The Anticancer Effects of Cordyceps in Lung Cancer - HONE
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The Anticancer Effects of Cordyceps in Lung Cancer

  • 15 min read

The Anticancer Effects of Cordyceps in Lung Cancer - HONE

Cordyceps may help in the fight against lung cancer. This particularly nasty form of cancer has statistically poor clinical outcomes. Conventional treatments are of limited efficacy and come with a range of side effects.

In one studycordyceps mushrooms “showed an antimetastatic action through inhibiting platelet aggregation induced by cancer cells.” 

Article jumplinks:

What is lung cancer?

What are the symptoms?

What causes lung cancer?

Can cordyceps treat lung cancer?

Cordyceps for chemo side effects?

How to take cordyceps?

When should I take cordyceps?

Is cordyceps safe?

Benefits of taking cordyceps every day

While cordyceps is not a cancer cure—and we’re definitely not recommending it as an alternative to traditional treatment—it may supplement other approaches and soften their side effects.

This adaptogenic superfood has a wide range of therapeutic effects. You can alleviate anxiety with cordyceps, regulate your blood sugar, and boost your energy levels and stamina. 

What’s more, research suggests that cordyceps may improve lung function

Whether you’re looking for a healthy way to boost your immune system, enhance your cognitive and mental health, or enjoy something super tasty, our cordyceps matcha tea will meet all your expectations. 

Mushroom Matcha - 30 Serving Jar

Let’s dig deep into the anticancer properties of Cordyceps militaris and explore the mechanisms by which these mushrooms might help fight lung cancer. 

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world and the third most common cancer in the US. This type of cancer develops in the cells of the lungs—in the airways (bronchi) or small air sacs (alveoli)—but due to its aggressive nature and late-stage diagnosis, it can spread quickly to other parts of the body. 

One’s lung cancer prognosis depends on how advanced the cancer is at the time of the diagnosis. Early detection can significantly improve cancer patients’ outcomes. 

Types of Lung Cancer

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). 

  • NSCLC is a more common form of lung carcinoma, and it includes subtypes like adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. 
  • SCLC is less common but also more aggressive and grows more rapidly, often leading to early metastasis. SCLC typically starts in the bronchi and quickly spreads to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes and distant organs. Smokers are believed to be in greater danger of developing SCLC than non-smokers. 

Stages of Lung Cancer

Cancer is typically referred to in stages, based on the size of the cancer and whether it’s spread to lymph nodes or other organs. There are four stages of lung cancer:

  1. Stage 0 (in-situ): cancer cells form in the top lining of the lung or bronchus. They haven’t spread to other parts of the lung or body.
  2. Stage 1: cancer cells haven’t spread to the lymph nodes yet.
  3. Stage 2: cancer cells have grown and spread to lymph nodes inside the lung. 
  4. Stage 3: cancer is larger, has spread to nearby lymph nodes, or there’s more than one tumor in a different lobe of the same lung.
  5. Stage 4: cancer has spread to the other lung, the fluid around the lung, the fluid around the heart, or other organs.

What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer symptoms may vary depending on the type, stage of the disease, and individual factors. Early-stage lung cancer often has no noticeable symptoms; in other cases, recurring pneumonia or coughing can be a sign. 

Here are some common symptoms.

  • Persistent cough
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Recurrent respiratory infections
  • Swelling in the face, neck, arms, or upper chest 

What Are the Risk Factors For Lung Cancer?

There are many things that can make you more likely to get lung cancer, but smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes is by far the biggest risk factor. Experts say that smoking causes about 80% of lung cancer deaths. 

Other risk factors might be:

  • Exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke.
  • Exposure to hazardous substances such as air pollution, radon, asbestos, uranium, diesel exhaust, silica, coal products, and others.
  • Having previously received radiation treatments to the chest.
  • Having a lung cancer family history.

A healthy lifestyle is a step in the right direction and offers the greatest chance of reducing the risk of developing lung cancer. Cordyceps mushrooms are a great addition to a healthy lifestyle. Cancer research reveals the extraordinary antitumor effects of Cordyceps militaris. Its bioactive compounds seem to target multiple pathways involved in cancer development and progression.

Can Cordyceps Treat Lung Cancer?

Cordyceps has shown potential in the treatment of lung cancer. The mushrooms contain beneficial bioactive compounds that help fight lung cancer, most notably adenosine and cordycepin. 

