in human medicine.
This fungus is usually found in capsules, tablets, or powdered formulas for citizens in America to use.
There are dried whole mushrooms to be found online, however, you can’t be certain that you’re getting the right mushroom for your needs.
It’s best to opt for a product that has been certified by the US Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or other recognized certification body.
That way you can be sure that you’re buying the right cordyceps product to make use of its benefits.
When taken on a short term basis, the cordyceps fungus comes with a range of great benefits. It’s also important to note that there are no universal guidelines for how to take cordyceps.
So it’s best to always follow the instructions on the label, and if in doubt, always consult with your doctor.
What are the benefits and medicinal uses of cordyceps?
While this interesting fungus has been widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, it is worth noting that there is limited evidence for some of the claimed benefits.
This being said, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest that it can be used to benefit your health.
Let’s take a look at the benefits and medicinal uses of cordyceps to see what this fascinating fungus could do for you!
It is thought that taking a cordyceps supplement could have anti-aging effects. Most of the studies have been completed on mice, however, they have had very promising results.
The studies showed that the addition of a cordyceps supplement helped to improve brain function as well as sexual function.
It was also able to boost antioxidative enzyme activity, which is important for combating the cell damage which comes with old age. Antioxidants are the molecules that are used by the body to fight free radicals.
If left unchecked, free radicals can contribute to diseases such as dementia, as well as aging in general.
Several studies have shown that consuming cordyceps was also able to lengthen the lifespan of mice and fruit flies.
After some herders noticed that the yaks that ate cordyceps became stronger than those that didn’t eat the fungus, the farmers made sure to include it in their animals’ diet.
There has also been a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that consuming cordyceps can be used to give you an energy boost.
Scientific studies have yielded mixed results when it comes to humans, however.
A 2016 study showed that cordyceps helped to increase oxygen intake, but the results didn’t suggest this helped to improve the athletes’ performance.
However there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to claim that taking a cordyceps supplement can boost energy levels.
Boosts immune system
It is thought that cordyceps could be used to boost your immune system. It has been used in traditional medicine for centuries because it is thought to help against a variety of diseases.
But some studies have shown that it can also work to increase the number of molecules used to regulate inflammation.
Most of these studies have again been carried out on mice, but the results have been promising.
Considering that Chinese medicine has been confidently using cordyceps to help boost the immune system for centuries, it’s safe to say that this powerful fungus could be used to help you too.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that cordyceps can indeed be used to boost your immune system.
Some studies in mice have shown that consuming cordyceps can mimic the effect of insulin. This works to decrease the blood sugar level of the mice.
Some rodents even showed signs of having improved kidney functions, which is often an issue that contributes to diabetes.
These promising results mean that taking a cordyceps supplement could help with the management of type 2 diabetes. However, there is little study on humans to backup this evidence.
Taking a cordyceps supplement could also interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications, so you should always consult with your doctor before taking this supplement.
Cordyceps has also been used as a natural treatment for diabetes in China.
The Cordyceps militaris variant of cordyceps has been proven to show anti-fatigue effects in a study of mice. In one particular study, mice were made to complete a series of forced running and swimming tests.
Some mice were given Cordyceps militaris and were able to swim and run faster and for longer than the mice who hadn’t been given the fungus supplement.
The mice that were given Cordyceps militaris also had smaller amounts of lactic acid compared to mice that didn’t receive the supplement, as well as higher levels of ATP.
ATP is adenosine triphosphate, and is essential for giving your cells energy.
There are some positive results for how this could also affect humans. However, further study is needed so that we can reach more conclusive results.
Improves heart health
Cordyceps has been approved for use in China as a treatment for the condition of arrhythmia. This is a condition where a heart beats irregularly, too fast, or too slowly.
There are also several studies to show that using a cordyceps supplement can work to reduce the heart injuries caused by chronic kidney disease.
These injuries are often thought to cause a greater risk of heart failure. Even though these studies have been carried out in rats, it is still promising evidence.
