Cordyceps, an adaptogenic fungus to increase physical and sporting energy
Used in Asia for centuries, Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus with extraordinary adaptogenic properties, capable of supplying energy and vitality to cope with situations of physical and mental stress.
In Tibet, China and other Asian countries, mushrooms have been prized since ancient times for their nutritional and medicinal properties. Thanks to their complex and complete nutritional and biochemical composition (they provide vitamins, minerals, amino acids, polysaccharides, sterols, nucleotides etc.), medicinal mushrooms stand out for their invigorating, immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour and hepato-protective action, and as natural regulators of cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure levels (1) (2).
An amazing, terrifying story
The curious history and biological cycle of Cordyceps sinensis, a mushroom native to the Tibetan plateau, full of symbolism and considered a true panacea for its multiple nutritional and therapeutic properties, is a remarkable story (3).
The way in which Cordyceps fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis or Cordyceps sinensis) grows and develops sounds straight out of a horror novel. This parasite is not content to live at the expense of another species, animal or vegetable, as other natural parasites do, with little damage to the host; it actually destroys the unfortunate host and, while it is disorientated and in agony, forces it to seek out the best conditions for its own growth. Its preferred victims are moth larvae of the Hepiaideae species (4).
Cordyceps reproduce through spores that land on the skin of their victims. These spores penetrate the body of the moth larva, colonising them until they reach the head, where their growth and development will begin. Once the growth cycle is complete, it will explode to spread its spores again and look for new victims on which to develop. A story that sends shivers down your spine, in which the fungus germinates inside a living host, kills and mummifies the larva and then grows out of the victim’s head (5).
From the Tibetan Steppe to the West
Traditional use of this fungal species dates back to ancient times, and reference to its properties has been found in Chinese medicine and traditional Tibetan medicine. Known as ‘Tibetan viagra’, its initial discovery came when local shepherds who observed how their cattle improved their vitality and reproductive capacity by consuming Cordyceps. As a result of these findings, the fungus began to be collected and dried in the sun as primary processing, for consumption by the local people convinced that it increased their energy, sexual potency and desire (6).
Contemporary science has found numerous bioactive components responsible for its multiple properties, now supported by clinical studies and not only by its traditional use, which has aroused the West’s interest in and consumption of products made from extracts of this medicinal mushroom. Its main components include cordycepin, cordycepic acid, adenosine, mannitol, ergosterol and polysaccharides (7) (8) and, according to studies, the main pharmacological actions of these components are their adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-diabetic, lipid-lowering, immunomodulatory, anti-tumour and nephroprotective effects (9) (10) (11).
An indisputable adaptogenic fungus
One of the studied properties of the Cordyceps fungus is its adaptogenic action. The term ‘adaptogen’ describes a substance that improves the body’s state of non-specific resistance to situations of physical and mental stress (12). Studies demonstrate its anti-fatigue and anti-stress capacity (13) and a boost in endurance during exercise (14) (15).
The stimulating effect of C. sinensis has also been linked to its ability to increase testosterone production (16), increase glycogen storage, as well as promote the use of glucose and lactate for energy gains, and delay acidosis in muscles (17). Not forgetting that C. sinensis helps to eliminate excess free radicals generated during oxidative metabolism and protects cells from premature ageing (18) (19). It also improves vasodilation, resulting in improved oxygen supply and lung capacity (20) (21), aids control of glucose and blood lipids (22) and improves sexual performance and libido in both sexes (23).
It is not surprising, considering that this adaptogenic fungus grows in extreme conditions, such as altitudes above 3,000 metres, to which it must adapt in order to survive (24), and the fact that in Traditional Chinese Medicine it is considered a natural invigorating remedy for the body, revered as Yin-nourishing and Yang-invigorating, helping to generate mitochondrial ATP (cellular energy) (25).
With so much scientific evidence, from traditional use to the latest research areas, this appears to be a promising natural solution capable of improving the quality of life of many people.