Adenosine is a type of nucleoside (a molecule used to make DNA and RNA) involved in a wide range of physiological activities, such as sleep, blood pressure, and inflammation. Adenosine has anticancer effects. Most notably, it can reduce inflammation and enhance the immune response against tumors. A 2015 study showed that adenosine can suppress cell growth and induce apoptosis in human colon cancer cells.

Cordycepin (3-deoxyadenosine) is a naturally occurring molecule found in cordyceps mushrooms. It has strong anticancer properties:cordycepin might induce apoptosis and prevent the spread of tumor cells. Cordycepin seems to interfere with cancer’s main mechanisms: “cordycepin inhibited the proliferation…of endothelial cells” and “suppressed angiogenesis in an in vivo angiogenesis assay and reduced HCC tumor growth in a xenograft nude mice model.” (Lin, et. al.)

Let’s see what other antitumor activities cordyceps might have. 

Cordyceps Can Boost Our Immune Response to Fight Cancer

Chinese researchers found that the antitumor activities of cordyceps may stem from their ability to boost the immune response and fight cancer more effectively. Apparently, cordyceps can stimulate the function of certain immune cells, such as natural killer cells, T cells, and macrophages, that play vital roles in identifying and eliminating cancer cells. 

Chinese Cordyceps as an immunomodulator has suppressive effects on the immune system. Cordycepin has been demonstrated to inhibit the differentiation of T cells into regulatory T cells (Treg, a suppressive phenotype of T cells) and delay tumor growth in tumor-bearing mice.

The study concludes that “Chinese Cordyceps can inhibit the growth and metastasis of tumor cells by death (including apoptosis and autophagy) induction, cell-cycle arrest, and angiogenesis inhibition." 

Cordyceps and Tumor Angiogenesis

Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels. It’s an essential process for healthy cells and tissues, but when it comes to cancer, angiogenesis supports tumor growth by supplying it with oxygen and nutrients.Cordyceps mushrooms can suppress the creation of new blood vessels in cancer cells, inhibiting oxygenation and tumor growth. 

…suppression of tumor growth by Cordyceps militaris extract is, at least, mediated by its anti-angiogenicity and apoptosis induction capacities. Cordyceps militaris extract may be a potent antitumor herbal drug for solid tumors. (Ruma et. al.)

Cordyceps Could Slow Lung Cancer Cell Proliferation

Proliferation is the process by which cells divide and replicate in a controlled and regulated way. However, cancer cells tend to divide and replicate in a rapid and uncontrolled manner, which often leads to the formation of tumors. A 2020 study examined the effect of cordyceps on the proliferation and death of non-small cell lung cancer and found thatcordyceps inhibits cancer cell proliferation and may help treat NSCLC.

Evidence from both in vivo and in vitro experiments demonstrated antiproliferative and apoptotic activities of the extracts of C militaris in human tumor cell lines, including H460, RKO, PC-3, MDA-MB 231, and HepG2 cells. These extracts exhibited antitumor effects mainly through the induction of apoptosis in tumor cells, inhibition of angiogenesis, and the suppression of invasion and metastasis.

Cordyceps also shows potent anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation has been linked to the development and progression of non-small cell lung cancer. 

Cordyceps Inhibits Lung Carcinoma Metastasis

Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from the primary cancer site to other parts of the body. It plays a critical role in the progression of lung cancer and is associated with a poorer patient outcome. 

Clinical studies have investigated the potential of cordyceps for inhibiting lung cancer metastasis. The bioactive compounds in cordyceps seem to interfere with key signaling pathways involved in cancer metastasis.

Cancer research showed that cordyceps inhibits the ability of cancer cells to survive, move, and invade surrounding tissues. Cordyceps also suppressed tumor growth and decreased lung and liver metastasis in a mouse model.

Western blot analysis results revealed that the expression of MMP-2 and MMP-9 was substantially down regulated in the tumor tissue of mice treated with CMF at a dose of 260 mg/kg… Taken together, the results from the in vitro and in vivo assays revealed that CMF may inhibit the invasion and metastasis of lung carcinoma cells through the Akt/GSK-3β/β-catenin signaling pathway. (Zhou, et. al.)

The mice in the study were treated with a specific fraction of Cordyceps militaris (CMF). 

Cordyceps Helps Kill Lung Cancer Cells

Apoptosis is programmed cell death, a natural process in which cells in the body are systematically removed. This mechanism is critical for maintaining healthy tissue and preventing the formation of abnormal cells, like cancer cells. Cancer cell apoptosis is a vital technique for cancer treatment. 

