Breast cancer affects millions of women worldwide. In their quest for non-invasive treatments, some women have turned to cordyceps mushrooms, an ancient Chinese herbal medicine.
Scientific research unveils the extraordinary anti-cancer potential of Cordyceps militaris: the mushrooms seem to inhibit breast cancer cell metastasis and growth, enhance the efficacy of conventional cancer treatments, and even alleviate chemotherapy-related side effects. A 2015 study showed that a cordyceps extract “significantly increased early apoptosis” in cancer cells.
Hop on our in-depth exploration of all the ways cordyceps can make the lives of breast cancer patients more bearable.
In case you’ve been living under a rock and never heard of cordyceps before, here’s our detailed analysis of the benefits of consuming cordyceps mushrooms every day.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer originates in mammary gland tissue when breast cells mutate and divide uncontrollably, resulting in a tumor.
What is Cell Apoptosis?
Cell division, or proliferation, is a natural process, but in breast cancer, cells lose their ability to regulate division; they are also less susceptible to apoptosis. Apoptosis is a natural process by which cells self-destruct when they are no longer needed. Up until apoptosis, clusters of protein pathways protect cells. In cancer, the genes in these protective pathways often change, effectively turning off apoptosis.
Like other malignancies, breast cancer can invade and grow in the tissue surrounding your breast and spread (metastasize) to other parts of your body, causing additional tumors to develop. They do that through the blood or lymphatic system.
What is the Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic system is an integral part of the immune system and consists of lymph nodes, ducts, and organs. They all work together to transport lymph fluid (which carries waste material, tissue by-products, and immune cells) throughout the body. If breast cancer cells reach the lymph nodes, they can travel through the entire lymphatic system and metastasize to other parts or organs.
What are the Signs of Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer can present with any or all of the following signs and symptoms.
- Breast lump. A noticeable mass or lump in the breast or armpit area could be a sign of breast cancer.
- Changes in the size or shape of the breast.
- Changes in the size, shape, or color of the nipple.
- Peeling, scaling, crusting, or flaking of the skin around the nipple.
- Changes in the skin over the breast, like dimples, puckers, or pulling in.
- Redness and swelling of the breast.
What are the Types of Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer typically forms in milk ducts or lobules (glands that produce milk). However, cancer can also develop in other parts of the breast, like in the cells of blood or lymph vessels or in the connective tissue (phyllodes), although rarely.
Breast cancer tumor development. Source:
There are several types of breast cancer:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma starts in the milk ducts and spreads by breaking through the duct walls. This type is the most common breast cancer type.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ. Also called Stage 0 breast cancer, this type of breast cancer is considered “precancerous,” as the cancer cells haven’t spread beyond the milk ducts. This makes ductal carcinoma in situ highly treatable, with a high likelihood of successful outcomes if detected early.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma. This type of breast cancer starts in the lobules and spreads to the surrounding breast tissue. It accounts for 10–15% of all breast cancers.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ. Another precancerous condition in which the lobules grow and divide abnormally.
- Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is the most difficult to treat. It’s called triple negative because it doesn’t show the three markers typically associated with other types of breast cancer, which makes diagnosis and treatment more challenging.
- Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). This rare and aggressive type of cancer is caused by obstructive cancer cells in their skin’s lymph vessels. It resembles an infection, with symptoms like redness and swelling without presence of a distinct lump or mass. IBC spreads rapidly to nearby lymph nodes and can be more challenging to diagnose and treat.
- Paget’s disease of the breast affects the skin of the nipple and areola. It’s characterized by the changes in the appearance of the nipple. Paget's disease of the breast typically indicates an underlying breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma in situ or invasive breast cancer.
What Causes Breast Cancer?
The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, but there are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing it. These factors are important for early detection and taking preventive measures in time.
- Age. Women of 50 and older have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- While women are more susceptible, there’s a very small percentage of men who can also develop breast cancer. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “approximately 2,600 men develop male breast cancer every year in the United States, making up less than 1% of all cases.”
- Genetics. Having a history of breast cancer in the family increases the risk.
- Smoking and tobacco have been generally linked to developing cancer, including breast cancer.
- Regular alcohol consumption.
- Radiation exposure.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Long-term use of HRT, particularly estrogen-progestin combinations, has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Hormones affect early menstruation or late menopause. Estrogen and progesterone that are involved in the menstrual cycle can stimulate the growth of breast cells and potentially increase the risk of breast cancer.
