What is cordyceps?
Cordyceps, famously known as Caterpillar fungi, is a type of ascomycete fungi with about 600 species. The word "Cordyceps" comes from the Greek words kordýlē and cephali, meaning "club" and "head" respectively.
How are cordyceps formed?
In the Tibetan plateau plains, ghost moth caterpillars live deep inside the soil. They do this to keep themselves warm and cozy; their diet consists of plant roots. This lifestyle is ideal for them, and they keep living like this until adulthood. But here comes the twist. Just because they live deep inside the soil does not mean they are safe; these caterpillars are susceptible to fungi.
Ophiocordyceps Sinensis is a fungus that infects caterpillars. These fungi then start eating it from the inside by forming thread-like structures throughout the caterpillar's body and organs. Infected by the fungus, the caterpillars are somewhat in a state of intoxication, and so they start moving towards the surface, but they never make it. The caterpillars die just below the surface. But the story has not finished yet. During spring, a long stem-like fungal stalk grows from the dead caterpillar's head and bursts out of the surface, and from this stalk, more and more caterpillars are infected, and the cycle continues.
The story might have ended with the fungal stalk, but no. During spring, hundreds of people come to these Tibetan plateaus to harvest the fungal stalk. You may wonder why people would harvest these disgusting fungal stalks growing from a caterpillar’s head? Well, the answer is, money. These caterpillar fungus is more expensive than gold. One pound of these caterpillar corpses is worth 10,000 dollars, and that is just the minimum price. This is why Cordyceps can also be called the world's most expensive fungus.
Why are these caterpillar murderers so expensive and important?
The reason behind the harvesting and value of this fungus is its medicinal properties. This fungus is widely used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine, as an anti-aging mean, against cancer, and other diseases. It is also considered to be an aphrodisiac. Due to its value, people have harvested this fungus to the extent of extinction. So, this fungus, which was once found in abundance in the Tibetan plateaus, is now very rare.
Proven Benefits of Cordyceps
1. Better exercise performance
Studies have found that those individuals who were given cordyceps supplements had an increased VO2 max (this is the measure of fitness). The results were not consistent. In another study involving younger adults, the VO2 max levels had increased by 11% after a 3-week cordyceps intake. All in all, the intake of cordyceps had a positive effect on exercise performance. However, there is no change in the performance of well-trained athletes.
2. Aging cure?
Cordyceps has been used for centuries in Chinese and Tibetan traditional medicine as an anti-aging cure. It is said to increase the life expectancy of an individual and slow down aging. It is also said to improve the sexual drive of men, improve stamina, and reduce fatigue. All these statements have been put to the test, and studies have shown positive results. We can consider that cordyceps do improve stamina and life expectancy. However, these tests were conducted on animals such as mice, and up to now, there has been no official human study unless you count the Chinese and Tibetan beliefs.
3. Anti-tumor benefits/Cancer cure
Most people do not believe in eastern medicine. But while the west was busy inventing huge microscopes, the east had already studied organisms and their effects. Traditional Chinese medicine believed that caterpillar fungi was effective against tumors and cancer a long time ago, and now the west agrees with this statement. Studies conducted on animals and test tubes have shown that cordyceps do inhabit and curtail the growth of tumors and cancer cells. They have also demonstrated that cordyceps reverse the side effects involved with cancer therapy.
Diabetes is the disease where the body loses its capacity to form insulin or respond to it. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, and it is responsible for providing energy to cells through glucose. A person who has diabetes does not have enough insulin formation, due to which glucose cannot reach the cells and so remains in the blood. This rise in blood sugar level is a serious issue and causes a lot of health issues. Cordyceps have shown promising results in lowering down blood sugar levels by mimicking the action of insulin. However, these results have not been as promising in humans as they have been in animals.
Those substances which reduce swelling and inflammation are known as anti-inflammatory. Cordyceps reduce the protein that increases inflammation in the body. In research done on mice, cordyceps have shown excellent results. Researchers believe cordyceps can be used in asthma therapy due to its reducing inflammation feature. The medicinal mushroom Cordyceps’ anti-inflammatory properties might be related to its linear (1→3)-β-D-glucan. Due to the latest researches β - glucans significantly inhibit the inflammatory phase. It means that regular use of natural supplements based on β-glucan ingredients substantially reduces the risk of disease and increases immunity in general.
6. Heart healthy
Cordyceps is currently a legal drug in China for Arrhythmia, which is a condition where the heartbeats are irregular. Cordyceps consists of a compound known as adenosine, which has immense heart-healthy effects. This fungal substance also has a positive impact on reducing high cholesterol levels.
Cordyceps supplements have a lot of healthy benefits. The east was aware of this gem way earlier, and the west is now exploring the vast medicinal possibilities of this substance.