Is it possible to raise energy levels and increase endurance in the body? We could all use a ‘pick-me-up’ every now and again, considering the busy and highly stressful lives that we live. But, can you counter those negative effects that we inflict upon ourselves every day? Is Cordyceps a possible solution to aid many people with energy and health? In 1993, at the Chinese National Games, a group of 9 women athletes shattered 9 world records. This stunned the officials and allegations were made regarding doping or illegal drug use. However, these women were not using illegal drugs, supplements, or medications. They were using Cordyceps as part of their daily routine. This time proven herb, treasured in Chinese cultures for centuries, demonstrates tremendous benefits to the body, including energy and improvements in overall health. Let’s dig a little deeper into the possibilities!
Medicinal mushrooms have been a part of ancient medicinal cultures for centuries. They are able to impart their health benefits not just through micro-and macro-nutrients that are contained within them, but also through the vast richness of beta-glucans and polysaccharides. There are more than 70 medicinal mushrooms being actively studied with Cordyceps sinensis being just one of them. Cordyceps sinensis is native only to a region high in Tibet, found at about 16,000 feet, and is actually a rare combination of a caterpillar and a fungus. The native Cordyceps is highly valued, in a limited supply, and extremely expensive due to traditional uses and benefits. The FDA recognizes Cordyceps as a ‘food’ and is also recognized as GRAS (generally regarded as safe). Many researchers view Cordyceps as a superfood, not just based on traditional uses, but also by research touting its possible benefits.(1) So, what are the benefits?
Traditional Uses of Cordyceps
In Chinese medicine, Cordyceps is known as dong chong xia cao and in northern Sikkim it is referred to as yarsa gumba. It has been used in Tibetan medicine as a panacea of sorts, touted to provide relief and benefits as a tonic. Cordyceps was used in many cases of health conditions, with claims that it increased energy, appetite, stamina, libido, endurance, and sleeping patterns. Local livestock owners and herders in time’s past noted that their stock would often consume Cordyceps while grazing and over time, they became strong and stout. Upon seeing this, the herdsman themselves began to consume the herb and were convinced of its overall benefits, restoring energy and vitality.(2)
Over time, Cordyceps became a part of ancient medicinal cultures being used for a variety of health ailments, but also to support and promote well being. Traditional uses and claims range from increasing longevity, restoring sexual vitality, lower back pain, kidney and liver disease, arthritis, heart disease, generalized weakness and fatigue, respiratory conditions, cancerous conditions, pain, and even the common cold. (2)
In traditional Chinese medicine, Cordyceps is viewed as being a kidney Yang tonic, with traditional uses to support sexual related conditions, kidney function, lower back pain, vitality, and respiratory conditions. It is a slightly warming herb, by nature, but the warmth generated can vary from individual to individual, dependent on their constitution.
Aside from traditional uses and claims, research supported benefits of Cordyceps include: (2)
- Support liver or hepatic function (energy metabolism, Kupffer cell activation, reduced cirrhosis)
- Support kidney or renal function
- Support of endocrine system and steroid production
- Support cardiovascular function
- Anti-Cancer activities
- Immunomodulation events (polysacchardides/ beta-glucans)
- Stimulation of erythropoiesis
There appears to be a lot of traditional health benefits for Cordyceps, but does research support these claims?
Cordyceps and Impact on Energy, Endurance, and Fatigue
Cordyceps has become quite popular with two groups of people; the elderly and athletes. In the later group, the main focus of use has been on energy production, endurance, and recovery. Taking into consideration that most of us reading this are not triathlon competitors, we all could however, benefit from a lift in energy and ability to endure some of our days! But…does Cordyceps improve energy?
In rodent models, the use of the hot-water Cordyceps extract resulted in ‘significantly prolonged’ swimming times when compared to controls, which is a reflection of internal energy production and endurance. In that same study, the weight of the adrenal glands, spleen, thymus, and thyroid of supplemented rodents was reduced, compared to the controls, which is indication of improved internal stress response. The hot-water extraction also reduced the increase in total cholesterol as seen in some stress-induced models. (3)
Energy in our bodies, which creates the ability to do work and focus mentally, is a result of ATP (adeonosine triphosphate) production at a cellular level. Cordyceps sinensis has been shown in research models to enhance cellular ATP production, which then yields useful energy.(4,5,6) In one paper, they compare this true energy production in the form of ATP to the perceived energy produced through stimulants that we all are accustom to our in lives, which includes caffeine, ephedrine, and amphetamines. These types of stimulants accelerate or stimulate action in the body not through increased energy production, but often at the expense of energy. This results in a negative energy state in those individuals which is often seen as a crash later in the day, resulting in the craving for more of the stimulant. If we want true energy, we must harness the power of the body to create it for our use. (4) This may include herbs like Cordyceps, but also relies heavily on the proper diet to provide the proper nutrients for fuel production.
In a few studies in elderly subjects, Cordyceps supplementation resulted in significant improvement in cold intolerance, fatigue, dizziness, nocturia, and tinnitus, while the control group demonstrated no improvement. In another study, endurance and oxygen capacity was evaluated in a group of elderly subjects while riding a stationary bike. Supplementation for 6 weeks resulted in an increase in endurance and oxygen capacity in the supplemented group, compared to the control. (4).
