Cordyceps: Health Benefits, Uses, & Side Effects

A little mushroom that does a lot of things, cordyceps’ medicinal properties have been recognized by Chinese healers for thousands of years. Finally, science is starting to catch up After combing through dozens of scientific publications, we’ve compiled this list of some of the most promising health benefits of Cordyceps mushrooms.

What are Cordyceps Mushrooms? From Herdsman to Healer: A Brief History

Known as the caterpillar mushroom or Himalayan gold, cordyceps were first found in the high alpine meadows of the Tibetan mountain range by herdsman who noticed that yaks snacking on the mushrooms were growing stronger. Soon, village healers were prescribing the fungus for everything from coughs to erectile dysfunction and, according to lore, the locals were-- ahem, pleased with the results.

Recently, science has started to put the caterpillar mushroom through the paces and the findings show promising applications for a variety of ailments. Read on for just a few ways this versatile mushroom can improve your game in the streets and between the sheets.

1. Boost Stamina and Energy

Looking to last a little longer? Whether it’s at the gym or elsewhere, cordyceps for energy support might be your answer. Seeking to study the effects of cordyceps on V02 max–the maximum amount of oxygen a person can access during intense exercise, 30 healthy older adults saw a VO2 max increase of 7% after six weeks compared to the control group, while another study saw an 11% increase of V02-max on younger adults compared to the control group.

Yet another study conducted in 2015 found that after giving rats cordyceps for two weeks the rodents showed higher levels of antioxidant enzyme levels and ATP (Adenosine triphosphate–an organic chemical that provides energy to cells) and lower levels of fatigue-inducing lactic acid.

2. Care For Your Kidneys

Traditional Chinese medicine doctors have long thought cordyceps improve kidney function and now science is weighing in. A systematic review by the Cochrane Library of 22 studies involving 1746 people concluded that, although more studies are needed, there is evidence that cordyceps given to patients with chronic kidney disease improved renal function, stimulated progesterone production and was beneficial in addressing complications that came with the disease.

3. Live Smarter, Healthier, Longer

In a Chinese study published in 2018, cordyceps were shown to improve learning and memory in mice by scavenging oxygen free radicals, protecting the nervous system and preventing oxidative damage, which–bonus!– is also a big factor in what makes us age.

4. Managing Diabetes

Call it an earthier insulin, cordyceps have been shown to decrease blood sugar in studies done on mice, offering a possible alternative to insulin shots for diabetics everywhere.

What’s next?

While the science is just beginning to come around to cordyceps, anecdotal evidence has been building for millenia. So consider these powerful fungi next time you need a little more spring in your step.