Cordyceps: what makes this mushroom so special?
The Cordyceps mushroom has become increasingly popular as a food supplement in recent years, and not without reason. In this article you will read all about the effects and background of this special fungus.
Mushroom with a rich history
Cordyceps is a traditional and medicinally used mushroom, which is widely used especially in China, Tibet, Japan, Korea and other East Asian countries but which has also become increasingly popular in the West in recent years. In China it is also called the 'imperial' mushroom and it originally grows at an altitude of 3000 to 5000 metres in the mountains. Cordyceps has been used for 2000 years for its positive effects on body and mind.
Today, the Cordyceps family of mushrooms has a somewhat prominent reputation in the West for its ability to turn ants into 'zombies' - where the mushroom 'administers' a chemical and spores to an ant (or other insect, such as caterpillars, spiders or moth pupae), which then dies and the mushroom grows out of the insect body.
This mythical "zombie-making" trait of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis was also used for inspiration in HBO video game and TV series Last of Us (2023). In this series, humanity tries to survive after an infectious fungus turns ordinary people into zombies. Fortunately, in reality, our beloved Cordyceps cannot infect humans, so no need to worry about this nightmare becoming real!
In the wild, the Cordyceps (sinensis) mushroom is now very rare and listed as an endangered species. Up to $20,000 would be paid per kilo. For this reason almost all Cordyceps that you can buy in capsules and supplements today is grown in special fungal cultures. This is a slightly modified version of the mushroom in the wild, and does not produce fruit bodies (the mushroom itself), but uses the mycelium (dense network of fungal threads). This mycelium also contains a higher concentration of active substances than the mushroom itself.
The working of Cordyceps: 5 (scientifically proven!) advantages
Cordyceps has been one of the most widely used supplements in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Nowadays there is also more and more scientific evidence of these positive effects. Below we explain some of them.
1. Can increase performance
Until 1993 few people in the West had heard of the Cordyceps mushroom. However, when five world records were broken by three female Chinese athletes during the national Olympic Games that year, this changed because - you guessed it - it turned out they were taking Cordyceps as a supplement.
In one study, researchers tested its effects on exercise capacity in 30 healthy older adults using an exercise bike. Some participants were given either 3 grams per day of a synthetic strain of Cordyceps for six weeks, while the other group was given a placebo pill.
At the end of the study, blood oxygen levels during exercise (called VO2) increased by 7% in participants who had used Cordyceps, whereas no change was seen in participants who had been given the placebo pill.
2. Improves libido, memory and possibly combats ageing
In Asia the Cordyceps mushroom has been used for centuries - especially by elderly people - to increase libido and stamina. Researchers think that the high content of antioxidants may, in addition to better bed performance, also help to combat ageing and improve memory.
One study found that mice given Cordyceps lived several months longer than mice given a placebo.
Another study found that Cordyceps extended the lives of fruit flies, supporting the suspicion that the mushroom may have anti-ageing benefits.
It is currently not known if Cordyceps has the same anti-ageing benefits in humans, more research could shed light on this.
3. May inhibit and prevent tumor growth
The potential of Cordyceps to slow the growth of tumours has attracted a great deal of additional interest in recent years. Research results show that the mushroom can provide antitumour effects in various ways.
There is also evidence that Cordyceps can counteract the side effects of various cancer therapies.
However, it is important to note that these studies have been conducted on animals and in test tubes, not (yet) on humans. Hopefully, further research can also provide more clarity.
4. May help with diabetes
A substance present in Cordyceps, polysaccharide, seems to have an interesting effect on diabetics. In several studies on mice (with diabetes) Cordyceps has been shown to lower blood sugar levels. (Sources: 1,2,3)
Cordyceps may be able to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range by mimicking the action of insulin.
Potential benefits for the heart
More and more evidence is emerging as to why Cordyceps may be beneficial against cardiovascular disease.
Cordyceps has even been approved in China for the treatment of arrhythmia, a condition where the heartbeat is too slow, too fast or irregular.
One study found that Cordyceps significantly reduced heart injuries in rats with chronic kidney disease. Injuries to the heart from chronic kidney disease are thought to increase the risk of heart failure, so reducing these injuries may help prevent this outcome.
The researchers attributed these findings to the adenosine content of Cordyceps. Adenosine is a naturally occurring compound that has hard protective effects.
Is Cordyceps dangerous? Are there any side effects?
Cordyceps is not poisonous and no dangerous side effects have been reported. When pregnant or breastfeeding the use of Cordyceps is generally not recommended because not enough is known about possible interactions. In some cases, a person may experience dry mouth, nausea or diarrhoea. Research also shows that Cordyceps can cause a slight blood-thinning effect. For diabetics, an improvement of the blood glucose level can be a positive side effect.
Various studies have used doses of 2 to 9 grams. There are also therapists who have prescribed a dose of 30 to 50 grams of Cordyceps per day (!) for cancer patients.
Want to know more about the effects and possible side effects? Have a look at this article on Orthokennis.nl
Cordyceps militaris vs sinensis: what's the difference?
Maybe you have seen these different names and wondered what the difference is. The term Cordyceps actually does not refer to one type of mushroom, but to a genus (or family) that includes up to 400 species.
The most common species in preparations and supplements contain Cordyceps militaris, but Cordyceps sinensis is also frequently found. Other preparations contain a combination of the two species. The reason why Cordyceps militaris is used more often is that this species is easier to cultivate in laboratories and can therefore be produced at lower costs.
What is certain is that the two species are very similar, but there are some minor differences in terms of active substances. Cordyceps militaris, for example, contains a higher concentration of the substance cordycepin. This is thought to have positive effects in the following areas:
- Anti-fungal effect
- Improvement of the immune system
- Anti-viral effect
Cordyceps sinensis is said to contain a higher concentration of adenosine, which can be particularly beneficial for athletes. However, it is important to note that when the mushroom is cultivated, various factors come into play (such as the soil on which it is cultivated) and can make a difference in the composition, compared to the mushroom as it occurs in the wild.
Which variety should you buy? Given the minimal differences, both types are actually always good. Make sure that you always choose cordyceps of a reliable brand. There can be a lot of differences in quality and the way the cordyceps is grown.
Microdosing in combination with Cordyceps?
Microdosing refers to the ingestion of very small quantities of psychedelics, like psilocybin-containing truffles, for improved well-being. Also here Cordyceps is used more and more as an extra 'stacking' component. The original stacking method consists of combining a microdosing substance with the mushroom Lion's Mane and niacin (vitamin B3). The well-known mycologist Paul Stamets is the inventor of this method, and refers to it as the 'Stamets Stack'. He bases himself on several studies that show that taking psilocybin mushrooms and Lion's mane can create new neurons and brain connections.
Note: Some people think that with Cordyceps or Lion's Mane you also microdose (take small amounts of the mushroom supplement). This is not the case. You take a daily dose of Cordyceps or Lion's Mane, in combination with a microdose of magic truffles or magic mushrooms.
In 2020, Microdosing Institute developed the Cordyceps Stack: a combination of microdosing truffles, vitamin B12 and cordyceps. Vitamin B12 is widely used in the sports world for more energy and better sports performance. Because some people experience some fatigue when microdosing with truffles, this method aims to increase energy and endurance.
Do you want to start directly with the Cordyceps stack? We have put together a kit with everything you need. Click here to order this kit.