Cordyceps: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosages, and Interactions

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Cordyceps is a medicinal mushroom with antioxidant and anti- inflammatory properties. Cordyceps, long used in traditional Chinese medicine , is available in the United States as a dietary supplement.

There are 400 species of cordyceps, most of which are native to Bhutan, China, Korea, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. The most famous medicinal species is Cordyceps sinensis (now officially known as Ophiocordyceps sinensis ). The fungus has a long, finger-like body and is usually brown or orange-brown in color.

In China, wild cordyceps are so highly prized that a kilogram often exceeds $ 20,000. Most of today's supplements are made from an artificially created mushroom culture that has the biological characteristics of C. sinesis but cannot be produced by the fungus itself.

Cordyceps is often referred to as a caterpillar fungus because of its thin, tubular shape. In traditional Chinese medicine, this is called dong chun xia ok.

Cordyceps should not be confused with porcini mushrooms ( Boletus edulis ) used for cooking.

What is cordyceps used for?

In alternative medicine, cordyceps is often touted as a natural energy booster. Proponents also argue that cordyceps can protect against health problems such as asthma, depression, diabetes, fatigue, high cholesterol, and upper respiratory infections.

Cordyceps is also designed to enhance athletic performance, a claim that made headlines in 1993 when Chinese athletes broke several world records, a feat their coach attributed to C. sinesis supplements .

Some herbalists also believe that cordyceps can increase libido, slow down the aging process, and protect against cancer. Some of these claims are strongly supported by research .

Athletic performance

So far, the research on the effects of cordyceps on performance has been mixed.

In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, daily cordyceps supplementation appeared to improve physical performance, albeit marginally, in a small group of older adults ages 50 to 75.

Meanwhile, a 2016 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that daily Cordyceps intake gradually increased maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) in young adults after three weeks. What has not changed is the time to exhaustion (ETT) or the stage of exercise when breathing becomes difficult (breathing threshold).

In short, the improvement in oxygen consumption did not translate into productivity gains. It is not clear if long-term supplementation can improve these results.

Diabetes

Cordyceps has long been used as a traditional treatment for diabetes in China. Although there are few qualitative studies examining these effects in humans, there have been few studies in animals, usually with disappointing or inconclusive results .

A 2012 study in Taiwan found that a four-week course of cordyceps extract was able to improve cholesterol and reduce weight in diabetic mice, but it did not change blood sugar levels or increase insulin resistance .

Despite this, the researchers suggested that the diabetes-related weight loss benefits could be significant. Additionally, an improved cholesterol profile is often associated with increased insulin sensitivity .

High blood pressure

Cordyceps are believed to have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that can help prevent or treat high blood pressure ( hypertension ). Many of these benefits are attributed to a compound known as cordycepin, which is similar in molecular composition to adenosine. Like adenosine, cordycepin relaxes blood vessels, improves circulation, and lowers blood pressure.

According to a 2017 study in China, the same benefits could extend to the respiratory tract. When taken daily, cordyceps extract appears to relax constricted airways and improve quality of life scores in people with moderate to severe asthma .

Cancer

Preliminary research suggests that cordyceps may protect against certain types of cancer .

Cordyceps extract is capable of inducing apoptosis (cell death) in breast cancer cells in test tube studies, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology .

Similar results have been seen with colon cancer cells. The cordycepins from the cordyceps fungus are also toxic to leukemic cells.

Possible side effects.

Cordyceps is considered safe for short-term use. Some users may experience mild side effects including abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, or dry mouth. Symptoms usually resolve after stopping treatment. Others have reported a persistent metallic taste after eating cordyceps, which can take longer.

Despite its relative safety, herbal medicine is poorly understood and may cause problems for some users. If you are allergic to mold or yeast , you are likely allergic to cordyceps and should be avoided .

People taking diabetes medications may need to avoid cordyceps because combined use can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar ( hypoglycemia ).

People with bleeding disorders or those taking anticoagulants ("blood thinners") or medications that prevent blood clotting may also need to avoid cordyceps. Taking them together can increase the risk of bleeding or easy bruising.

This also applies when you have surgery. You must stop taking Cordyceps at least two weeks before to avoid excessive bleeding.

Little is known about the long-term safety of taking cordyceps. While the supplements are considered safe, there are still concerns about the general safety of imported traditional Chinese medicines.

Due to a lack of research, cordyceps products of any kind should not be used by children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers.

Get Drug Information / Anastasia Tretyak

Dosage and preparation

In the United States, cordyceps is generally available in capsule, tablet, or powder form. Dried whole mushrooms can often be found on the internet, although you may not always be sure if you are infected with C. simensis or a related species of cordyceps.

Dried whole cordyceps are often used to make tinctures and extracts, while powdered cordyceps can be added to protein shakes and shakes, or can be brewed into tea.

There is no universal recommendation for the proper use of cordyceps or cordyceps supplements. As a general rule of thumb, never use a higher dosage than is recommended on the product label. If you experience any unusual symptoms after consuming cordyceps, stop and tell your doctor. Be sure to save the product packaging so you can show it to your doctor.

What to look for

Dietary supplements in the United States are not required to undergo the rigorous testing that pharmaceuticals do. To ensure quality and safety, buy supplements that have been tested and certified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or another recognized certification body.

Also look for supplements labeled "yeast-free." They are less likely to become infected with mold, which generally affects dried mushroom products.

When purchasing a corodiceps supplement, keep in mind that many medications are not made from C. simensis. Some are derived from related cordyceps species, such as C. militaris, or mixed with reishi mushrooms in various concentrations. If there is no certification from the US Pharmacopeia or ConsumerLab, it is often impossible to know how much cordyceps is in a product, or if there is.

For its part, the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health reports that Chinese herbal products sometimes contain drugs, toxins or heavy metals. Others may not even include the listed ingredients.

Frequently asked questions

  • There is no evidence that cordyceps is toxic or harmful to humans. In China, the mushroom has proven so safe and potentially beneficial that the country's National Drug Administration approved 50 drugs and two dietary supplements derived from cordyceps.

  • Start with shredded mushrooms or powdered cordyceps. Add 1 tablespoon of any of these to 1.5 cups of hot water and steep for 10 minutes. Strain into a cup and sweeten if desired. Optional: Prepare with four thin slices of fresh ginger and season with honey and lemon juice.

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