Cordyceps are a type of parasitic fungi that grow on insect larvae. They are featured prominently in Traditional Chinese Medicine and have been used for centuries, with many studies that suggest they provide an array of health benefits.
But what does the science say? What are the actual health benefits of cordyceps, how do they work, and should you be adding these fungi to your daily supplement regimen?
1. They Could Improve Exercise Performance
Cordyceps are native to the Tibetan Plateau and have been used in the region for many centuries. But it’s only recently that they have become common in the west. One of the biggest catalysts for this change occurred in 1993, during the Chinese National Games. (1)
Chinese runners broke records in 1,500m, 3,000m, and 10,000m events, leading many to question the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The coach of these record-breaking runners attributed their success to cordyceps supplementation and there has since been a number of studies supporting these claims.
It is believed that cordyceps help to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which could improve the way that the body utilizes oxygen during exercise.
In a study conducted in 2016, young adults were given a cordyceps blend over several weeks and their fitness levels were measured using VO2 max. At the end of a three-week period, participants given Cordyceps experienced an 11% improvement compared to the placebo group.(2)
Sport is all about fine margins, so while 11% might not sound like much, it can make a huge difference.
It should be noted, however, that these studies aren’t conclusive. For instance, while there have been several studies suggesting that Cordyceps can be beneficial for average men and women, as well as regular gym goers, the results are inconclusive when Cordyceps are given to trained athletes.(3)
2. They Could Improve Cardiovascular Health
In China, Cordyceps have been approved for the treatment of arrhythmia and there are suggestions that they could support heart health in other ways, too.
For instance, animal studies indicate that a regular dose of Cordyceps reduces levels of LDL cholesterol, known as “bad” cholesterol.(4)
By keeping LDL cholesterol levels low, Cordyceps could reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes and support healthy arteries.
It could also reduce triglyceride levels, a type of fat found in the blood that increases the risk of heart disease.(5)
It’s worth noting that these studies have largely been conducted on animals and there have been very few human studies. It’s an area that requires more research but one that holds a lot of promise for the medicinal benefits of these potent little fungi.
3. They Could Have Anti-Aging Benefits
Cordyceps are packed with antioxidants, compounds that eliminate free radicals and support overall health and well-being. This is thought to be one of the reasons Cordyceps possess such potent anti-aging properties.
Studies on rodents suggest that Cordyceps boost memory, with the most notable effects being seen in older subjects. They may also reduce the symptoms of fatigue while improving sexual function. (6)
In 2015, researchers gave Cordyceps to fruit flies throughout their life and recorded their total lifespan. They noted that the flies lived longer when exposed to Cordyceps and suggested this was the result of the antioxidant effects.(7)
Cordyceps have actually been used for these reasons for a number of years and are often taken by the elderly across China. In addition to the animal studies, there are scores of anecdotal reports.
There are no concrete human studies confirming these effects, and we don’t know for sure if the anti-aging benefits seen in rodents and fruit flies translate to humans. What we do know, however, is that antioxidants play an important role in human health and can help to reduce the risk of a number of chronic conditions.
4. They Display Some Anti-Tumor Effects
Cordyceps have been studied for their potential use in the treatment of cancer, with suggestions that they could help to stop tumor growth. They have shown promise in the treatment of many different cancers, including lung, skin, liver, and colon. (8)(9)(10)
This doesn’t mean that Cordyceps are a magical cure for cancer. It should be noted that these studies were conducted on animals and in labs. Just because Cordyceps can reduce tumor size following direct exposure in lab conditions doesn’t mean they will have the same effect in the human body.
However, it bodes well for the future development of anti-tumor drugs and is further proof of the potential that these fungi possess.
In addition to these anti-tumor effects, studies also indicate that Cordyceps can manage the side effects associated with certain chemotherapy drugs.(11)
5. They May Help with Diabetes Management
Diabetes is one of the most chronic conditions in the United States and is directly responsible for thousands of deaths every year. Cordyceps may help patients with diabetes to keep their blood sugar levels under control and thus manage their condition.
Animal studies report that regular consumption of Cordyceps helps to reduce blood sugar levels and could also support liver and kidney health, which are commonly seen in individuals with diabetes.(12)
6. Are There any Cordyceps Side Effects?
Cordyceps are considered to be safe and well-tolerated, but there are a few minor side effects to look out for, including nausea and digestive discomfort. Caution is also advised if you have any pre-existing illnesses or take any prescribed medications. In such cases, it’s best to speak with a physician first just to be on the safe side.
Summary: The Health Benefits of Cordyceps
Cordyceps benefits are still being discovered and the effects of these fungi are still being learned. It’s becoming abundantly clear that these parasitic and almost alien fungi possess a wealth of potentially beneficial properties and could deliver a number of positive health implications.
One of the most exciting things about Cordyceps is that they are abundantly available and well tolerated. Most of the drugs used to treat cancer, combat heart conditions, and fight diabetes come with a long list of side effects. If cures can be derived from these fungi, or they can provide curative, preventative, or supportive properties when eaten whole, it’s great news for all of us!
- Choosing a selection results in a full page refresh.
- Opens in a new window.