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Cordyceps (Cordyceps Sinensis)
Since the dawn of shamanic healing over 50,000 years ago, mankind has searched for healing ingredients to concoct the ultimate panacea, a cure-all. One of the highest demands was Cordyceps due to the ingredients this fungus holds. This substance was exclusively reserved for use by royalty in ancient China. Chemical analyses have revealed that this substance has remarkable properties and is much more than superstition or mere folklore.
Cordyceps is a new generation of mushrooms being used by the pharmaceutical industry and also as a dietary supplement. With more informed consumers seeking alternatives to the more conventional treatments for cancer and AIDS as well as a wide range of other health and immune system issues.
This unique fungus is considered a “food” by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is classified as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). A growing number of researchers now consider it to be a “superfood” and may be included in almost every diet.
Cordyceps increase ATP (adenosine triphosphate) levels in the body by almost 28 percent. ATP is the body’s energy supply source. It is also is known as, the body’s battery and is required for all enzyme processes. It’s believed this is the root of biological energy exchanges. The impact on the energy state alone would make this mushroom a true superfood that is just beginning to make itself known in the western medical literature.
The best-known medicinal action of Cordyceps is the increase of physical stamina; this mushroom is very effective against all sorts of bacteria that have developed resistance to other antibiotics. This special fungus has been shown to improve the internal balance mechanism, making the utilization of oxygen more efficiently. Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of Cordyceps on heart rhythm disturbances such as cardiac arrhythmias and chronic heart failure. Four excellent studies have demonstrated the benefits in helping to lower total cholesterol and triglycerides and to increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
As well as, Clinical studies involving male and female patients with decreased libido have shown significant improvements in symptoms. The most dramatic physical proof has come from a male fertility study, showing that using a Cordyceps supplement significantly increased sperm count, decreased sperm malformations, and improved sperm survival rate after eight weeks of use. The properties of this mushroom may account for the overall physical enhancement, the added endurance, the libido-enhancing attributes, and the anti-fatigue effects seen in humans using Cordyceps.
Worldwide studies have shown that this down-to-earth fungus delivers even more potentially life-enhancing benefits than claimed. The reduction of this active fungal material to nanoparticle size also has great promise, and further research work is being conducted which may lead to additional patented medicines. More importantly, the full spectrum of compounds present in the fruit body, mycelium, and broth of the natural substance continues to prove once again that ancient knowledge meets the modern test of science.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Modern Research
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the main use of Cordyceps has been in the treatment of asthma and other bronchial conditions. Modern research has discovered new antibiotics in this mushroom, one of these being cordycepin. It is very effective against all sorts of bacteria that have developed, or are developing, resistance to other, more common antibiotics (such as penicillin, a fungus product!). Modern research now confirms the value of these ancient uses. Much of what is known in the western world about Cordyceps Sinensis is due to the work of Dr. Georges Halpern, a physician and professor emeritus with the University of Hong Kong and the author of several books about Cordyceps.
Health Benefits and Clinical Studies
- What makes Cordyceps important for use with cancer is that it contains beta-glucans and polysaccharides. As the sugars break down, numerous oxygen molecules are released on a cellular level. With the result being that cancerous materials present are immediately destroyed.
- Cordycepin is one of the target compounds (nucleosides) which inhibits the DNA repair mechanism and is probably responsible for its antiviral (HIV) effects.
- Enhances physical stamina the best-known medicinal action of Cordyceps is in the increase of physical stamina. In 1993, the Chinese National Games brought this mushroom to the attention of the world’s sporting authorities. A group of nine women athletes who had been taking Cordyceps shattered nine world records. There have been many reports of amazing improvements in performance in various sports due to the intake of Cordyceps. There has even been talk of banning Cordyceps from sporting events because it may provide an unfair advantage to those who can get it! Most professional athletes using Cordyceps now are reluctant to admit that they do, due to the possibility that some sporting authority will outlaw its use. In the other direction, the Canadian Olympic Committee has taken an official stand on Cordyceps, ruling that it is allowed in any professional competition.
Clinical research has shown that Cordyceps use increased cellular bio-energy, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) by as much as 55 percent. Increased synthesis of ATP and faster energy recovery have been reported. It would seem that Cordyceps improves the internal balance mechanism making the utilization of oxygen more efficiently. These properties may account for the overall physical enhancement, the extra endurance, and the anti-fatigue effects.
Chinese studies of cardiovascular illnesses have shown that ethanol extracts of Cordyceps mycelia and Cordyceps fermentation solutions caused a change in the biological action that allowed for an increase in cellular oxygen absorption by up to 40 percent. In addition, studies have shown the effect of these compounds in relieving chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Improves respiratory function Several scientific studies have demonstrated the benefits of Cordyceps in alleviating the symptoms of various respiratory illnesses including chronic bronchitis and asthma.
- Increases oxygen absorption In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 30 elderly volunteers, Cordyceps was shown to improve significantly the maximum amount of oxygen these people were able to absorb.
