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Health Benefits of Cordyceps
Cordyceps is a type of fungus that grows on the larva of caterpillars. It has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to improve fatigue, cough, sexual desire, kidney function, and weakness after a severe illness.1
Today, dietary supplements and other products containing lab-made cordyceps are advertised to help with everything from athletic performance and blood sugar control to immunity. However, research is limited to animal models, test tubes, and small clinical trials.
Here’s everything you need to know about cordyceps, including its potential benefits, risks, and healthy ways to incorporate it into your diet.
Cordyceps May Improve Athletic Performance
Cordyceps supplements are popular among athletes. The fungus is believed to benefit athletic performance by improving blood flow, increasing oxygen utilization, and functioning as an antioxidant.2
One study examined the effects of a mushroom blend containing Cordyceps militaris on high-intensity exercise after one and three weeks.2
Researchers found that one week of supplementation did not significantly improve exercise performance compared to a placebo. However, three weeks of daily supplementation led to significant improvements in maximal oxygen intake (VO2 max), suggesting that chronic supplementation of cordyceps may increase training intensity and delay fatigue.2
However, research supporting its effectiveness remains mixed. Other studies have shown no benefit in well-trained athletes, even after long periods of supplementation.
Cordyceps seems to be most beneficial for improving aerobic performance in well-trained athletes when combined with other plant extracts like Rhodiola crenulata.2
May Benefit Heart Health
Cordyceps may benefit heart health by improving blood lipid (fat) levels and treating arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
High levels of fats in the blood, also known as hyperlipidemia, is a key risk factor for heart disease.3
A 2020 review of studies found that cordycepin, the main bioactive compound in cordyceps, can reduce the accumulation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides in animals.4
Another 2021 study found that CM1, a polysaccharide from Cordyceps militaris, was effective at lowing blood lipid levels in hamsters.5
Polysaccharides are major water-soluble components in the fungus that are thought to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
However, these studies should be interpreted with caution, as the results of animal research may not be relevant to human health.
A 2022 review of nineteen trials that included 1,805 patients found cordyceps effective at adjusting the heart rate to a normal level in patients with arrhythmia.6
Note that all of the trials in the review had a small sample size and were conducted in China, which raises concern for geographical bias.
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