You’ve probably heard so much about superfoods already, have you got mushroom for more? What if I told you this one’s a real fungi? All fungal puns aside, Cordyceps are a superfood that have been revered for their medicinal qualities for millennia. Once upon a time Cordyceps were a closely guarded secret. Now, luckily for us, the secret’s out. This article explains why your health will thrive from getting these miraculous mushrooms on your plate.
The method Cordyceps use to propagate themselves are a brutal example of nature operating efficiently and unsympathetically. There are thousands of species of Cordyceps’ spores, each species infects a specific insect species found in the jungle, such as ants, caterpillars or moths. The parasitic spores infiltrate the nervous system of the host species, for example an ant, and control its movements, driving them to climb high up in trees.
Delirious and confused, if the ant is discovered by its co-workers, they will physically remove it far away from the colony. These co-workers know what’s coming next, and the removal of their contaminated comrade is simply an act of self preservation for the colony. The abandoned ant is then left to face its fate alone: over the space of several weeks, the parasite feeds off the host, mummifying its remains, until the Cordyceps’ fruitbody blooms from its skull. Nature sacrifices one life so that another may exist.
The Cordyceps releases its spores from its high up vantage point in the tree, which are dispersed by the wind, and the cycle continues. The thin stalk-like base of the mushroom protrudes from the insect host, which acts as the root, and leads up to a the club-shaped cap of the fruitbody, which is brown to black in color.
Note: Most commercially available cordyceps are cultivated in the lab without killing anything.
The History of Cordyceps
Cordyceps sinensis, a.k.a. Caterpillar Fungus are classified as an Ascomycetes fungus, not a mushroom. However, they have been and continue to be widely labelled as a mushroom, the label which we’ll use here when discussing them.
Cordyceps originate from high in the Himalayan Plateau, at least 3,800 meters above sea level, and the difficulty in obtaining them has been reflected in their historical rarity and price tag. According to Chinese legend, Cordyceps were discovered by yak shepherds who noticed that their herds became invigorated and sexually aroused when they ate some strange infected caterpillars. At some point, one brave herder must have thought “I’ll give that a go.”
In the past Cordyceps were exclusively reserved for Chinese Emperors and their close inner circles. Awareness of them remained there for thousands of years until 1926 when a Jesuit priest introduced them to a scientific committee in Paris after his experiences with them in China.
The Chinese have long recognised the awesome power of Cordyceps, as it is a staple medicine used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Now western science has finally caught up, with many studies to verify what the Chinese have known for ages.
The Medicinal Mushroom
The medical majesty of this mushroom has a long history of being used for a diverse range of medical treatments, below are just some of them:
Cordyceps have been recognised for their ability to support respiratory health for thousands of years in China. A study by Beijing University’s Department of Respiratory Medicine found Cordyceps to be an effective treatment for patients with asthma and in doing so “improved the quality of life of the patients”.
Cordyceps possess anti-inflammatory properties that loosen the bronchial walls of the lungs, reducing phlegm and increasing the flow and uptake of oxygen in the airways, making them effective at treating asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Building Resistance to Infections
Cordyceps is an excellent immune system booster because it enhances the activity of natural killer (NK) cells which act as the immune system’s first line of defence and are instrumental in fighting infections. A 1992 study reported in the Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine demonstrated Cordyceps ability to boost the activity of NK cells by 74% in normal patients and 400% in patients with leukemia. Cordyceps also increase the production of virus fighting T-cells.
Cordyceps NK cell boosting ability also helps in fighting cancer. A 2009 study from Beijing’s Centre for Molecular Immunology discovered two new fungal metabolites found in Cordyceps, gliocadilicines A and B. These metabolites (ironically) possess antifungal properties, as well as suppressing cancerous tumor growth.
In 1993 awareness of Cordyceps exploded worldwide thanks to the Chinese Women’s Track and Field team who broke 9 world records! In fact, their victory was so striking that it aroused suspicions of steroid use. Suspicions were squashed when drug tests found no trace of any prohibited substance. The key to their victory it transpired, besides a strict training regime, was drinking a special Cordyceps concoction.
Cordyceps possess energising and stress relieving properties which allow the body to recover quicker from strenuous activity, which presumably gave the Chinese athletes their edge. This is due Cordyceps increasing the efficacy of oxygen in the body along with increasing the production of adenosine diphosphate (ATP), the molecule responsible for storing and releasing energy in our cells. The combined effect of more ATP and improved oxygen flow compliment each other powerfully, meaning “more fuel to burn and more oxygen to burn it with”.
A 2007 study from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology reported that Cordyceps stimulate the production of ATP and can protect health and slow down the effects of aging. Athletes examined in this study trained better during intense sessions of exercise and had increased stamina. Another 2010 study from University of California’s Centre of Nutrition reinforced the collective body of knowledge proving Cordyceps sinensis improves exercise performance.
Cordyceps contain the compounds adenosine and deoxyadenosine, well known pharmacologically for their heart helping characteristics. These compounds improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels connected to the heart. This means Cordyceps are excellent for lowering blood pressure, as well as being able to stabilize heart rate variability, which reduces the risk of heart failure, and is one of the most commonly used medicines in China for heart arrhythmias. 2
According to researcher Dr. Richard Alan Miller PhD, a 2004 study showed what happened when 3,000 Ghanaian patients with the HIV/AIDs virus were administered with a mixture whose main ingredient was Cordyceps sinensis. Astonishingly, after 6 months, every one of the patients had gone into remission3.
Cordyceps contain long chain sugars called polysaccharides and beta-glucans, which release oxygen molecules into the body when broken down and assist the immune system, and may be the source of Cordyceps virus fighting properties.
Impotence / Low libido
Since their discovery Cordyceps have been well known for increasing sexual potency and reproductive function, helping both the ladies and gents get their freak on. A series of studies from Stanford University School of Medicine explored the effect of Cordyceps on sexual health. One study conducted on 200 Chinese men with low libido and various sexual problems found that 64% of those given Cordyceps as a treatment had a significant improvement in their sex drives.3 Awww yeahhh.
Another of these studies from Stanford University School of Medicine monitored the effect of giving its male and female subjects 3 grams of Cordyceps over the space of 40 days. The men experienced higher sperm counts and fewer malformed sperm and the alleviation of impotence. The women experienced alleviation of hypoleukorrhagia (mucousy vaginal secretions) and menoxenia (menstrual abnormalities) and increased sex drive2. Cordyceps also boost testosterone levels, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by some bodybuilders who use them for building muscle mass.
Cordyceps possess renowned anti-aging effect, though it’s not exactly sure what contributes to this effect. Beijing’s Peking University looked at what happened when they fed gave mice Cordyceps extract, and found that it lowered morphological changes associated with aging.
A Medicinally Marvellous Superfood
Like other superfoods, Cordyceps go beyond the typical criteria of food, occupying a special space between sustenance and medicine. As the Chinese have known for many lifetimes, and we’ve just discovered, Cordyceps offer many health enhancing qualities; an effective HIV treatment; battling cancer and other diseases; and keeping you young, energised and feeling sexy. Not bad for a fungal parasite growing from the remains of dead insects!
Together we can overcome the immense advertising budgets of Big Pharma and share with the world the simple effective uses of some of Mother Nature’s gifts. Each one of us has the power to take charge of our own health and in doing so instigate massive change and powerful global action. Be strong in your conviction and share your truth with the world. Share this article now on your favourite social media platforms; influence others with a positive message about the medicinal benefits of cordyceps.