Last modified on November 7th, 2023
Cordyceps mushroom benefits can be powerful, which is true of many other medicinal mushrooms.
While cordyceps and other mushrooms have been used for centuries for their healing powers, we’re just starting to notice these benefits in the modern world.
What Are Cordyceps Mushrooms?
Cordyceps mushrooms are parasitic fungi that grow on the larvae of insects, which can sound off-putting but is fascinating.
When the fungi attack a host, they replace the tissue.
They then sprout long, thin stems that grow outside the host’s body.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the remains have long been hand-collected and dried for sicknesses, fatigue, kidney disease, and low sex drive.
Traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine also looked to cordyceps mushrooms to help with improving longevity.
Tibetan herders working at high altitudes often took the fungi to help them with the effects of low oxygen.
In the West, the world first heard about the powerful effects of cordyceps mushrooms when Chinese female athletes attributed their record-breaking performance to their use of cordyceps supplements.
There are hundreds of discovered species of cordyceps, but two are the most consequential in health research—cordyceps Sinensis and cordyceps militaris.
Cordyceps are believed to support endurance, stamina, and vitality largely because they have naturally occurring compounds that make oxygen more available in the blood.
Some people use them as pre-or post-workout fuel or to power them through busy days.
If you’re an athlete and want a clean energy source, you might find that cordyceps give you that.
They’re also recognized for their benefits on mood and cognitive health.
The mushrooms contain amino acids, vitamins, minerals, cordycepin, and other beneficial bioactive compounds.
Cordyceps Sinesis vs. Cordyceps Militaris Extract
We should point out that while it’s grouped with medicinal mushrooms if we’re going to be very technical about things, it’s a fungus.
Cordyceps species are found around the world, on every continent except Antarctica.
Two species tend to get the most interest from a medicinal perspective.
There’s cordyceps sinesis, and there’s militaris.
Nutritionally, the two species of this fungus are almost identical.
They have essential amino acids, fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamins E and K, minerals, and trace elements.
They also have similar bioactive substances, including beta-glucans and enzymes.
The benefits are similar in that they can both support the health of the heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs, and both support healthy aging and the regulation of your sleep cycle.
Both have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating benefits.
The differences are primarily in the research that’s been done on both species so far.
For example, in animal studies, the cordyceps sinesis species has been found to reduce oxidative stress and improve exercise endurance.
In human studies, there is research on exercise performance and wellness in older people, and in sedentary adults, this species of cordyceps has been linked to energy metabolism.
The militaris species of the fungus has been researched for supporting high-intensity exercise in younger people and cell-mediated immunity.
The cordyceps sinesis species is rare and expensive in its wild form, but the cultivated form is easier to access and less expensive.
Overall, you could take either species of cordyceps and get similar benefits. Some supplements on the market combine both species into one product.
Cordyceps militaris is sometimes called the cultivated alternative, but both species can be similarly cultivated.
Cordyceps sinesis is the most studied species, with militaris coming in behind it.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Uses
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this mushroom is called Chinese caterpillar fungus.
One of the uses of TCM is treating chronic kidney disease.
In traditional Eastern medicine, along with helping kidney function, cordyceps is also used for heart health, and it’s long been used to improve energy, vitality, and stamina.
Why Are So Many People Taking Cordyceps?
Briefly, cordyceps benefits can include:
- Natural energy booster
- Can protect against depression
- May help reduce fatigue
- Can help stimulate the immune system
- Reduced upper respiratory tract infections
- Boosted libido
- Improve endurance exercise performance and exercise performance
- Increased aerobic capacity
- Slowed aging process
- May help reduce blood pressure
- It may help with chronic kidney disease and kidney disorders
- Could have potential benefits for coronary heart disease, according to what research suggests
- Potential cancer protection, especially lung, skin, and blood cancers
- Promote liver health
The following are some of the cordyceps mushroom benefits backed by various research and studies.
Cordyceps for Energy and Exercise Performance
This medicinal mushroom extract is believed to boost your production of adenosine triphosphate or ATP, which delivers energy to your muscles.
The result can be improved oxygen use, especially during exercise.
Several studies have examined cordyceps’ energy and exercise performance benefits in younger and older adults.