In our own studies at Nouvelle Research, Inc., in equine models of energy, the use of Cordyceps sinensis along with Astragalus membranaceus resulted in improved recovery and performance times for competition horses.
Cordyceps and Impact on the Immune Response
Medicinal mushrooms have long been revered for the ability to impact the immune response, aiding in overall health and recovery. They are often viewed as ‘immunomodulatory’ and have both immune enhancing and immune-depressing effects, dependent on the situation. Most of these capabilities stem from the inherent beta-glucans and polysaccharides present within the mushrooms, which can have a direct effect on the immune response and likewise inflammatory status.
In one study using rodents, the use of a Cordyceps extract resulted in improved overall immune response, significantly increased spleen and thymic indices, lymphocyte activity, total volume of white blood cells, and IgG levels. The extract also demonstrated significant antioxidant capabilities. (7)
In another study, the use of a Cordyceps extract in rodents exposed to the Influenza virus resulted in lowered morbidity, reduced mortality, and stabilized body weight when compared to the controls. The conclusion was that Cordyceps appeared to have an ‘anti-influenza’ benefit to the body, likely through immunomodulation effects, presumably through increased IL-12 expression and increased Natural Killer cells levels. (8)
Cordyceps and the Inflammation Response
Given the traditional claims of Cordyceps being used for arthritic and back conditions, the ultimate question is how could this mushroom provide benefits? Based on research models, Cordyceps extracts have been shown to impact the inflammatory response in the body, which is tightly connected to many debilitating and painful conditions, including arthritis and even cardiovascular disease.
In numerous studies, Cordyceps extracts have been shown to inhibit the activation of NF-kB, which is one main transcription factor involved with inflammation production in the body. As a result, Cordyceps has been noted to have anti-inflammatory and anti-degenerative properties.(9)
In another study evaluating the impact of Cordyceps on osteoarthritis chondrocytes, it was noted that use of the extract resulted in a reduction of numerous cytokines involved with inflammation, including PGE-2 and NO, induced by IL-1β. Use of the extract also resulted in reduced activation of NF-kB, induced by IL-1β. These results indicated a potential for use of the extract in arthritic conditions. (10)
Cordyceps and Numerous Health Benefits
The traditional uses of Cordyceps are extensive, ranging from supporting overall longevity, libido, organ compromise, lung function, to arthritis and cancer support. Although not all of these claims are supported by research, they are plausible when we look at the overall potential impact of Cordyceps on the immune status, ATP production, and impact on inflammation. After all, most of these conditions do have an underlying theme or connection with those three events.
Making Cordyceps a part of your daily routine could provide clinical health benefits on many levels, but each person is unique in different in their own respect. Benefits are not denied, but one ultimate question that does arise is regarding dosage, which can range from 500 mg to as much as 5 grams in a given day. This range is dependent not only on the individual person, but their current health status, and the additional use of other herbs. Taking into consideration the potential ‘warming’ aspects of this herb, it may not be suitable for all, but again is individual dependent.
If you are feeling down and out, drained of vital energy, especially if you are cold-natured, give Cordyceps a try and determine for yourself if traditional claims hold true!
These statements are for educational purposes and have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health condition.
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN
- Miller, R.A., The Cordyceps sinensis Medicinal Mushroom. Nexus, 2009. April/May, 23
- Panda, A.K, Swain, K.C., Traditional Uses and Medicinal Potential of Cordyceps sinensis of Sikkim. J Ayurv Integ Med. 2011. Jan-Mar, 2:1
- Koh, JH, et al. Antifatigue and Antistress Effect of the Hot-Water Fraction from Mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis. Biol Pharm Bull. 2003. 26(5) 691-4
- Holliday, J., Cleaver, M. Medicinal Value of Caterpillar Fungi Species of the Genus Cordyceps (Ascomycetes). Int J Med Mush. 2008. 10(3):219-234
- Dai GW, Bao TT, Xu GF, Cooper R, Zhu GX. CordyMax™ Cs-4 improves steady-state bioenergy
status in mouse liver. J Altern Complement Med. 2001;7:231–40
- Manabe N, Sugimoto M, Azuma Y, Taketomo N, Yamashita A, Tsuboi H, Tsunoo A, Kinjo N, Nian-Lai H,
Miyamoto H. Effects of the mycelial extract of cultured Cordyceps sinensis on in vivo hepatic energy metabolism
in the mouse. Jpn J Pharmacol. 1996;70(1):85–8.
- Liu, J.Y, et al. Immunomodulatory and Antioxidative Activity of Cordyceps militaris polysaccharides in Mice. Int J Biol Macro. 2016. May 86:594-8.
- Lee, HH, et al. Anti-influenza effects of Cordyceps militaris through immunomodulation in a DBA/2 mouse model. J Microbiol. 2014. Aug; 52(8): 696-701.
- Li, Y. et al. Cordycepin inhibits LPS-induced inflammatory and matrix degradation in intervertebral disc. Peer J. 2016. May 10:4
- Ying, X et al. Cordycepin prevented IL-β-induced expression of inflammatory mediators in human osteoarthritis chondrocytes. Int Orthop. 2014. Jul;38(7);1519-26