Greenhaus Mushroom Guide: Cordyceps

What are Cordyceps?

Cordyceps are a variety of fungi with over 750 different species, all with varying active chemicals and medicinal properties. The fungus has been used in Chinese medicines for centuries, with two main species being used (Cordyceps Militaris & Cordyceps Sinensis). The fungus is largely touted for its natural energy boosting properties, however it is used in traditional medicines for a number of other applications, which we will discuss later on in the article.

Cordyceps sinensis is famous for being a parasitic fungus that is naturally extremely beneficial for regrowth and natural development within the regions in which it grows. The fungus usually parasitizes the larvae of ghost moths, and eventually grows from the head of a dead caterpillar high in the Himalayan mountains.The host will be forced to the ground, where the fungus can then make use of the most nutrient rich soils and leaves, allowing it to thrive. Since this species grows in such a manner, its fruiting body is yet to be cultivated out of the wild and so the cordyceps you will usually receive are the more traditionally grown Cordyceps Militaris.

The cordyceps sinensis fungus naturally grows across The Himalayan region, however the cordyceps militaris fungus is the strain that is usually cultivated for sale throughout the world. Naturally picked cordyceps sinensis are definitely a rarity, due to overexploitation and restrictions of their natural habitat. Wild cordyceps now fetch extremely high prices, with the vast majority of cordyceps found on the market being grown and harvested specifically for sale on the medicinal market.

What are they used for?

Unfortunately, when it comes to mycology, human trials are almost as rare as the natural cordyceps themselves, meaning that we largely rely on user experience and trials performed on rats/mice and cell cultures for evidence. The main reason for modern Western interest in cordyceps comes from their natural energy boosting abilities. Touted as an alternative to caffeine based drinks, cordyceps can be used to increase stamina and provide a natural boost that can be felt for several hours.

The action for this energy boost has been studied and is reported to come from the fungi’s ability to increase maximum aerobic uptake within the body. Cordyceps work by increasing the maximal oxygen uptake in our body causing an increase in ATP availability. Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is essential in energy delivery throughout our muscles, with improved levels of ATP causing a decrease in lactic acid build up, therefore offering a boost in stamina. Studies have shown an increase in VO2 max when cordycep containing supplements have been taken. V02 max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption within our bodies, with highly trained athletes showing nearly double the levels of V02 max over a typical participant. The higher your V02 max levels are, the higher your endurance and recovery rates will be.

Why else do people use Cordyceps?

There are many other purported benefits of taking Cordyceps based supplements, that have been the main reason for their use for centuries in Eastern medicines. These advantages include:

  • Potential anti-tumour effects

In more recent times there has been a lot of research into Cordyceps potential to slow the growth of cancerous tumours. Whilst the research has all been performed on cell cultures and mice, the mushrooms have shown the potential to not only slow the growth of several different types of tumours, but has also been shown to reverse the negative effects of some cancer treatment therapies, such as leukopenia (the reduction of white blood cells in the body and the reason for a lowered immune system post cancer treatments).

  • Regulation of blood sugar levels

Cordyceps contain a specific type of sugar that may help regulate blood sugar levels in diabetic sufferers, by mimicking the action of insulin. In several mice studies, cordyceps treatment has been shown to decrease blood sugar levels, whilst some human trials have shown improved kidney function, something which can often be a complication of diabetes.

  • Anti-Aging Properties

A 2009 study on mice showed promising anti-aging properties in groups that were treated with Cordyceps. The mice showed signs of improved cognitive function, along with boosted antioxidative enzyme activity. This is caused by the high levels of polysaccharides within the mushrooms. These help control oxidation damage within the body caused by a buildup of free radicals.

  • Cholesterol control and heart protection possibilities

Some animal studies have shown that the chemical adenosine, which naturally occurs in Cordyceps may have heart protection properties. They have also been shown to reduce the levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, whilst reducing triglyceride levels, a fat linked to a greater risk of heart disease.

  • Inflammation suppression

Cell studies have shown that cordyceps can actually encourage the growth of proteins that have anti-inflammatory effects. Whilst research on the subject is still very limited, researchers do believe that cordyceps have the potential to be used in conjunction with other anti-inflammatory drugs.

With all of these potential benefits it is therefore not hard to see why there is a lot of current popularity surrounding the Cordyceps mushroom. At Greenhaus we recommend independent research into mushrooms, but we hope our guides can in some way give you an overview of the potential benefits certain mushrooms can offer. Always start slow and regularly monitor how you feel after taking your supplements.