By Jill Levy
Long considered to be “functional mushrooms,” cordyceps have been a staple in holistic health traditions for centuries due to being revered for their health-promoting properties.
How do cordyceps affect humans? In recent years, research on cordyceps mushroom has turned up impressive findings, reporting that this superstar mushroom can generally help to support healthy gut microbiota, immune system function and defenses, healthy energy levels, and much more.
Best of all, today there’s no need to go mushroom foraging to take advantage of cordyceps benefits. Now widely available in powder, capsule and tablet form, cordyceps supplements are a convenient way to reap the many rewards of this superfood.
Ready to learn more? Keep reading to find out how cordyceps mushroom can impact your health and why you may want to consider adding this fungi to your daily routine.
What Are Cordyceps?
Cordyceps are a genus of Ascomycete fungi. There are an estimated 400 species within the cordyceps genus, with some of the most notable species being Cordyceps sinensis, Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps ophioglossoides.
Cordyceps fungus are one of hundreds of types of parasitic fungi that chiefly infect insects, producing “fruiting bodies” that we would consider to be mushrooms (these are the above-ground part that we can see in the wild). Cordyceps are sometimes called the caterpillar fungi because they commonly grow on a type of caterpillar and then wind up eating their own hosts.
The base of the mushroom forms from the insect’s larva and is dark brown to black in color, attaching itself to the organism and growing about six inches long. Once it fully matures, cordyceps actually consume more than 90 percent of the insect. They then swell up and enlarge to become about 300–500 milligrams in weight (about 5 times as much as an average apple).
Cordyceps and other beneficial plants have long been used in Chinese, Christian and Hindu religious ceremonies and are said to be linked to ”longevity and immortality.” In the Ayurvedic tradition, for example, these mushrooms are thought to be beneficial for enhancing “vigor and vitality.”
The first people to discover the many benefits of cordyceps initially observed animals eating the wild fungus and growing strong in the process. Farmers and herders began to use the fungus in powder form to make tonics and teas.
Some of the first uses for these tonics were increasing milk production and boosting reproductive capacity of livestock. Later on, people began drying cordyceps in sunlight to preserve their potent nutritional compounds.
What are the benefits of taking Cordyceps? Some research suggests that consuming cordyceps benefits healthy immune system function and can generally help optimize the health of the cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and reproductive systems.
Today it’s believed that the many general health benefits of cordyceps stem from their ability to positively support the immune system, including by supporting a healthy response to oxidative stress and stimulating production of normal healthy cells.
Additionally, it’s thought that cordyceps can act as mild stimulants or “adaptogen herbs,” supporting a healthy response to stress and reducing fatigue while also naturally supporting healthy energy levels.
For cordyceps overall, general benefits can include:
- Promoting healthy immune system function
- Helping to maintain healthy gut microflora
- Supporting healthy digestive function and promoting healthy elimination
- Supporting healthy energy levels
- Offering support for normal, healthy male fertility
These benefits are due to these functional fungi containing compounds like polysaccharides, beta glucans, glycoproteins and triterpenes, which are believed to support immune system health, gut health and beyond.
Cordyceps are also jam-packed with antioxidants, such superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, that can help to fight free radicals and support healthy cognitive function.
Some of the compounds that have been identified in the cordyceps nutrition profile include:
- Cordycepic acid
- Ergosterol and ergosteryl esters
- Acid deoxyribonuclease
- Superoxide dismutase
- Dipicolinic acid
Whether you’re an athlete who is looking to support your physical performance, or simply an adult who wants to support a healthy immune system, cordyceps has benefits to offer you.
These mushrooms are loved by athletes because they are considered to be energizing adaptogens, similar to other superfood herbs such as maca or cacao. Cordyceps are often generally used to help fight fatigue and to maintain healthy muscle function and joint comfort.
These unique mushrooms are thought to generally support the body’s production of ATP, one of the primary sources of energy utilized during exercise, and can help send energy to muscles following physical activity to support the recovery process.
Generally speaking, cordyceps also seem capable of helping the body utilize oxygen more efficiently and improving blood flow, which translates to support for healthy sexual function and healthy cardiovascular function.
Do cordyceps increase testosterone? While this is not what they are indicated for, some believe they may be capable of helping to support normal healthy male fertility.
How to Take Cordycep Supplements:
Cordyceps supplements are mostly found in capsule, powder and tablet form. Cordyceps extract and powder can be added to beverages like tea, coffee, smoothies and shakes. They also make good additions to soups and stews, just like how they were traditionally used in China for hundreds of years.
Cordyceps serving sizes can vary, but a general recommendation is to consume between 1,000–3,000 milligrams per day.
However, you should always read and follow the label directions and speak with your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including taking dietary supplements.
Products Featuring Cordyceps
If you’re looking for overall immune system and gut health support, then look no further than Ancient Herbals Multi Mushroom Immune Support formula — which features a powerful combination of functional mushroom species including Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Maitake and Shiitake.
When taken together, these fermented mushrooms offer widespread benefits, including having antioxidant properties and generalized healthy immune system support, especially when paired with added gut-boosting support from probiotics. Ancient Nutrition’s products all are high in quality and adhere to current good manufacturing practices (cGMP).
Looking for other ways to benefit your health? Try these supplements with cordyceps and made by Ancient Nutrition:
- Men’s Fermented Multi — Features a broad range of fermented whole food nutrients for total body support, including support for healthy bones and joints, healthy energy levels and restful sleep, and cognitive and neurological health.
- Ancient Multi 40+ Once Daily — Formulated specifically for men in their 40s and beyond, this formula provides 100% or more Daily Value (DV) of 12 essential vitamins and minerals.
- Ancient Multi Men’s 40+ — Taken in 3 divided capsules per day, this formula features multi-kingdom ingredients inspired by TCM (Traditional Chinese Method) and 12 essential nutrients in a highly bioavailable form.
- Ancient Multi Men’s — Formulated specifically for men under 40, this multi provides 100% or more Daily Value (DV) of 13 essential vitamins and minerals plus multi-kingdom ingredients inspired by TCM for cardiovascular health and healthy homocysteine levels, healthy energy levels and more.
- Plant Protein+ Chocolate — This vegan protein powder is made with 7 superseeds, plus ancient botanicals, to help promote a healthy body composition and fat metabolism, to reduce stress-induced food cravings, and to increase muscle recovery and performance when used before or after workouts. Prefer another flavor? try Plant Protein+ Vanilla in recipes including smoothies, oatmeal, and baked goods.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.