- Improves heart function Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of Cordyceps in treating heart rhythm disturbances such as cardiac arrhythmia and chronic heart failure.
- Helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels Four studies have demonstrated that Cordyceps helped to lower total cholesterol by 10–21 percent and triglycerides (neutral fats) by 9–26 percent, and at the same time helped to increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 27–30 percent.
- Improves liver functions Cordyceps has been shown to improve liver functions as well as help with cirrhosis, sub-chronic and chronic hepatitis, and related liver diseases which are more prevalent than most people think. The liver is the living filter of the body, cleaning the blood and all other fluids of impurities. There is no way for you to survive, much less feel healthy, without a functioning liver. Clinical trials with Cordyceps supplement involving 33 patients with hepatitis B and eight patients with cirrhosis of the liver showed a 71.9 percent improvement on the thymol turbidity test and a 78.6 percent improvement on the SGPT test. These are enzyme tests showing changes in liver functions.
- Improves kidney disease A Chinese study has shown a 51 percent improvement in chronic kidney disease after only one month of dietary supplementation with Cordyceps.
- Reduces tumor size Several clinical studies with cancer patients have been conducted in China and Japan, using a therapeutic dose of 6.0 grams of Cordyceps per day. In one study with 50 lung cancer patients who were administered Cordyceps in conjunction with chemotherapy, tumors reduced in size in 46 percent of patients. While another study involving cancer patients with various types of tumors found that Cordyceps extract (6.0 grams/day for over two months) improved subjective symptoms in the majority of patients. White blood cell counts were maintained and tumor size was significantly reduced in about half of the patients. Researchers in Japan reported that Cordyceps enhances the general reactivity of the immune system in individuals with cancer. To discover this, they subcutaneously injected mice with cancerous (lymphoma) cells and then orally administered Cordyceps. This led to a reduction of tumor size and prolonged life. Cordyceps also improved the antibody responses in these studies.
- Enhances immunity and T-cell production Cordyceps has been found to enhance “natural killer” (NK) cell activity, thus increasing T-cell production which results in expanded muscle mass. Muscle power is improved with the building of young, healthy cells. Cordyceps effectively recharges the protective army of NK cells. The body’s ability to fight infections and tumors depends on the availability of NK cells. These are essential as the first line of defense for maintenance of the body’s protection mechanism, otherwise known as the immune system.
Several scientific studies of Cordyceps have especially focused on NK cells and Cordyceps’ effect on them as they relate to cancer formation. One in vitro study demonstrated that Cordyceps significantly enhances NK cell activity in normal individuals as well as leukemia-stricken people.
In a Chinese study, published in the Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine, natural Cordyceps enhanced the NK cell activity of normal patients by 74 percent and increased the NK activity of leukemia patients by 400 percent. Similar improvements of NK cell activities were found in large melanoma tumors.
- Assists in symptoms of aging Clinical research in controlled studies have revealed that elderly patients suffering from fatigue and forgetfulness-related symptoms reported relief in these areas after using Cordyceps for 30 days. Their fatigue was reduced by 92 percent, their feeling of cold by 89 percent, and their dizziness by 83 percent. Patients with respiratory/breathing problems felt physically stronger and some individuals were able to jog up to 600 feet (183 meters).
- Protects against free radical damage Several studies have shown that Cordyceps gave protection against the damage caused by free radicals and had powerful anti-oxidant properties.
- Helps discomfort from tired legs Various studies have shown that Cordyceps improved the flow of blood in the body by relaxing the smooth muscles of the blood vessels and allowing them to expand, as well as enhancing the functioning of the heart and lungs. Cordyceps, therefore, prevents or reduces the contraction of blood vessels which interferes with blood flow in the legs, the main cause of tired legs.
- Improves sexual function Three separate Chinese double-blind, placebo-controlled studies with over 200 men with “reduced libido and other sexual problems” showed remarkably similar results. On average, 64 percent of the Cordyceps users reported significant improvement, at the conclusion of the experimental period compared with 24 percent of the placebo group. In another double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted with 21 elderly women with similar complaints, 90 percent reported improvements in their condition following the use of Cordyceps, compared with none in the control group.
In 2009, Researchers in Japan reported that Cordyceps enhances the general reactivity of the immune system in individuals with cancer. Cordyceps has been shown to improve libido and quality of life in men and women, fight infertility and increase sperm count and survival. Clinical studies involving 189 male and female patients with decreased libido and desire showed improvement of symptoms in 66 percent of cases. A double-blind study conducted by the Institute of Materia Medica in Beijing showed an 86 percent improvement in female libido and desire. The most dramatic physical proof came from a fertility study involving 22 males which showed that, after eight weeks of taking a Cordyceps supplement, their sperm count increased by 33 percent, their incidence of sperm malformations decreased by 29 percent and their sperm survival rate increased by 79 percent.
