If you have ever been on a walk through the woods, there’s no doubt you eventually stumbled across some growing fungus. Whether mushrooms are budding out of the side of a fallen and rotting tree or toadstools are cropping from the undergrowth, there’s an enormous amount of diversity among them. Some are poisonous, some are excellent for eating, and others have incredible health benefits locked away inside them. Not all mushrooms are as simple and common as what you might see in any forest, though. In fact, some of the most potent mushrooms originate from very strange and unusual circumstances — like the genus Cordyceps, and more specifically, Cordyceps Sinensis.
Endemic to Asia, this species of mushroom does not grow on trees, dead plants, or even from the soil. Instead, it grows inside of a particular type of caterpillar! After “infecting” a larval moth, the fungus grows until the caterpillar dies and its body becomes home to the organism. After a time, the “fruit” of the mushroom, which is the part which humans can consume, erupts from the head of the host caterpillar. Commercial cultivation involves no caterpillars, however; they instead often grow on beds of special grains. As one can imagine, these mushrooms are incredibly tiny — and yet they pack an incredible nutritional punch that can aid our bodies in many ways.
It should come as no surprise that it has so many potential benefits, though. Cordyceps has found its place within traditional herbal medicines, like those practised in China, for many centuries. Today scientists and health professionals pour more research than ever before into understanding what cordyceps can do for humans. From anti-ageing benefits to a compound that can inhibit the growth of some tumours, it is a largely untapped source of impressive effects. Before diving in to some of the more specific uses of Cordyceps, such as supplements used by athletes, let’s consider what some of the overall perks are to cordyceps consumption.
At the very core of this rare mushroom’s health benefits is the fact that it falls into an important class: adaptogens. If you don’t know what an adaptogen is; understanding the concept is very easy. An adaptogen is something — such as the Cordyceps mushroom — which contributes many compounds and nutrients to the body which help maintain and improve homoeostasis. Through stress reduction, hormonal impacts, and more, adaptogens aid the body in “adapting” to the circumstances it faces daily. Cordyceps passes the “Four N’s” test that defines an adaptogen. It has nutritional value; it helps the body to normalise internal imbalances; it acts in a broad and non-specific way so the entire body benefits; and it is non-toxic to humans even during prolonged use.
With that in mind, how does consuming supplements containing Cordyceps extracts help you? First, it has a general “detoxifying” effect on your body. It does this by boosting kidney function. Remember, your kidneys filter all the blood in your body on a constant basis. The more efficiently your kidneys perform, the more impurities and toxic compounds they can remove from your blood. These are then excreted harmlessly during urine production. There is strong science backing up claims of boosted kidney function — in fact, many study participants saw improvements after only a month of supplementation.
In a world increasingly filled with processed foods and highly refined sugars, diabetes is a growing problem globally. Luckily, Cordyceps can help manage risks as well as play some role in disease management. The evidence is staggering: in one study, almost all participants on Cordyceps supplements saw improvements in their blood sugar levels. Because it naturally lowers one’s glucose levels, it reduces the strain on your pancreas and its insulin production. Though people with diabetes should be careful to avoid lowering their levels too far, a doctor can provide advice on how to supplement one’s treatment with this natural remedy.
Regarding another general benefit, Cordyceps also has a significant impact on the adrenal glands. These glands, which sit on top of your kidneys, do far more than produce adrenaline in “fight or flight” situations. In fact, they also have the responsibility for providing and regulating several other hormones throughout the body.
One such hormone is cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, which enters the bloodstream whenever your brain senses you’re under pressure. In our busy lives, stress is an almost constant component of our day. That’s not good for our health! Cordyceps helps to lower cortisol levels naturally. At the same time, it boosts the adrenal glands’ ability to regulate better the hormones it produces. Meanwhile, there is also evidence that consuming Cordyceps stimulates the body’s testosterone production. As a result, it is a natural way to both combat sexual dysfunction and to improve athletic ability.
With the aid of an adaptogenic mushroom like this, your body can reach a comfortable equilibrium sooner. A body better in balance with its needs will leave you feeling more energetic and less stressed. You may even find you sleep better simply because you feel better, too. These benefits are merely a scratch on the surface of what Cordyceps offers, though. We mentioned that athletes benefit from this mushroom. How?
Exercise should be an important part of everyone’s life. As we move about and use our bodies, we not only strengthen ourselves physically, but we boost our longevity, too. As we age, exercise can help us to continue feeling healthy and well. Research and real world evidence both show that supplements created with Cordyceps can have enormous benefits for individuals who love to exercise. From professional athletes to the average person, what’s happening inside the body when Cordyceps goes to work? To understand that, you must know how our muscles work.
