Cordyceps, one of the better-known traditional Chinese herbal medicines, consists of the dried fungus Cordyceps sinensis growing on the larva of the caterpillar. It is commonly used in China for the replenishment of general body health. Cordyceps has a broad range of pharmacological and biological actions on the liver, kidneys, heart, and immune system. One of the known pharmacological effects is its anti-oxidation activity. Cordyceps sinensis, a well-known and valued traditional Chinese medicine, is also called DongChongXiaCao (winter worm summer grass) in Chinese.
Properties and benefits - dong chong xiacao
Cordyceps sinensis is a parasitic complex of fungus and caterpillar, which has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries particularly in China, Japan and other Asian countries. Studies are early but hint at the potential of cordyceps supplements to have anti-thrombotic, or blood clot dissolving effect, to help fight fatigue, benefit for cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, hypertension (high blood pressure), high lipid levels, high blood sugar, renal failure and other benefits.
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Suggested Use and dosage: One cordyceps capsule or tablet a few times a week, or as recommended by your health care professional.
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What's in cordyceps mushroom?
The pharmacological actions are due mainly to its bioactive polysaccharides, modified nucleosides, and cyclosporin-like metabolites produced by the fungus.
Anti aging and longevity
An experimental study on anti-aging action of Cordyceps extract
Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2004.
Aged mice were induced by D-galactose. Meanwhile, they were treated with three doses of cordyceps extract which significantly increased the ability of learning and memory, improve the activity of SOD of red blood cells, brain and liver, the activity of CAT and GSH-Px of blood, and remarkably decreased the activity of MAO of brain and the contents of MDA of brain and liver. Cordyceps extract has good anti-aging effects on aged mice, which is probably due to effects of improving antioxidation and removing free radicals.
Anti-aging action of cordyceps extract in mice
One of the known pharmacological effects is its anti-oxidation activity. Cordyceps is also known as an immune system stimulant. To investigate the anti-aging effect and mechanism, aged mice were treated with cordyceps extract. After six weeks, the scientists found that cordyceps significantly increased their ability to learn, remember, and it improved the activity of their antioxidant systems.
Dr. Sahelian says: There are many herbs, mushrooms, and supplements that have shown similar properties. I think it's probably a good idea to take cordyceps extract a few times a month. I generally prefer not to take the same herb or supplement every day and all the time. It's good to take breaks and have variety.
Anti-inflammatory principles from Cordyceps sinensis.
J Nat Prod. 2011. Department of Chemistry, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan, Republic of China.
In order to explore the anti-inflammatory principles of the mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis, the crude extract and partially purified fractions were examined for their inhibition of superoxide anion generation and elastase release. Further chemical investigation of the bioactive fractions has resulted in the identification of 50 compounds, including five constituents, cordysinins A-E (1-5), reported from a natural source for the first time. In addition, compounds were examined for their anti-inflammatory activity. 1-(5-Hydroxymethyl-2-furyl)-β-carboline displayed the most significant inhibition of superoxide anion generation and elastase release.
The extracts of cultured Cordyceps sinensis possess potent antioxidant and anti-lipid peroxidation activities and inhibit accumulation of cholesterol in macrophages via suppression of LDL oxidation.
Anti-oxidation activity of different types of natural
Cordyceps sinensis and cultured mycelia.
The water extracts of various sources of natural Cordyceps sinensis and cultured mycelia were analyzed for their anti-oxidation activity by using three different assay methods such as the xanthine oxidase assay, the induction of hemolysis assay and the lipid peroxidation assay. The results showed that Cordyceps, in general, possesses a strong anti-oxidation activity in all assays tested. However, both natural and cultured Cordyceps showed the lowest inhibition in the lipid peroxidation when compared with the other two assay methods. The cultured Cordyceps mycelia had equally strong anti-oxidation activity as compared to the natural Cordyceps. Besides, the anti-oxidation activities were increased to 10-30 folds in the partially purified polysaccharide fractions from the cultured Cordyceps mycelia, which suggested that the activity could be derived partly from Cordyceps polysaccharides.
There are claims that cordyceps is an aphrodisiac. I was not not able to find human studies regarding the influence of cordyceps mushroom or extract influence on sexuality. However a mouse study indicates that it can stimulate testosterone release.
I am a female who is 41 who has low testosterone and low
sex drive, is there any research for women using this to increase testosterone
for low sex drive?