Understanding these risk factors can help individuals make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices, undergo screenings for early detection, and explore the most appropriate approaches to treating breast cancer.
How is Breast Cancer Treated?
Breast cancer is typically treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and hormone therapy.
Even though these conventional treatments have been shown to be efficient, they often have side effects that can be hard on patients. Because of their potent anti-cancer properties, cordyceps mushrooms have gotten a lot of attention.
Anti-Cancer Properties of Cordyceps
Cordyceps is known for its immune-modulating and adaptogenic properties. It has been used intraditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years as a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer aid.
Cordyceps mushrooms can help with the side effects of chemotherapy, like nausea and vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, and a weaker immune system, but they can also fight breast cancer head on, help decrease tumor growth and kill tumor cells, and boost the body’s natural defenses against cancer.
Let’s see what the main anticancer bioactive compounds of Cordyceps militaris are.
Anti-Cancer Effects of Adenosine
Adenosine is a type of nucleoside—a molecule that our bodies use to make DNA and RNA—and one of the most abundant bioactive compounds found in cordyceps. As a signaling molecule, adenosine is responsible for a wide range of bodily functions, such as sleep, blood pressure, and inflammation. It has also been shown to fight cancer by promoting apoptotic cell death.
A 2014 study found that adenosine from cordyceps mushrooms can cause apoptosis in liver cancer cell lines by damaging their energy-producing mitochondria.
Our study first observed that adenosine increases ROS production in tumor cells and identified the positive feedback loop for ROS-mediated mitochondrial membrane dysfunction which amplifies the death signals in the cells. Our findings indicated ROS production and mitochondrial dysfunction play a key role in adenosine-induced apoptosis of 7404 cells.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are signaling molecules and key mediators in inflammation. Inflammation is harmful even for tumor cells because ROS causes damage to their mitochondria. This damage leads to a malfunction in the mitochondria and triggers the apoptosis of cancer cells.
Because of its high levels of adenosine and other anti-inflammatory compounds that decrease the activity of ROS in healthy cells, cordyceps may successfully reduce inflammation.
Adenosine also causes cancer cell death in hepatocellular carcinoma. A 2010 study “suggest that adenosine induces HepG2 cell apoptosis by activating those [caspase-3, -8, and -9] as a result from tuning apoptosis-mediator gene transcription.”
Cordycepin Slows Cancer Progression
Cordycepin is a naturally occurring molecule in Cordyceps militaris and its second-greatest anti-cancer compound. It has been heavily investigated for its ability to induce apoptosis and prevent the spread of tumor cells.Cordycepin seems to inhibit all of the important processes that cancer needs to grow and spread: cell division, immunomodulation of tumor activity, and tumor growth. A 2019 study revealed that “cordycepin could attenuate cell proliferation and migration and may result in the impairment of the angiogenesis process and tumor growth.” This makes cordycepin a potent “potential adjuvant for cancer therapy.”
Jin, et. al. explained how cordycepin found in cordyceps mushrooms could prevent bladder cancer cells from migrating to and infecting healthy cells.
Cordycepin treatment, at a dose of 200 microM (IC(50)) during cell-cycle progression resulted in significant and dose-dependent growth inhibition… These results suggest that cordycepin could be an effective treatment for bladder cancer.
Polysaccharides Promote Cancer Cell Death
Meet another anti-cancer, pro-apoptotic, tumor-kicking compound from Cordyceps militaris. Polysaccharides are a group of bioactive components with extraordinary immunomodulatory, antioxidant, and antitumor effects.
According toJędrejko, et. al., “the polysaccharides exerted antitumor activity through growth inhibition and induction of apoptosis of tumor cells.” A different study revealed that “polysaccharides from mycelia (CMPS-II) seem to have a better effect than that obtained from the fruiting body (CBPS-II). CMPS-II and CBPS-II can up-regulate the expression of apoptosis factors.”
Did we say polysaccharides have extraordinary immunomodulatory properties that also aid the fight against cancer? They enhance immune system function and stimulate the activity of immune cells, including natural killer cells, T-cells, and M1 macrophages, which play a crucial role in eliminating cancer cells.
Polysaccharides are also found in Cordyceps sinensis, another major species in the Cordyceps family. Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis share similar chemical compositions and have identically high levels of polysaccharides such as beta-glucans, mannans, and heteropolysaccharides. You may not have heard of these bioactive compounds, but they all show exceptional antitumor activity.
How Does Cordyceps Fight Breast Cancer?
