Elite athletes, especially those competing in endurance sports such as biking, swimming, and running, seem to like cordyceps mushrooms for the powers they can bestow upon them in terms of improving respiratory health, increasing oxygen uptake, and boosting energy. There’s a lot to like there when your task is to cover a whole lot of yards or miles and your goal is to get to the finish line before anyone else does.
Presumably, cordyceps mushrooms’ health benefits – which are numerous and rather impressive in their variety – can work just as well for the rest of us when it comes to living an active, healthy life. That’s whether our ultimate goal is to win an Olympic gold medal or just make it to the end of a trying work day or event-filled weekend without crumbling into a weary heap melting into a comfy sofa or cozy bed.
A Brief History of Cordyceps Mushrooms
Although cordyceps fungi (in this case, synonymous with ‘mushroom’) made global headlines in the early 1990s after Chinese runners began smashing world records, which their coach attributed to ‘caterpillar’ fungi (or mushrooms), per healthline.com, they belong to a class of fungi that have been extensively used by traditional medicine practitioners for hundreds of years.
Mushrooms, in general, have been used in various treatments since around 5000 B.C., per National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a tonic to treat a multitude of health issues as well as improve people’s energy, appetite, stamina, libido, endurance, and sleeping patterns – essentially covering all the lifestyle needs and wants from sunup to sundown. cordycepss mushrooms fit nicely into that category of substances providing “vigor and vitality,” as NIH puts it.
What Gives cordyceps Their ‘Power’?
First, it helps to know where cordyceps fungi come from, how they are produced and how they grow. Just as the nickname “caterpillar mushroom” suggests, they come from caterpillars, literally. It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but it is in fact a natural biological contribution to our world and, obviously, conducive to our good health when used in good measure.
Here goes: known by its scientific name of cordyceps sinensis, it is both a fungus and a caterpillar that, per healthline.com, is grown in the high altitudes of the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau. In winter, the cordyceps starts as a spore that enters the body of a moth caterpillar, which then digs itself into the soil before dying. Come summertime, the fungus – just like a plant – sprouts from the head of the dead caterpillar – and appears as a thin, orange finger-shaped entity.
Once cultured, the C. sinensis is laced with 20-plus bioactive compounds, such as sugar molecules with antioxidant properties. Once the cordycepss is ingested, presumably in nutritional supplement form, these bioactive ingredients stimulate cells and specific chemicals in our bodies, to include the immune system.
Per NIH, these ingredients also include modified nucleosides and cyclosporine-like metabolites. Note that, as NIH puts it, “the fermentable strain of the mycelia causes normal fat mobilization and beta-oxidation, thereby maintaining blood glucose level during prolonged exercise in athletes.”
Cordyceps Health Benefits
Following is a summary, in alphabetical order, of the best-known health benefits available with the proper use of cordyceps mushrooms. Keep in mind, though, a physician’s counsel and advice as to how best to integrate this into your daily regimen is always in order:
- Anti-aging. A 2009 study on mice, cited at verywellhealth.com, showed that cordycepss treatment can help improve brain function and bolster antioxidant activity.
- Detoxification. Studies, referenced at organicfacts.net, have found indications that kidney health in kidney patients improved significantly after a month-long treatment with cordyceps.
- Diabetes. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that cordyceps might be able to stave off insulin resistance, which has been linked to a higher risk of diabetes, per verywellhealth.com.
- Energy. cordyceps can bolster oxygen uptake and cellular energy production, giving people – especially athletes – an extra dose of sustained energy, per organicfacts.net.
- Heart health. The herb’s anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic characteristics can help ward off heart arrhythmias and other complications, per organicfacts.net. It can also reduce cholesterol levels.
- Immunity. The fungus promotes the manufacture of natural killer (NK) cells, which are one of our immune system’s first lines of defense against infection or illness. This includes protecting against group A streptococcal infections – such as strep throat, per verywellhealth.com.
- Respiratory function. cordycepss can boost how much oxygen the lungs can take in, which is helpful not only for endurance athletes but also anyone dealing with respiratory issues, such as asthma or chronic bronchitis. Likewise, ramped-up oxygen levels can assist in oxygenating the body’s extremities more efficiently, thus improving functionality in our organ systems, per organicfacts.net.
- Sexual performance. Several studies involving mice treated with C. sinensis indicated it can increase testosterone levels and aid in penile erection, per healthline.com. There have also been reported improvements in libido from the use of cordycepss.
- Stress. Per draxe.com, cordycepss have exhibited characteristics of an adaptogenic herb in that it has been found to reduce stress. A 2006 study revealed that the use of a powdered cordycepss supplement provided sedentary males with improved cortisol levels following exercise-induced stress and that the cordycepss also had anti-fatigue properties.