One study found that Cordyceps militaris extract induced apoptosis and pyroptosis in A549 cells. Pyroptosis is an inflammatory form of cell death. It can be triggered by certain pathogens or cellular stress, contributing to the elimination of infected or damaged cells. 

…it is validated that CME exerted cytotoxicity toward A549 cell line through inducing caspase-3-dependent apoptosis and pyroptosis. To our knowledge, this study firstly reported pyroptosis-causing effect of CME against A549 cell line in vitro along with regulation on caspase-3-dependent GSDME pathway. (Hu, et. al.)

The study results suggested that cordyceps:

  • Inhibited cancer cell proliferation
  • Caused chromatin condensation, which indicated genotoxicity and cancer cell death
  • Arrested the cell cycle and downregulated certain proteins involved in cancer cell proliferation
Cordyceps shows direct antitumor effects by inhibiting the growth and proliferation of lung cancer cells. In the previously mentioned study on cordyceps and non-small cell lung cancer, cordyceps was shown to inhibit cell growth in a dose- and time-dependent manner and suppress NSCLC A549 cell growth. 

A549 cells are lung carcinoma epithelial cells that constitute a cell line. The treatment with cordyceps also induced cancer cell apoptosis and changed the morphology of NSCLC cells. 

To observe the death of C militaris–treated cancer cells, the morphologies of NSCLC cells were compared with those of untreated control cells, using light microscopy. The morphology of NSCLC cells changed drastically after treatment with 100 µg/mL C militaris extracts for 48 hours. (Jo, et. al.)

According to Liu, et. al., bioactive compounds found in Cordyceps militaris, like cordycepin, adenosine, and polysaccharides, have powerful anticancer effects that seem to induce cancer cell death. A different study on cordyceps and lung cancer showed that cordycepin has a much bigger role in inducing apoptosis in NSCLC cells. 

Cordycepin, the major active compound in C militaris, induces human lung cancer cell apoptosis by inhibiting the nitric oxide–mediated ERK/Slug signaling pathway, and inhibits drug-resistant NSCLC progression by activating the AMPK signaling pathway. These data suggest that C militaris is involved in the regulation of apoptosis-related signaling pathways.

Can Cordyceps Alleviate Chemotherapy-Related Side Effects?

Cordyceps mushrooms may alleviate chemotherapy-related side effects. Chemotherapy drugs can often cause various side effects that negatively impact a patient's quality of life and can even harm the body. While these mushrooms may smooth the effects of cancer therapy, they should not be considered a substitute for traditional cancer treatments. 

Here are some ways cordyceps may help mitigate side effects from chemotherapy and other types of cancer treatment:

  • Boosts energy and reduces fatigue. Fatigue is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Cordyceps has been popularly used to increase energy levels and fight symptoms of physical exhaustion.
  • Reduces nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of chemotherapy. Cordyceps can help reduce feelings of nausea, mainly by interacting with neurotransmitters involved in the regulation of nausea and vomiting.
  • Supports the digestive system. Chemotherapy can sometimes be hard on the digestive system, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, pain, and bloating. Cordyceps has been used traditionally to support digestive health and regulate the gut microbiota.
  • Reduces oxidative stress and gets rid of free radicals. While targeting cancer cells, chemotherapy can harm the rest of the body and affect healthy organs. One of the most common ways to do that is by increasing the number of free radicals, harmful molecules that cause cellular damage, and causing oxidative stress. Luckily, cordyceps is packed-full of antioxidants that neutralize the negative effects of oxidative stress and restore inner balance. 
  • Reduces inflammation. Chemotherapy-induced inflammation can lead to chronic discomfort and a wide range of associated symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and tissue damage. The anti-inflammatory cordyceps may help reduce inflammation in the body and alleviate the symptoms. 
  • Enhances immune response.Remember how powerful cordyceps is at modulating our own immune system to fight cancer? The immunomodulatory properties of cordyceps can help enhance immune function and reduce the risk of infections and other complications in cancer patients. 

The Best Way to Consume Cordyceps Mushrooms

When it comes to reaping the benefits of cordyceps mushrooms, we believe we have found the ultimate way to enjoy the goodness of these medicinal mushrooms while treating your taste buds to a delightful experience: our cordyceps tea with matcha powder is your ticket to wellness. 

Mushroom Matcha - 30 Serving Jar

Our unique tea blend combines the potent properties of cordyceps mushrooms and matcha, creating a powerhouse of natural compounds that work to your advantage. Matcha is packed with antioxidants that cleanse your body from toxins, but it also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that induces a calm yet focused state of mind. 