It is thought this could be because of the natural adenosine content in cordyceps. Adenosine has proven benefits for heart health.
Other studies have shown that cordyceps can even decrease bad cholesterol. This is another factor which is often known to cause heart disease.
There are also studies which show that a dose of cordyceps can be used to decrease triglyceride levels in mice. This is a certain type of fat which can be found in your blood and is well known to cause a greater risk of heart disease if it’s found in large quantities.
While most of this evidence has been shown in studies with mice and rats, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that taking a cordyceps supplement could help improve your heart health.
Whereas there’s plenty of evidence to show how cordyceps can be beneficial to mice and rats, there is also evidence that it can help to lower inflammation in humans.
Some studies have proved that when human cells were exposed to cordyceps, they experienced suppression of inflammation.
This means that cordyceps could be used to alleviate the symptoms of asthma as well as some skin conditions.
There was a study in China in 2017 that suggested a daily cordyceps supplement could help to improve the quality of life for those who suffered from moderate to severe asthma.
Again, there is little scientific evidence to suggest this could be the case with humans. But there is also plenty of promising evidence in studies with mice and rats.
Manages blood pressure
Because of the great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of cordyceps, it can also effectively manage blood pressure. These great features work to prevent as well as treat high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
Cordyceps works to relax your blood vessels, which also improves your circulation.
As the cordyceps fungus works to lower your blood pressure, it can also be used to help reduce stress.
Hypertension is one of the first signs of stress, so you can nip it in the bud before it grows to be a larger problem by taking a cordyceps supplement.
Protects against cancer
Certain studies have shown that cordyceps could be used to help protect against certain cancers. A very exciting 2008 study showed that a cordyceps extract triggers the death of breast cancer cells during test tube studies.
There have also been similar results for colon cancer cells as well as leukemia cells.
While these studies are in the very early stages, this shows some promising results that could even give us the long hoped for cure to cancer.
In the meantime, it’s safe to say that cordyceps is a supplement worth taking.
Can you take cordyceps long term?
It’s not advised to take cordyceps in the long term. This is mostly because the cordyceps fungus also has properties that thin your blood.
So if you had any surgery coming up, you would need to have stopped taking cordyceps supplements for at least two weeks beforehand. Otherwise it could cause excessive bleeding.
You may also need to avoid taking cordyceps supplements if you are taking any other long term medication, as it can affect their effectiveness.
Some diabetic medications can be affected by this, so you should consult with your doctor before adding cordyceps to your diet.
Using cordyceps with certain diabetic medications can cause an extreme drop in blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia.
Cordyceps is considered to be safe for short term use. Most users don’t experience any side effects, however, some people have suffered from diarrhea, dry mouth, or a stomach ache.
The history of cordyceps
This fungus has a fascinating history. Cordyceps was so highly valued in Chinese medicine that it was exclusively used by one emperor’s family back in ancient China.
It was originally discovered in the Himalayan mountains near Tibet and Bhutan. It was often called Himalayan gold because it is farmed on the Himalayan plateaus.
It was said that one variety was discovered this way because of how certain animals such as yaks, goats, and sheep became stronger than those who didn’t consume Cordyceps sinensis.
This made local herders use the fungus to help increase the milk yield as well as improve the vitality of their cattle.
After seeing how the cordyceps fungus positively affected their livestock, locals began to use the fungus to help enhance their own vitality and vigor.
Cordyceps was then adopted for use in Chinese and Tibetan medicinal practices to treat different ailments.
So there you have it! While cordyceps isn’t recommended for insects, there’s plenty of health benefits to be had from human consumption.
This fungus is best taken on a short term basis, and if in doubt it’s always recommended to consult with your doctor.
Using cordyceps on a short term basis can help boost your energy levels, be used to fight fatigue, and many more.
There isn’t a lot of scientific peer reviewed evidence to back up most of the health claims that some people claim to receive from a cordyceps supplement.
However, this fungus is steeped in such a rich history and has been popularly used in Chinese medicine for centuries.