Cordyceps – Benefits, How it works, Side effects, Dosage

Cordyceps is a herb that has been used for thousands of years to treat a myriad of illnesses. It increases energy, improves mood, and is said to boost the immune system.

Overview
Also Known AsCordycep sinensis, cordyceps militaris, CS-4, CS-5, Cordymax
Type
Main benefits
  • Increases dopamine
  • Improves exercise performance
  • Rapidly decreases depression
  • Improves memory and learning
  • Decreases age-related problems
  • Increases lifespan
  • Increases endogenous antioxidants
  • Increases energy
  • Lowers total cholesterol
  • Increases HDL cholesterol and lowers VLDL cholesterol
Synergistic with
  • Rhodiola Rosea – For improving exercise performance
How to takeOrally, in the morning with food.
Typical dose750 mg standardized to 8% cordycepin
Best takenChronically
Half-life30 minutes[37] (In rat blood. Brain half-life may be longer)
Mechanism of actionAffects dopamine and noradrenaline
Increases AMPA receptor activity
Where to BuyNootropics Depot – Bulk powder and capsules
Powder City – Bulk powder
iHerb – Capsules only

Summary

Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of different health problems. It has strong antioxidant effects, improves energy and decreases fatigue, decreases stress, fatigue, and cholesterol, and even reduces some of the effects of aging. It may be able to increase dopamine levels, particularly in the elderly or depressed. Interestingly, it may have the possibility to extend lifespan in humans as several studies on animals have shown a reliable increase in lifespan.

In terms of its mechanism of action, not much research has been done. Though, from the current studies it is known to increase dopamine and noradrenaline activity as well as AMPA receptor activity. It increases several endogenous antioxidants.

Benefits

Summary of benefits

ConditionEffectDosageSubjects
Memory and learningImprovedN/AMice
DepressionRapid decrease in symptomsN/AMice
StressDecreasedN/ARats
TestosteroneNo change600 mg - 2.4 gHealthy males
Exercise
  • No change


  • Enhanced performance


  • No change: 1 g - 3 g


  • Enhanced: 333 mg - 3 g
No change:
  • Athletes


Enhanced:
  • Sedentary adults

  • Old adults
AntioxidantsIncreased: superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and catalaseN/AMice
Aging
  • Decreased age-related problems


  • Increased lifespan
N/A
  • Mice

  • Rats

  • Fruit flies
CholesterolDecreased:
  • Total cholesterol

  • VLDL cholesterol


Increased:
  • HDL cholesterol

N/A
  • Mice

  • Rats
Diabetes
  • Decreased blood sugar

  • Protection of pancreatic beta cells

  • Increase in insulin levels
N/ARats
Mice
CancerDecreased proliferation, cell growth, and increased apoptosisN/AIn-vitro studies

Memory and learning

When mice are aged artificially using d-galactose, cordyceps is able to improve their memory and learning in the water maze and step-down test.[1][29] Likewise, in mice with memory impairments cordyceps is able to significantly improve their memory and learning.[2]

Depression

In one study, it was shown that mice subjected to the tail suspension test had dose-dependent decreases in immobility time indicating an antidepressant-like effect.[3] In another, it significantly decreased depression just 45 minutes after treatment, in a similar way to that of ketamine.[30][31][32] Furthermore, not only were its antidepressant effects faster than that of imipramine, but they were also stronger. The antidepressant effect remained after 5 days of treatment.[30]

Cordyceps may be a viable alternative to ketamine for treating depression.

Stress

When rats are exposed to stress, their organs grow in size, specifically the adrenals, spleen, thymus, and thyroid. Cordyceps given for 8 days is able to prevent this weight increase indicating an anti-stress effect.[26]

Testosterone

In 16 healthy adult males, 2.4 g of cordyceps taken for 8 weeks had no effect on strength and failed to affect testosterone levels.[4] Likewise, a combination of 1400 mg of rhodiola crenulata and 600 mg of cordyceps sinensis taken for 2-weeks failed to alter testosterone levels in 9 healthy males.[8]

Exercise

A double-blind study employing 8 subjects found a combination of cordyceps sinensis and rhodiola rosea to have no effect on muscle tissue oxygen saturation nor VO2 max.[5] A similar study with 17 competitive athletes used a formula containing 1000 mg of cordyceps sinensis, 300 mg of rhodiola rosea, and 800 mg of calcium, electrolytes(sodium and potassium), chromium, adenosine, and ribose.[6] After 2 weeks, there was no significant improvement in exercise performance. Similarly, another study using 22 male cyclists found a high dose of 3 g of cordyceps to have no effect on effect on endurance exercise performance nor aerobic capacity.[7]

In contrast to these findings, a study using 18 healthy males training at high altitude (2200 m) found a combination of 1400 mg of rhodiola crenulata and 600 mg of cordyceps sinensis to markedly increase exhaustive run time.[8] In a study involving 36 male sedentary subjects, cordyceps alone was able to improve energy and reduce fatigue during exercise compared to placebo.[9]

On the other hand, a double-blind study involving 20 healthy subjects aged 50-75 years found an odd 333 mg of CS-4 to significantly improve exercise performance after 12 weeks of treatment.[10] Likewise, 37 healthy Chinese elders taking 3 g/day had significant improvements in oxygen uptake after 6 weeks of treatment.[11]

In rats, it’s able to improve swimming endurance from 75 minutes to 90 minutes by decreasing fatigue.[12]

In athletes, cordyceps has no benefit on exercise performance. But, in the elderly and sedentary adults, it significantly improves energy and decreases fatigue.