Cordyceps mushrooms show great promise for fighting breast cancer. We’ve mentioned that cordyceps have immunomodulatory properties that help regulate our immune system's response and maintain overall health.
Cordyceps Enhances the Antitumor Immune Response
Quan, et. al. indicated that cordyceps can “enhance the antitumor immunogenic response in breast cancer.” The researchers tested an ethanol extract of Cordyceps militaris (CM-EE) on mouse and human breast cancer cells to investigate the ability of the mushrooms to induce immunogenic cell death.
…CM-EE also potentiated the cytotoxic activity of tumor-specific T cells. CM-EE can induce immunogenic and apoptotic cell death in breast cancer cells, and it is a good candidate for cancer immunotherapy and may improve the efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors.
Another study on cordyceps and breast cancer found that the mushroom slowed cancer growth and induced cancer cell apoptosis, mainly by reducing tumor-derived T cells.
Cordycepin-enriched C. militaris itself could be applied as an adequate principal therapeutic agent, facilitating the immune system against pre-established cancer and inducing apoptosis of cancer cells. (Jeong, et. al.)
By boosting immune function, cordyceps may help destroy breast cancer cells. The immune system plays a vital role in recognizing and eliminating abnormal or cancerous cells in the body. Immunomodulating bioactive compounds in Cordyceps militaris, like polysaccharides and cordycepin, can boost the immune system’s efficacy in fighting breast cancer.
Cordycepin Against Breast Cancer
Speaking of cordycepin, remember how this bioactive compound inhibits many important processes that allow cancer to spread and grow? A 2019 study found that cordycepin can also inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation and induce apoptosis.
The C. militaris concentrate and cordycepin exhibited the ability to induce apoptotic cell death by increasing the cleavage of caspase-7 -8, and -9, increasing the Bax/Bcl-2 protein expression ratio, and decreasing the protein expression of XIAP in MCF-7 cells.
Researchers were able to confirm these antitumor effects of cordycepin by using western blot analysis. Western blot analysis is a widely used laboratory technique for detecting and identifying individual proteins in a complex mixture.
Cordycepin from Cordyceps militaris may also show anti-metastatic properties. Researchers investigated the effect of cordycepin on triple-negative breast cancer and found that cordycepin inhibited the growth, migration, and metastasis of TNBC cells in mouse breast cancer. The results from “both in vitro and in vivo experiments unambiguously demonstrated that [cordycepin] is indeed capable of inhibiting different developing stages of TNBC including tumor cell growth, migration, and invasion.” (Wei, et. al.)
Wu, et. al. took a different approach to testing cordycepin and its anticancer effects. Cordycepin from the fermented rice extract of Cordyceps militaris exhibited dose-dependent inhibition of cell proliferation in breast cancer cell lines. The antiproliferative effects were associated with early-stage apoptosis induction and activation of the p53 protein. The researchers concluded that “FRE-Z, which exhibits various dose− and exposure time−dependent activities, has potential application in breast cancer chemoprevention.”
Cordyceps May Help Prevent Breast Cancer Metastasis
There is growing evidence suggesting that cordyceps may help prevent the metastasis of breast cancer. Several studies have demonstrated that cordyceps can downregulate metastasis-related cytokines, inhibit the migration and invasion of cancer cells, and suppress the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) process, which is crucial for metastasis.
In a 2008 study, researchers investigated the effects of an aqueous extract of Cordyceps militaris (AECM) on human breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cells. The researchers focused on:
- Cancer cell cycle and growth in metastatic breast cancer.
- Using flow cytometry, they investigated the apoptosis-inducing properties of AECM and its influence on cell viability.
- The expression of metastasis-related cytokines expression and their downregulation by AECM. The study employed statistical analysis and various methodologies to investigate the effects of AECM, contributing to the field of integrative medicine and our understanding of the tumor microenvironment.
The findings highlighted the potential of Cordyceps militaris water extraction as a natural avenue medicine for inhibiting tumor growth and metastasis and shed light on the signaling pathways and mechanisms involved. Remember how important mitochondrial function is for cancer cells? The study also showed that “AECM-induced apoptosis may relate to the activation of caspase-3 and mitochondria dysfunctions.”
While cordyceps should not replace standard medical treatments, it can be used as a complementary approach. Furthermore, cordyceps mushrooms can aid cancer treatments like chemotherapy by increasing the disease’s susceptibility to treatment.
Can Cordyceps Supplement Traditional Breast Cancer Treatment?
