Fungus probably isn’t top on your list of things you should ingest for better health. However, this astonishing superfood is one that shouldn’t be ignored. Cordyceps mushrooms are loaded with health benefits and could help boost athletic performance, decrease stress, and even reduce high blood pressure. But where exactly does this mushroom come from, and what do you need to know about this fantastic fungus?
Where does cordyceps come from?
Cordyceps mushroom or cordyceps sinesis has been used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine for hundreds of years. This makes sense, as the rare fungus is found primarily at altitudes above 14,000 feet in the Himalayas, on the Tibetan plateau. Cordyceps aren’t exactly like other mushrooms, however. It is actually a genus of parasitic fungi that grows on the larvae of insects.
Yes, the cordyceps spores land on the insect larvae (usually a caterpillar or moth), and the larvae burrows into the ground where it dies. Then, the spore germinates and consumes the insect from the inside. Once this process is complete, the cordyceps emerges from the ground from the remains of the insects head in orange, thin, fingerlike growths. Don’t let that deter you, however, as most supplements are made from a synthetic version of this fungus.
Cordyceps has long been used to help boost libido and maintain an active sex drive. It can increase the production of testosterone and estrogen in men and women, respectively, and maybe especially helpful for women experiencing a lack of interest in sex following menopause.
Increase athletic performance
Ever since 1993, when Chinese track and field athletes were able to shatter multiple world records, while purportedly using natural cordyceps sinesis supplements, researchers have been searching for a link between this mushroom and increased athletic performance. Some studies have shown an increase in oxygen consumption, while another small study showed a modest increase in the athletic performance of older adults. More research is needed to prove this benefit.
Manage blood sugar levels
Cordyceps may be beneficial in helping to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range and improve tissue sensitivity to insulin. Though these studies have been primarily animal tests, more human research will be coming soon as testing approval for this supplement is granted. Remember, you will never be able to get a handle on your fluctuating blood sugar until you cut out processed foods, sugar, and soda from your diet and focus on clean eating.
Support kidney health
As mentioned above, cordyceps is an ancient remedy; therefore, it has been used for years with massive anecdotal success but is just being studied and researched over the past few decades. The most researched use surrounds its benefits for kidney health. One particular type of cordyceps, cordyceps mycelia, was able to aid in kidney transplants by reducing the rejection rate and helping to maintain kidney and liver function as well as red blood cell production. Cordyceps sinensis can help improve renal and immune function in those with chronic renal failure.
Improve cardiovascular health
Certain studies have shown that cordyceps may actually help protect against heart disease due to its adenosine content.
Since there is no research regarding long-term effects of use during pregnancy, avoid taking this supplement if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
You should also avoid cordyceps if you have any of the following:
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Other auto-immune diseases
- Bleeding disorders
- Upcoming surgery
This fungus is incredibly rare and difficult to harvest, with a hefty price tag of $20,000 per kilogram. Naturally, using the true mushroom as a supplement isn’t sustainable or affordable, and mass production of this health-filled mushroom is still on the horizon.
Cordyceps Cs-4 is a laboratory-produced version of cordyceps Sinensis that is found in most supplements. Though it is considered safe and is actually approved for use in Chinese hospitals, it is still vital that you understand what you are buying and putting into your body. Always buy supplements that have been verified by a third party and are from a reputable source.
Any supplements should be combined with an active effort towards fitness, clean eating, and an overall healthy lifestyle. Change won’t happen overnight, and supplements will only benefit you as you put in the effort. Take small steps towards manageable goals, and you’ll be amazed by how far you can go.