Cordyceps Benefits: Can It Boost Athletic Performance?

Cordyceps is a mushroom that's been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Research shows cordyceps benefits conditions such as diabetes, and it can help improve exercise performance.


What is cordyceps capable of doing for your health? The cordyceps fungus can help manage diabetes, and it can help reduce cholesterol. Studies also show that cordyceps benefits exercise performance. 

For centuries, the cordyceps mushroom has played an important role in traditional Chinese medicine. 

This medicinal mushroom is a fungus that’s typically cultivated on insect larvae. The cordyceps fungus comes in many different varieties, but the two that have been most closely studied for their effect on human health are Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis

Research shows cordyceps benefits wellness in key ways. For example, it can help boost exercise performance. And cordyceps mushroom benefits those seeking to treat type 2 diabetes. 

What is cordyceps good for in your journey toward optimal health? Does a cordyceps supplement belong in your daily regimen?

In this article, we will:

  • Offer some basic facts regarding the cordyceps fungus
  • Talk about the different types of cordyceps mushroom
  • Let you know whether cordyceps supplements are vegan
  • Discuss how medicinal mushrooms such as cordyceps can support wellness
  • Talk about some of the active compounds found in cordyceps mushrooms
  • Offer insight regarding cordyceps health benefits
  • Share guidance on how to consume cordyceps

What is cordyceps?

Cordyceps is a parasitic fungus, a mushroom, an adaptogen and a herb, and it’s been used in Eastern medicine for generations. It’s quite rare, and it’s found at high altitudes in the Himalayan plateau. 

The cordyceps mushroom is an entomopathogenic fungus. This type of fungus acts as a parasite on insects, disabling and ultimately killing them. It often grows on caterpillars; as a result, cordyceps is sometimes called caterpillar fungus. 

When the cordyceps fungus attacks its host, it replaces the insect’s tissue. It also grows long stems that extend outside the insect’s body. The physical structure of the fungus itself is also referred to as the fruiting body. 

People seeking to explore the ways in which the cordyceps mushroom benefits health often choose to take a supplement made with this fungus. So, how is a cordyceps supplement created?

If it’s cultivated in the wild, cordyceps is harvested by hand-collecting the fungus and its insect host. The remains are dried and used in tonics and supplements; these products allow you to enjoy the many ways in which cordyceps benefits wellness. But there are other methods of cultivating this medicinal mushroom; the cordyceps fungus can also be grown in a lab. 

The cordyceps mushroom has long been a staple in ancient Chinese medical practices. With this fact in mind, what is cordyceps used for in traditional Chinese medicine?

In Asian medical traditions, the cordyceps fungus is used to treat conditions such as acute illness, fatigue, weak sex drive, poor kidney function and kidney disease. It’s also used to strengthen the immune system. 

Types of cordyceps fungus 

The cordyceps fungus comes in many different strains. It’s one of the largest subgroups of entomopathogenic fungi. There are more than 500 species of cordyceps mushroom in existence. 

Here are some examples of different cordyceps strains:

  • Ophiocordyceps sinensis (also known as Cordyceps sinensis)
  • Cordyceps sobolifera
  • Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (also known as zombie fungus)
  • Cordyceps ciccodicola
  • Ophiocordyceps aurantia
  • Cordyceps liangshanesis
  • Ophiocordyceps gracilis
  • Cordyceps militaris
  • Ophiocordyceps tiputini
  • Cordyceps ophioglossoides

Cordyceps benefits well-being, and it’s been prized over the years for its ability to improve certain health conditions. Among the wide range of cordyceps mushrooms available, some species have been grown specifically for their therapeutic value.

Which of these strains provide the best health benefits? Two of the most effective and highly valued types of this medicinal mushroom are Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris

Are cordyceps supplements vegan?

Cordyceps benefits your health, but is this supplement acceptable for those who follow a vegan lifestyle? What is cordyceps’ role in the health journey of a vegan? Let’s take a look. 

In nature, the cordyceps fungus grows on insects. The illustration above shows cordyceps growing on a caterpillar.

When this medical mushroom is harvested in the wild, the end result often includes both the fungus and the insect that hosted it. For a supplement to be vegan, it must be free of animal products, and insects are animals. As a result, supplements that are made with wild cordyceps typically aren’t vegan-friendly. 

However, there are other ways of cultivating the cordyceps fungus; it doesn’t need to be harvested in the wild. These approaches don’t involve insect hosts. For example, the cordyceps fungus can be grown on a vegan substrate involving rice and other nutrients. A supplement made with cultivated cordyceps that’s been grown and harvested in this manner is considered vegan. 

If you’re looking for a cordyceps supplement that’s vegan-friendly, be sure to check the product label or product website before making a purchase. Typically, these sources will offer some indication as to how the cordyceps was cultivated. In many cases, if the cordyceps supplement is vegan-friendly, this will be clearly noted on the packaging. 

The role of cordyceps and other medicinal mushrooms

Cordyceps benefits your health thanks to strengths and qualities it possesses as a medicinal mushroom. 

Medicinal mushrooms are also known as functional mushrooms. For centuries, these mushrooms have been cherished and celebrated for the role they play in supporting good health. 