For example, in one study of healthy older adults, participants received either three grams of a synthetic cordyceps strain or a placebo.
By the end of the study, the VO2 max had increased by 7% in study participants taking the extract. VO2 max is a measure of fitness levels.
Slows Aging and Promotes Mental Clarity
One of the uses of cordyceps in Traditional Chinese Medicine is for reducing fatigue, boosting sex drive, and improving strength in the elderly.
Cordyceps mushroom benefits include anti-aging properties.
Studies have found cordyceps increase antioxidants in older mice, improving memory and sexual function.
In one study, mice given cordyceps lived several moths more than mice who took a placebo.
Researchers think some of the anti-aging and memory-improving benefits of this mushroom might stem from the fact that they’re high in antioxidants. Free radicals are damaging and are associated with aging and disease.
May Help Fight Cancer Cells
Researchers believe cordyceps has the potential to inhibit the growth of many types of cancer cells, including skin, colon, lung, and liver.
These properties have been demonstrated in test-tube studies.
In mice, cordyceps have had anti-tumor effects on lung cancer, melanoma, and lymphoma.
There’s also a potential benefit of the mushrooms in reversing the side effects of cancer therapy.
For example, some studies have shown that cordyceps helps raise the number of white blood cells someone has when receiving cancer therapy, which otherwise lowers white blood cells and impairs the immune system.
Regulates Blood Sugar Levels
A particular type of sugar in cordyceps may help with diabetes treatment.
It can potentially keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range by replicating the effects of insulin.
In other studies on diabetic mice, cordyceps helped reduce blood sugar levels.
There’s evidence these medicinal mushrooms might protect against kidney disease, a common diabetic complication.
Cordyceps for Heart Health Maintenance
Cordyceps are approved in China to treat arrhythmia, where the heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly. In a study of rats with kidney disease, cordyceps significantly reduced heart injuries.
Injuries from chronic kidney disease are believed to increase the risk of heart failure, so this is important.
The reason cordyceps mushroom benefits impact the heart may be because they contain adenosine, which is a natural compound with heart-protect effects.
Enhances Sexual Function
One of the traditional uses of this medicinal mushroom throughout history is to improve sexual function and performance.
In traditional medicine, cordyceps is known as an aphrodisiac.
There’s evidence that these can improve sexual desire and arousal.
In women, cordyceps may help with sexual function, improving libido and vaginal dryness.
One reason for the sexual benefits of this mushroom is the fact that its protein structure is similar to the luteinizing hormone.
This hormone is responsible for the stimulation of sperm production.
There’s also evidence that cordyceps can enhance corticosteroid production, further increasing libido.
If someone has high blood pressure, since cordyceps can potentially lower it, it can also benefit sexual function.
Another less direct way this medicinal mushroom can potentially help with sexual function is by treating depression.
Cordyceps can help with symptoms and has an anti-depressant effect. Depression is one of the primary causes of sexual dysfunction in men and women.
Combats Stress and Supports Mental Health
Cordyceps extract from wild cordyceps or cultivated fungi may boost cognitive performance.
In a study on mice, there were statistically significant benefits for learning and reduced memory impairment associated with cordyceps.
The mushroom may have neuroprotective properties in the hippocampal region, where dementia is found. Cordyceps contains tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin and an amino acid.
Tryptophan may help reduce insomnia symptoms.
In studies, cordyceps militaris, in particular, has been shown to boost learning and memory, possibly by preventing oxidative damage and protecting the nervous system.
Cordyceps is known for improving the production of sex and steroid hormones, which can also improve mental health and your sense of well-being.
Chronic kidney disease impacts millions of people annually and has a high fatality rate.
In a study from 2011, researchers found cordyceps can potentially prevent renal fibrosis by stopping inflammatory pathways that would otherwise destroy the normal function of the kidneys and create fibrous scar tissue.
Another study confirmed the 2011 research, finding that a sterol produced by cordyceps can shut down the pathway promoting the fibrous growth patterns that lead to kidney dysfunction and failure.
Cordyceps for Testosterone Level Support
Sometimes this mushroom is called Himalayan Viagra because of the effects it can have on testosterone levels.
