Depression is a common mental health condition that affects millions of people. Antidepressants are the most prevalent means of treating depression, but more and more people have started exploring natural remedies like cordyceps mushrooms.
Cordyceps mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. While they may not replace prescription meds for depression, research shows that cordyceps has antidepressant properties and may aid mental health.
Let’s explore the health benefits of cordyceps mushrooms for treating depression.
What is Depression?
Depression (major depressive disorder) is a mental health illness that causes people to feel sad and hopeless and lose interest in things they used to enjoy. It can affect the way you feel, think, and behave, and can lead to a number of other emotional and physical issues like changes in appetite and sleep, fatigue, and trouble focusing.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe, and they typically occur most of the day. Many patients with depression show symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with daily activities such as work, school, social activities, or relationships with others.
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Rage, impatience, or frustration
- Anxiety, agitation, or agitation
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Loss of enjoyment or interest in most or all previously enjoyed activities
- Problems with sleep, either excessive sleeping or insomnia
- Chronic fatigue and a lack of energy
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
- Having difficulty thinking, concentrating, making judgments, and remembering things
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Unexplained physical issues, such as back problems, muscle twitches, or headaches
What Causes Depression?
Researchers don’t know the exact causes of depressive behaviors. They believe that various factors contribute, including:
- Brain chemistry: an imbalance of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine may be a contributing factor to depression.
- Genetics: if you have a first-degree relative (a biological parent or sibling) who suffers from depression, you are around three times more likely to get the disorder than the general population. You can, however, suffer from depression without having a family history of it.
- Difficult life events, such as the death of a loved one, trauma, divorce, solitude, and a lack of support, can all lead to depression.
- Chronic pain and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia can contribute to depression.
- Certain medications for chronic illnesses come with a plethora of side effects, including depression. Substance abuse can also cause or worsen depressive behavior.
Depression Treatment Options
Depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses if you seek help in time. Some of the most common treatment options are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (psychotherapy).
- Medication: antidepressants can help modify the brain chemistry that causes depression. Some antidepressants have side effects that usually go away with time.
- Complementary medicine: therapies such as acupuncture, massage, hypnosis, and biofeedback given in addition to prescription medication.
- Brain stimulation therapy: people suffering from severe depression or depression with psychosis may benefit from brain stimulation therapy.
If you’re struggling with depression, there are certain activities you can do at home to help alleviate the symptoms:
- Get regular physical activity; even regular exposure to fresh air or sunlight will help many people feel better.
- Get enough sleep (not too little or too much).
- Hydration is important for keeping your body up and running. Even your brain can suffer from dehydration.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Try following a nutritious diet.
- Spend more time with people you care about. Social isolation can be detrimental to your mental health.
Speaking of nutritious diets, cordyceps mushrooms are 100% nutritious and beneficial for mental health. Cordyceps can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, reduce symptoms of depression, and boost cognitive function, leading to a healthy brain.
We’re about to spill the beans on Cordyceps militaris and its antidepressant-like action, and you don’t want to miss it.
Can Cordyceps Cure Depression?
Cordyceps mushrooms have long been used in Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, including mental health problems. Recent research on the antidepressant effects of cordyceps mushrooms has yielded promising results, showing that they may offer a natural and effective therapeutic alternative for those suffering from depression.
While we still have a lot to learn about cordyceps and depression, researchers propose several possible techniques that cordyceps mushrooms employ to treat depression. One mechanism of action is the modulation of neurotransmitters in the brain that are involved in mood regulation. Other possible pathways in which cordyceps can aid mental health are by lowering neuroinflammation and reducing oxidative stress.
Let’s dive into more details about each one.
Does Cordyceps Increase Serotonin?
Cordyceps mushrooms might influence the levels of serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin, or the “feel-good hormone,” is an important neurotransmitter that regulates emotion, stress, hunger, sleep, and mood, so it’s kind of a big deal to have sufficient levels of it in the brain. Patients with depression often experience a depletion in serotonin levels.
Cordyceps has been found to help increase serotonin, showing antidepressant-like behavior. One study aimed to discover the impact of Cordyceps militaris water extract (WCM) on rats with abnormal behavior induced by unpredictable chronic mild stress. The C. militaris aqueous extract was able to prevent anhedonia (depressive-like behavior) and hypoactivity (reduced physical activity) at all doses. Cordyceps reduced the turnover rate of serotonin and dopamine.
