Cordyceps sinensis, also known as Ophiocordyceps sinensis, is a fungus that occurs throughout the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau. Used in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine for centuries —the first confirmed reference occurs in a 15th Century Tibetan medical text—Cordyceps is still revered for its tonic and even aphrodisiac properties, and is prescribed for a wide array of conditions.
Although there are a wide variety of testimonials and traditional wisdom about the benefits of Cordyceps, most contemporary scientific validation comes from laboratory studies involving animals or in vitro cell cultures. Although specific health benefits are still being validated in human studies, Cordyceps does have GRAS status (Generally Recognized as Safe) from the FDA due to its long- standing traditional use and is considered a food. And while wild cordyceps varieties sometimes cause stomach upset, these problems don't occur with cultivated cordyceps made under sterile conditions.
Even without considering its therapeutic potential, cordyceps is an amazing nutritional mushroom. A complete protein, it contains all the essential amino acids, primarily glutamate, arginine, aspartic acid, with notable effects from tryptophan and tyrosine. It also supplies vitamins E, K, B1, B2, and B12, and minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganase, and zinc. Cordyceps also supplies various carbohydrates and fibers, including polysaccharides and oligosaccharides (which feed our body's natural probiotics). Cordyceps also contains sterols, which are an important precursor to substances such as vitamin D.
Cordyceps is generally understood as an immune boosting, energy-enhancing mushroom, with many other potential benefits related to everything from stamina and aging to diabetes and cancer. These effects are theorized to be the result of many different components of the fungus, including cordycepin, ergosterol, polysaccharides, and others that are still being researched.
Energy & Performance
Cordyceps became world famous as the preferred supplement of record-breaking Chinese Olympians. Cordyceps seems to improve performance by increasing the amount of ATP available to power our mitochondria (the cellular energy factory). Additionally, studies suggest it can increase enzymes that process glucose in the liver, making more available for the muscles. Studies with mice have shown increased stamina in swimming tests. Even elderly patients seem to benefit from cordyceps, with one study showing increased energy levels, sex drive, and respiratory function, as well as improved cognitive test results.
Another factor in enhanced energy level is cordyceps' effect on cardiovascular function. With its vaso-relaxing and airway-relaxing effects, it increases circulation and helps to lower blood pressure. It also has been shown to normalize heartbeat by preventing arrhythmias. Cordyceps also improves activity of red blood cell enzymes, which may explain how it helps laboratory animals use oxygen 50% more efficiently, so they can better tolerate states of low oxygen and acidosis.
Another factor in improved performance may be the result of testosterone. Researchers from Taiwan have demonstrated increased testosterone levels in mice using cordyceps.
Animal studies also suggest that cordyceps may inhibit atherosclerosis by decreasing serum total cholesterol.
By conserving liver glycogen, cordyceps also appears to lower levels of blood sugar, which makes it a potential tool for prevention or help with diabetes.
Cordyceps also appears to increase the activity of the body's macrophages, which attack invading microbes and cancer cells. Numerous animal studies and in vitro experiments have shown cordyceps' ability to inhibit cancer growth or prevent carcinogenic effects from radiation.
Cordyceps also seems to increase levels of the body's most powerful antioxidant, SuperOxide Dismutase, helping to protect cells from the damaging effects of free radical oxidation.