Author: Luke Sholl
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Cordyceps: All You Need to Know

Cordyceps stands out from other traditional mushroom varieties not only for its adaptogenic properties, but because it develops on the larvae of dead insects. To find out what you need to know about this fascinating species, keep reading.

What are adaptogenic mushrooms?

Before we tackle the specifics of the cordyceps species, it helps to explain what we mean by adaptogenic mushrooms. Mushroom species considered 'adaptogenic' could help bolster wellness thanks to how their molecules influence the body's mental, physical and chemical stress response.

By being better equipped to deal with stress, the body can focus more on essential systems and functions, including the immune system, sleep, energy production, physical stamina and more. Fortunately for us, cordyceps is one of the few mushroom species containing compounds adaptogenic in nature.

What are cordyceps mushrooms?

You'll likely have stumbled across the cordyceps species, not because you've been foraging in the wild, but because this particular mushroom variety features heavily throughout pop culture. In fact, the mushroom's ability to spawn from inside the body of insects and other arthropods is a concept that's featured in movies, video games, and novels.

However, it isn't the mushroom's parasitic tendencies, but its prevalence in Chinese and Tibetan medicine that's caught the eye of wellness enthusiasts. Growing natively in China, Korea and Thailand, the mushroom was thought to be a natural energy booster, with herbalists using it to brew invigorating tonics.[1]

Two of the most sought-after species are Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris, which develop a long finger-like body, often brown or orange-brown in colour. However, these days, most supplements feature cordyceps extract produced in laboratories. Although it is chemically identical, it circumvents the various issues of natural cultivation.

What are the potential benefits of cordyceps?

Many cordyceps studies are still in lab or animal testing phases. However, thanks to the mushroom's diverse chemical structure (amino acids, vitamins, and minerals), scientists are keen to explore the potential therapeutic outcomes.

Cordyceps and physical performance

Energy and endurance are crucial factors in our physical performance, regardless of whether you're a casual gym-going or high-performance athlete. Fortunately, it seems cordyceps mushrooms may have some practical applications with animal and human model studies suggesting links to endurance and recovery.[2]

Japanese researchers gave 36 healthy men supplements containing Cordyceps sinensis powder, recording the impact regular intake had on fatigue and exercise performance. The paper suggests that the group given supplements had improved recovery between exercises and increased respiratory performance.[3]

However, an earlier study suggests that cordyceps supplements have diminishing returns for high-performing individuals. The extract showed no impact on VO₂ capacity or recovery in a study involving endurance-trained athletes.[4]

Cordyceps and inflammation

Several test tube studies suggest that consuming cordyceps mushrooms could help suppress inflammatory cells called cytokines. Cytokines are microscopic proteins the body uses to activate inflammatory actions. By inhibiting the rate of cytokine production, researchers believe that biologically active mushrooms like Cordyceps sinensis may contribute to anti-inflammatory treatments.[5]

Cordyceps and heart health

One final area of potential for cordyceps mushrooms is heart health, specifically, managing a healthy heart rate. In a rat model of chronic kidney disease, C.sinensis helped modulate pathways between oxidative stress, energy metabolism, and amino acid metabolism to regulate the function of organs (heart and liver) damaged by kidney disease.[6]

The researchers added that their findings provide valuable insight into holistic remedies, bridging the gap between mechanisms of action and traditional Chinese medicines.

How to take cordyceps

Given the natural habitat of cordyceps (dead insects), it isn't feasible or cost-effective to consume wild sources. Instead, specialist manufacturers mass produce a synthetic version (Cordyceps CS-4), chemically identical to its natural counterpart.

Cordyceps CS-4 is what you'll find inside most powders and supplements, so keep an eye out for it on ingredients lists. You'll also want to look for two different seals, the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International (NSF), as these symbolise that products meet quality and safety standards.

Cordyceps extract

As for consuming cordyceps mushrooms, the most common option is cordyceps extract, a concentrated form of the mushroom you'll find in supplements and botanical blends. The benefit of using cordyceps extract is two-fold.

First, it allows people to experience much higher doses of cordyceps without the difficulties of cultivation increasing the price. Second, cordyceps extract blends incredibly well with other natural ingredients and botanicals. It isn't unusual to find the mushroom working alongside herb and plant extracts to provide a comprehensive approach to wellness.

What are the side effects of cordyceps?

With only limited studies to work with, we don't know much about the potential side effects of cordyceps. As it stands, side effects can include nausea, stomach upset, and diarrhoea, but these symptoms appear rare even with the mushroom's extensive use in Chinese medicine.

Provided you buy cordyceps products from a reputable supplier, the chance of adverse effects is unlikely. That said, it's always best to take a low and slow approach, especially if you've never tried adaptogenic mushrooms before. You should also avoid cordyceps mushrooms entirely if you have a mushroom allergy.

Are cordyceps mushrooms safe to take?

Based on our limited understanding of cordyceps mushroom interactions and the anecdotal evidence of Chinese medicine, this particular species appears safe to consume as part of a balanced wellness routine. Of course, the usual precautions apply, such as ensuring products come from reputable suppliers and supplements include a verified ingredients list.

Undoubtedly, this fascinating species could have a wealth of potential. As interest in adaptogenic mushrooms grows, hopefully, we'll see more established studies across the pre-clinical, animal model, and placebo-controlled spectrum.

Add high-quality cordyceps mushroom extract to your daily wellness routine with adaptogenic mushroom supplements from the Cibdol store. Or, learn more about the category as a whole by visiting our Education section.


[1] Panda AK, Swain KC. Traditional uses and medicinal potential of cordyceps sinensis of Sikkim. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine. Published January 2011. Accessed July 28, 2022. [Source]

[2] YF; X. Effect of polysaccharide from cordyceps militaris (Ascomycetes) on physical fatigue induced by forced swimming. International journal of medicinal mushrooms. Published 2016. Accessed August 2, 2022. [Source]

[3] Nagata A, Tajima T, Uchida M. Supplemental anti-fatigue effects of cordyceps sinensis (Tochu-Kaso) extract powder during three stepwise exercise of human. Japanese Journal of Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine. Published September 27, 2006. Accessed August 2, 2022. [Source]

[4] Parcell AC;Smith JM;Schulthies SS;Myrer JW;Fellingham G; A. Cordyceps sinensis (CordyMax CS-4) supplementation does not improve endurance exercise performance. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. Published 2004. Accessed August 2, 2022. [Source]

[5] Park S-Y, Jung S-J, Ha K-C, et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of cordyceps mycelium (paecilomyces hepiali, CBG-CS-2) in raw264.7 murine macrophages. Oriental pharmacy and experimental medicine. Published 2015. Accessed August 2, 2022. [Source]

[6] Liu X, Zhong F, Tang X-long, et al. Cordyceps sinensis protects against liver and heart injuries in a rat model of chronic kidney disease: A metabolomic analysis. Acta pharmacologica Sinica. Published May 2014. Accessed August 2, 2022. [Source]

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