The turnover rate of serotonin refers to how quickly the neurotransmitter is broken down and used by the brain. When the turnover rate is slow, serotonin is broken down more slowly and remains in the brain for a longer amount of time. This can result in elevated levels of the feel-good hormone, leading to improved mental health and decreased symptoms of depression.
The WCM has antidepressant-like effects, which may result from the regulation of the stress-related ROCK2/PTEN/Akt pathway. Therefore, the WCM may be developed and used for the complementary treatment of depression. (Lin, et, al.)
Did you know that cordyceps mushrooms are rich in tryptophan? Tryptophan is an amino acid precursor to serotonin, which means our body uses tryptophan to make serotonin.
The medium overgrown with mycelium has been shown to be rich in 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan, serotonin, and ergosterol. Pintathong et al. (2021) also determined the content of tryptophan in solid-based residues remaining after the harvest of fruiting bodies of C. militaris. (Jedrejko, et. al.)
Cordyceps also contains cordycepin and adenosine, important chemicals that can stimulate serotonin release in the brain. A study on the interaction between adenosine and cordycepin has revealed that:
Cordycepin also plays an important role in the amelioration of the psychiatric disorders, including major depression disease (MDD) and anxiety disorder. Studies on depression showed that an injection of cordycepin led to a rapid and robust antidepressant effect, which may be modulated at multiple beneficial mechanisms, particularly in regulating the prefrontal AMPA receptor signaling pathway. Our previous studies also found that cordycepin exhibited a stronger and faster anxiolytic effect in behavioral tests and that IL-4 expression showed a strong positive correlation with reduced anxiety behaviors. RIL-4Rα (an IL-4 specific inhibitor) can completely block the anxiolytic effects induced by cordycepin, providing a novel and common anxiolytic IL-4 signaling pathway and an innovative drug with a novel neuroimmune mechanism for the amelioration of anxiety disorder.
Adenosine has sedative properties that can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. It attaches to brain receptors that control sleep and mood, providing relaxation and soothing effects. Due to its naturally adenosine-rich chemical structure, cordyceps can improve sleep quality in healthy people and those battling depression.
Does Cordyceps Affect Dopamine?
Cordycepin has been shown to elevate dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is an important chemical for brain health—another feel-good hormone—that regulates mood, stimulates and reinforces pleasant experiences, and influences the activity of other neurotransmitters (like serotonin). By raising dopamine levels, cordycepin can alleviate symptoms of depression and many other disorders.
Cordyceps militaris may increase the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase, an enzyme that helps convert the protein tyrosine to dopamine. The results indicate that cordyceps can “upregulate the dopaminergic system, and may contribute to neuroprotection in neurodegenerative diseases.”
This study has attempted to evaluate the effect of cultured fruiting bodies of Cordyceps militaris extract (CME) on the expression of the tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) gene in PC12 cells and rat brain and stomach… Our results demonstrated CME induced TH gene expression both in vitro and in vivo. Treatment of 10 µg/ml and 20 mg/kg CME to PC12 cells and rat cells yielded significant increases of TH protein levels. Significantly, TH immunoreactive neurons were detected not only in the brain but also in the stomach. (Sapkota, et. al.)
Another study suggested how cordyceps increases dopamine levels. Cordyceps militaris-infected insects produced more dopamine than those infected by Metarhizium robertsii (another endoparasitic fungus).
Cellular and humoral immune reactions are mediated by the stress response. For example, dopamine levels are elevated under mycoses development. Dopamine elevation is a nonspecific reaction in response to different stress factors, such as cold and heat exposure, mechanic injuries of integuments, burns, parasitoid invasions, and bacterial infections. We suggested previously that the release of dopamine is necessary for the development of physiological responses of insects to different fungi after their penetration through integuments. It is known that dopamine may enhance energetic metabolism… (Kryukov, et. al.)
Dopamine may actually play a significant role in boosting our energetic metabolism, so its role in our body’s homeostasis isn’t limited only to feelings of pleasure and happiness. In a 2012 study, researchers proposed that dopamine’s role in reward and motivated behaviors is derived from its primary role in energy balance. A 2021 article review proposes that defective energy metabolism is one of the main reasons for the development and progression of depression. Researchers showed that “energy metabolism in the central neurosystem was regulated by the neurotransmitters, 5-HT [serotonin], NE [norepinephrine], and DA [dopamine].”
