Can Cordyceps Really Fight Inflammation?
While there are many anti-inflammatory medications available, many patients seek more natural remedies. Cordyceps mushrooms have been revered for their possible health advantages for centuries, but how effective are they in reducing inflammation?
We took a hard look at the science behind Cordyceps militaris and its possible anti-inflammatory benefits. Let’s see if these medicinal mushrooms can be used as a natural remedy to fight inflammation and improve our overall health.
What is Cordyceps?
Cordyceps militaris is a fungus that belongs to the genus Cordyceps. It can be found in the wild, parasitizing a variety of larvae, but the majority of cordyceps on the market today are lab-grown. Because of its potential health benefits, cordyceps has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine.
There are over 600 species of cordyceps, with Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis being two of the most common. Read our in-depth guide to C. militaris and C. sinensis to learn all about them.
Cordyceps mushrooms are considered adaptogenic. They contain bioactive substances that help our bodies maintain homeostasis and respond (adapt) to physical, emotional, and environmental stress.
Benefits of Cordyceps Mushrooms
Cordyceps is rich in bioactive compounds and other beneficial molecules that are responsible for a wide range of health effects. Adenosine, cordycepin, and polysaccharides like beta-glucans are among the top substances found in cordyceps. They have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory effects; they are able to boost oxygen uptake in the blood, regulate blood sugar levels, and even have inhibitory effects on cancer cells.
Here are some more health benefits of Cordyceps militaris:
- Improve gut health, regulate the gut flora, and reduce gastrointestinal inflammation
- Improve sexual function in men and women by increasing libido
- Boost testosterone levels which helps maintain healthy reproductive system in men (read more about the benefits of cordyceps on fertility)
- Boost energy and improve athletic performance and endurance
- Improve cognitive function
- Promote respiratory health
- Treat chronic kidney disease
- Lower anxiety and depression
- Fight inflammation and chronic inflammatory conditions
What is Inflammation and What Causes it?
Inflammation is the body's natural response to injuries or foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, or toxic chemicals. When they enter the body or we sustain an injury, our immune system sends its first responders to start healing the injured tissue. Inflammatory cells and cytokines respond by stimulating the production of more inflammatory cells. As a result, pain, swelling, bruising, or redness can occur.
Typical symptoms of inflammation are:
- Muscle stiffness
- Poor appetite
Causes of Inflammation
The most common cause of inflammation in the body is the presence of bacteria or viruses. Physical injuries like scrapes or damages to the external tissue through foreign objects result in acute inflammation. The body triggers an inflammatory response, neutralizes the threat, and returns to normal.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can lead to health problems like rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and even cancer. Allergies and exposure to chemicals or radiation can also activate chronic inflammatory processes in the body. Autoimmune diseases can prompt the body to attack its own healthy tissue, which also results in inflammation.
The autoimmune diseases on this list are directly associated with chronic inflammation:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Inflammation can be treated with a variety of medications and treatments. The most commonly used are corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). While these options can produce effective and immediate results, they do come with side effects.
Some possible side effects of corticosteroids are:
- Changes in mood
- Delayed wound healing
- Weight gain
- Increased appetite
- Muscle weakness
- Lower resistance to infection
Let’s see how cordyceps compares to traditional anti-inflammatory treatments.
Can Cordyceps Really Fight Inflammation?
Their extraordinary anti-inflammatory activities are probably one of the main reasons why cordyceps mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese and other herbal medicines for thousands of years.
One of the main molecules of cordyceps is cordycepin. This naturally occurring nucleoside, found in cordyceps mycelia, shows strong anti-inflammatory action. A 2020 study revealed that cordycepin can potentially reduce inflammation and reduce the number of cytokines in chronic inflammatory disorders such as asthma, hepatitis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The study also found that “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.”
Cordyceps mushrooms are also rich in polysaccharides. These complex biomolecules are important sources of energy. A 2014 study suggested that polysaccharides found in Cordyceps militaris have great potential to lower inflammation by suppressing certain types of cytokines. When they reduce the number of cytokines and inhibit their function, polysaccharides are able to lower inflammation in the body.
A 2020 study found that cordyceps polysaccharides helped rats with acute liver failure (ALF) in animal models. Researchers looked for certain enzymes and bilirubin in the blood that showed how the liver works. They found that rats with ALF had liver damage caused by hepatocyte apoptosis (cell death). Hepatocytes are the major parenchymal cells in the liver that activate the immune system and aid metabolism and detoxification.