In Asian countries, medicinal mushrooms have long been used as a remedy for common infections. More recently, these mushrooms have been tapped in that part of the world as a treatment for cancer. 

The National Cancer Institute reports that medicinal mushrooms have been approved adjuncts to standard cancer treatments in Japan and China for over 30 years. They’ve been used as single agents in cancer therapy. These functional mushrooms have also been used to support other cancer protocols, such as chemotherapy.

Here are some examples of medicinal mushrooms that are commonly used around the world:

  • Reishi mushroom
  • Cordyceps mushroom
  • Turkey tail mushroom
  • Lion’s mane mushroom
  • Chaga mushroom
  • Shiitake mushroom
  • Maitake mushroom

Bioactive compounds found in cordyceps mushrooms

As far as health-promoting compounds are concerned, what is cordyceps capable of providing?

Cordyceps mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds. Bioactive compounds are molecules present in foods; these molecules have the potential to protect against conditions such as inflammation, chronic diseases and various metabolic disorders. As a key source of bioactive compounds, cordyceps benefits wellness. 

You’ll find these active compounds in the cordyceps fungus:

  • Cordycepin
  • Exopolysaccharides
  • Polysaccharides
  • Cordycepic acid
  • Adenosine
  • Terpenoids
  • Ampinol
  • Lectins
  • Proteoglycans

Of these, one bioactive compound stands apart from the pack: cordycepin. Cordycepin has been studied extensively for its anti-cancer properties. It also works aggressively to combat inflammation

There’s another active compound worth mentioning: The cordyceps mushroom contains polysaccharides. Polysaccharides have anti-tumor effects, and they can help protect against oxidative stress.  

Cordyceps benefits

So, what is cordyceps capable of doing when it comes to wellness?

Here are some ways in which the cordyceps mushroom benefits your health:

Cordyceps benefit #1: Helps slow the aging process

A key cordyceps health benefit concerns aging. 

Antioxidants can help slow down the aging process. These molecules battle cell damage by neutralizing free radicals. Excessive free radicals can cause disease and accelerate aging. 

The cordyceps mushroom is loaded with antioxidants. Because of this quality, cordyceps benefits a general slowdown of the aging process. 

2011 study looked at the effect cordyceps has on mice when it comes to lifespan and age-related gene expression. Mice that took a cordyceps extract lived longer than mice that didn’t. The study also showed that cordyceps reversed many age-related changes in gene expression. 

Cordyceps benefit #2: Boosts athletic performance

Endurance helps if you want to excel in athletics. As an energizing adaptogen, cordyceps benefits athletic performance. 

What is cordyceps doing to make this outcome possible? 

This fungus increases the body’s production of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This molecule plays a crucial role in delivering energy to your body’s muscles. Increased levels of adenosine triphosphate assist with oxygen delivery and can help reduce fatigue and boost stamina. 

2006 study looked at the effect of a cultured cordyceps supplement on exercise performance. The research showed that cordyceps reduced fatigue and improved energy during periods of prolonged exercise. 

And 2004 research studied the effect of a synthetic strain of Cordyceps sinensis called Cordyceps CS-4. Participants who were given CS-4 showed improvements in oxygen uptake and aerobic capacity. 

Cordyceps benefit #3: Helps treat type 2 diabetes

Diabetes is a condition in which the body stores too much glucose in the blood. Over time, this condition can cause serious health problems. 

Cordyceps benefits diabetes treatment by helping to control glucose levels in the blood. In studies involving diabetic rats, a cordyceps mushroom extract helped reduce blood sugar levels. This suggests that the cordyceps fungus has value as a treatment for diabetes. 

Cordyceps benefit #4: Helps fight cancer

Cancer is a chronic disease that’s very deadly and all too prevalent. Research shows that the cordyceps mushroom benefits cancer treatment by inhibiting the growth of certain types of cancer cells. 

In test-tube studies, cordyceps slowed the growth of these types of cancer:

Additionally, cordyceps can help diminish the negative side effects that come with certain types of cancer therapy.

Cordyceps benefit #5: Protects heart health

The cordyceps fungus can help treat certain heart conditions, and it can help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels. By doing all this, cordyceps benefits heart health and protects against heart disease. 

In a 2014 animal study, the cordyceps mushroom helped protect against heart injuries that are common in those with chronic kidney disease.  And research shows that this functional mushroom plays a role in lowering harmful LDL cholesterol. 

How to consume cordyceps supplements

Cordyceps supplements come in a few different forms. Here are some options:

  • Powdered cordyceps
  • Cordyceps tablets
  • Capsules made with cordyceps powder
  • Cordyceps tincture

Wild-crafted cordyceps can be prohibitively expensive. For this reason, many of the cordyceps supplements on the market contain a synthetically grown version known as Cordyceps CS-4. 

How much of this dietary supplement should you take? In research involving humans, the typical cordyceps dosage ranges from 1,000-3,000 mg per day.  

Next steps

What is cordyceps capable of doing for your health protocol? To find out if the cordyceps mushroom benefits your wellness journey, all you need to do is give it a try. It’s available online and at certain health food stores. 

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