Quality of Cordyceps products
Given its specific geographical location at high altitudes and the way it reproduces, it is not surprising that this ‘caterpillar fungus’ has limited natural specimens, unable to cope with the high demand for nutritional supplements made from its dry extract. The price of Cordyceps has been increasing in recent years due to growing global demand, which has led scientists to seek artificial cultivation methods to make this traditional medicinal mushroom a more affordable commodity for sale (26). However, due to different species of mushrooms and different fermentation processes, there was a proliferation of fermented products during the 1980s and 1990s, with significant differences in quality, and this had a direct impact on their clinical application (27).
But nowadays, after several decades of efforts and attempts, the artificial cultivation of high quality Cordyceps sinensis has been achieved. Greater understanding of the biology of the fungus, its host insect and simulation of the Tibetan alpine environment has resulted in successful large-scale artificial cultivation with annual yields of 2.5, 5 and 10 tonnes in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. But the most interesting thing is that, according to the studies, there was no difference in the chemical components detected between cultivated and natural Chinese cordyceps, which would derive the same therapeutic properties. In addition, the artificial cultivation system can be controlled, which can potentially avoid any contamination of heavy metals and obtain high quality products (28). This artificial cultivation therefore helps to alleviate the pressure of human demand, while protecting limited natural resources for sustainable use.
Through a biotechnological cultivation and fermentation process, we obtained Anastore’s CordycepsPrime™, a clinically tested extract of mycelium (the vegetative body of the fungus) from Cordyceps sinensis. The Cordyceps strain used to obtain this extract (the CS-4 strain) has been the subject of multiple studies that back its effectiveness, thanks to its active components such as adenosine, polysaccharides and mannitol (29) (30), which are standardised in this product to contain 0.28% adenosine and 8% D-mannitol (cordycepic acid), guaranteeing its effectiveness in helping to reduce both physical and mental fatigue and maintaining all its energy and vitality.
PLEASE NOTE: Not recommended for use in children, pregnant or nursing women. Due to its hypoglycaemic and cholesterol-lowering properties, consult your doctor beforehand if you are also taking medication, as the effects can be synergistic.
(1) Recent progress of research on medicinal mushrooms, foods, and other herbal products used in traditional Chinese medicine Kuo-Hsiung Lee, Susan L. Morris-Natschke, Xiaoming Yang, Rong Huang, Ting Zhou, Shou-Fang Wu,1 Qian Shi,1 and Hideji Itokawa1, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942920/
(2) Bioactivities and Health Benefits of Mushrooms Mainly from China. Zhang JJ, Li Y, Zhou T, Xu DP, Zhang P, Li S, Li HB https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27447602
(3) Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin, Hardeep S. Tuli, Sardul S. Sandhu, and A. K. Sharmacorresponding author https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3909570/
(4) Study on the biology of adults parasite of Cordyceps sinensis, Hepialus biruensis, Chen SJ, Yin DH, Zhong GY, Huang TF. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12776525
(5) Cordyceps fungi as natural killers, new hopes for medicine and biological control factors. Dworecka-Kaszak B. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25281812
(6) Cordyceps sinensis, a fungi used in the Chinese traditional medicine, Illana Esteban C. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18095756
(7) The Chemical Constituents and Pharmacological Actions of Cordyceps sinensis Yi Liu, Jihui Wang, Wei Wang, Hanyue Zhang, Xuelan Zhang, and Chunchao Han , https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4415478/
(8) The genus Cordyceps: a chemical and pharmacological review. Yue K, Ye M, Zhou Z, Sun W, Lin X. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23488776
(9) The genus Cordyceps: An extensive review of its traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology. Olatunji OJ, Tang J, Tola A, Auberon F, Oluwaniyi O, Ouyang Z. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29775778
(10) Cordycepin: a bioactive metabolite with therapeutic potential. Tuli HS, Sharma AK, Sandhu SS, Kashyap D. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24121015
(11) Pharmacological actions of Cordyceps, a prized folk medicine. Ng TB Wang HX. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16354395