It seems that low dopamine not only leads to depression but also aids our energy metabolism, which works hard to prevent any mood disorders. It is true what they say: a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.
Cordyceps, Inflammation, and Depression
Cordyceps mushrooms have anti-inflammatory qualities that may aid mental health. Inflammation has been linked to a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression—we were just as surprised as you. According to an article from the Gradual Institute for Behavioral Health Studies, “depression, anxiety, and OCD apparently stem from mild brain inflammation.”
Cordyceps mushrooms are packed with active ingredients that naturally lower inflammation. Cordycepin and polysaccharides have been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain and body.
One study looked into the therapeutic effects of Poria cocos (PC) and Cordyceps militaris waster medium (CMWM) extracts on depression and anxiety via inflammation pathways. Researchers found that the PC-CMWM formula improved the behavioral deficit in rats with unexpected chronic moderate stress. The combination of Cordyceps mushrooms and Poria cocos was also able to lower amygdala glutamate levels and regulate the function of neurotransmitters while reducing neuroinflammation.
A 2020 study suggested that cordycepin-rich ethanol extracts of Cordyceps militaris can block inflammatory mechanisms in chronic inflammatory disorders (e.g., hepatitis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis).
Moreover, cordycepin enhanced immunity, inhibited the proliferation of viral RNA, and suppressed cytokine storms, thereby suggesting its potential to treat COVID-19 and other viral infections… Taken together, cordycepin and its analogs show great potential as the next new class of anti-inflammatory agents.
A 2014 clinical trial confirmed the anti-inflammatory potential of polysaccharides from Cordyceps militaris. These complex carbohydrates suppressed certain types of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1, TNF-, and COX-2), proteins that play an important role in mediating inflammatory responses. Reduced levels of cytokines and inhibition of their function lead to lower inflammation in the body.
An article review identifies cytokines as potential mediators of abnormal behavior and neuropsychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment.
Of particular relevance to this topic is the role of cytokines in regulating functions within the central nervous system that ultimately modulate behavior. Interestingly, psychological stress is reported to modulate cytokine production, suggesting potential relevance of this mediator to mental health. In fact, cytokine signaling in the brain is known to regulate important brain functions including neurotransmitter metabolism, neuroendocrine function, synaptic plasticity, as well as the neural circuitry of mood. It is rather obvious to expect an aberrant behavioral outcome as a result of a dysregulation in cytokine signaling which might lead to occurrence of depression, anxiety, and cognitive dysfunction.
The review also posits the “oxidative stress theory” as a possible explanation for neuroinflammation leading to depressive disorders.
Good thing cordyceps fights oxidative stress…
Cordyceps Fights Oxidative Stress
Free radicals, or reactive oxygen species (ROS), are unstable molecules that cause cellular and tissue oxidation. The imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in our body can damage healthy cells and cause inflammation, increasing the risk of cellular damage and chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Oxidative stress is a common catalyst for depression.
According to research, people with depression typically have elevated levels of ROS. The study concluded that “in the absence of known oxidative injury causative agents, the lowered levels of antioxidants and higher levels of MDA [malondialdehyde] found in patients with major depression implicate the high degree of oxidative stress in unipolar depression.”
Here’s how oxidative stress is bad for our mental health:
- ROS can cause damage to neurons and mood-regulating neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. (Beckhauser, et. al.)
- Oxidative stress can activate inflammatory pathways in the brain. Neuroinflammation can impair normal brain function and contribute to depression. (Correla, et. al.)
- Mitochondria are extremely vulnerable to oxidative damage. Mitochondria are the cellular organelles in charge of energy production, and their dysfunction can result in a decrease in cellular energy production—another contributor to depression. (Guo, et. al.)
Cordyceps mushrooms show powerful antioxidant activities that may help keep the effects of ROS in check. Korean researchers proved that cordycepin-rich Cordyceps militaris can fight oxidative stress in rats with alcohol-induced hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol). They concluded that “cordycepin-rich Cordyceps militaris showed the highest anti-oxidant and anti-hyperlipidemia effects under chronic alcoholic damage.”
What is Cordyceps Militaris?