In animal research, cordyceps stimulated Leydig cells, the main source of testosterone in males.
Some compounds have been extracted from the Cordyceps sinesis mycelium that appears in animal studies to stimulate testosterone secretion.
Both cordyceps militaris and sinesis may also increase testosterone levels by directly improving levels of luteinizing hormone.
In a 2020 study, cordyceps appeared in animals to increase DHT levels, which can also raise testosterone levels.
Promotes Restful Sleep
In animal studies, cordycepin, which is a compound from both cordyceps militaris and cordyceps sinesis, has been found to help with normalizing sleep-wake cycles and increasing nonrapid eye movement sleep.
Researchers have concluded that cordyceps could potentially help people who experience symptoms of sleep disturbance.
How to Take Cordyceps Supplements
There are some great cordyceps mushroom supplements available.
You can find them as a powder, tea, capsule, or tablet.
You can also find dried whole cordyceps, which make tinctures and extracts. If you take powdered cordyceps, you can blend them into smoothies and shakes.
Currently available studies and research show that the recommended cordyceps dosage is three to six grams daily.
If you have health concerns, you should talk to a healthcare provider before trying anything in supplement form, including this medicinal food.
What Are the Side Effects?
Cordyceps is possibly safe for most people when taking daily doses of three to six grams for up to a year.
If you take large doses of cordyceps, it may cause:
- Stomach discomfort
There isn’t enough reliable information to know if cordyceps are safe if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, talk to a healthcare provider before taking cordyceps because they could stimulate the immune system more.
If you’re preparing for surgery, cordyceps fungi can increase the risk of bleeding, so stop taking them a few weeks before your procedure.
There aren’t any major known interactions of cordyceps supplementation with other medications, except possibly medicines that slow blood clotting, which are anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs. Cordyceps might slow blood clotting, which could increase the risk of bruising and bleeding.
Also, since cordyceps can lower your blood pressure, if you’re on medication for that, you want to be careful that your blood pressure doesn’t drop too low.
Cordyceps vs. Reishi vs. Lion’s Mane
Two other popular medicinal mushrooms aside from cordyceps are reishi and lion’s mane.
The three are all considered functional mushrooms with many health benefits, but they can affect you in unique ways.
Reishi is also known by the name Ganoderma lucidum, and this is one of the most researched functional mushrooms in the world. Reishi, also known as the lingzhi mushroom, grows at the base of deciduous trees.
Reishi contains compounds called ganoderic acids. Ganoderic acids have liver protective effects and can help with detoxification. Reishi might also have anti-cancer effects.
In Chinese medicine, reishi is used to boost immunity to things ranging from the common cold to cancer because it increases the activity of white blood cells. Reishi might also improve mood and alleviate anxiety and depression.
Lion’s mane is like a natural nootropic. Lion’s mane mushroom is also known as Hieracium erinaceus. This functional mushroom, like cordyceps and reishi, has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
There are compounds in lion’s mane that can promote the creation of nerve growth factor or NGF. In that way, lion’s mane can improve cognitive function by regulating and renewing cells making up the nervous system.
In a Japanese study, supplementing with lion’s mane significantly improved cognition in older adults.
Lion’s mane can help with concentration, memory, and maybe even anxiety and depression.
Lion’s mane can also combat inflammation because it’s high in antioxidants, and some people use it to help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
How to Choose Cordyceps Supplements
There are many ways you can consume cordyceps, each of which has pros and cons.
When comparing cordyceps supplementation options, you first want to consider whether you prefer a powder or capsules. You also want to consider how high-quality the supplement is.
It’s best to look for supplements that contain cordyceps mycelium.
Mycelium is the vegetative body of fungi that then produce mushrooms.
When we picture a mushroom, we think about the above-ground part. The above-ground part is the fruiting body.
The part below ground is the root system that’s also known as the mycelium.
The mycelium is the most bioactive part of the mushroom, so we say that if you can find a supplement containing this part of the fungi, it’s beneficial.
These bioactive components create an underground network that then helps to feed the mushroom.
When you find a supplement containing mycelium, it’s known as a full-spectrum option, which can have more health benefits.
There is also a difference between cordyceps extract and powder. Extract tends to be the purest and most concentrated way to supplement.