Antioxidants

Cordyceps is able to increase superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and catalase activity and demonstrates strong antioxidant properties.[1][14][15][19][29][36] All three are very powerful antioxidants. Additionally, lipid peroxidation and monoamine oxidase activity are reduced.[1][28][29] Monoamine oxidase can give rise to free radicals when the metabolites react with certain compounds.

Cordyceps is able to greatly reduce oxidative stress by increasing endogenous antioxidant activity and decreasing the activity of monoamine oxidase.

Aging

Cordyceps is able to improve a number of parameters in mice aged artificially with d-galactose.[1][29] It improves memory and learning, increases several powerful antioxidants, and increases libido castrated rats.[13]

Cordyceps is able to increase the lifespan of fruit flies in addition to having an anti-fatigue effect.[12]

Cholesterol

Cordyceps sinensis is able to decrease total cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol, and decrease VLDL cholesterol in mice given a high-cholesterol diet.[25] In rats exposed to stress, it’s able to prevent the increase in total cholesterol.[26]

In mice with diabetes, it increases HDL/LDL ratios after 4 weeks of treatment.[18]

Diabetes

Cordyceps appears to be a viable treatment for diabetes in animals.[16][17][18][19][34] It reliably reduces blood sugar in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, it protects pancreatic beta cells and the kidneys, two organs that often suffer damage as a result of diabetes.[18] What’s more is after 8 weeks of treatment it decreases weight gain associated with diabetes. Insulin levels are increased by cordyceps, suggesting it’s either increase insulin release or decreasing its metabolism (breakdown).[19]

Cancer

In an in vitro study, human leukemic cells given cordyceps had a growth inhibition of 78-83%.[22] Cordyceps was able to increase the activity of interferon and tumour necrosis factor alpha, which is thought to be responsible for the anticancer effects seen.[21][22] Human endometrial (lining of uterus) cancer cells showed decrease proliferation (growth) when administered either cordyceps, Ganoderma lucidum, or Agaricus.[20] Likewise, human lung adenocarcinoma cells had decreased proliferation, and increased apoptosis (programmmed cell death).[21] And as with the human leukemic study, levels of tumour necrosis factor alpha were increased.

In living mice, it’s able to dose-dependently decrease tumour size and increase lifespan.[23]

Cordyceps exhibits a protective effect on blood cells when mice are exposed to radiation.[24]

Other

Pain, inflammation, nitric oxide, and angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels) are all decreased by cordyceps.[36]

Mechanism of action

Humans

There have been no studies done in humans to assess its mechanism of action.

Animals and lab studies

Dopamine and noradrenaline

Mice given cordyceps experienced an antidepressant-like effect that was mediated by a dopaminergic and noradrenergic action, though its not clear exactly how.[3] Interestingly, depletion of serotonin does not affect the antidepressant-like effects of cordyceps. In rats, its able to increase dopaminergic activity by increasing tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) levels in the brain and stomach.[27] TH is an enzyme that’s crucial for the production of dopamine.

In aged mice, it’s able to decrease monoamine oxidase (MAO) activity, specifically that of MAO-B.[1][28][29] This enzyme decreases dopamine and phenethylamine (PEA) levels in the brain by binding to the neurotransmitter and metabolizing it. PEA is an endogenous dopamine and noradrenaline releaser that’s similar to amphetamine. It has a very short half-life because of MAO-B, but decreasing MAO-B levels increases PEA levels. Similarly, in mice aged with d-galactose, it’s able to decrease monoamine oxidase activity.

Cordyceps is able to increase dopamine and noradrenaline activity by increasing tyrosine hydroxylase levels, modulating MAO-B, and through an unknown mechanism.

Glutamate

Aside from increasing dopaminergic and noradrenergic activity, its antidepressant effects are also attributed to a rapid increase in AMPA receptor activity.[30] In both the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, an enhancement of AMPA signaling is seen just 45 minutes after treatment. The effect lasts up to 5 days of treatment. Its effects are akin to that of ketamine which acts via the AMPA receptors in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex to upregulate mTOR and BDNF.[31][32] Both mTOR and BDNF increase cell growth and proliferation which in turn increases neurogenesis.

Serotonin

Its antidepressant effects are not reliant on serotonin as inhibition of serotonin production does not reduce the effect.[3] In human blood cells, cordycepin inhibits serotonin release.[38]

Acetylcholine

Cordyceps militaris was found to inhibit acetylcholinesterase activity, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. This suggests it can increase acetylcholine levels, but to what degree is not yet known.[39]

Antioxidants

In mice, cordyceps is able to protect cells from damage by radiation by acting as an antioxidant.[24] However, cordycepin does not appear to be an antioxidant and it seems a polysaccharide found in cordyceps is at least partially responsible for the antioxidant activity.[33]

Side effects

None found.

Cordyceps sinensis vs Cordyceps militaris

When buying cordyceps you may come across two different versions, sinensis and militaris. There isn’t much difference between these two herbs. They both contain cordycepin, the active ingredient of cordyceps, and several studies have shown they are of equal potency in terms of their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, pain reducing, nitric oxide inhibiting, and anti-angiogenic properties.[15][33] Though, militaris is higher in cordycepin content and was shown to be more effective at lowering blood glucose than sinensis.[35] In practice, however, there should not be much difference in the benefits these herbs provide.

Synergies

It should combine well with rhodiola to create a synergistic effect on mood, energy, and cognition. Both herbs work via a completely different mechanism thus there should not be any interaction between the two.

Safety

No studies have been done on humans to assess the safety of cordyceps in the long-term. However, it has been used for thousands of generations with no reports of dangerous side effects

References

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  2. Dong, Yunzi et al. “Cordyceps Sinensis Cs-5 Improves Memory and Learning Abilities in a Dysmnesia Model (684.1).” The FASEB Journal, vol. 28, no. 1 Supplement, 1 Apr. 2014,
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