Scientific Nutrition Update 30: Cordyceps Mushrooms

Today we are discussing the cordyceps mushroom, another medicinal mushroom like the chaga mushroomthe lion’s mane, and the reishi mushroom.  They all have significant and sometimes surprising health effects.

Script (Remember I ad-lib and go off script a lot):

For today’s episode we are going to talk about the cordyceps mushroom which like the reishi in episode 21, the lion’s mane in episode 24, or the chaga in episode 26 this is an ancient medicinal mushroom.  As any regular listener of the podcast knows I am immensely skeptical person and these mushrooms are not an exception to that. However, they do seem to have some intersting health effects, and seem to be petty safe to boot.  Now in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this treatment actually involves both this mushroom and an insect that has a symbiotic relationship with it, in this I am focusing on just the mushroom, so we may be missing some health effects from the insect.


Let us jump straight into the heart of the matter, and the reason there has been so much interest in these mushrooms recently, cancer.  There are several extracts from these mushrooms that seem to have an ability to limit proliferation of certain cancer cell lines, which is a promising characteristic.  There was a really interesting study that looked at a water extraction and found that the extract was able to prevent liver metastasis from both lung cancer and melanoma cell lines.  This suggests to me that this mushroom may help prevent certain metastases, in mice at least. Extracts from this were also able to significantly reduce the cell growth of several different cell lines again further suggesting that this could be a useful anti-cancer compound.  There is also evidence of significant anti-angiogenic activity, which again suggests that this could be a potent anti-cancer agent. It even induces apoptosis in certain cell lines!


All of these mushrooms are potent antioxidants and cordyceps is not an exception with several different extracts and compounds from these mushrooms seeming to have pretty significant anti-oxidant effects even helping to reduce oxidative dna damage.  Cordyceps is likely a potent antioxidant. They also seem to reduce LDL oxidation, and therefore may help prevent accumulation of cholesterol.


Many of these mushrooms seem to have an immuno-stimulatory effect and cordyceps also appears to have beneficial effects here.  Now, I am far from an expert on the immune system, and it a very complicated system, but I am going to do my best to summarize the results here.  Extracts from this cordyceps mushroom seem to improve the number of t-helper cells and the response to various antibodies in mice at least. It also seems in mice to be able to help with liver diseases including hepatitis and cirrhosis.  


What makes cordyceps interesting is that it may also be an anti-inflammatory with some interesting potential effects on asthma.  There was a study done that showed a down-regulation of biomarkers related to kidney damage in mice after dosing with this. More interesting was the study that showed airway inflammation in sensitized rats and guinea pigs.  This is where we start to see the potential for it being used to treat asthma. Besides that there are several other studies all suggesting that extracts of this mushroom seem to have beneficial effects on different biomarkers of inflammation.


The combination of these two along with some liver and kidney protective effects got me curious about something kind of specific.  First things first, one of my close friends has systemic lupus and I noticed that many of the effects this mushroom was having seemed potentially to be beneficial for people with lupus.  Now before I continue remember this is just an animal model, and that you should never start, stop, or change any medical treatments without consulting with a physician and that includes the addition of an herbal medication.  However, there does seem to be some beneficial effects of these mushrooms on lupus-prone mice, with significantly greater survival. It increased at age of 9 months from 33% to 87%, which seems like an important amount to me. There’s a couple of different proposed mechanisms but that is beyond the scope of this episode, however, I would love to see some experiments in humans to see how these effects stand up.


There is even some evidence that extracts from these mushrooms may have an anti-nociceptive effect, meaning that they reduce the appearance of pain in mice at least.  This is not an effect I have seen in my research on the other mushrooms, so cordyceps might have some truly unique effects.


It also may help stabilize blood sugar, this was an interesting effect to me because diabetes is one of my favorite diseases to study.  Several extracts from cordyceps mushroom seem to at least in mice have the ability to suppress blood sugar. Some even seem to reduce insulin levels too, which would seem to suggest that this may have the ability to increase insulin sensitivity which is a huge deal when you consider the difficulty in improving insulin sensitivity.  There is not enough evidence for me to make any very strong claims here, but it is intriguing to me.


There is an effect I did not know about until I started researching the cordyceps mushroom and that is that in mice it seems to help increase testosterone production.  Obviously humans are not mice, but this was an interesting effect to me, because I know the value of good testosterone levels in men, and also women, but I’m more familiar with the effect on men.  I would love to see some research done in humans testing this effect.


There may even be some beneficial mental effects with aged mice seeming to have beneficial learning and memory effects after dosing with this cordyceps mushroom.  Furthermore the reduction in oxidative damage could also help the brain. There was also a polysaccharide in here that seemed to help reduce beta-amyloid related cell death in mice, suggesting that this could be a helpful supplement for alzheimer’s.  


Now in my experience I find cordyceps to be invigorating and focus promoting.  I have used extracts from this a couple different times, and tend to be more productive, and more focused and energetic when I am on it.  Now it is important to remember this is all n=1, my personal experience, but it does bode well. They seem to work well enough for me to continue using them when I need a nootropic.   


Now in conclusion it is important to remember that a lot of this is animal models and as such we need to be very careful generalizing it.


Also if you want to purchase some FourSigmatic mushroom products and support this website, use this link. You’ll get 10% off and I get a very small commision which helps me support this website.

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