The Fungus Formerly Known As…

Tina Beaudoin, ND

In 2007, Cordyceps sinensis was reclassified and dubbed Ophiocordyceps sinensis when molecular analysis revealed the need to create a new family, Ophiocordycipitaceae.

The diverse health benefits of this unique sac fungus are impressive. For thousands of years in Asia, traditional healers have used cordyceps for a variety of conditions, including energy, appetite, stamina, libido, endurance and sleeping disturbances as well as general tonic.1

In terms of energy and stamina, we are often looking for options to help reduce fatigue while we work with patients to identify and address the underlying factors contributing to their symptoms. Cordyceps has been shown to improve exercise performance (metabolic and ventilatory thresholds) in healthy elderly subjects after just 12 weeks.2 One possible mechanism of action could be explained in animal models that showed cordyceps extract treatment leads to an increase in the ATP/inorganic phosphate ratio (increased energy) in the liver after just three weeks.3

There are numerous studies that illustrate the benefits of cordyceps on our immune system. The anticancer and antimetastatic activity of cordyceps is well documented, specifically in breast cancer, prostate and liver cancer.4, 5,6 One study postulated that the anticancer action might be due to one of the constituents, possibly cordycepin, by a promotion of an adenosine deaminase inhibitor. The same study also found antimetastatic properties “through inhibiting platelet aggregation induced by cancer cells and suppressing the invasiveness of cancer cells via inhibiting the activity of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 and MMP-9 and accelerating the secretion of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase (TIMP)-1 and TIMP-2 from cancer cells.”7 In a mouse study, cordyceps administration led to decreased bacterial growth and dissemination of group A streptococcal (GAS) infection, increased macrophage phagocytosis and increased survival rates.8

While you might want to consider using cordyceps as a singular agent for those patients struggling with fatigue and low immune function, there are thousands of studies citing the efficacy of reishi, turkeytail, maitake and many others medicinal mushrooms. For this reason, mushrooms are often used in combination formulas to add multiple potential mechanisms of action to give the patient the synergistic benefits of many “fun guys.”

Nick’s comment:

Although not mentioned in the article cordyceps is effective in lowering cholesterol…

Clinical studies published in Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (involving 273 patients (in 9 hospitals) with high cholesterol level) show that Cordyceps sinensis helps to lower total cholesterol by 10–21% and triglycerides by 9–26%. At the same time, it helps to increase HDL cholesterol (‘good’ cholesterol) by 27–30%. (Zhu, JS, Halpern, GM, Jones, K. The scientific rediscovery of an ancient Chinese herbal medicine: Cordyceps sinensis. Part I. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1998, 4(3), 289–303.)

An increase in the level of lipids, especially cholesterol, increases the chance of getting atherosclerosis.

In the double-blind placebo-controlled study involving 245 patients published by Halpern (1999), after 2 months of administration of Cordyceps at a dose of 1g/day, total cholesterol dropped by an average of 17.5% among 61% of patients (in the control group, the reduction was only 1.17% among 28.8% of patients) and ‘useful’ HDL cholesterol increased by 27.19% for 76.2% of patients. (Halpern, G.M. 1999. Cordyceps: China’s healing mushroom. New York: Avery Publishing Group.)