Cordyceps (Cordyceps spp.)

Cordyceps (Cordyceps spp.)

Few medicinal mushrooms are as strange as the Cordyceps: it's the master of life and death. In people, its properties include anti-aging effects, boosted athletic performance, blood sugar control, improved heart health, and reduced inflammation.

However, to insects, it's a terrifying fungus. In the wild, its spores take control of an insect, hack into its nervous system, and direct it to the highest point in the local area. Once reached, the insect dies as a mushroom sprouts from its head. (As I said, terrifying.)

Anti-aging properties

Reversing aging is the Holy Grail of the cosmetic industry; however, this functional mushroom may hold the answer. Similar to other benefits of mushrooms, it relies on a strong dose of antioxidants79. In countless studies, the findings are the same: a dose of Cordyceps lengthens lifespans.

In mice, individuals given Cordyceps lived several months longer than those given placebo. Meanwhile, it also lengthened the lifespan of fruit flies80. Another study in mice noted improved memory and sexual function81Cordyceps is often considered a potent aphrodisiac82.

Confirmation of Cordyceps as the mushroom of youth in humans is still unknown.

Boosted athletic performance

Your body is powered by a single molecule: adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Formed from respiration, it delivers much-needed energy to your muscles. Increasing ATP production not only boosts athletic performance but also improves how your body uses oxygen83.

VO2 max – the maximum oxygen consumption rate during physical exercise – is the hallmark of a person's fitness. In a 2016 study, 3 weeks of Cordyceps militaris supplementation saw participants' VO2 max increase substantially (11%), improving tolerance to high-intensity exercise compared to placebo84.

However, you don't have to be an athlete. An investigation in 20 older adults found a boost to exercise performance and overall wellness – although the VO2 max remained unchanged85.

Blood sugar control

Controlling blood sugar levels is pivotal in diabetes. If left unchecked, glucose in your blood damages your arteries, nerves, and kidneys.

A systematic review of 22 studies (involving 1,746 participants) also found a significant benefit to those with chronic kidney disease (which is a major complication of diabetes)86. Receiving Cordyceps was associated with a significant boost to kidney function, with the study's authors advocating for its use as an adjuvant therapy.

Improved heart health

Similar to other functional fungi, Cordyceps have a significant effect on cholesterol levels. It lowers LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels87,88, which are responsible for a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.

However, that's not its only mechanism. Some studies have observed a thrombolytic effect, meaning it reduces the risk of clots: the principal cause of heart attacks, strokes, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary emboli. Cordyceps appears to prevent the blood from clotting, thereby reducing risks89.

The fungus is also approved as a treatment of arrhythmia in China, helping to regulate the heart's rhythm90.

Reduced inflammation

Last, Cordyceps reduces inflammation by suppressing proinflammatory proteins91. In an analysis of C. militaris' components, saccharide and nucleoside contents were identified as the principal cause of its potent anti-inflammatory effects92.

These compounds may even help with chronic inflammatory conditions like asthma. A 2008 study found that when given to mice, C. militaris prevented airway inflammation; however, it was less effective than current first-line treatments like prednisolone and montelukast93.

Deep dive down the mycelium rabbit hole and learn about the benefits of all the mushrooms by reading scientific studies from around the world.