Benefits of Cordyceps mushrooms

by Hannah de Gruchy December 11, 2022

Benefits of Cordyceps mushrooms

Not many medicinal mushrooms visibly resemble the mushrooms we commonly see in supermarkets and on our plates, but Cordyceps mushrooms are perhaps the most unusual medicinal mushroom in appearance.

This is because the Cordyceps mushroom is a type of parasitic fungus that grows on the larvae of a type of caterpillar native to the highest mountainous regions of China. Once the larvae have deceased, they, along with the Cordyceps are dried, powdered and turned into supplements. This process is time-consuming and expensive, so some Cordyceps supplements are manufactured using lab-grown Cordyceps to make harvesting easier.

Cordyceps mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicine system. However, in the West, many people are only now choosing to take Cordyceps supplements due to their nutritional benefits. 

Cordyceps mushrooms: fast facts

  • Cordyceps mushrooms are technically parasitic fungi and have a distinct appearance, quite unlike most common edible mushrooms.
  • They’re native to the mountainous regions of China and have been used medicinally for generations.
  • There are over 400 different types of Cordyceps mushrooms, and the main two are Cordyceps Militaris and Cordyceps Sinensis.
  • Cordyceps mushrooms have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and are available as a concentrated nutritional supplement.
  • Research has shown that Cordyceps supplements have various health benefits, including improving athletic performance, reducing inflammation, and protecting the heart. 

Cordyceps Militaris vs Sinensis – what’s the difference?

Whilst there are as many as 400 different types of Cordyceps mushroom, there are two main types - Cordyceps Militaris and Cordyceps Sinensis. They’ve both been the subject of research in recent years due to their potential health benefits.

It’s thought that Cordyceps Militaris contains high concentrations of a compound called Cordycepin, whilst Cordyceps Sinensis contains little to none. Cordycepin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This suggests that Cordyceps Militaris may have stronger antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.  

Benefits of Cordyceps mushrooms

Traditionally, Cordyceps was, and still is, consumed to help boost sex drive and sexual performance. Recent research on rats has begun to prove this theory but further human research is needed.

Research has also highlighted more potential health benefits to taking Cordyceps supplements, due for the most part to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of these mushrooms. Athletes, in particular, may benefit from taking Cordyceps supplements.

1. Helps to improve athletic performance

Mature men running

VO2 max is a measure of the maximum intake of oxygen during exercise, the higher the VO2 max, the better the athletic performance. Athletes and anyone taking performance training seriously will work hard to improve their VO2 max.

Various scientific studies have found that Cordyceps supplements can help to improve VO2 max by increasing the body’s ability to produce a compound called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP helps to transfer energy to the muscles, but it becomes depleted during exercise, meaning that the body becomes fatigued and eventually has to stop.

If the body can increase ATP production, then muscle energy and oxygen usage, or VO2 max, can also increase, leading to better overall athletic performance, so Cordyceps is potentially a natural performance enhancer.

2. May fight inflammation

Inflammation is part of the body’s normal immune response but if inflammation becomes chronic (due to various reasons such as stress, illness, smoking and a poor diet) it can lead to chronic inflammatory diseases including asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Proteins called pro-inflammatory cytokines promote inflammation. However, research has found that Cordyceps can suppress these proteins, thereby helping to reduce inflammation. 

3. Protects the heart

High levels of fat in the blood, including triglycerides and bad cholesterol, can lead to a condition called hyperlipidaemia, which in turn can lead to heart disease. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease are all also linked to chronic inflammation.

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of Cordyceps have led researchers to discover that Cordyceps could also help to protect against hyperlipidaemia.

4. May help in the management of type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is another health condition linked to chronic inflammation caused by the body no longer responding to or producing enough insulin. This results in high blood sugar levels that can cause damage to the cardiovascular system and cells.

Research has found that Cordyceps can mimic the function of insulin, keeping blood sugar levels down and managing type 2 diabetes. Further research suggests that Cordyceps can also help to protect against kidney disease, which can be a common and serious complication of type 2 diabetes.

Are there any side effects to Cordyceps mushrooms? 

Cordyceps mushrooms have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine and are considered generally safe. There are no known severe side effects to taking Cordyceps supplements, but some people experience unpleasant side effects including an upset stomach, diarrhoea, nausea and a dry mouth.

If you experience any of these side effects, you could try taking Cordyceps supplements every other day or reducing your daily intake.

Cordyceps mushroom supplements may interact with blood thinning medications and medications that manage diabetes. If you’re taking either of these, speak to your GP, pharmacist, or specialist before taking Cordyceps supplements.

How to take Cordyceps supplements

Organic Cordyceps mushroom capsules

Because Cordyceps grow on insect larvae, these mushrooms are both difficult and expensive to harvest and unsuitable for vegans and vegetarians. For these reasons, many Cordyceps supplements are made using synthetic ingredients.

Organic Cordyceps mushroom capsules from Mushrooms 4 Life are different. They’re made by creating a growth medium that mimics the host caterpillar larvae's natural environment, meaning they’re suitable for vegans and anyone wishing to avoid animal products.

Free from all artificial fillers, binders, and preservatives, they’re also free from soy, gluten, dairy and GMOs. They’re created using both the full-spectrum biomass and the hot water fruiting body extract of Cordyceps Militaris to ensure maximum nutritional benefit.

Take two capsules, one to three times a day for at least three months as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle to see if you notice any changes in your well-being.

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Hannah de Gruchy
Hannah de Gruchy


Health and wellness author and biologist specialised in sustainability, nutrition and eco-living.

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