Not that I am aware of. Some women do notice enhanced sexuality from using this product, but there are other more consistent and better sexual enhancers such as Mucuna Pruriens and tribulus.
In vivo and in vitro stimulatory effects of Cordyceps sinensis on testosterone
production in mouse Leydig cells.
Life Sci. 2003.
The in vivo and in vitro effects of Cordyceps sinensis and its extracted fractions on the secretion of testosterone in mice were studied. Cordyceps sinensis, F2 (water soluble protein), and F3 (poorly water soluble polysaccharide and protein) significantly stimulated in vitro testosterone production in purified mouse Leydig cells. However, F1 (water soluble polysaccharide) had no effect. An in vivo study illustrated that testosterone levels in plasma were significantly increased by Cordyceps sinensis, F2, and F3, respectively. Because Cordyceps sinensis, F2, and F3 stimulated both in vitro and in vivo testosterone secretions in mice, it is possible that Cordyceps might contribute to an alternative medicine for the treatment of some reproductive problems caused by insufficient testosterone levels in human males.
I recently came across information regarding cordyceps sinensis for asthma. Do you know if there have been studies as treatment for asthma?
Effect of dongchong xiacao capsule ( cordyceps supplement ) on airway inflammation of asthmatic patients
Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2007.
To investigate the effect of dongchong xiacao capsule on the airway inflammation of asthmatic patients and to explore the relevant mechanism of therapeutic effect of Dongchong xiacao capsule. Sixty patients with moderate persistent asthma were randomized into the treatment group and the control group. Inhaled corticosteroid and as-needed beta-agonist were used in the treatment group while this therapy plus dongchong xiacao capsule were used in the control group for two months. Cordyceps supplement can reduce the serum markers of airway inflammation, which suggests this therapy bares the anti-inflammation effects probably through regulating the balance of TH1/TH2, inhibiting the activity of adherence molecule and reducing IgE production. It may also have the effect of reversing airway remodeling, which needs further research to determine.
Activation of innate immunity to reduce lung metastases in breast cancer.
Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2010; Jordan JL. Department of Pathology, Atlantic Centre for Transplantation Research, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.
Breast cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of cancer death in women. Mortality is primarily due to the development of metastases. Although therapies exist, they lack efficacy in preventing metastatic growth. As a result, novel agents are being investigated. In particular, treatments that target the immune system are being examined as potential anti-neoplastic agents. Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus that has been used for over 2,000 years in China as a treatment for a variety of conditions including neoplasms. The available evidence suggests that efficacy of Cs as an anti-neoplastic therapeutic agent is related to a role as an activator of innate immune responses. The objectives of this study were: to investigate the ability of Cs to activate macrophages to produce factors that will induce protective responses against tumor growth; to study the ability of Cs to reduce primary tumor growth in vivo; and to examine the ability of Cs to reduce lung metastasis growth in vivo. We found that oral Cs does not reduce primary tumor growth but can reduce lung metastasis occurrence in a surgical excision model of metastatic mammary carcinoma. The evidence we have shown to date suggests that the reduction in metastases growth may be due to the effects of macrophage-derived factors on tumor cell cycle.
Effect of Cordyceps sinensis on the Th1/Th2 cytokines in patients with condyloma acuminatum
Zhong Yao Cai. 2000.
Double-antibody sandwich ELISA was used to study the serum level of IL-2 and IL-10 in 34 patients treated with cordyceps sinensis and 29 patients in control group. After treatment with cordyceps sinensis, the serum levels of IL-2 and IL-10 significantly increased and decreased respectively. CS might recover the balance of Th1/Th2 cytokines and enhance Th 1 immune response in patients with CA, and reduce the recurrence of condyloma acuminatum.
Diabetes and blood sugar
Cordyceps improves glucose metabolism and increases insulin sensitivity in normal rats.
Energy and use for fatigue
A 5 week study using a trademarked formula CordyMax Cs-4 had no effect on aerobic capacity or endurance exercise performance in endurance-trained male cyclists. The dose used was 3 grams a day.
Antifatigue and antistress effect of the hot-water
fraction from mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis.
Biol Pharm Bull. 2003.