It’s as clear as day—cordyceps can boost our immune system and help fight breast cancer. But cordyceps mushrooms also have a more indirect way of helping cancer patients. Regular consumption of cordyceps mushrooms may offer potential support for breast cancer therapy by alleviating side effects, boosting energy, reducing fatigue, and regulating hormones.
- Cordyceps has the potential to mitigate nausea and vomiting. It’s no secret that cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often struggle with debilitating side effects like nausea and vomiting. The antiemetic properties of cordyceps may help reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, providing relief and improving the overall well-being of patients.
- Cordyceps can boost energy levels and reduce fatigue in breast cancer patients. Breast cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, can often drain the patients’ energy and cause fatigue. Cordyceps has been traditionally used to improve stamina and endurance, potentially aiding in combating treatment-related fatigue.
- Cordyceps mushrooms may also help with appetite. Loss of appetite is a common side effect of chemotherapy in many cancer patients. Cordyceps has been traditionally used to improve appetite by enhancing the nutrient absorption. This may help patients maintain a healthy diet during treatment, supporting their overall well-being.
- Some breast cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can impact liver function. Cordyceps has shown hepatoprotective properties, which means it may help protect and support liver health during treatment.
- Hormone receptor-positive breast cancer is influenced by hormonal imbalances. Cordyceps has been suggested to have hormonal balancing effects, potentially assisting in the management of hormone-related aspects of breast cancer treatment. By promoting hormonal equilibrium, cordyceps may support the effectiveness of hormone therapies and contribute to better treatment outcomes.
- Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer and going through treatment can be very upsetting. As an adaptogen, cordyceps mushrooms can help your body cope with stress. Cordyceps may also help relieve depression, giving breast cancer patients emotional support and improving their quality of life as they go through treatment.
There’s no better way to reap the rewards of cordyceps mushrooms and jumpstart the challenges of breast cancer treatment than with our cordyceps and matcha tea. Our tea contains a mighty combo of the highest quality cordyceps mushrooms and premium matcha that offers a powerhouse of health benefits. There is no better way to experience the combined advantages of cordyceps' antitumor properties and matcha's antioxidant-rich goodness.
Benefits of Cordyceps For Women
Male breast cancer is extremely rare, representing less than one percent of all breast cancer cases, which means that the majority of diagnoses impact primarily the female population. Apart from aiding in the fight against breast cancer, cordyceps mushrooms provide a variety of benefits for women.
These medicinal mushrooms have the potential to improve well-being before and after breast cancer therapy by supporting hormonal balance. Hormonal imbalances in women can be caused by a variety of factors: menstrual irregularities, menopause, or specific medical conditions.
Cordyceps is believed to act as a natural hormone regulator by positively affecting the endocrine system. (The endocrine system has a key role in the production and regulation of hormones.) Cordyceps may help alleviate symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances, such as mood swings, hot flashes, irregular periods, and other related issues.
Cordyceps Mushroom Side Effects
Cordyceps is generally safe to consume, with very few side effects that occur if you take the mushroom for the first time or in excessive amounts. The longer you take cordyceps mushrooms, the greater the impact they have on your health.
If you’re allergic to mold, yeast, or other types of fungi, you may also be allergic to cordyceps. First-time cordyceps users might experience minor side effects, such as diarrhea or an upset stomach. Start with a small amount of cordyceps and gradually raise the dosage until you feel comfortable. Whether you’re a first-time consumer or a long-term cordyceps enthusiast, we recommend sticking to 1–3 grams of cordyceps powder a day.
Hone’s Cordyceps Tea For Wellness and Vitality
Our cordyceps matcha tea is a powerful elixir designed to elevate your health and ignite your vitality. We already mentioned the two adaptogens with extraordinary benefits—cordyceps and matcha—which join forces to produce not only a delicious beverage but a remarkable anti-cancer refreshment packed with antioxidants. Matcha, too, contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that boost your immune system and energy levels, bring relaxation, and improve your overall wellness.
Drinking cordyceps tea is one of the oldest and most traditional ways to ingest mushrooms as herbal medicine. The Chinese have been doing it for the past two millennia; why shouldn’t you?
If you’re looking for a more modern method to brew this matcha mushroom goodness, our electric tea whisk might come in handy. Whisk your tea every morning and enjoy every sip of rich flavors and frothy delight.
Cordyceps and Breast Cancer FAQ
Can I take cordyceps if I have cancer?
Cordyceps has demonstrated promising anticancer benefits and is being explored for its ability to inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation, induce apoptotic cell death, and downregulate metastasis-related cytokines.
