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Cordyceps Is a Killer Fungi With Potential Health Benefits

With greater than 150,000 species of fungi (and maybe a million or more yet to discover), there’s an ever-growing space of curiosity within the potential results fungi have on people. In truth, fungi have lengthy been utilized in tinctures, natural treatments and tonic meals due to their advantages in conventional Chinese medication and different Eastern medical practices. These are additionally a few of the oldest programs of drugs on this planet.

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One particular class of fungi known as cordyceps has been thrust into the highlight because of its tie-in to HBO’s hit present The Last of Us and its zombie lore. But even earlier than its large Hollywood break, cordyceps has been a well-liked ingredient in dietary supplements and different merchandise that tout quite a few well being advantages. Some of those advantages embrace anti-fatigue, anti-aging and anti-cancer properties that might assist enhance power ranges, intercourse drive and even coronary heart well being.

Are these merchandise value your whereas? Registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, breaks down the science behind cordyceps and whether or not it’s value making an attempt any cordyceps dietary supplements.

What is cordyceps?

Cordyceps is a sort of fungi discovered all around the world. Some of the rarest sorts are at increased altitudes within the Himalayan areas of China, Nepal, Tibet and India. In whole, there have been more than 750 species of cordyceps recognized. Of these, scientists have recognized at the least 35 sorts which have had some potential well being advantages and medicinal properties.

What makes cordyceps notably fascinating is that they’re parasitic in nature. Each species of cordyceps targets a selected, distinctive insect. For instance, one species of cordyceps can infect a selected sort of carpenter ant. But that very same species of cordyceps doesn’t have any impact on other forms of ants even throughout areas. Other bugs which have been focused by cordyceps embrace spiders, moths and dragonflies.

Here’s the way it works: A cordyceps spore lands on and infects its host. It then begins to unfold mycelia (or tendrils) all through the insect’s physique. Those tendrils substitute the host’s inner tissues and feed off of its vitamins. Once the insect is totally paralyzed or lifeless, the cordyceps fungus erupts out of the insect’s physique with a fruiting physique (the seen reproductive construction of cordyceps). This fruiting physique then spreads its spores to different bugs of the identical species.

The fruiting physique is what folks look for its potential well being advantages. Traditionally, the fruiting physique of cordyceps is floor down and cooked with tea and different herbs. You can eat the fruiting physique uncooked. But it can doubtless style higher when you cook dinner it in pastas or soups, and even add them as a topping to pizza or flatbreads.

There aren’t any extra advantages to consuming uncooked cordyceps. But when you do intend to eat them uncooked, you’ll be able to steep the cordyceps in water for as much as quarter-hour earlier than extracting the fruiting physique from the insect husk. Or you’ll be able to eat the insect husk and fruiting physique collectively.

Types of cordyceps

Of all of the cordyceps, there are three sorts that you’ll have heard about:

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis

Until 2007, ophiocordyceps was considered a part of the general cordyceps household. But due to its darker pigmentation, it’s now thought-about its personal separate household of fungi. It nonetheless capabilities a lot the identical approach as different cordyceps, nevertheless it particularly targets carpenter ants in tropical forests present in Brazil, Australia and Thailand, in addition to temperate forests in South Carolina, Florida and Japan.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis made headlines in 2008 when a clip from BBC’s Planet Earth confirmed a time-lapse of how this fungus takes over an ant’s physique. Ongoing analysis into the habits of O. unilateralis suggests the fungus bypasses the ant’s brain fully. Even because the fungi compel the ant to climb to increased floor earlier than sprouting spores to different ants beneath, the ant’s mind stays intact.

It’s this particular fungus that has gone on to encourage the fictional zombie lore behind The Last of Us online game and TV present. It’s additionally been a central focus of ongoing analysis into how cordyceps normally develop and unfold.

Cordyceps sinensis

If you’re trying to find cordyceps advantages, cordyceps sinensis (often known as Dong Chong Xia Cao, which implies “worm in winter, grass in summer”) will doubtless be on the high of your search record. That’s as a result of this model of cordyceps is essentially the most sought-after form because of its rarity and its long-time use in conventional Chinese medication.

C. sinensis grows on ghost moth larvae discovered at excessive altitudes on the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayan areas of Bhutan and Nepal. Increased demand has led to an over-collection of the wild fungus, making naturally grown C. sinensis almost unattainable to search out. In truth, uncooked C. sinensis can value a number of 1000’s of {dollars}. To meet the demand lately, corporations have began to mass produce cultivated C. sinensis and different options.

Cordyceps militaris

The Cordyceps militaris species of cordyceps is one different to C. sinensis that has proven promising outcomes. Unlike C. sinensis, it can be grown in a lab utilizing rice as its base. This has made the manufacturing of cordyceps simpler, extra accessible and cheap. Additionally, research have proven C. militaris has the identical composition as C. sinensis, making it a protected different for these inquisitive about making an attempt this fungus. But one research particularly suggests you shouldn’t eat C. militaris uncooked. Instead, you must cook C. militaris before consuming it to keep away from potential gastrointestinal (GI) upset or sickness.

Cordyceps makes use of

There are loads of merchandise that use cordyceps. These merchandise embrace dietary supplements within the type of capsules, powders, teas and even mushroom espresso. But the tough half to purchasing these merchandise — particularly dietary supplements — is that you just’re by no means fairly positive what you’re getting. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate dietary supplements, so that you by no means know the way a lot cordyceps a complement truly comprises.

“You may get a very potent dose in one bottle, but then if you were to go and take the same amount from another bottle — even from the same company — you may not get the same amount of cordyceps or even the same benefits,” cautions Czerwony.

Plus, product labels are inclined to overuse and generalize the time period “cordyceps” with out specifying which species they’re utilizing. This means you could possibly be getting a sort of cordyceps that hasn’t been proven to have any well being advantages.