This study was conducted to investigate the chemical component of the hot water fraction of mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis and its anti-fatigue and anti-stress effect against a stimulus in vivo using rats and mice. The swimming endurance capacity of mice orally administered with the HW fraction (150 and 300 mg/kg/d, respectively) was significantly prolonged from 75 to 90 min with a lessening of fatigue. When the HW fraction (150 mg/kg/d) was given to rats for 8 d including a 48 h stress period, the weight changes of the adrenal gland, spleen, thymus, and thyroid, which is an index of stress, were suppressed. The Cordyceps sinensis HW fraction also significantly inhibited the increase in total cholesterol and the decrease in alkaline phosphatase levels as biochemical parameters of immobilization stress in rats.
Fertility and hormone effect
In vivo stimulatory effect of Cordyceps sinensis mycelium and its fractions on reproductive functions in male mouse.
Life Sci. 2004.
Cordyceps sinensis has been traditionally used as nutritious food for the enhancement on sexual performance and the restitution of impairment in sexual function in Chinese society. We have previously demonstrated the stimulatory effect of Cordyceps sinensis and its fractions on steroidogenesis both on primary mouse Leydig cells and MA-10 mouse Leydig tumor cells. In the present studies, we determined the in vivo effects of Cordyceps sinensis and its fractions on steroidogenesis in mouse. Different concentrations of CS and Cordyceps sinensis fractions (0.02 and 0.2 mg/g body weight) were fed to immature or mature mice from 1 to 7 days. The plasma levels of testosterone were evaluated by radioimmunoassay. The weights of reproductive organs were also determined. Results illustrated that Cordyceps sinensis significantly induced plasma testosterone levels both in immature and mature mice in 3 and/or 7 days treatment. F2 and F3 at 0.02 and/or 0.2 mg/g body weight for different feeding duration could also significantly stimulated plasma testosterone levels both in immature and mature mice. In general, Cordyceps, F2 and F3 didn't have considerable effect on the weights of reproductive organs. Taken together, these studies illustrate that Cordyceps sinensis and its fractions significantly stimulated in vivo mouse testosterone production.
Cordyceps may be helpful in hepatitis B. One study showed an improvement in the CD4 to CD8 ratio with the use of cordyceps for 3 months.
Cordyceps has an influence on the immune system, although the research is still too early to know the full details.
Cordycepin is an immunoregulatory active ingredient of
Am J Chin Med. 2008. Laboratory for Paediatric Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Children's Hospital, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.
We have reported that cordycepin, increased interleukin (IL)-10 expression, decreased IL-2 expression and suppressed T lymphocyte activity. In the present study, we further characterized the regulatory effects of cordycepin on human immune cells. Moreover, a traditional Chinese drug, Cordyceps sinensis (CS) that contains cordycepin, was also investigated. Our results led to the opinion that cordycepin and CS pleiotropically affected the actions of immune cells and cytokine network in a similar fashion. Cordycepin could be an important immunoregulatory active ingredient in Cordyceps sinensis. In addition, CS may contain substances which possess synergism with cordycepin, as CS showed a higher efficiency in the production of IL-10 and IL-2 than cordycepin. However, merits of these effects in pharmacology and clinical medicine have yet to be proven and the precise mechanism of these immune regulatory actions should be researched.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014. Cordyceps sinensis (a traditional Chinese medicine) for treating chronic kidney disease. We found that Cordyceps preparation, as an adjuvant therapy to conventional medicine, showed potential promise to decrease serum creatinine, increase creatine clearance, reduce proteinuria and alleviate CKD-associated complications, such as increased haemoglobin and serum albumin.
Induction of HL-60 apoptosis by ethyl acetate extract of Cordyceps sinensis fungal mycelium.
Life Sci. 2004.
Cordyceps sinensis extract showed the potent cytotoxic effect against the proliferation of human premyelocytic leukemia cell HL-60. It induced the characteristic apoptotic symptoms in the HL-60 cells, DNA fragmentation and chromatin condensation.
Cordyceps has been studied in systemic lupus erythematosus in rats. Cordyceps sinensis reduced the level of proteinuria and anti-ds-DNA antibody in plasma, and improved kidney function in rats with SLE.
Cordyceps side effects,
I have not come across any cordyceps side effects mentioned in the medical literature, but just as with any herb, excess amounts could have potential for unpleasant side effects. It would be a good idea to occasionally take breaks from the use of cordyceps.
A polysaccharide isolated from Cordyceps sinensis, a traditional Chinese medicine, protects PC12 cells against hydrogen peroxide-induced injury.
Life Sci. 2003.
