Cordyceps is a category of fungus that includes about 400 species, most of which grow in China, Korea, Nepal and Tibet. Cordyceps fungi are fairly rare and prized as medicinal mushrooms within traditional Chinese medicine. Cordyceps sinensis is a commonly used species and offers many benefits with few or no side effects. Taking some types of cordyceps has the additional benefit of consuming more than one species, which might lead to additional health benefits. Consulting with an herbal specialist before embarking on a supplement regimen is recommended.
Cordyceps mushrooms have been used for nearly 1,500 years in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine. In ancient China, cordyceps was recommended for many illnesses and was regarded as a cure-all and a general health tonic, much like ginseng. Cordyceps sinensis, in particular, is reputed to be effective for building strength, strengthening the immune system and reducing the effects of aging. Cordyceps have been fairly well studied in China and Japan, where some of their benefits have been documented, although quality research by Western scientists is lacking.
Cordyceps species enhance and strengthen the immune system by stimulating the production of natural killer cells, which are immune cells responsible for attacking pathogens such as viruses and bacteria, as noted in the text "Biochemistry of Human Nutrition." The fungus is also an efficient antioxidant, protecting blood vessels and other tissues from harmful free radicals. Cordyceps can have slight sedative effects on some users, which reduce anxiety and promote restful sleep.
A popular use for cordyceps in Asian countries is as an aphrodisiac and an impotence remedy. Clinical studies revealed that cordyceps mushrooms are effective at relaxing the smooth muscle tissue of the penis, which increases blood flow and leads to firmer and longer lasting erections, according to "The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine."
Some animal studies have shown that cordyceps consumption increases the rate of production in the liver of ATP, which are the energy molecules of the body, as cited in "Advanced Nutrition: Macronutrients, Micronutrients and Metabolism." Further, cordyceps seems to reduce fatigue, especially within the elderly, and enhance athletic performance. In traditional Chinese medicine, cordyceps are often suggested for regulating blood pressure, increasing circulation and strengthening the heart.
Perhaps the most controversial potential benefit of cordyceps is in regards to cancer. Extracts from Cordyceps sinensis and militaris have demonstrated significant anticancer activities in animals, mainly by stimulating the immune system and inducing cancer cell death, according to the book "Medical Herbalism." Cordyceps also increases cellular oxygen uptake, which discourages cancer formation and proliferation. Therapeutic dosage of cordycep mushroom capsules range from 2 g to 9 g daily, although they are not considered a cure or valid therapy for cancer or any other disease by the medical community. If you have cancer, consult an oncologist to ensure your safety.