While cordyceps has the potential to be used as a supplemental therapy for cancer treatment, it is critical to talk with your doctor before introducing it into your regimen. They can offer you tailored recommendations depending on your cancer type, stage, treatment plan, and overall health. Cordyceps should be discussed with your healthcare professional to ensure that it meets your specific needs and does not conflict with any ongoing therapies or medications.
Who should not take cordyceps?
Although cordyceps is safe to consume, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Don’t take cordyceps supplements in the weeks preceding surgeries. The fungus may have an anti-clotting effect and increase your chances of bleeding or bruising.
- If you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking cordyceps supplements.
- Individuals undergoing immunosuppressive therapy or who have had organ transplants should avoid taking cordyceps due to their potential immune-stimulating effects.
What is Cordyceps militaris used for?
Cordyceps militaris, a species of cordyceps mushroom, has been traditionally used in Chinese and Korean medicine for various purposes. It is highly regarded for its potential to enhance energy levels, improve stamina, and boost vitality.
Cordyceps militaris is also valued for its immune-modulating properties and potential anticancer effects. It is commonly used as a dietary supplement to support overall wellness, promote longevity, and enhance athletic performance.
Here are the most typical reasons people consume Cordyceps militaris:
- Cordyceps may help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, making it potentially beneficial for individuals with diabetes. It contains polysaccharides that seem to lower blood sugar levels and manage insulin resistance. According to a, Cordyceps militaris showed “a significant reduction in blood glucose levels by promoting glucose metabolism and strongly suppressed total cholesterol and triglycerides concentration in serum.”
- Cordyceps militaris has been traditionally used to enhance athletic performance. It is believed to improve oxygen utilization and increase energy production, leading to improved stamina, reduced fatigue, and enhanced physical performance.
- Cordyceps mushrooms have cardiovascular benefits. It may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and enhance blood flow. A clinical study revealed that adenosine helps relax and widen blood vessels, boost circulation, and lower blood pressure. Find out more about how cordyceps lowers blood pressure.
- Cordyceps militaris has a long history of use as an aphrodisiac and libido enhancer. It is believed to improve sexual function and vitality by increasing blood flow, balancing hormones, and supporting reproductive health.
Is it safe to take cordyceps every day?
Cordyceps is usually regarded as safe for daily usage. It is a safe and natural dietary supplement. Individual responses may vary, so it is best to begin with a lower dosage and gradually increase it as needed. In fact, the best time to consume cordyceps is in the morning or early afternoon because it will give you energy and focus to tackle day-to-day tasks.
If you experience any unpleasant reactions or pain, stop using the product and seek medical advice.
Do cordyceps work immediately?
The effects of cordyceps may vary from person to person, and immediate effects may not be noticeable for everyone. Cordyceps are considered adaptogens, which means they work gradually to support overall health and well-being. Some individuals may experience an immediate boost in energy or improved mood, while others may notice more subtle changes over time, such as enhanced stamina or improved immune function. Consistent and regular use of cordyceps is typically recommended to maximize their potential benefits.
Does cordyceps affect hormones?
Cordyceps has been demonstrated to strengthen the adrenal glands and balance hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Keeping your adrenal glands in order can improve your sleep, aid weight management, and maintain a healthy immune system. Certain breast cancers are influenced by hormonal imbalances, so maintaining hormonal balance is crucial.
One study suggested that cordyceps was linked to an increase in testosterone levels in healthy older males. Other research shows how cordyceps may increase the production of cortisol, a hormone that helps the body respond to stress and fatigue, and influence the synthesis of other hormones such as luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and prolactin.
Are adaptogens good for cancer patients?
Some adaptogens may have potential benefits for cancer patients. Adaptogens help our bodies adapt to stress and maintain homeostasis. They are vital while cancer is active because they help the body adapt to conventional cancer therapies like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, allowing the person to cope with many of the severe side effects of such treatments.
Adaptogens are nonspecific, nontoxic and normalizing. This means the effect they produce varies according to the physiopathologic state. For instance, ginseng is an angiogenic in wound healing, versus cancer, and it is also antiangiogenic. This apparent paradox is typical of normalizing properties of adaptogens, which also have multiple anticancer effects as well as beneficial interactions with conventional chemotherapy and radiation. (Prev, et. al.)
Some adaptogens may interact with chemotherapy treatments and other medications. Before adding any adaptogen to your daily health regime, consult with a healthcare physician if you’re undergoing cancer therapy.
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