The rats that received cordyceps polysaccharides showed an increased amount of proteins and activated genes that reduced inflammation and sped up cell growth. This significantly reduced hepatocyte apoptosis and improved liver function.
Antitumor Effect of Cordyceps Militaris
Cordyceps militaris has been shown to fight cancer. Extracts of C. militaris can stop the growth of different types of carcinomas, such as lung cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. Cordycepin and other potent bioactive compounds found in C. militaris target the gene expression of tumor cells and induce apoptosis, mainly by lowering inflammation in the body.
Chronic inflammation is a major cause of cancer. Over time, it causes DNA damage, allowing cancer cells to grow and spread. Researchers found that cordycepin from Cordyceps militaris stopped breast cancer cells from growing.
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 Bcl-2-associated X protein/ B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bax/Bcl-2) protein expression ratio, and decreasing the protein expression of X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP) in MCF-7 cells. Consequently, C. militaris concentrate and cordycepin exhibited significant anticancer effects through their ability to induce apoptosis in breast cancer cells.
To show how powerful it is in reducing inflammation and fighting cancer, Chinese researchers isolated ten compounds found in Cordyceps militaris. They were tested to see how well they prevented cancer cell proliferation and inhibited inflammation. Eight out of ten compounds were able to prevent cancer cells from growing and spreading and stop the production of more inflammatory mediators.
In the present study, we have demonstrated that 10 pure compounds (1–10) were isolated from Cordyceps militaris. The compounds 8, followed by 3, 7, 9, and 10, showed potent growth inhibition on free radical nitric oxide and cytokines (TNF-α and IL-12) enhanced production. Furthermore, compounds 8 and 3 exhibited strong growth inhibition against colon 205 and PC-3 cells, respectively.
Cordyceps and Gastrointestinal Inflammation
Cordyceps can improve gastrointestinal health by regulating gut flora and reducing inflammation. Recent studies have shown that cordyceps reduces symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), primarily through anti-inflammatory actions. Polysaccharides seem to play an important role in reducing inflammation. Beta-glucans, a category of polysaccharides found in cordyceps, are packed with bioactive properties that regulate inflammatory cytokines. According to research, beta-glucans are particularly beneficial for people with inflammatory bowel disease.
As mentioned before, IBD is an autoimmune disease. While further research is needed to investigate the connection between cordyceps and autoimmune diseases, some evidence seems to suggest that Cordyceps militaris may alleviate symptoms of many such disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and lupus.
A study published in Biochemical Pharmacology suggested that cordycepin may prevent inhibition of dendritic cells (immune cells that boost the immune response), reduce neuroinflammation, and improve symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Cordyceps Against Oxidative Damage and Inflammation
Cordyceps contains antioxidants that help our immune system fight against oxidative damage and inflammation.
Free radicals are highly reactive and unstable chemicals that induce cellular and tissue oxidation, causing harm to healthy cells and leading to inflammation. An imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants can cause cellular damage and chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants help keep the effects of free radicals in check.
Cordyceps and Asthma-Related Inflammation
Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition characterized by airway inflammation and constriction that causes breathing difficulties. A recent animal study suggested that cordyceps mushrooms reduce inflammation related to asthma. By modifying the immune response and reducing inflammation, cordyceps seems to be a natural remedy for asthma.
While research on animal models yielded promising results, further research on humans is needed to fully understand the anti-inflammatory activities of cordyceps mushrooms.
Cordyceps and Kidney Function
Cordyceps has potential benefits for kidney function, particularly by lowering inflammation and improving renal function. Inflammation and oxidative stress harm our kidneys in many ways, but cordyceps’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce damage and prevent kidney disease. The mushrooms may also improve kidney function by boosting blood flow to the kidneys and helping the body use oxygen more efficiently.
According to research, chronic inflammation is common following kidney transplant surgeries. Cordyceps seems to lower inflammation and increase immunological function in post-kidney transplant patients. Both of these are crucial in preventing rejection of the donated kidney.
Anti-Inflammatory Agent for Healthy Skin
Because of its ability to reduce inflammation, swelling, and redness, Cordyceps militaris may be a viable natural solution to keeping your skin healthy and fresh. Its anti-inflammatory properties can help with chronic skin disorders such as dermatitis and psoriasis.
Inflammation and swelling can make your skin red, sore, and itchy and do very little to lock in the much-needed moisture. Remember how cordyceps helps fight oxidative damage on a cellular level? Due to its powerful anti-aging effect, it feeds your skin with antioxidants and increases the production of collagen.