You can prepare our tea as a comforting warm brew or as a refreshing iced beverage. You can even use our electric whisk to whip up cordyceps matcha tea to perfection. 

Order your jar of cordyceps matcha tea now and savor the incredible benefits of this exceptional blend. 

What is the Best Time to Take Cordyceps?

The best time of day to consume cordyceps is in the morning or early afternoon, so pairing a nice cup of cordyceps tea with breakfast sounds like a perfect start to your day. 

If you’re consuming raw cordyceps mushrooms, feel free to add them to your omelet or oatmeal.  Some people prefer cordyceps capsules, which they drink with a glass of water or milk with their breakfast. We believe that tea is the best and easiest way to enjoy cordyceps mushroom powder. Our mushroom matcha tea packets are perfect for a boost of energy early in the morning. 

Mushroom Matcha Box - 10 Compostable Packets

Is Cordyceps Safe to Consume Every Day?

Cordyceps is completely safe to consume every day. A small percentage of people might experience temporary side effects—mild nausea, diarrhea, or an upset stomach—when consuming cordyceps for the first time or in excessive amounts. These side effects go away quickly and have no long-term effects on your health. In fact, the side effects of taking cordyceps for the first time aren’t that different from consuming any other mushroom, spice, or herb for the first time. 

It’s important to take cordyceps mushrooms in moderation and to start with low amounts if you’ve never had them before. 1–3 grams of cordyceps powder is a great place to start. 

Benefits of Taking Cordyceps Mushrooms

Cordyceps militaris has been a part of Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. Its rich chemical composition allows for a variety of health benefits. Bioactive compounds like the anticancer cordycepin, adenosine, and polysaccharides have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

  1. Cordyceps mushrooms have the potential to promote healthy kidney function and protect against kidney damage. They also help reduce inflammation in individuals with chronic kidney disease or those who have undergone renal transplantation.
  2. Research suggests that cordyceps may be helpful in managing ovarian cancer. Korean researchers found that cordyceps can reduce ovarian cancer cell viability; it can inhibit the growth and survival of ovarian cancer cells.
  3. Cordyceps mushrooms exhibit an inhibitory effect on colorectal cancer cells as well. They have shown promise in suppressing the growth and proliferation of cancer cells in the colon and rectum.
  4. Bladder cancer patients might also benefit from cordyceps mushrooms. They may help prevent the development and progression of bladder cancer. In fact, Cao, et. al. claim that “Cordyceps militaris hot water extracts containing cordycepin may be a promising treatment for bladder cancer via A3 adenosine receptor activation.”
  5. Cordyceps mushrooms have been used in ancient Chinese herbal medicine to enhance physical performance and endurance. They are believed to improve oxygen utilization and increase energy production, helping individuals achieve peak performance during exercise.
  6. Some research suggests that cordyceps has mood-enhancing effects that can help people suffering from depression. It seems that cordyceps can modulate neurotransmitters that are involved in the regulation of mood, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, promoting a more balanced and positive mental state. 

Cordyceps FAQ

Who should avoid cordyceps?

Cordyceps is typically safe for most people. Before taking cordyceps, check with a healthcare professional if you fall under any of the following categories: 

  1. You’ve just had an organ transplant and are taking immunosuppressive medications. Cordyceps is a strong immune-booster and may interfere with these types of drugs.
  2. You’re pregnant or trying to conceive. 
  3. You’re breastfeeding. 
  4. You have an autoimmune disorder, such as psoriatic arthritis.
  5. You have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood-thinning medications.
  6. You have allergies or sensitivities to mushrooms or fungal products.
  7. You have an uncontrolled or severe medical condition.

What is the disadvantage of cordyceps?

Cordyceps mushrooms don’t have disadvantages or side effects when consumed in moderation. The only disadvantage we can think of is having too much energy and feeling way too motivated every day. Who needs to feel refreshed and revitalized anyway? 

Can cordyceps cure asthma?

Cordyceps is not a cure for asthma. Some studies suggest that cordyceps may have potential benefits for respiratory health, including anti-inflammatory and bronchodilatory effects, all of which can help individuals struggling with asthma. 

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that requires proper medical treatment and management. Consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate asthma management and to discuss any complementary therapies, such as cordyceps.

Is cordyceps good for pneumonia?

Cordyceps has extraordinary benefits for the respiratory system, but it is not a treatment for pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious condition that requires proper medical attention and treatment, typically including antibiotics and other appropriate interventions. 

How long does it take for cordyceps to work?

