What are Cordyceps:
Cordyceps is actually a genus of mushrooms, and the term has been used to refer to a number of different species- most commonly O. sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.
These are not your traditional cap and stem mushrooms – and have many unique characteristics. Known as a “sac fungi”, or “ascomycete”, they are related to other famous fungi such as the morel and the truffle.
The Cordyceps fruiting body is actually a known as an “ascocarp”- but for out purposes, we can just refer to it as a mushroom! It is usually a long skinny fruiting body extending from the host, but can also be club shaped.
Cordyceps mushrooms are parasitic, meaning that they need living host which will eventually be killed by the fungus. The host is typically a insect or, tree, or even another fungus.
Things to know:
There are hundreds of different species of Cordyceps found all over the world. There are two main species, however, that are of interest for human consumption O. sinensis and Cordyceps militaris. There is also an effective version of Cordyceps mycelium grown in large liquid vats known as CS-4 that is worth learning about.
There is a species of Cordyceps that has a compound profile extremely similar to O. sinesis, known as Cordyceps militaris. In fact, these two mushrooms have historically been used interchangeably in traditional Chinese medicine.
Thanks to recent breakthroughs, the actual fruiting body of C. militaris can be cultivated reliably and affordably.
The method of cultivation doesn’t even require the use of insects. This means that cultivated C. militaris can be considered vegan, and can deliver all the same benefits as O. sinesis without the high price or the ecological impact of harvesting a diminishing resource.
Producing the actual fruiting body also helps to make certain the identity of the fungus, since Cordyceps militaris is easily recognizable. Commercial cultivation of militaris makes supplementation with Cordyceps possible on a large scale.
How can they help:
Metabolism & System Functionality
First, we might as well address the claims that have made Cordyceps so popular recently and indeed for centuries: the notion that consumption of these mushrooms improves libido.
The scientific literature gives an overall impression that both the above mentioned Cordyceps species (O. sinensis and C. militaris) increase hormones and desires.
In a review of past studies, it was found that O. sinensis stimulates steroidogenesis, or the production of hormones like testosterone and estrogen. This caused male test subjects to produce significantly more sperm which also had a higher survival rate, and both men and women reported a subjective increase in sexual desire.
Cordyceps are great for energy outside the bedroom as well. In fact, they're popular among athletes seeking to maximize their workouts and decrease recovery time.
In 1993 some Chinese runners broke several women's world records and came under scrutiny, being tested for banned substances. Their coach revealed their secret was Cordyceps supplements. This case is still controversial due to lingering accusations of doping, but what is absolute fact is that O. sinensis increases metabolism, stamina, and lung capacity, all of which are vital for athletes but all of us ordinary people, too.
Researchers showed that O. sinensis improved blood flow and the efficiency of oxygen usage in test subjects. The Cordyceps also increased production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which carries chemical energy in cells.
Additionally, a study on older people discovered that O. sinensis improved their metabolism by 10% and their respiratory function by 8.5%.
The researchers believed these effects were due to the compounds cordycepin and cordycepic acid, both of which are also contained in C. militaris.
All of this indicates that Cordyceps may play a helpful role for those wanting to get the most out of their body in an athletic context, and also offer some relief to those who suffer from ailments that have symptoms related to fatigue, sexual problems, or diminished lung function.
Regulates Immune System
Like several other mushrooms, Cordyceps have a promising research track record showing their ability to stimulate and regulate components of the immune system.
Both O. sinensis and C. militaris are good sources of antioxidants, which neutralize potentially dangerous free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that look to react with parts of a cell. This can cause cell death or, if they damage DNA, mutations that can eventually lead to cancer. Other possible outcomes of free radical damage include cardiovascular disease and skin problems.
O. sinensis has been shown to stimulate the activity of macrophages, which are cells that consume invading pathogens like bacteria and viruses, but are also capable of shrinking tumors and inhibiting their spread.
O. sinensis and C. militaris likewise promote the activity of T-cells and natural killer cells that perform similar functions to macrophages in the body, having both anti- pathogen and anti-tumor properties.
Both species of Cordyceps also demonstrated the ability to induce cell apoptosis-- basically cell suicide--in cancer cells with C. militaris also causing mitochondrial disruption when tested against breast cancer cells, providing yet another way of killing them
O. sinensis and C. militaris both contain polysaccharides that strengthen the immune system as discussed above, and also regulate it.
In some circumstances, the immune system attacks healthy tissues, causing inflammation that can lead to chronic diseases and disorders.
It seems the more researchers look into inflammation, the more conditions they can tie it to, ranging from psoriasis to ulcerative colitis to heart disease and even certain types of cancer. It is also responsible for all allergy responses and symptoms.
O. sinensis was shown in one study to reduce the severity of lupus in rodents, while a study found that C. militaris decreased airway inflammation associated with asthma.
Keeping aggressive immune responses in check is also vital for transplant
patients. Researchers showed that supplementation with O. sinensis reduced kidney transplant patients' required dosage of the potent immunosuppressive drug Cyclosporin, which meant a reduced occurrence of side effects. Another study found similar results in the case of heart transplants. We couldn't find a related study
using C. militaris, despite its makeup being so similar. Further research must be done to see if that species also helps transplant patients.
The gastrointestinal tract is now known to be an important component of the immune system and is related to the population of good bacteria there. It turns out that O. sinensis also supports this part of the immune system. It lowers the occurrence of bad bacteria like salmonella and increases the number of helpful bacteria. O. sinensis does this by regulating gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), which is part of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Keeping GALT healthy may also help control chronic gastric disorders.
O. sinensis and C. militaris also have anti-diabetic properties.
A study that gave O. sinensis to non-diabetic rodents found that it lowered insulin resistance. People with elevated insulin resistance are more likely to become diabetic, so decreasing it could potentially help prevent the development of this growing problem in western countries.
When tested on subjects that already had diabetes, O. sinensis and C. militaris were able to lower their resting glucose serum levels. Importantly, O. sinensis fruiting bodies and its mycelium had this effect, meaning that even the most common mycelium-based O. sinensis extracts show promise in helping combat diabetes and hyperglycemia.
Kidney & Liver Health
Cordyceps also have a protective effect on the kidneys. In addition to suppressing the body's tendency to reject transplanted kidneys as discussed above, O. sinensis and C. militaris protect the kidneys by preventing the hyperactive growth of mesangial cells.
While mesangial cells are natural and play a role in healthy kidney function, some conditions (including high LDL cholesterol levels) cause too many of them to grow, which is believed to be a step toward the development of kidney disease.
In a similar way, hepatic stellate cells in the liver can damage it when they over- proliferate, causing a condition called liver fibrosis. O. sinensis has been shown to both prevent and reverse liver fibrosis by inhibiting the growth of these hepatic stellate cells.