Are You Interested in Taking Cordyceps?
There’s no better way to reap the rewards of cordyceps mushrooms than with our cordyceps and matcha tea. Enjoy every cup of premium green tea sourced from Japan and the very best organic cordyceps mushrooms China has to offer.
Cordyceps and Inflammation FAQ
Is cordyceps a parasite?
Cordyceps mushrooms are endoparasitoids, which means they live as parasites on insects (typically moth larvae). They eventually kill their hosts and grow fruiting bodies out of their heads.
Don’t worry, only insects can be hosts, so it’s completely safe for people to consume cordyceps mushrooms, even raw.
While Cordyceps militaris can be found in nature, commercially cultivated species of C. militaris grow in labs, and no insects are killed in their production. It typically grows in a culture containing wheat, oats, and rice.
Will cordyceps keep you awake?
Cordyceps mushrooms have energy-boosting properties, and while they may help with alertness, they shouldn’t interfere with sleep. A Chinese study suggested that bioactive compounds in cordyceps act as a natural energizer and appear to enhance ATP production.
Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is a key component that generates energy in our bodies. It is often referred to as the “energy molecule” that powers cellular processes by releasing energy. Thus, cordyceps may give you an energy boost, which will, in turn, make you feel more awake and alert.
The best time to consume cordyceps is in the morning or early afternoon. This way, you will avoid the energy surge right before bed.
Are functional mushrooms safe to consume?
Functional mushrooms are a safe and natural way to improve your overall health and boost your aerobic capacity. Adaptogenic and medicinal mushrooms both fall under the umbrella term "functional mushrooms.” The best-known and most researched types of functional mushrooms are lion’s mane, reishi mushrooms, turkey tail, and cordyceps.
Before including any type of functional mushroom into your wellness routine, as with any dietary supplementation, you should consult with your healthcare provider.
Can cordyceps treat diabetes?
Cordyceps mushrooms have the capacity to reduce blood sugar levels in people suffering from diabetes. Evidence-based studies revealed that taking cordyceps supplements for 12 weeks can significantly reduce blood glucose.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that causes low levels of insulin or prevents the body from using it as it should. In diabetes, HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol levels, drop while “bad” cholesterol levels increase. In addition, high LDL cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease and other health concerns. Research on the effects of Cordyceps militaris revealed it might be able to lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the amount of “bad” fats in the blood.
Does aqueous extract of cordyceps inhibit cell proliferation?
According to a study, the aqueous extractions of cordyceps seem to inhibit cancer cells from growing and spreading in people diagnosed with leukemia.
Cordyceps aqueous extractions have been shown to promote cell steroidogenesis, a biosynthetic process that turns cholesterol into steroids, in mouse Leydig cells. One study discovered that cordyceps mushrooms are able to induce apoptosis in cancer cells.
Water extractions of Cordyceps sinensis have also been linked to enhanced immune function and protection against infections and intracellular pathogens.
Can Cordyceps militaris boost sex drive?
Cordyceps militaris has been linked to improved sexual function. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries as an effective way to increase one’s sex drive.
According to an animal study, cordyceps increased sexual function, enhanced erectile function, and promoted sexual activity in male rats in the study. The active compounds in Cordyceps militaris seem to raise testosterone levels in men. Testosterone is important for normal sexual health, sperm production, and erectile function. Higher testosterone is correlated with normal bone density and muscle strength, healthy reproductive function, and an overall improvement in men’s health.
But don’t think that cordyceps mushrooms benefit only men. A study has been conducted on the aphrodisiac properties of cordyceps, and the results suggest an increase in sex drive and sexual function in both men and women.
Can cordyceps boost my stamina?
One of the most talked-about cordyceps benefit is its effect on exercise performance. Human studies have shown that cordyceps supplements can increase athletes’ oxygen absorption, which is essential for stamina and athletic performance.
There are other ways cordyceps improves physical performance:
- Decreasing fatigue
- Improve heart health and lower blood pressure
- Reduce post-workout muscle soreness, swelling, and inflammation
- Speed up recovery
- Improve mental performance and focus
Can cordyceps be used as a weight loss supplement?
Some people believe that consuming Cordyceps militaris will help them shave off excess fat quickly, however, there is currently no evidence to support the claim that cordyceps mushrooms can help individuals lose weight.
Research suggests 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.
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