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Home / Science & Benefits of Mushroom Extracts / Cordyceps: the energy extract that boosts endurance
Cordyceps: the energy extract that boosts endurance

Cordyceps: the energy extract that boosts endurance

Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, the medicinal compounds in fungi extracts feature in more and more scientific studies. Modern medicine is catching up to what we already know: the Cordyceps Militaris mushroom is an incredible source of energy and stamina.

Cultivating Cordyceps

There are around 400 different species of Cordyceps fungi and many research studies are now investigating the health benefits of this medicinal mushroom. It’s been used for hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine thought to treat fatigue, diabetes, kidney disease, and low libido.

Cordyceps militaris is an interesting mushroom, like something out of a sci-fi movie. It’s a parasitic fungi that feeds off insects, taking over the bodies and brains of the host. This glowing orange fungi looks a bit like coral, sprouting long stems that grow from the host’s body.

The Cordyceps extracts and supplements available on the market are mostly cultivated using non-animal substrates. For example, we use a fruiting body hot-water extract grown on organic barley – no insects necessary.

Cordyceps cultivation

Bioactive compounds in Cordyceps

There are a few bioactive compounds in Cordyceps that are proving to have promising therapeutic effects in scientific studies. One of these is cordycepin, a nucleoside compound which is molecularly similar to adenosine, which exists in all human cells. Adenosine is the principal molecule for storing and transferring energy in cells. 

Our bodies can’t tell the difference between cordycepin and adenosine, and it’s been shown to successfully inhibit several biochemical pathways and reactions in the human body. Because of this, cordycepin supports energy levels, helping to relax blood vessels, regulate heart rate, improve circulation, and lower blood pressure.

Cordycepin exhibits anti-cancer, anti-tumour, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, and immunomodulatory effects. In this 2022 study on mice, researchers showed that cordycepin considerably alleviated systemic inflammation while reducing body weight gain and metabolic disorders. And this study investigated cordycepin's anti-tumour effect on colon cancer, with the results showing that cordycepin suppressed the growth of colon cancer in mice and may be able to serve as a more effective immunotherapeutic drug against colon cancer.

With scientific research catching up to Cordyceps’ potential health benefits, some of the research is limited to animal or lab studies, but many studies have been conducted with human trials and the results that are being published are incredibly promising.

The myriad health benefits of Cordyceps militaris

Cordyceps is trusted in alternative medicine as a natural energy booster, helping to improve endurance and provide better stamina, as well as a stronger immune system. This is one of the reasons it’s used by athletes – to boost their athletic performance.

Recent research has investigated the mushrooms capabilities in these areas:

  • increased cellular energy
  • anti-cancer, anti-tumour, and anti-virus activity
  • delayed fatigue during exercise
  • antioxidative, anti-aging, and immunomodulatory effects
  • reduced oxidative stress and upregulated ATP production
  • improved tolerance for high-intensity exercise in young adults
  • supporting cell-mediated immunity in older men.

Let’s take a look at Cordyceps’ known health benefits in more detail…

Improved athletic performance

In the 2020 study, Beneficial Effect of Cordyceps militaris on Exercise Performance via Promoting Cellular Energy Production, researchers found that Cordyceps increases ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production, which in turn improves exercise performance. ATP delivers energy to the muscles and improves the body’s aerobic endurance (or oxygen intake during exercise).  

A 2017 study from the University of North Carolina showed that daily Cordyceps supplementation gradually increased the maximum oxygen intake (VO2 max) in young adults, improving their tolerance to high-intensity exercise after just three weeks. 

Studies have also been conducted on mice and found that Cordyceps militaris may help to fight muscle fatigue, but more research is needed to corroborate the effect in humans.

Cordyceps in a spoon

Anti-aging properties

Due to its energy-improving effects and ability to reduce fatigue, Cordyceps is often used for its libido-boosting properties and anti-aging effect. The antioxidants present in Cordyceps fight cell damage by neutralising free radicals which typically contribute to aging and disease. Cordyceps has been shown to improve brain function and memory thanks to this antioxidant boost.

Animal studies have found that Cordyceps is able to extend the lifespan of mice by several months. It’s unknown if Cordyceps has the same anti-aging benefits in humans, but the research is promising. 

Anti-tumour effect

Researchers believe that Cordyceps has the ability to slow the growth of human cancer cells and test-tube studies have shown anti-tumour effects in cases of lung cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, breast cancer, leukemia, colon cancer, and liver cancer. 

Researchers are also investigating Cordyceps impact on white blood cell count, which typically decreases during cancer treatment (increasing the risk of infection). Cordyceps has shown promising results in preventing this side effect.

Cordyceps tea

Diabetes and kidney disease treatment

Cordyceps may help to manage type 2 diabetes by keeping blood sugar levels within a healthy range, mimicking the action of insulin to regulate glucose absorption. Over time, high blood glucose can cause serious health problems and impair kidney function. Kidney disease is a common complication of diabetes.

In a study on the antioxidant and hypoglycemic effects of acidic-extractable polysaccharides from Cordyceps militaris on type 2 diabetes mice, the treatment improved glucose and insulin resistance, enhanced antioxidant enzyme activities, and reduced the injuries of the liver, kidney, and pancreas in the mice. 

In this review of 22 studies including 1,746 people with chronic kidney disease (who were not receiving dialysis), those who took Cordyceps supplements experienced improved kidney function. The results weren’t conclusive due to the varying quality of the 22 studies, but the authors believed this treatment showed promise as a complementary therapy to conventional medicine

An exciting future for Cordyceps

With scientific research progressing from animal studies to human testing, the future looks bright for Cordyceps as an alternative treatment for a variety of health conditions. As we’ve learnt throughout history, sometimes it takes time for clinical trials to definitively prove what centuries of alternative medicine have already shown.

The growing body of clinical evidence is an exciting step towards a future where our energy, endurance, and health at a cellular level can be supplemented with Cordyceps extract in your coffee.

Written by Angela Totté, co-founder of Pure Fungi. Angela is a Holistic Nutrition Well-being Practitioner. Upon growing up in Japan, she developed a keen interest in all aspects of health, leading to her passion for wanting to help people through a holistic approach to well-being and nutrition. Angela has worked in the Nutritional Health and Wellness market over the past ten years in different roles, from managing an independent health retailer in central London, working in the health supplement distribution sector, to being a brand ambassador for an international Japanese nutritional health company. 



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