Cordyceps Sinensis | What You Need to Know

Cordyceps Sinensis | What You Need to Know

Cordyceps sinensis is a species of parasitic fungus which grows on insect larvae. When these fungi attack the host, they replace their tissues and produce long, spindly stalks growing out from the hosts body. The remains of insects and fungi were collected by hand, dried, and used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine for treating fatigue, illness, kidney diseases, and reduced sexual desire.

Cordyceps Sinensis | Highlights and Benefits

Supplements and products that contain extracts from cordyceps sinensis have grown increasingly popular for its myriad purported health benefits. Of the over 400 species of Cordyceps discovered, two species have been a focal point for health studies: cordyceps sinensis and cordyceps militaris.

However, most of these studies are limited to animal studies or laboratory studies, so medical experts cannot make conclusions about their effects in humans at the moment. However, the potential benefits for their health are promising. This paper highlights the potential benefits of cordyceps sinensis, as supported by the science.

Enhancing Athletic Performance

Cordyceps sinensis is thought to boost the body’s production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is crucial to energy delivery to muscles. This can improve how the body uses oxygen, particularly when exercising.

In one study, researchers tested its effects on the ability to perform exercises by 30 healthy older adults using stationary bikes.

The participants received 3 grams a day of a synthetic strain of cordyceps sinensis called CS-4, or a placebo pill, over six weeks. By the end of the study, the participants taking the CS-4 had increased their VO2 max by 7 percent, whereas those given a placebo pill showed no changes. VO2 max is a measure used for determining physical fitness levels.

In a similar study, 20 healthy older adults were given 1 gram of CS-4 or a placebo pill for 12 weeks. Although researchers found no changes in VO2 max in either group, participants given CS-4 improved on other measures of exercise performance.

One study also tested the effects of a blend of cordyceps sinensis-containing mushrooms on exercise performance in young adults.

After three weeks, participants increased their VO2 max 11% over placebo.

However, the present study suggests that cordyceps sinensis is ineffective at improving athletic performance in trained athletes.

Fighting Inflammation

Cordyceps sinensis is said to help combat inflammation in the body. While some inflammation is healthy, too much of it can cause diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Studies show that when human cells are exposed to cordyceps sinensis, the specific proteins that boost inflammation in the body are inhibited.

Because of these potential effects, researchers think that Cordyceps sinensis could be useful as an anti-inflammatory supplement or medicine. In fact, Cordyceps sinensis has been shown to decrease inflammation in airways in mice, making it a potential asthma treatment.

However, the fungus appears less effective than the common prescribed medications used to bring relief to inflamed areas of the body. Cordyceps sinensis can have topical uses as well. One study found that when applied topically to mice, it reduced dermal inflammation, which again suggests anti-inflammatory properties. The potential inflammation-fighting properties of cordyceps sinensis have not been observed in humans.

Potential Anti-Aging Properties of Cordyceps Sinensis?

The elderly traditionally used cordyceps sinensis to decrease fatigue and increase strength and sexual desire. Researchers think that their antioxidant content could explain their anti-aging potential. Several studies found cordyceps sinensis increased antioxidants in aging mice, helping to boost memory and sexual function. Antioxidants are molecules that combat damage to cells by neutralizing free radicals, which otherwise contribute to diseases and aging.

One study found that mice given cordyceps sinensis lived a few months longer than mice given a placebo. Another study found Cordyceps sinensis extended lifespan in fruit flies, which again supports the idea that it has anti-aging benefits. However, it is not known whether Cordyceps sinensis has these same anti-aging benefits in humans.

Anti-Tumor Effects of Cordyceps Sinensis

Cordyceps sinensis potential for reducing cancer tumor growth has generated considerable interest over the past few years. Researchers think that the fungus can exert its cancer-fighting effects in a number of ways. In tests tube studies, cordyceps sinensis has been shown to suppress growth of several types of human tumor cells, including lung, colon, skin, and liver tumors. Studies on mice also have shown Cordyceps has anti-cancer effects against lymphoma, melanoma, and lung cancer. Cordyceps can also reverse side effects associated with many forms of cancer treatment.

One such side effect is leukopenia. Not to be confused with leukemia, the form of cancer, leukopenia is a condition where white blood cells (leukocytes) shrink, which reduces your bodys protections and increases your risk for infections.

One study tested the effects of cordyceps sinensis in mice who developed leukopenia following radiation treatment and the use of Taxol, a common chemotherapy drug. Interestingly, Cordyceps sinensis reversal of the leukopenia was observed. These results indicate that this fungus could be useful in alleviating complications associated with certain cancer treatments.

However, it is important to note that these studies were conducted on animals and in test tubes, and not on humans. The effects of cordyceps in human leukopenia and cancer growth are not known, so medical experts cannot make any conclusions at this time.

Cordyceps Sinensis Benefits for Heart Health

As studies of the effects of cordyceps on heart health come to light, the benefits of this fungus are becoming more and more obvious. In fact, Cordyceps has been approved for use in treating cardiac arrhythmias, conditions where your heartbeat is too slow, too fast, or irregular.

One study found Cordyceps sinensis dramatically reduced cardiac damage in rats suffering from chronic kidney disease. Heart injuries caused by chronic kidney disease are thought to increase the risk of heart failure, so reducing those injuries could help prevent that outcome. Researchers attribute the findings to Cordyceps adenosine content.

Adenosine is a naturally occurring compound with cardiac protection effects. Cordyceps sinensis can also have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. Animal studies show Cordyceps reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol. LDL increases the risk of heart disease, leading to the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. Similarly, cordyceps has been shown to reduce levels of triglycerides in mice.

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. High levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, evidence is lacking to establish if cordyceps benefits heart health in humans.

Cordyceps Sinensis Supplements

Cordyceps sinensis is a hard-to-harvest species that comes with a price of over $9000 USD a pound. Because of this, most Cordyceps supplements contain synthetically grown versions called CS-4 cordyceps.

To make sure that you are buying a high-quality Cordyceps sinensis supplement, look for brands that have either the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) or the NSF International (NSF) seal. These are third-party organizations that make sure supplements have the ingredients listed on their labels, with no contaminants.

Ideal Dosage of Cordyceps Sinensis

Because of the limited studies on humans, no consensus has been reached regarding dosing. The doses typically used in human studies are 1000-3,000 mg/day. This range is unrelated to adverse effects, and has been found to provide some health benefits.

Side Effects and Safety

No studies have investigated Cordyceps sinensis safety for humans. However, their long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine suggests that they are not toxic. In fact, the Chinese Government has approved CS-4 cordyceps to use in hospitals, recognizing it as a safe, natural medicine.

About the author

Bruce Wilson

I've studied Mycology and Forest Pathology and love creating content to help other learn more about my passion. Follow along as I continue to explore the amazing world of functional fungi!

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