If you’re looking for a product that makes use of cordyceps, you must search for labels that particularly use C. sinensis, as that’s the one sort of cordyceps that’s lengthy been related to conventional Chinese medication and is probably essentially the most dependable. C. militaris can be a great different to think about, so long as you cook dinner it first.

“You can safely eat cordyceps, but it tastes better if you cook them or include them in a soup,” says Czerwony. “I wouldn’t rely on capsules or supplements, but if you are adventurous and you’re a foodie and you want to try to eat them or put them in soups, go for it.”

Cordyceps advantages

So, why throw cordyceps in your soup within the first place? A couple of research have pointed to some potential well being advantages to consuming sure sorts of cordyceps, particularly C. sinensis or C. militaris. But it’s vital to notice that these research have been small and largely centered on animals in a lab. More analysis is unquestionably wanted, particularly, research that measure the well being advantages in people, so as to affirm any of the proposed advantages and the way efficient they are surely.

“It does have value in Eastern medicine and it’s been used for quite a bit of time, but much of that is anecdotal (accounts from people, not research) and there haven’t been enough human studies in Western medicine to determine whether they hold a true benefit,” notes Czerwony.

According to the restricted analysis that’s been finished to this point, some potential advantages of cordyceps may embrace:

Anti-inflammatory properties

A review of several research studies suggests cordyceps include a bioactive part known as cordycepin. This can help with inflammation associated to bronchial asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s illness, hepatitis and extra. In truth, cordycepin has been recognized as a potential nutraceutical (a meals that comprises medicinal profit). Lab research recommend cordycepin and cordyceps polysaccharide can have extra positive effects on obesity (a situation typically related to chronic low-grade inflammation). Still, medical research are wanted to find out if these identical results are current in people.

“Cordyceps seems like one of those superfoods that can decrease inflammation,” says Czerwony. “When we think about decreasing inflammation, we think of better overall heart health and cholesterol levels, too.”

Increase train efficiency

Reduced irritation may additionally assist enhance train efficiency.

“When you’re exercising, you’re causing inflammation throughout your body,” explains Czerwony. “By decreasing that, you’re going to perform much better.”

One study followed 28 individuals who participated in high-intensity train over the course of three weeks whereas consuming a mushroom mix that contained cordyceps. That research confirmed vital enchancment in VO2 max (a measurement of how a lot oxygen your physique absorbs and makes use of whereas figuring out).

Another research suggests a combination of Rhodiola crenulata (a perennial flowering plant that grows in chilly components of Europe and Asia) and C. sinensis improved cardio efficiency throughout altitude coaching.

C. militaris may additionally present an increase in ATP production (which supplies power to your muscle groups). But some research recommend cordyceps has no impact on aerobic capacity or endurance exercise. The various outcomes suggest there’s extra analysis wanted to find out the mechanics behind cordyceps and the way it impacts train efficiency in numerous methods.

Anti-aging properties

Cordyceps have lengthy been utilized in conventional Chinese medication amongst older populations to offer power, cut back fatigue and enhance libido and intercourse drive. In truth, it’s been known as “Himalayan Viagra” due to these results. It has historically been used alongside ginseng and Rhodiola rosea to assist cut back fatigue. More analysis is required, however scientists imagine it is because cordycepin could help regulate energy metabolism.

Anti-cancer results

Research suggests cordyceps is one among a number of sorts of fungi that have anti-breast cancer activity. In truth, cordyceps could even be a good candidate for cancer immunotherapy. It’s additionally been historically used as a dietary remedy for people with lung cancer in China.

“When something is touting anti-cancer properties, what they’re saying is that it may help block the growth or the spread of the cancer,” Czerwony explains. “But it could cause more harm than benefit if it interferes with your treatment or causes blood thinning. If this is something you want to try, you should talk to your oncologist first.”

Regulate blood sugar

When it involves anti-diabetic properties, cordyceps appears to have excessive potential. Lab research recommend cordyceps may cut back blood sugar and improve insulin resistance. It could even assist with dyslipidemia (elevated ldl cholesterol or fat within the blood). But these outcomes will not be the identical in people.

To date, there have been no vital medical trials which have studied the connection between cordyceps and blood sugar in folks. It’s vital that you just don’t take these small lab research as medical recommendation. Instead, you must discuss to your healthcare supplier about other ways to decrease your blood sugar.

“I always go back and ask, ‘Why are you going to take this and what are you trying to do?’” says Czerwony. “If you’re looking for anti-inflammatory benefits, if you’re looking for blood glucose control, there are other things out there that have been more widely studied that have been shown to be safe.”

Cordyceps unwanted side effects

Ingesting cordyceps may trigger quite a lot of GI (gastrointestinal) points like nausea, diarrhea or basic GI upset. If you’re taking any blood thinners or when you’ve been recognized with Type 2 diabetes, you could need to keep away from cordyceps fully as a result of it may trigger your blood sugar ranges to change into dangerously low.

People with autoimmune issues like fibromyalgia or a number of sclerosis may additionally need to keep away from taking cordyceps as a result of over-use may result in a rise in flare-ups and make them extra extreme.

“If you’ve had an organ transplant, we wouldn’t want you taking this supplement because it could directly counter anti-rejection medication,” warns Czerwony.

And when you’re nervous about buying any potential zombifying results much like how O. unilateralis impacts carpenter ants, there’s no want to fret, at the least for now.

“Our human body temperature is high enough that it would denature any of those proteins that would affect us,” reassures Czerwony.

Still, cordyceps hasn’t been studied nicely sufficient but to know for sure what its full well being advantages — and unwanted side effects — are. Initial research do look promising, however it can take extra analysis earlier than any potential medical makes use of could be confirmed.

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