Introduction to Cordyceps
Cordyceps are a category of mushrooms that have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. The mushrooms were discovered to be potentially useful when farmers noticed animals eating them and getting stronger. Since then, these mushrooms have been used as a true "superfood" in these cultures. They have been used to help heal heart disease, slow down cancer and increase endurance. The scientific studies on animals and humans have indicated that the potential for these mushrooms and their positive effects are incredible!
The term Cordyceps actually includes over 600 different species of mushrooms. That being said, there are 2 main mushrooms that are now mainly used medicinally. These include Cordyceps sinensis, and Cordyceps militaris. The two varieties have been evidenced to have similar health benefits in varying amounts.
History of Cordyceps
As mentioned earlier, these mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they have been used to help with treating over 20 different ailments. These range from heart disease to libido. In Sikkim, the folk healers have also noticed the positive effects of these mushrooms, and have used it for healing purposes for a number of different issues as well.
Benefits of Cordyceps:
Cordyceps for Athletic Performance
Cordyceps have been known to increase energy levels, specifically by helping increase the body's ability to create ATP. ATP is the energy currency of the body. Mice given Cordyceps are shown to have higher levels of ATP in their body, and did not fatigue as quickly as the mice not given Cordyceps.
Interestingly enough, the Chinese women's track team broke multiple world records in 1993, and their coach attributed this to the use of Cordyceps. After the games, they were investigated for use of illegal performance enhancers but it was discovered that the secret behind their success was use of cordyceps mushrooms. The reputation of cordyceps benefits for endurance boosting supplement was set in stone from then on.
In animal studies, it is clear that Cordyceps have a positive effect on their ability to perform better on physical tasks. For example, one study showed that mice that were given Cordyceps were able to swim longer without fatiguing. There are also some human studies which have shown that endurance and stamina improves after taking Cordyceps, especially in older adults. Several studies have shown that the VO2 max (a way of measuring endurance) increased significantly in adults in the test.
Cordyceps on Heart Health
Due to the antioxidant effects of Cordyceps, it is clear that these mushrooms can help protect the heart against damage. Studies have shown that in animals, Cordyceps were able to reduce damage done to the heart from disease. Also, evidence shows that Cordyceps are able to decrease LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in animals. This is important for heart health, because LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque formation, which can lead to heart disease. Cordyceps ability to decrease LDL cholesterol in animals is a promising avenue for future research to confirm in humans.
Cordyceps for Increased Immunity
Like other medicinal mushrooms, Cordyceps have chemicals called Beta-glucans which support the immune system. They also contain anti-inflammatory compounds which can help support the cardiovascular system, as well as many other systems in the body. Even further, there is growing evidence to suggest that Cordyceps can help block the growth of certain cancer cells in the body and increase lenght of telomeres in our cells!
Cordyceps for Sleep
A study has shown that Cordyceps increased the deep restful stage of sleep in rats. This is promising for yet another therapeutic effect of these mushrooms in humans. There is also an indirect way in which Cordyceps can improve sleep. Cordyceps have been shown to have improving effects on anxiety, because it has positive effects on stress levels. Cordyceps, and other medicinal mushrooms, are known as adaptogens. Adaptogens specifically improve stress tolerance and reduce fatigue. This in turn can help improve the quality of sleep, due to the stress levels being handled more effectively.
All in all, Cordyceps are yet another powerful medicinal mushroom that has been used for thousands of years. Just a few of the positive effects include an increased immunity, improved endurance, heart health and sleep. More research is being done continually to further confirm its positive effects on our health, however the current science is very promising. Also, due to its long use around the world, it is Cordyceps have proven themselves to be essentially risk free!
We are learning more and more every day about this and many other powerful mushrooms. Here are some sources to give context to the science!
Where Can I learn about other mushrooms that can be beneficial to my health?