Tibetan Mushroom Supplements Cordyceps

By G Kharchenko

Cordyceps is a Tibetan mushroom used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for lung protection and reproductive invigoration as well as to balance chi the fundamental “energy of life.” In Western terminology, cordyceps is also used as a traditional remedy for ailments of the immune, endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, renal, and hepatic systems.

The available clinical data published in English provide evidence for a beneficial effect of cordyceps in relieving asthma, increasing lung function (in frail older people or sedentary adults and in endurance athletes), and boosting libido (in frail older persons).

Many of the claims for cordyceps parallel those of ginseng due to its reported effects on increasing energy levels, sex drive, and endurance. Although the pharmacologically active components of cordyceps remain unknown, at least two chemical constituents cordycepin (deoxyadenosine) and cordycepic acid (mannitol) have been identified and suggested as being the active compounds in improving lung function and increasing energy levels and sex drive. Cordyceps is available as a standardized supplement (usually 1-4% mannitol as a marker), with doses of 2-4 g/day providing clinically meaningful benefits in most studies.


Much of the scientific evidence for the physiological effects of the cordyceps mushroom comes from the wide variety of animal studies available in translations from the Chinese journals in which they are published. Those studies show that cordyceps is effective for controlling blood levels of insulin, glucose, and corticosterone, as well as increasing numbers and activity of many immune cell fractions, including T-helper cells and natural killer cells (Bao et al., 1988; Kuo et al, 1996; Dai et al, 2001). In animal studies, cordyceps feeding increased the ratio of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to inorganic phosphate in the liver by about 50%, resulting in an ability to use oxygen more efficiently (30-50% increase), better tolerate acidosis and hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and live 2-3 times longer than a control group exposed to a low-oxygen environment (Dai et al., 2001).

In the few clinical studies available, cordyceps-treated subjects showed significant improvements in their level of fatigue (Cooper et al., 1999), memory and cognitive capacity (Zhu et al., 1998a), sex drive (Zhu et al., 1998b), oxygen uptake (Cooper et al., 1999; Talbott et al., 2002), and endurance exercise performance (Nicodemus et al., 2001). One human study (Zhu et al., 1998b) suggests that the increased libido reported in elderly subjects may result from DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) levels increasing from low to normal.

Dietary supplementation with cordyceps is not associated with any significant side effects, but a theoretical possibility exists for adenosine-containing supplements to induce a slight “blood-thinning” effect.

Until the publication of “Handbook of Chinese herbs and formulas,” Dr. Che Chem Engom in 1983, and the chemical composition of eastern plants “Hsu Cheng and Hong in 1985, on cordyceps has been very little known. In fact, the remarkable properties of this supplement have been on the tables of many researchers and practicing physicians in the Eastern traditional medicine. However, since the mid 80’s, with the filing of representatives of power sports from Eastern Europe, cordyceps fell under close attention of fans of fitness and bodybuilding.

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