Cordyceps militaris is one of the two most common species in the cordyceps fungus genus. Unlike Cordyceps sinensis, C. militaris is grown commercially in labs and is more available—and cheaper—than its cousin. Cordyceps mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine and other East Asian alternative medicines due to their extraordinary health benefits.
Read our in-depth guide on the exact differences between C. militaris and C. sinensis for more information on these two fungi.
All cordyceps mushrooms are adaptogenic; they help your body fight and adapt to stress. Adaptogens can be used to treat cancer, boost the immune system, and lower inflammation in the body, but they are also beneficial for reducing anxiety and depression.
Cordyceps contains bioactive substances that have a wide range of therapeutic and medicinal benefits.
Cordyceps increases energy levels
Cordyceps prevents oxidative damage
Cordyceps militaris prevents kidney disease
Cordyceps can boost sexual function in men and women
Cordyceps militaris may help you sleep better
Cordyceps boosts the immune
Cordyceps promotes digestive health
Cordyceps has anti-aging properties that aid skin health.
The Best Way to Consume Cordyceps Mushrooms
There are many ways you can include cordyceps in your diet. Many people prefer cordyceps capsules or tablets since they're a quick and easy fix. Others add raw or dried mushrooms to their meals, which is a more delicious form of consumption.
Our favorite way to consume this magical mushroom is with our mushroom matcha tea. That’s right: this tea also contains matcha, another super adaptogen with anti-anxiety properties. Matcha is packed with L-theanine, an important amino acid that causes relaxation in both the body and mind.
You can whip up some cordyceps matcha latte in the morning or drink it before hitting the gym. You can take our mushroom matcha tea packets on the go, pour some hot water over the fragrant powder, and enjoy every sip.
If you’re taking cordyceps mushrooms for the first time, start with a low amount (1–3 grams) and gradually increase the dosage.
Because of their energy-boosting properties, we suggest you take cordyceps in the morning or early afternoon. Avoid consuming cordyceps products before bed.
Can I Take Cordyceps Every Day?
There is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy a warm cup of cordyceps tea every single day. As long as you keep within the recommended dosage—no more than 5 grams of mushrooms per day—you should be able to reap the benefits of cordyceps.
Get yourself a jar of the best cordyceps matcha tea and enjoy it as a warm beverage every morning to kick off the day with a boost of energy (deliciousness is completely free of charge).
Who Should Not Take Cordyceps?
Cordyceps mushrooms are generally regarded as safe for the majority of people. However, certain individuals should avoid consuming them or use them with caution. If you’re allergic to mushrooms, mold, or yeast or have a history of allergic reactions to other types of fungi, be careful with cordyceps.
Before taking cordyceps during pregnancy or breastfeeding, consult with your healthcare practitioner.
Side Effects of Cordyceps
Some people experience mild side effects when consuming cordyceps mushrooms for the first time. These effects are short-lived and typically go away on their own.
- Dry mouth
- Upset stomach
Cordyceps mushrooms may interfere with some medications, such as immunosuppressants, blood thinners, and diabetes medications. If you are on any medications, visit a healthcare provider before using cordyceps.
Does Cordyceps Interact with Antidepressants?
There is little research available on the interaction between Cordyceps militaris and antidepressants. Cordyceps may have antidepressant properties, as has been proven in several studies, and can boost mood and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Certain antidepressants, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), can have dangerous interactions with certain foods and supplements, including cordyceps mushrooms, but there is insufficient evidence to support this. If you are on an MAOI and considering taking Cordyceps, consult with your doctor first.
Before adding any new supplement or prescription to your current regimen, please consult with your healthcare professional, especially if you are taking antidepressants.
Cordyceps for Depression FAQ
Is cordyceps good for the brain?
Cordyceps has been shown to increase memory and cognitive performance, improve learning and memory, and protect the nervous system. Due to its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, adenosine can modulate brain activity and promote the function of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate, all of which are essential for maintaining healthy brain function.
How does cordyceps make you feel?
Cordyceps can make some people feel energized, while others don’t notice much difference. Whether you feel a change or not, cordyceps mushrooms are packed with naturally energizing chemicals that will boost your productivity and focus, increase energy levels, improve your circulation and oxygenation, and elevate your mood.
Is cordyceps good for anxiety?
According to animal research, cordyceps may have an anxiolytic effect, which means it may help reduce anxiety levels. Researchers concluded that “Cordyceps militaris water extract exhibited antidepressant and anxiolytic effects via reducing inflammation and modulating neurotransmitters and it can be used as a functional food to prevent depression and anxiety.”