(12) Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity Alexander Panossian* and Georg Wikman https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/
(13) Antifatigue and antistress effect of the hot-water fraction from mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis. Koh JH, Kim KM, Kim JM, Song JC, Suh HJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12736514/
(14) Cordyceps sinensis promotes exercise endurance capacity of rats by activating skeletal muscle metabolic regulators. Kumar R, Negi PS, Singh B, Ilavazhagan G, Bhargava K, Sethy NK. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21549819/
(15) Rhodiola crenulata- and Cordyceps sinensis-Based Supplement Boosts Aerobic Exercise Performance after Short-Term High Altitude Training, Chung-Yu Chen, Chien-Wen Hou, Jeffrey R. Bernard, Chiu-Chou Chen, Ta-Cheng Hung, Lu-Ling Cheng, Yi-Hung Liao* and Chia-Hua Kuocorresponding author,* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4174424/
(16) Effects of Cordyceps sinensis on testosterone production in normal mouse Leydig cells. Huang BM, Hsu CC, Tsai SJ, Sheu CC, Leu SF. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11712663/
(17) Antifatigue Functions and Mechanisms of Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms Ping Geng, Ka-Chai Siu, Zhaomei Wang, and Jian-Yong Wu, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5584359/
(18) Cordyceps sinensis oral liquid prolongs the lifespan of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, by inhibiting oxidative stress YINGXIN ZOU, YUXIANG LIU, MINGHUA RUAN, XU FENG, JIACHUN WANG, ZHIYONG CHU, and ZESHENG ZHANG https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4564082/
(19) The inhibitory mechanism of Cordyceps sinensis on cigarette smoke extract-induced senescence in human bronchial epithelial cells
Ailing Liu, Jinxiang Wu, Aijun Li, Wenxiang Bi, Tian Liu, Liuzhao Cao, Yahui Liu, and Liang Dong https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4968689/
(20) Protective effect of Cordyceps sinensis extract on lipopolysaccharide-induced acute lung injury in mice. Fu S, Lu W, Yu W, Hu J https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31186277
(21) Effectiveness and Safety of Oral Cordyceps sinensis on Stable COPD of GOLD Stages 2–3: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Xuhua Yu, Yuquan Mao, Johannah Linda Shergis, Meaghan E. Coyle, Lei Wu, Yuanbin Chen, Anthony Lin Zhang, Lin Lin, Charlie Changli Xue and Yinji Xu https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6470429/
(22) The Effects of Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc. and Gymnema inodorum (Lour.) Decne. Extracts on Adipogenesis and Lipase Activity In Vitro
Kanokwan Tiamyom, Kittipot Sirichaiwetchakoon, Tanaporn Hengpratom, Sajeera Kupittayanant, Rungrudee Srisawat, Atcharaporn Thaeomor, and Griangsak Eumkeb https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6463657/
(23) Review of Naturopathy of Medical Mushroom, Ophiocordyceps Sinensis, in Sexual Dysfunction, Kanitta Jiraungkoorskul and Wannee Jiraungkoorskul https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4791983/
(24) A survey of the geographic distribution of Ophiocordyceps sinensis. Li Y, Wang XL, Jiao L, Jiang Y, Li H, Jiang SP, Lhosumtseiring N, Fu SZ, Dong CH, Zhan Y, Yao YJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22203553/
(25) Pharmacological basis of 'Yin-nourishing' and 'Yang-invigorating' actions of Cordyceps, a Chinese tonifying herb. Siu KM1, Mak DH, Chiu PY, Poon MK, Du Y, Ko KM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15530501
(26) The artificial cultivation of medicinal Caterpillar Fungus, Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Ascomycetes): a review. Yue K, Ye M, Lin X, Zhou Z. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24266368
(27) Comparison and review on specifications of fermented Cordyceps sinensis products, Yang P, Zhao XX, Zhang YW. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29600609
(28) A breakthrough in the artificial cultivation of Chinese cordyceps on a large-scale and its impact on science, the economy, and industry.
Li X, Liu Q, Li W, Li Q, Qian Z, Liu X, Dong C. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30394122
(29) Effect of Cs-4® (Cordyceps sinensis) on Exercise Performance in Healthy Older Subjects: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial, Steve Chen, M.D., Zhaoping Li, M.D., Ph.D., Robert Krochmal, M.D., Marlon Abrazado, B.S., Woosong Kim, B.S., and Christopher B. Cooper, M.D https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110835/
(30) Immunosuppressive effect of Cordyceps CS-4 on human monocyte-derived dendritic cells in vitro. Tang J, Tian D, Liu G. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20821826