Cordyceps sinensis, a well-known traditional Chinese medicine, possesses activities in anti-tumor, anti-oxidation and stimulating the immune system. We found a polysaccharide which protects against free radical-induced neuronal cell toxicity.
Question to Dr. Sahelian from the editor of a magazine regarding Optygen, which has cordyceps sinesis and rhodiola.
I did take a look at the Optygen website. Basically, rhodiola has been used extensively in Russia by athletes and there's been a lot of research there showing rhodiola is able to fight fatigue and lower stress. There was a study with cordyceps (brand name CordyMax) that did not show improvement in cycling endurance. In order to say for sure whether this product works, we will need a full study which is quite expensive. Therefore, we can say that some of the ingredients in Optygen may be helpful, but we can't say for sure whether the product itself will be found to be proven helpful in studies. Also, the dose could make a difference. Too low a dose may not work, while too high a dose may cause excessive stimulation and disturb sleep which as we all know can lead to exhaustion. The bottom line: People who wish to take this product can give it a try and see if it works in their case.
Are there any contraindications in taking cordyceps supplement for people on kidney dialysis?
As of 2014 we can't find any research done regarding cordyceps supplement use in those on kidney dialysis.
I read your information on cordyceps extract and
saw the 5 week study with cyclists. Is it not worth using for athletes?
I have not seen any evidence that the use of cordyceps mushroom supplements are of benefit to athletes in terms of performance enhancement.
Are the cordyceps tablets tested to assure there
is no heavy metal contamination? How many tablets are
recommended for a 72 year old man in good health? Has it been
approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration or any other
federal government body?
You may wish to ask the folks at Planetary Formulas regarding heavy metals since they make this product. They are a reputable company and look for such contaminants before production. We cannot be specific in recommending dosages, that is the role of a person's health care provider. Cordyceps is a dietary supplement allowed to be sold by the FDA.
I bought a couple supplements that I was hoping would give me a little more energy. I'm very sensitive to stimulants - I believe its part of the same body chemistry that makes me hypoglycemic. I can't have caffeine - even in green or white tea. I can't even have ginseng. I bought cordyceps and it had the same effect that caffeine and ginseng have for me which is that it made me feel very, very bone-crushingly tired. A horrible tiredness that is way past normal tired. I took two capsules. Please look into the effects of cordyceps and ginseng on people with hypoglycemia. I did have good luck with tongkat ali. Its the first energy supplement I've tried that actually gives me a little energy rather than making me horribly tired. Thanks for your helpful information on your website.vhbj
Q. In 1997 I was in a car accident which affected my
short term memory. My head went forward and back with such force that I
got a whiplash and a concussion without even hitting my head. The
following morning I knew something really powerful had happened. Over
the years I have struggled with my memory. Not long term mind you, just
short term. I started a natural therapy (which is another subject) a
year ago which has helped it and numerous other things to repair in my
body. Since the start of that therapy I have been doing research on my
own. I came across your wonderful research on many things, which has
helped me tremendously, and have implemented them into my diet. Last
night I was reading about cordyceps mushrooms. It said that if taken
before bed will help with sleep. When I woke up this morning I
immediately remembered a dream. Now mind you I have no nonsense dreams
since my accident. I am writing to you because the dream was so very
powerful. It is not really what the dream was about, but what detail I
remember. It was like I was in life but dreaming. I have done nothing
but research since I got up. I have been at the computer over 2 hours.
When I looked up the research on the hippocampus, it described exactly
what happened to my brain with the car accident. I know I am getting
some stimulation with the cordyceps. It was a powder I purchased from
Mountain Rose Herbs. I am totally into natural medicine and read daily
on herbal remedies and cures. I have prayed for the longest time if I
could only remember what I read, and believe you me I reread and reread
because of the memory thing.
A. There are many mind stimulating supplements that make one remember dreams, but sometimes they do so by causing some alertness and shallower sleep. Melatonin is a hormone supplement that enhances dreams while helping one sleep deeper, 5-HTP works that way, too.
My mother is experiencing vertigo and dizziness. Do you
know if cordyceps has any effect in helping dizziness? I read an
information page that there are no known major side effects, but she has
trouble with indigestion, constipation and skin rashes when taking
certain supplements. Is there any new information on cordyceps have
these sorts of side effects?
A. There are many causes to dizziness and vertigo, some minor, others serious. A full evaluation is needed to make sure there are no serious heart or blood vessel conditions causing it. I am not aware of this natural product being used to treat vertigo.