5 Benefits of Cordyceps:
Nature provides an amazing array of resources to improve our health and boost our immunity. Mushrooms are a type of fungus that are enjoyed by people all over the world and renowned for their nutritional benefits. In recent years, scientists have studied the medicinal benefits of the cordyceps sinensis mushroom.
Mushrooms have been used as food, medicine, poison, and in spiritual mushroom practices in religious rituals across the world since at least 5000 BC. These have used in tonics, soups, teas, prepared foods and herbal formulas to promote health and longevity. The mushroom fungus Penicillium, was the raw material used to create the antibiotic penicillin which transformed the medical world.
What is Cordyceps?
This oddly shaped mushroom grows native to China and is all around the Tibetan area. For years it was thought to be a living worm rather than a mushroom and was nicknamed the caterpillar fungus as it is seen growing on the sides of trees. Cordyceps is actually a fungal spore that kills insects such as caterpillars and moths and feeds off their tissues.
The Cordyceps mushroom has been described in old Chinese medical books from ancient times, and is also found in Tibetan medicine. Traditional Tibetan healers have recommended Cordyceps as a tonic for all illnesses. This is because they continually witness how it improves people’s energy, sleep habits, digestion, stamina, libido and endurance.
Cordyceps first became popular in the western world when the coach of the record breaking Chinese female runners credited it with the teams extraordinary success. Today, many researchers believe Cordyceps to be one of the most powerful performance and longevity promoting herbs (1).
1. Kidney Health:
Chronic kidney disease is a global health problem that is very hard to treat, costs the healthcare system billions of dollars each year and has a high fatality rate. A 2011 study out of Zhejiang University found that Cordyceps has the potential to inhibit renal fibrosis by shutting down inflammatory pathways that destroy the kidneys normal function and produce fibrous scar tissue (2).
A 2014 study published in the journal Phytomedicine confirmed this earlier 2011 study. The researchers found that the Ergosterol peroxide (EP), the major sterol produced by Cordyceps was the major component that was able to shut down the transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) pathway that promotes the fibrous growth patterns that render the kidney useless (3).
The adrenal glands are critical for maintaining healthy energy levels, physical and mental performance and good sleeping patterns. Adrenal fatigue is a state where the adrenal glands are overworked and unable to perform their functions effectively. Individuals with adrenal fatigue suffer from low energy, poor hormonal function and chronic inflammation.
Adaptogenic substances was originally defined by Russian scientist Dr Nikolai Lazarev in the late 1940’s following research done on the eleuthero root. Israel Brekham, PhD and Dr. I.V. Dardymov formally defined adaptogens with three major characteristics
- Adaptogens are non-toxic – this means they don’t have harmful effects on the body and are safe to be taken for long periods of time.
- They produce a non-specific biological response that improves the bodies ability to resist from physical, chemical, emotional and other biological stressors.
- They have a strong influence on the body towards homeostatic balance. This means that they move the body in the direction of a normal homeostatic set point. If stress hormones are too high, they lower and stabilize them and if stress hormones are too low, they raise and stabilize them.
Cordyceps is shown to help the body produce and balance cortisol and other stress hormones (4). The adaptogenic qualities allows them to influence the body towards homeostatic balance. This means that they move the body in the direction of a normal homeostatic set point. If stress hormones are too high, they lower and stabilize them and if stress hormones are too low, they raise and stabilize them (5).
In a 2003 study, Cordyceps extract was shown to improve a group of rats physical performance in an endurance swim by over 16% . The rats also showed signs of reduced stress during the swim compared to the placebo group (6).
A 2014 study showed that Cordyceps markedly reduced exercise induced oxidative stress in a group of rats. The study showed that the rats using Cordyceps has significantly increased production of intracellular anti-oxidants superoxide dismutase, glutathione and catalase in their serum, liver and muscle. They had considerably lower oxidative stress markers in their serum, liver and muscle (7).
Cordyceps has been known for centuries in Asian culture as an aphrodisiac. It has commonly been used as an aid for lowered libido among other things. Researchers hypothesized that it has a positive effect on reducing the negative effects of stress and improving sex hormone production.
A 1998 study showed that Cordyceps has positive effect on steroidogenesis or the production of steroid hormones (8)
Cordyceps has been shown to improve insulin secretion by the pancreas and it inhibits insulin degradation. It also reduces oxidative stress which is a major culprit in insulin resistance. It improves the function of glucose-regulating enzymes in the liver and promotes a gradual absorption of glucose from the digestive system into the blood stream.
A 1999 study in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin showed that cordyceps was able to stabilize blood sugar in drug-induced hyperglycemic diabetic rats. The researchers in this study presume that the benefits were due to an increase in the liver enzymes hepatic glucokinase and glucose transporter isoform-2 (GLUT-2) (9).
We have all experienced how stress fatigues our brain and it is well-understood that chronic stress creates chronic inflammatory states in the brain. These chronic inflammatory states are observed in studies through various pro-inflammatory markers. Additionally, chronic stress is often seen with imbalanced neurotransmitter levels and lowered levels of brain derived neurotrophic growth factors (BDNF).
Chronic stress impairs memory, cognitive acceleration or the speed of cognitive processing and judgement or reasoning skills. Additionally, chronic stress induces mood disorders and depression. It also accelerates the process of neurodegeneration that can ultimately lead to diseases such as Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
When scientists are studying the delirious effects of chronic stress on brain health they look at inflammatory markers such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a), interleukin-6 and NF-kb. They also look at the key neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine and gamma amino butyric acid among others.
A 2014 study published in Evidence Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine showed that Cordyceps supplementation reduced inflammatory markers in the hippocampus of the brain. It also raised up brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor and 5-HTP (precursor to serotonin and norepinephrine levels). These results demonstrated that cordyceps has positive benefits on mood and memory levels (10).
Another 2012 study showed that cordyceps lowered inflammatory markers in the brain of D-galactose injected mice and increased key anti-oxidants such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione. The non-treated mice showed signs of early mental decline while the cordyceps treated mice showed great ability to think and function at a high level (11). The researchers suggested based on study results that cordyceps improves memory and ameliorates the decline of mental function.
How I Use Cordyceps:
When looking for Cordyceps, be sure the label says Cordyceps sinensis. Many manufacturers are using Cordyceps militaris which has less potent adaptogenic activity as the Cordyceps sinensis.
You can purchase dried cordyceps mushroom here and add it to soups and stews and also brew it and make it into a tea. You can also get it in a more instant form here that is easy to add to tea and coffee.
You can also find pure cordyceps supplements or use combination supplements to enhance adrenal health and energy levels. I love this nutrient so much that I asked for 400 mg of high potency cordyceps to be used in our Adapt Strong supplement here
Adapt-Strong supports normalizing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis when under stress. This is my go to supplement to support the bodies ability to adapt effectively to stress, manage blood sugar and support stable energy levels.
This formula provides useful support for both hyper and hypofunction of the adrenals. Hyperfunction is when the adrenals are overproducing hormones, such as cortisol, and hypofunction is the opposite, when the adrenals are under producing.
I use this with my clients that are struggling with energy and adrenal fatigue. Adapt-Strong truly helps you get the strength to adapt to the stress of life.