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Cordyceps

What You Need to Know

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Updated November 26, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Cordyceps is a type of medicinal mushroom known to offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, cordyceps is now widely available as a dietary supplement.

Uses for Cordyceps

Cordyceps is often touted as a natural energy booster. Proponents also claim that cordyceps can protect against the following health problems:

In addition, cordyceps is purported to improve athletic performance, stimulate the immune system, boost libido, slow the aging process, and promote detox. Some proponents also suggest that cordyceps can protect against cancer.

Benefits of Cordyceps

To date, few clinical trials have tested the health effects of cordyceps. However, preliminary research suggests that cordyceps may offer certain health benefits. Here's look at some key study findings:

1) Exercise Performance

So far, research on the performance-enhancing effects of cordyceps has yielded mixed results. In a pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2010, for instance, daily intake of cordyceps supplements appeared to improve exercise performance in a small group of older adults. (The study involved 20 healthy individuals, ages 50 to 75.) On the other hand, a 2004 study of 22 male cyclists (published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism) found that five weeks of supplementation with cordyceps had no effect on participants' aerobic capacity or endurance.

2) Aging

In a 2009 study published in Phytotherapy Research, scientists discovered that treatment with cordyceps helped improve brain function and increase antioxidant activity in aging mice.

3) Diabetes

Published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine), a 2002 study on rats showed that cordyceps may help fight insulin resistance (a condition linked to increased diabetes risk).

4) Cancer

Preliminary studies suggest that cordyceps holds promise for protection against some forms of cancer. In tests on human cells, for example, the authors of a 2008 study from the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology found that cordyceps may help increase immune defense against breast cancer.

Additionally, a 2007 study on human cells (published in the Journal of Chinese Medicinal Materials) determined that cordyceps may inhibit the spread of colon cancer.

5) Strep Infections

Cordyceps may help protect against group A streptococcal infections (such as strep throat), according to a 2005 study from the Journal of Medical Microbiology. In tests on mice, researchers found that cordyceps helped decrease the growth and spread of streptococcus bacteria.

Safety

Little is known about the safety of taking cordyceps in the long term. However, there's some concern that cordyceps may lower blood sugar levels.

Where to Find Cordyceps

Widely available for purchase online, cordyceps can also be found in many natural-foods stores (as well as stores specializing in dietary supplements).

Should You Take Cordyceps for Health Purposes?

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend cordyceps for treatment or prevention of any health problem. If you're considering the use of cordyceps for any chronic condition, make sure to consult your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.

Sources

Balon TW, Jasman AP, Zhu JS. "A fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis increases whole-body insulin sensitivity in rats." J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Jun;8(3):315-23.

Chen S, Li Z, Krochmal R, Abrazado M, Kim W, Cooper CB. "Effect of Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) on exercise performance in healthy older subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial." J Altern Complement Med. 2010 May;16(5):585-90.

Colson SN, Wyatt FB, Johnston DL, Autrey LD, FitzGerald YL, Earnest CP. "Cordyceps sinensis- and Rhodiola rosea-based supplementation in male cyclists and its effect on muscle tissue oxygen saturation." J Strength Cond Res. 2005 May;19(2):358-63.

Huang H, Wang H, Luo RC. "Inhibitory effects of cordyceps extract on growth of colon cancer cells." Zhong Yao Cai. 2007 Mar;30(3):310-3.

Jin CY, Kim GY, Choi YH. "Induction of apoptosis by aqueous extract of Cordyceps militaris through activation of caspases and inactivation of Akt in human breast cancer MDA-MB-231 Cells." J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2008 Dec;18(12):1997-2003.

Ji DB, Ye J, Li CL, Wang YH, Zhao J, Cai SQ. "Antiaging effect of Cordyceps sinensis extract." Phytother Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):116-22.

Kuo CF, Chen CC, Luo YH, Huang RY, Chuang WJ, Sheu CC, Lin YS. "Cordyceps sinensis mycelium protects mice from group A streptococcal infection." J Med Microbiol. 2005 Aug;54(Pt 8):795-802.

Kumar R, Negi PS, Singh B, Ilavazhagan G, Bhargava K, Sethy NK. "Cordyceps sinensis promotes exercise endurance capacity of rats by activating skeletal muscle metabolic regulators." J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Jun 14;136(1):260-6.

Ng TB, Wang HX. "Pharmacological actions of Cordyceps, a prized folk medicine." J Pharm Pharmacol. 2005 Dec;57(12):1509-19.

Parcell AC, Smith JM, Schulthies SS, Myrer JW, Fellingham G. "Cordyceps Sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) supplementation does not improve endurance exercise performance." Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Apr;14(2):236-42.

Shi B, Wang Z, Jin H, Chen YW, Wang Q, Qian Y. "Immunoregulatory Cordyceps sinensis increases regulatory T cells to Th17 cell ratio and delays diabetes in NOD mice." Int Immunopharmacol. 2009 May;9(5):582-6.

Zhou X, Gong Z, Su Y, Lin J, Tang K. "Cordyceps fungi: natural products, pharmacological functions and developmental products." J Pharm Pharmacol. 2009 Mar;61(3):279-91.

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