Cordyceps is adaptogenic. By stimulating the adrenal glands and modifying the neurological system, cordyceps increases adaptability and resistance to fatigue, stress, and anxiety.
What are the most popular medicinal mushrooms?
Here are some of the most popular medicinal mushrooms:
- Reishi: also known as the "mushroom of immortality," reishi is well-known for boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation, and promoting relaxation and sleep.
- Chaga has some serious antioxidant activities. It has been used to enhance the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve digestive health.
- Lion's mane is said to help with brain health by boosting the blood flow to the brain, and has traditionally been used to help with nerve and gut health.
- Cordyceps: known for its energy-boosting characteristics, cordyceps has traditionally been used to increase athletic performance as well as maintain lung and kidney function.
- Turkey tail is high in antioxidants and has long been used to boost the immune system, improve digestive health, and promote overall wellness.
Medicinal mushrooms are fungi that have been used in traditional medicine for their health-promoting characteristics. Polysaccharides, beta-glucans, triterpenoids, and other antioxidants found in these mushrooms can help enhance the immune system, reduce inflammation, increase mental clarity, and support your overall health.
Can cordyceps treat diabetes?
Cordyceps militaris has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to reduce blood sugar levels and enhance insulin sensitivity. An animal study discovered that cordyceps administration boosted blood sugar levels in diabetic rats.
If you have diabetes or another condition that affects your blood sugar levels, consult your doctor before using cordyceps or any other supplements.
Are cordyceps mushrooms good for the adrenals?
Cordyceps may benefit adrenal health by lowering inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can impair adrenal function. The main function of the adrenal glands is to produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress, and other important functions.
Does cordyceps give you energy?
Cordyceps mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine as an energy-boosting remedy. They have been shown to promote oxygen uptake, improve exercise performance, and reduce fatigue.
Cordyceps can make you feel more energized because it improves mitochondrial activity and increases ATP (adenosine triphosphate) synthesis, which are the primary sources of energy in our bodies. Cordyceps also has adaptogenic properties; it can help the body cope with physical and mental stress, potentially increasing energy levels and lowering fatigue.
Does cordyceps make you jittery?
Jitters are not a common side effect of cordyceps mushrooms. Cordyceps is generally considered safe for use, but it is always best to contact a healthcare practitioner before starting any new supplement, especially if you have any underlying medical concerns or are taking any drugs.
When you consume cordyceps mushrooms, you'll likely feel more alert and focused, as they can have stimulating effects similar to coffee. However, unlike coffee, cordyceps mushrooms won't make you jittery or anxious.
Can cordyceps be used as a weight management supplement?
Some people use cordyceps mushrooms to help them keep their weight under control. Studies have shown that cordyceps may in fact improve overall health by reducing liver weight and fat deposition and improving lipid levels. While these techniques aren’t exactly weight management, they are a step in the right direction to keep your body healthy and maintain a healthy weight.
Is cordyceps a stimulant?
Cordyceps is not a stimulant. It is a natural energy booster and, unlike coffee or energy drinks, contains no caffeine. Instead, cordyceps is believed to help the body increase oxygen uptake, which gives you more energy and boosts your physical endurance.
What is Cordyceps militaris good for?
Traditional Chinese medicine, consumer reports, and clinical research recommend the use of Cordyceps militaris supplements for treating a variety of health conditions.
- Cordyceps might treat cancer. It has potent antitumor effects and may be used to treat prostate cancer,testicular cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and other types of carcinomas.
- It may aid cardiovascular and respiratory function.
- Cordyceps may help with liver problems.
- Cordyceps mushrooms reduce the risk of infectious and parasitic diseases.
- You may be able to boost levels of testosterone and improve libido with cordyceps mushrooms.
- You can boost energy levels and improve exercise performance. Cordyceps can also increase muscle strength.
- Cordyceps can improve your mood and treat several types of mood disorders.
If you want to include a natural energy booster and mood enhancer in your daily routine, there’s no better way to go than with our cordyceps tea. Premium matcha is there to enhance the flavor and bring your mind and body peace and relaxation, straight from organic farms in China. Every sip is packed with mind-soothing L-theanine from matcha and all-around amazing cordyceps.
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