Cordyceps, Your Immune System, and You

Traditionally Cordyceps has been used as an adaptogen, something to fight fatigue, enhance physical strength, elevate sex drive, and clear mental fog – particularly in the elderly. Along with this long history of use, Cordyceps has a significant number of peer-reviewed double-blind studies to substantiate its benefits.

Cordyceps also has a long history of use in the treatment of respiratory infections, likely through immune activation. It’s documented anti-tumor activity is also likely thanks to this property.

Cordyceps improves oxygen utilization, so it’s not surprising that cordyceps supplementation is helpful for exercise enthusiasts. The VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake) of participants who’d been taking the cordyceps powder was 7% higher than the control. This can make a big difference in a marathon race. Cordyceps also have been shown to improve exercise performance in young people – VO2 max rose by 11%!

The evidence for improving performance in trained athletes is lacking, but most of us don’t fall under this category.

Anti-aging claims of any kind, understandably, raise eyebrows. While it has extended the lifespans of mice by three months, no studies have been conducted on human beings (partially because it would take several decades to get any conclusive answers). This, along with its observed effects on memory and sexual performance in mice, is attributed to its rich antioxidant profile.

Significantly increasing the lifespan of any mammal, four legged or not, is remarkable. Although researchers point towards its antioxidant properties as an explanation, it also suppresses a number of pro-inflammatory proteins. Its potential usefulness as an anti-inflammatory in humans has not yet been explored.

Heart disease and cancer are the most common causes of death in the developed world. Cordyceps is approved in China as a treatment for arrhythmia – which is when the heartbeat is too fast, slow, or otherwise irregular. Several studies show it can decrease “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides.

Diabetes is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. In this area, cordyceps also shines. This may be one of the other ways it protects from kidney disease. Cordyceps can keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range by mimicking insulin. In a study with nearly two thousand kidney disease patients, it was shown that Cordyceps supplementation improved renal function. However, the researchers of the paper warn that more evidence is needed before it can be recommended to renal patients.

Cancer proliferates partially because our immune systems are out of whack, usually as a result of the aging process. Cordyceps did an excellent job of helping rats with leukopenia (not to be confused with leukemia). Leukopenia is a lack of white blood cells. A low white blood count makes us susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. It is a common side effect of some cancer therapies, in the experiment the drug was Taxol. Cordyceps ramps up white blood cell production. It also induces CD25 expression in lymphocytes.

However, it’s not a simple immune potentiator. As a paper by Lin and Li explains in great detail, it is more appropriate to call it an “immunomodulator.” In other words, it has use, as in traditional medicine, as a way of enhancing immune function. It also can be used to suppress it, making it a potentially useful tool in fighting a variety of autoimmune disorders.

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References

Hirsch, Katie R., et al. “Cordyceps militaris improves tolerance to high-intensity exercise after acute and chronic supplementation.” Journal of dietary supplements 14.1 (2017): 42-53.

Lin, Bao-qin, and Shao-ping Li. Cordyceps as an herbal drug. Vol. 5. chapter, 2011.

Liu, Wei-Chung, et al. “Cordyceps sinensis health supplement enhances recovery from taxol-induced leukopenia.” Experimental biology and medicine 233.4 (2008): 447-455.

Nagata, Akira, Taeko Tajima, and Masayuki Uchida. “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 55.Supplement (2006): S145-S152.
Ng, T. B., and H. X. Wang. “Pharmacological actions of Cordyceps, a prized folk medicine.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 57.12 (2005): 1509-1519.

Xu, Yan-Feng. “Effect of polysaccharide from Cordyceps militaris (Ascomycetes) on physical fatigue induced by forced swimming.” International journal of medicinal mushrooms 18.12 (2016).

Yi, Xiao, Huang Xi-zhen, and Zhu Jia-shi. “Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers.” Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine 10.3 (2004): 187-192.

Zhang, Hong Wei, et al. “Cordyceps sinensis (a traditional Chinese medicine) for treating chronic kidney disease.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 12 (2014).

By |2020-04-19T00:48:02+00:00March 21st, 2020|

About the Author:

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of two obscure novels.