During muscle contractions, like those happening in the legs during running, the body must consume energy continuously. To do this, the body takes molecules of adenosine triphosphate, known as ATP, and breaks it down rapidly into a by-product called ADP. At the same time, the body continually synthesises new ATP to feed into this energy cycle. A deficit of ATP is what leads to feelings of fatigue and exhaustion — that “out of energy” sensation that comes after an utterly draining workout.
Inside Cordyceps mushrooms is a unique compound called Cordycepin, which has many interesting properties. It is in the same class of molecules as adenosine; it naturally increases the body’s ability to produce more ATP quickly. In fact, some studies showed an increase of nearly 50% when measuring cellular energy levels after using Cordycepin. Right away, you’ll feel you have more energy because that’s exactly what’s happening as your body creates ATP. During high-intensity exercise, you’ll be able to work hard and improve your performance. Such was the case during the 1993 Olympics when Chinese runners taking Cordyceps supplements shattered record after record.
Cordyceps also influences the body’s oxygen uptake at the same time it increases your energy levels. It enables the lungs to absorb oxygen more efficiently at the cellular level. Over time, Cordyceps can help improve an individual’s VO2 max — that is, the maximum amount of oxygen that can dissolve into the bloodstream. The higher this number is, the better prepared the body is to endure extended periods of strenuous activity. By improving how much oxygen someone can take in during exercise, it delays fatigue substantially. Combined with the added energy, it’s easy to see why those Olympic runners could power through the field to set world records.
Athletes also claim to experience much-improved recovery times because of these effects. When you want to train to be at your best, reducing downtime is a big help. These benefits are why you’ll find Cordyceps in many popular exercise supplements, including Optimal Sport. All this evidence makes it even easier to see why this mushroom earns the title of “adaptogen.” Despite working on different parts of the body simultaneously — both in the lungs and at the cellular level in muscle fibres — the benefits harmonise together. Overall, this makes Cordyceps supplements very attractive to athletes and the fitness-minded alike
Beyond equipping our bodies for exercise and conferring several quality-of-life benefits, Cordyceps can do even more. Its widespread effects create positive conditions for improvements in many bodily systems. Not only can this improve your health today; but you will also appreciate these benefits as you grow older. Ageing is something we must all contend with, but it appears that Cordyceps extracts can help the body maintain a more youthful appearance. Some compounds within the mushroom contribute to positive skin health. By promoting healthier skin cells, you can look younger and feel more confident.
Beyond the superficial, Cordyceps contributes to heart health in an immensely positive way and through several mechanisms. First and foremost, extracts of the mushroom can help to lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. Not only that, but it has an impact on triglyceride levels as well. Blood triglycerides occur naturally, but too many of them can substantially raise your risk for heart disease. By lowering both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, Cordyceps helps to set the stage for better heart health. Combined with the right diet and plenty of exercise, you can work to avoid one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
After heart disease, cancer is among the biggest threats we face. Though new developments in its treatment continue, it remains challenging to manage. Remember the compound in the mushroom we mentioned earlier called Cordycepin? Based on recent research, it appears Cordycepin has an ability to act in an anti-tumour capacity. In lab trial, tumours exposed directly to Cordycepin compounds shrank in reaction. In some cases, this could help the body prevent certain types of cancer from beginning at all.
Scientists now understand why Cordycepin works the way it does on cancer cells. In high concentrations inside a cancer cell, the compound disrupts the cell’s ability to create vital proteins correctly. Without these proteins, the cell dies quickly. This observation explains why tumours often shrink in animal trials with Cordyceps. It shows exciting promise — and if you already plan to take a Cordyceps supplement for the other benefits, it’s simply more peace of mind to enjoy.
What about the immune system? As the main line of defence against disease and infection in our bodies, we should do everything we can to strengthen its ability. Here, too, Cordyceps exerts its influence. As a very powerful immuno-modulator, the mushroom compounds help stimulate the production of immune cells that hunt and destroy invaders to the body. These kick in long before normal white blood cells move in to attack. By improving your ability to resist infection overall, you can enjoy improved wellness — and this is especially important for seniors. When even the common cold can become debilitating, staying healthy is a must.
It’s almost hard to believe there could be so many beneficial properties to a strange, exotic mushroom that grows out of a caterpillar. However, research into the positive aspects of Cordyceps continues even now as scientists strive to unlock more secrets of Cordycepin and similar compounds. Meanwhile, increasing cultivation means that incorporating a Cordyceps supplement or elixir into your diet is easier than ever.
You, too, can equip your body with the essential nutrients it needs for better blood pressure or improved athletic performance. Everyone could potentially benefit in some way from the use of Cordyceps due to its widespread action across the body. Next time you take a walk and notice mushrooms near the path, take a moment to reflect how awesome it is that those small organisms contain so much good stuff!
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