The time it takes for cordyceps to start working can vary depending on your individual metabolism, health condition, and dosage. You won’t feel immediate effects with cordyceps. Its benefits appear gradually over time with regular consumption. Some people may experience improvements within a few weeks of consistent use, while others may require several weeks or even months. Cordyceps is not a magic cure-all, and its effects may be subtle and gradual. 

What happens if you take too much cordyceps?

Taking excessive amounts of cordyceps mushrooms may lead to mild side effects. If you exceed the recommended dosage or consume very high doses for an extended period of time, it may cause gastrointestinal discomfort such as nausea, diarrhea, or stomach upset. Some people may experience allergic reactions or sensitivity, resulting in symptoms like a rash, itching, or swelling. 

What other types of cancer can cordyceps treat?

Cordyceps mushrooms have shown potential in the treatment of various types of cancer. Studies have investigated the effects of cordyceps, a Chinese medicinal mushroom, on different cancer cell lines and animal models. The research has demonstrated its effects on cancer progression, protein expression, and apoptosis induction. 

Cordyceps might be able to help treat and relieve the side effects of cancer therapy in:

  • Lung cancer
  • Gastric cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Testicular cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Breast cancer

Cordyceps has also been explored for its potential to enhance the efficacy of anticancer drugs and overcome resistance mechanisms. While more research is needed, cordyceps holds promise as a natural product in integrative medicine for cancer treatment.

Why can't cordyceps infect humans?

Cordyceps can’t infect humans because it evolved to parasitize specific insect hosts. Its biological mechanisms and adaptations are incompatible with human biology.


Anticancer and antimetastatic effects of cordycepin, an active component of Cordyceps sinensis. (2014, October 22). ScienceDirect.

Adenosine induces apoptosis through TNFR1/RIPK1/P38 axis in colon cancer cells. (2015, March 27). ScienceDirect.

Lin, Y. T., Liang, S. M., Wu, Y. J., Wu, Y. J., Lu, Y. J., Jan, Y. J., Ko, B. S., Chuang, Y. J., Shyue, S. K., Kuo, C. C., & Liou, J. Y. (2019, February 1).Cordycepin Suppresses Endothelial Cell Proliferation, Migration, Angiogenesis, and Tumor Growth by Regulating Focal Adhesion Kinase and p53. PubMed Central (PMC).

Winarsa Ruma, I. M., Putranto, E. W., Kondo, E., Watanabe, R., Saito, K., Inoue, Y., Yamamoto, K. I., Nakata, S., Kaihata, M., Murata, H., & Sakaguchi, M. (2014, April 24).Extract of Cordyceps militaris inhibits angiogenesis and suppresses tumor growth of human malignant melanoma cells.

Jo, E., Jang, H. J., Shen, L., Yang, K. E., Jang, M. S., Huh, Y. H., Yoo, H. S., Park, J., Jang, I. S., & Park, S. J. (2020, January). Cordyceps militaris Exerts Anticancer Effect on Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer by Inhibiting Hedgehog Signaling via Suppression of TCTN3.Integrative Cancer Therapies,19, 153473542092375.

Zhou, Q., Zhang, Z., Song, L., Huang, C., Cheng, Q., Bi, S., Hu, X., & Yu, R. (2018, September 27).Cordyceps militaris fraction inhibits the invasion and metastasis of lung cancer cells through the protein kinase B/glycogen synthase kinase 3β/β-catenin signaling pathway. PubMed Central (PMC).

Hu, Z., Lai, Y., Ma, C., Zuo, L., Xiao, G., Gao, H., Xie, B., Huang, X., Gan, H., Huang, D., Yao, N., Feng, B., Ru, J., Chen, Y., & Cai, D. (2021, October 30). Cordyceps militaris extract induces apoptosis and pyroptosis via caspase‐3/PARP/GSDME pathways in A549 cell line.Food Science & Nutrition,10(1), 21–38.

Jo, E., Jang, H. J., Shen, L., Yang, K. E., Jang, M. S., Huh, Y. H., Yoo, H. S., Park, J., Jang, I. S., & Park, S. J. (2020, January). Cordyceps militaris Exerts Anticancer Effect on Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer by Inhibiting Hedgehog Signaling via Suppression of TCTN3.Integrative Cancer Therapies,19, 153473542092375.

Liu, Y., Guo, Z. J., & Zhou, X. W. (2022, October 4).Chinese Cordyceps: Bioactive Components, Antitumor Effects and Underlying Mechanism A Review. MDPI.

Cordycepin induces apoptosis in human bladder cancer cells via activation of A3 adenosine receptors - PubMed. (2017, July 1). PubMed.

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