With the focus today on health hacks and maximizing your health using natural remedies, is it any wonder that medicinal mushrooms, with a heritage rooted in traditional Chinese medicine stretching back over 5,000 years. The fruiting body of these fungi contains many beneficial compounds, but as with many medicinal mushrooms, it's important to know how it will impact you, as different fungi can have different impacts on your health. In this article, we'll discuss what the cordyceps fungi is, why it works and how it can impact your health.
What are Cordyceps Mushrooms?
In the wild, cordyceps fungi grow as a parasitic organism on insects. However, because these are so difficult to find, this caterpillar fungus has been cultivated in laboratory conditions, allowing them to be grown in a controlled environment. The fruiting body of this fungus, specifically the previously-named Cordyceps sinensis which is now known as Ophiocordyceps sinensis, produces cordycepin, which produces immune-modulating effects, while the polysaccharides it produces have a range of additional effects that are beneficial to human health.
What are the Health Benefits of Cordyceps Mushrooms?
The cordyceps mushroom features a wide range of health benefits, making it a solid tonic for anyone past a certain age who are facing some of the general health issues of aging, such as increased risks of cancer, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, kidney and liver problems, lowered immune response, reduced athletic ability and lowered libido. By taking lower doses, you can help protect against these often age-related issues and improve your overall health, while ramping up to a higher dosage if you're seeing specific acute problems that need to be dealt with.
Cancer-Fighting Effects of the Cordyceps Mushroom
Cordyceps fungi not only help block the growth and spread of some cancer cells, especially lung, liver and colorectal cancers, but it also helps keep you from contracting other illnesses during treatment due to its immune-modulating effects. Common cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapies can drastically reduce immune response, a symptom called leucopenia, but cordyceps mushrooms help build that immune response back up to more reasonable levels.
Diabetes-Supporting Effects of Cordyceps Mushrooms
One of the biggest issues faced in type 2 diabetes is keeping blood sugar and insulin sensitivity in balance, a process that often requires frequent testing and insulin injections. However, the presence of d-mannitol cordycepin and 3-deoxyadenosine in cordyceps fungi supports your body's natural physiological responses by acting in the place of insulin, helping to keep your blood sugar and insulin levels at more moderate levels. At the same time, cordyceps fungi boost kidney function and act to protect the kidneys from the disease, partially by lowering blood pressure and also by lowering inflammation in and damage to the pancreas's insulin-producing beta cells, making it easier for the body to naturally produce insulin and keep your body's blood sugar in balance.
Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Cordyceps Mushrooms
Beta-glucans and cordycepin are two of the compounds found in cordyceps fungi that are linked to reduced inflammation response in many studies. Decreased inflammation markers show up in human cell studies, while antioxidants and improved oxygen supply help support healthy cell function, reducing inflammation at a cellular level. It also works well to treat inflammation in degenerative disc disease, can be used topically to reduce skin inflammation and has been associated with lowered anxiety in cases where inflammation is a cause by acting as an adaptogen and neuroprotective compound. It works well to reduce inflammation in a wide range of auto-immune disorders, making it easier to manage the symptoms of the disease.
Immune-Modulating Effects of the Cordyceps Mushroom
Many of the immune-modulating effects of cordyceps fungi are related to its anti-inflammatory effects, including evidence based animal studies showing it to reduce inflammation in airways, which makes it a promising natural treatment for asthma. This same reaction makes it a great option to consider for Crohn's disease, leaky gut syndrome and arthritis. These responses are due to the fungi's concentrations of polysaccharides, modified nucleosides and cyclosporines. It's believed that its main mode of action works because it acts on the body's adenosine receptors to help reduce inflammation.
Kidney and Liver-Supporting Effects of Cordyceps Mushrooms
Cordyceps is a powerhouse for the kidneys and liver, providing serious impacts on quality of life and reducing symptoms of diseases for these detox organs. The fungi support kidney and liver function, reduces liver swelling from hepatitis B and when used with low-dose cyclosporine, has drastic effects on kidney transplant success. Specifically to kidney transplants, it improves one-year survival, reduces rejection, infection and long-term impaired kidney function. It also reduces kidney damage from amikacin antibiotics, cyclosporine and contrast dyes when taken alongside the medications.