The powder form of the supplement is better if you want to mix it into teas, smoothies, or other drinks, and you find it easier to use supplements that way.
You can also check whether your supplement is sourced from organic cordyceps fungi or wild.
Our picks for the best cordyceps supplement available include the following.
Host Defense Cordyceps Capsules
The Host Defense Brand is great for all things mushroom-related. Their cordyceps capsules are no exception. These capsules are easy to take, great energy boosters, and have excellent customer reviews.
Genius Mushrooms with Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane and Reishi
The Genius brand is excellent if your goal are supplements with nootropic and mental health benefits. This mushroom supplement combines cordyceps and lion’s mane, which are great for energy and cognitive health.
Om Mushroom Superfood
This mushroom powder supplement packs a major punch. The blend includes ten different functional mushrooms, as well as adaptogens. You get a lot of value for your money.
Host Defense Respiratory Extract
We like that this extract is a liquid, which is easy to take and well-absorbed. It has cordyceps, and other ingredients to support respiratory health including reishi and chaga.
The Gaia brand is known for its excellent quality control on all supplements. We also like that this is a 100% mushroom extract, without fillers.
Cordyceps Mushroom Benefits Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to some common questions about the uses and benefits of cordyceps mushrooms.
What does cordyceps mushroom do?
Cordyceps mushroom is used primarily to boost energy and exercise performance. It can also increase oxygen in the body, reduce fatigue, and help with stamina and sexual performance. Certain types of cordyceps may also benefit immunological disorders like cancer and hepatic, renal, and cardiovascular disease.
Is cordyceps good for health?
There is evidence that cordyceps is good for health, vitality, and longevity. Cordyceps has potential biological activities and pharmacological potential. Folk healers use it for asthma, diabetes, cough and cold, erectile dysfunction, cancer, and more.
Is cordyceps a medicinal mushroom?
Cordyceps is considered a medical mushroom. It has long been used in traditional medicine. Researchers are starting to learn more about the pharmacological benefits of cordyceps, which are similar to conventional medicines. These pharmacological and medicine-like benefits stem from the mushroom’s bioactive polysaccharides and metabolites.
Many natural products have been identified from the fruiting bodies and mycelium of cordyceps. The major chemical constituent is cordycepic acid, and the mushroom contains other vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
What does cordyceps do for the body?
The following are some of the things cordyceps might do for the body:
- May have anti-fatigue effects
- Increases ATP levels. ATP is a chemical that provides energy to our cells.
- Antiaging effects, perhaps because of improved antioxidative enzyme activity
- Improvements in brain function
- Better sexual function (it’s nicknamed Himalayan Viagra)
- Mimics insulin to decrease blood sugar levels
- May improve kidney function
- Could boost the immune system and help the body’s innate ability to combat new diseases
- High in B vitamins and vitamin K
When should cordyceps be taken?
Cordyceps can be taken in the morning or at night. Some people like to take it in the morning to boost their energy throughout the day and improve athletic performance. Since cordyceps can be like an adaptogen, helping balance your body, you might also be able to take it at night, and it can help with sleep. It can also be used as a natural pre-workout.
Does cordyceps raise blood pressure?
Cordyceps likely doesn’t raise blood pressure, which may have the opposite effect, helping to lower it. The cordycepin compound in the mushroom is similar to adenosine. As is true with adenosine, cordycepin may be able to relax blood vessels. When blood vessels are relaxed, it can improve circulation, which lowers blood pressure.
Cordyceps sinesis, cordyceps militaris, and other forms of cordyceps supplements have powerful health benefits that make them worth exploring.
Technically a fungus rather than a mushroom, natural cordyceps sinesis and other forms of this extract can improve exercise performance, boost energy levels, and potentially have anti-cancer benefits.
Other reasons people supplement with this fungus include cognitive and mental health, reducing blood pressure, boosting testosterone, and improving libido and sexual function. There’s evidence that cultured cordyceps mycelia taken as a supplement can help with kidney and liver conditions.
Cordyceps users often combine it with other functional medicinal mushrooms like reishi, lion’s mane, chaga, and turkey tail.
If you have questions or concerns, please speak to your healthcare provider.