- Reverses HIV A study in 2004 in Ghana, 3,000 early-stage HIV patients were given a formula with Cordyceps Sinensis as a primary ingredient. Beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, at the end of six months, all 3,000 patients showed “no presence in their blood of HIV”. When an HIV–AIDS patient took the Immune-Assist drug for cancer, their clinical picture improved dramatically in regard to the HIV infection. Immune Function, Anti-cancer Response, and DNA Repair. It has long been understood that the beta-glucan compounds found in many species of mushroom significantly enhance immune function. This class of compounds is the most widely prescribed class of anticancer medications in the world.
- Anti-tumor response There is evidence of another mechanism at play in the anti-tumor response besides the well-known immune modulation triggered by the polysaccharide compounds. For example, a normal healthy breast tissue cell has an average life span of about 10 days, after which it reproduces and a new cell is formed. But breast cancer cells multiply much more quickly than healthy cells, reproducing on average every 20 minutes. This means that breast cancer cells replicate about 750 times more quickly than the surrounding healthy tissue. If the cordycepin were equally toxic to both types of cells, it would be killing off the cancer cells 750 times faster than the healthy cells. But because of that DNA repair mechanism in the healthy cells, cordycepin appears not to interfere with the healthy cell replication, and the tumor-cell kill rate is actually much higher than the 750:1 ratio. The same sort of DNA interruption mechanism is also responsible for the anti-tumor effects of some other chemotherapy agents. This same mechanism of DNA synthesis inhibition is probably the mechanism responsible for the antiviral effects seen with cordycepin.
Cordyceps is especially effective against tuberculosis, leprosy, and human leukemia, as shown in many trials in China, Japan, and elsewhere.
Botany & Foraging
It is a rare combination of a caterpillar and fungus found in Sikkim at altitudes above 12,500 feet above sea level in cold, grassy, alpine meadows of the Himalayan Mountains. The fruiting body is usually up to 4 inches (around 10 cm) long and .2 inches (1/2 cm) wide. They’re usually orange or brown. It’s a worm fungus is found on the Tibetan Plateau. The normal harvesting period stretches from April to August. Other Cordyceps species grow all over the world, mainly in Asia notably Nepal, China, Japan, Bhutan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Australia, Peru, Bolivia as well as some parts of the United States.
They will typically infect insects and arthropods, with each species of Cordyceps infecting a very specific bug.
The life cycle begins with Cordyceps spores landing on the insect. The spore germinates, and small thread-like filaments called hyphae will begin to grow inside the insect and turn into mycelium. The mycelium continues to consume the insect from the inside. When the fungal mycelium fully consumes the insect and the environmental conditions are correct, a blade-like mushroom (fruiting body) is produced from the insect’s head. The mushroom then releases spores and the life cycle starts over.
Wild Cordyceps Sinensis VS. Extract of Cordyceps Mushrooms (Militaris)
Wild Cordyceps Sinensis is not in 99.9% of Cordyceps supplements because of its exceptionally high price tag. Fun fact, wild Cordyceps Sinensis costs over $20,000 per kilogram, while making it the most expensive mushroom in the world. Its usually exclusively sold in Asia and rarely makes it into the North American market.
Recently Chinese scientists discovered how to cultivate this mushroom, however, it is not at a high production scale to make an impact on wild Cordyceps Sinensis prices. Cultivators want to cash in on the high price tag of the wild version.
There is currently one type of Cordyceps species that can be commercially cultivated at a large scale to produce a mushroom (fruiting body). This popular mushroom is Cordyceps militaris. By using Cordyceps militaris, for the first time, true Cordyceps mushroom extracts can be made.
Cordyceps Militaris is derived from the mushroom (versus the mycelium), there are much higher levels of the important beta-glucans. Our Cordyceps product is extracted exclusively from organic Cordyceps militaris mushrooms and has greater than 25% beta-glucans. One of the unique things about Cordyceps militaris is that it produces the compound cordycepin (3′-deoxyadenosine) in much higher amounts when compared to Cordyceps Sinensis. Compare that to Cs-4, which typically has less than 10% beta-glucans, and Cordyceps mycelium on grain, which typically has 1-3% beta-glucans.
*for educational use only. The information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult a qualified physician or health practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any condition. This site is also not to be used as the final word in identification. Never eat anything you haven’t positively identified at least three times before. Please use your common sense and be safe!
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- Dr. Axe. (2018). Cordyceps for Anti-Aging & Exercise Performance. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/cordyceps/
- Encyclopedia of Life. (n.d.). Cordyceps. Retrieved from http://eol.org/pages/16523/overview
- Healthline. (2018). 6 Benefits of Cordyceps, All Backed by Science. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cordyceps-benefits#section2
- Mushroom Appreciation. (n.d.). Cordyceps Sinensis – Medicinal Fungus. Retrieved from https://www.mushroom-appreciation.com/cordyceps-sinensis.html
- Definition of cordycepin – NCI Drug Dictionary – National Cancer Institute
- the cordyceps sinensis medicinal mushroom – Nexus Magazine
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