Auto-Immune Defensive Effects of Cordyceps Mushrooms
Specifically for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and myocarditis, the cordyceps mushroom's strong anti-inflammatory effects can reduce inflammation in immune cells that cause these diseases, while the antioxidant properties can help heal some portion of the damage these diseases can cause. This works by suppressing specific proteins that cause an inflammatory response in the immune system. The compounds found in cordyceps also reduce inflammation in the immune cells, reducing their action against the body in auto-immune diseases.
Cardiovascular-Enhancing Effects of the Cordyceps Mushroom
Another area where the cordyceps fungus works well is the cardiovascular system. By improving respiratory function through better oxygen efficiency, lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels, decreasing overall cholesterol levels, moderating heart arrhythmia and acting as a cardio-protective agent, cordyceps helps older adults to retain or return to an active lifestyle, which in turn helps support longer, healthier life. It also may protect the heart against injury due to chronic kidney disease, though human trials are still upcoming. Cordyceps' higher adenosine content, which is part of naturally-occurring ATP in cellular energy processes, is attributed to this cardio-protective element of the fungi.
Athletic Performance-Enhancing Effects of Cordyceps Mushrooms
These enhancements also improve athletic performance. Older adults who used the mushroom in human studies were found to have a 10.5% increase in their lactate threshold and a ventilatory threshold increase of 8.5%, while the polysaccharides increase exercise performance and act to prevent fatigue by boosting ATP production. In fact, it was one of the factors the Chinese women's track team credited their record-breaking wins at the Beijing Olympics, including Wang Jungxia's new world record for the 10,000-meter run, beating the old record by 42 seconds. Because the mushroom also protects against overoxidation that can take place when overtraining, it's a great tonic to include as part of your regimen leading up to serious sporting events.
Libido-Enhancing and Male Fertility Effects of the Cordyceps Mushrooms
As a pleasant side effect, the fatigue-reducing, inflammation-reducing and circulation-supporting aspects of the fungi also helps boost the libido, in addition to the fungi's ability to moderate hormone controls, specifically enhancing testosterone production by decreasing BPA, a hormone-disrupting plastic, which can reduce sperm count and mobility as well as causing impotence outright. At the same time, it increases steroidogenic acute regulatory or STAR enzyme production, which is the basic building block for all hormones, greatly enhancing normal hormone production in the body for both men and women.
Are There Any Risks to Using Cordyceps Mushrooms?
As with any treatment aimed at improving human health, you should consult your doctor for medical advice before starting any treatment. If you have allergies to molds or mushrooms, you'll want to avoid this therapy as it may trigger those allergies. It's considered safe for short term use, with mild side effects including possible stomach upset, constipation or diarrhea. As with many medications, it has not been tested for safety in pregnancy and lactation and should be avoided during these times.
There are some medications that will need to be used very carefully with cordyceps fungi. Specifically, if you're taking medications to keep your blood sugar down, the additional blood sugar-lowering effects of Cordyceps sinensis can cause a drastic reduction in blood sugar, leading to a hypoglycemic state. Because cordyceps fungi can have a blood-thinning effect, increasing the risk of heavy bleeding, it's important to avoid it if you're on blood thinners and for at least two weeks before surgery. Cordyceps also invigorates the immune system, so it can interfere with medications that are designed to lower immune-system response, such as prednisone, prednisolone, cyclophosphamide and other immunosuppressants.
How to Get the Best Benefit From Cordyceps Mushrooms
To use cordyceps fungi to improve energy and athletic performance as well as to treat acute inflammatory and immune disorders on a short term basis, the recommended dosage is 3-9 grams daily. However, for concentrated extracts and long term use for chronic complaints, smaller doses are recommended.
By having a solid understanding of how cordyceps fungi work in the body, you'll be able to determine whether this powerful medical mushroom should have a place in your health routine. As with any change in treatment, be sure to consult your doctor for medical advice before using natural products such as cordyceps mushrooms.