Cordyceps is a name that describes a genus of many different species of cordyceps fungi. The species that is most commonly used in supplemental form is cordyceps sinensis. Cordyceps has many active constituents, the most important of which is cordycepin which is responsible for most of the benefits of the cordyceps fungi. (1)
Cordyceps has been used for many years in traditional Chinese medicine to boost energy, promote immune system health, and treat many illnesses. (4, 5) It also acts as a hypoglycemic (enhances partitioning of carbohydrates to muscle tissue), is believed to improve athletic performance (especially endurance and aerobic capacity), acts as an anti-oxidant and an anti-inflammatory, has neuro and liver protective effects, and promotes sexual health and steroidogenesis. (1,3) Cordyceps has been claimed to have adaptogenic effects as well, meaning that it can improve mental and physical recovery. These effects, however, are not well documented. The fact that one of the benefits of cordyceps is improved energy (which is typical of adaptogenic herbs) does suggest that it may have adaptogenic effects
While the steroidogenesis promoting benefits of cordyceps have been well established, (1) the human research so far is not completely conclusive on the benefits of cordyceps for athletic enhancement in terms of endurance performance and aerobic capacity. (2, 3, 4) Anecdotal evidence does seem to show that one of the benefits cordyceps is improved athletic performance, and cordyceps extracts are included in quite a few endurance and bodybuilding supplements for its effects on endurance and steroidogenesis.
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1. Das SK, Masuda M, Sakurai A, & Sakakibara M. (2010). Medicinal uses of the mushroom Cordyceps militaris: current state and prospects. Fitoterapia. 81(8), 961-8.
2. Parcell AC, Smith JM, Schulthies SS, Myrer JW, & Fellingham G. (2004). Cordyceps Sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) supplementation does not improve endurance exercise performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 14(2), 236-42.
3. Chen S, Li Z, Krochmal R, Abrazado M, Kim W, & Cooper CB. (2010). Effect of Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) on exercise performance in healthy older subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.). 16(5), 585-90.
4. Colson SN, Wyatt FB, Johnston DL, Autrey LD, FitzGerald YL, & Earnest CP. (2005). Cordyceps sinensis- and Rhodiola rosea-based supplementation in male cyclists and its effect on muscle tissue oxygen saturation. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 19(2), 358-63.
5. Kim HG, Song H, Yoon DH, Song BW, Park SM, Sung GH, Cho JY, Park HI, Choi S, Song WO, Hwang KC, & Kim TW. (2010). Cordyceps pruinosa extracts induce apoptosis of HeLa cells by a caspase dependent pathway. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 128(2), 342-51.