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Plants have been used in medicine for thousands of years and, to this day, compounds with plant origins remain to be an important source of compounds for modern pharmaceuticals.
Mushrooms, in particular, possess many healing properties and have been used in traditional and folk medicine since before recorded history. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the therapeutic properties of cordyceps mushrooms to see if a cordyceps supplement could benefit you.
- What are cordyceps?
- Cordyceps mushrooms benefits
- Cordyceps side effects
- Best Cordyceps supplement
Cordyceps mushrooms: A beginner’s guide
In traditional Chinese medicine, cordyceps mushrooms are used to combat fatigue, sickness, kidney disease, and a low sex drive. Although much of the research into this fungus so far has been carried out in the lab and on animals, the results do look promising.
What are Cordyceps?
Also known as the caterpillar fungus, cordyceps is a type of mushroom that is usually brown or orange-brown in color and has a long, finger-like body. There are over 400 different species of cordyceps, the vast majority of which are native to Asia, found in countries such as China, Korea, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The most popular medicinal species are Cordyceps sinensis, or Ophiocordyceps sinensis, and cordyceps militaris (more on the differences between the two below).
Cordyceps mushrooms contain a bio-metabolite called cordycepin, which has been shown to possess powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. More often than not, they’re touted as natural energy boosters in alternative medicine.
Some of the cordyceps mushroom benefits may include:
Boost athletic performance
Cordyceps is especially well known for its stimulating properties, enhancing both energy and libido. It’s thought that taking cordyceps can boost your overall athletic performance by improving the way your body uses oxygen.
Following compelling preclinical evidence, there have been two human clinical studies so far.
One study, published in 2010, monitored the metabolic and ventilatory thresholds of healthy subjects aged between 50 and 75 years after taking cordyceps sinensis for a period of 12 weeks. They showed improvements of 10.5% and 8.5% respectively against the placebo group.
Another study, published in 2016, showed that the cordyceps militaris mushroom improved the subject’s tolerance to high-intensity exercise after taking supplements for between one and three weeks.
Cordyceps and diabetes
Cordyceps has also long been used in China for people with diabetes, but actual scientific research in this area is lacking. One 2012 study on diabetic mice showed that administration of cordyceps supplements for four weeks decreased weight and improved cholesterol.
The supplements weren’t shown to influence blood sugar levels or improve insulin resistance, but the researchers noted that the improvement in weight could be significant in helping to control diabetes. Further to this, improvements in cholesterol are often associated with increased insulin sensitivity.
High blood pressure and asthma
One of the main compounds in cordyceps, cordycepin, is similar in molecular structure to adenosine and, like adenosine, cordycepin has been shown to relax blood vessels, thereby improving circulation and lowering blood pressure.
These anti-inflammatory properties also appear to benefit the respiratory tract, as shown in a 2017 study from China. By relaxing airway constriction, cordyceps sinensis supplements improved lung function and other asthma symptoms in a human clinical study involving 120 patients.
In China they also use Chaga mushrooms for strengthening the immune system.
Cordyceps side effects
Potential side effects of cordyceps have also been recorded and it is thought that cordyceps is possibly safe when taken in 3-6mg doses orally for a period of up to one year.
Mild adverse side effects include diarrhea, constipation, and stomach discomfort.
Sourcing the best Cordyceps supplement
In order to find the best cordyceps supplements on the market, there are a couple of things you need to look out for to ensure you know what you’re paying for, as not all mushroom supplements are created equally.
Firstly, if you want the most potent product, then make sure that the capsules or extract you buy actually contain cordyceps mushrooms and not cordyceps mycelium. It may say “mushrooms” on the front of the bottle, but check the small print on the back of the label too.
Cordyceps mycelium is less potent than the mushroom itself, so this should be reflected in the price.
Secondly, you should identify whether the product is made from mushroom powder or extract. Authentic cordyceps mushroom powder is great, and vastly superior to mycelium or grain, but a concentrated mushroom extract is around eight times more potent, so be prepared to pay more for extract products.
You should also make sure your product contains less than 5% starch. Mushrooms don’t have a very high starch content and it is often used as a filler in supplements. If the starch amount isn’t listed, then we would avoid it as it could contain as much as 70% fillers.
A good company will be completely transparent about the products they’re selling. If you’re not sure about what’s in it or the exact ingredients are unclear, then you should avoid buying the product. If the product hasn’t been tested by a third party for purity and potency, then you should also look elsewhere.
Finally, you need to understand the difference between cordyceps sinensis and cordyceps militaris.
Cordyceps Sinensis vs Militaris
Cordyceps sinensis contain high levels of adenosine, whereas the cordyceps militaris mushroom primarily contains cordycepin, which is a similar (but not the same) compound.
Most cordyceps supplements these days are made from cordyceps militaris as it is easier to grow for commercial purposes. It is different enough from cordyceps sinensis to warrant its own Latin name, but still contains many of the same biological characteristics and healing properties.
There have been some studies that show that the militaris species actually contains higher levels of cordycepin and adenosine, but many people believe that commercially-grown cordyceps militaris, having been produced in the lab under sterile conditions, may lack some of the benefits offered by rare, wild-grown cordyceps sinensis.
As you can imagine, authentic, Himalayan-grown cordyceps sinensis supplement will probably cost you a lot more than a product containing the more easily-grown cordyceps militaris mushroom. In fact, cordyceps sinensis mushrooms are so highly valued in China that one kilo of these rare mushrooms often retails in excess of $20,000.
When buying the more affordable cordyceps militaris mushroom caps, you should do a bit of research into how it has been grown to ensure it’s safe.
The dangers of commercial cultivation
Many companies producing the cordyceps militaris fungus aim to produce high volumes as quickly and cheaply as possible. Toxic solvents are sometimes used in the cultivation process and the growing substrates (straw, wood chips, sawdust, or compost) may also contain pesticides that can accumulate in the final product.
Mushrooms act like sponges when it comes to absorbing anything and everything around them. Therefore, low-quality production methods can lead to the presence of heavy metals and there have already been two recorded cases of lead poisoning from taking cordyceps supplements.
Always make sure you know how and where the mushrooms in your chosen supplement were grown and as mentioned previously, make sure that the final product is tested for purity and potency. Contact us at Green Unicorn Farms today for more information.