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Although Cordyceps sinensis is often described as an herb, it’s actually a combination of a parasitic fungus and the larvae of a moth (a caterpillar). The fungus attacks the caterpillar and destroys it from within. The remaining structures of the caterpillar along with the fungus are dried and sold as cordyceps.
Cordyceps has a long history of use in China as a “tonic,” a substance said to generally strengthen the body, particularly following illness. It was also used to treat bronchitis, kidney failure, and tuberculosis. 1
What Is Cordyceps Used for Today?
Cordyceps is widely marketed today as treatment for a great many conditions. However, there is no reliable scientific evidence that it actually provides any medical benefits.
Most research on cordyceps was done in China and is not up to modern scientific standards. In general, double-blind , placebo-controlled studies are the most reliable form of evidence. (For information on the reasons why, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? ) However, such studies have to be performed and reported according to certain standards. Although several double-blind studies have been reported on cordyceps, they all fall considerably short of the level necessary for scientific validity. These somewhat dubious double-blind trials hint that cordyceps might be helpful for reducing high cholesterol2 and improving male sexual function . 3,4
Weak evidence hints that cordyceps may modulate the immune system, which means that it stimulates some aspects of the immune system while suppressing others. 8-13
Highly preliminary test-tube and animal studies hint that cordyceps may help fight stress , 19 control blood sugar levels (potentially making it useful in diabetes ), 20-22reduce cancer risk , 23 lower high blood pressure , 24 and help protect the kidney against damage caused by the drugs cyclosporin and gentamycin . 25-27
Other test-tube studies hint that cordyceps may stimulate production of hormones such as cortisone and testosterone. 28-33 However, contrary to what some websites say, these studies are far too preliminary to indicate any therapeutic hormonal effect.
Typical traditional recommended doses of cordyceps range from 5–10 grams per day. Concentrated extracts are also available, taken at a lower dosage.
Use of cordyceps does not generally cause apparent side effects. However, comprehenseive safety studies have not been reported. In addition, there are two case reports in which cordyceps products contained enough lead to cause lead poisoning. 34 Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
6. Xiao Y, Huang XZ, Chen G, et al. Increased aerobic capacity in healthy elderly human adults given a fermentation product of Cordyceps Cs-4. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise . 1999;31(suppl.): S174.
7. Colson SN, Wyatt FB, Johnston DL, et al. Cordyceps sinensis - and Rhodiola rosea -based supplementation in male cyclists and its effect on muscle tissue oxygen saturation. J Strength Cond Res . 2005;19:358–63.
8. Chen DM, Zhang SL, Li ZN, Cheng ZQ, Liu XP. Effect of natural cordyceps and the cultured mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis on murine immune organs and functions of mononuclear phagocyte system. Chin J lntegr TradWest Med . 1985;5:4241.
10. Koh JH, Yu KW, Suh HJ, Choi YM, Ahn TS. Activation of macrophages and the intestinal immune system by an orally administered decoction from cultured mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis . Biosci BiotechnolBiochem . 2002;66:407–11.
16. Zhou L, Yang W, Xu Y, et al. Short-term curative effect of cultured Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc. mycelia in chronic hepatitis B [in Chinese]. China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica 1990;15:53–55.
20. Kiho T, Ookubo K, Usui S, Ukai S, Hirano K. Structural features and hypoglycemic activity of a polysaccharide (CS-F10) from the cultured mycelium of Cordyceps sinensis . Biol Pharm Bull . 1999;22:966–70.
22. Kiho T, Ookubo K, Usui S, Ukai S, Hirano K. Structural features and hypoglycemic activity of a polysaccharide (CS-F10) from the cultured mycelium of Cordyceps sinensis . Biol Pharm Bull . 1999;22:966–70.
33. Wang SM, Lee LJ, Lin WW, Chang CM. Effects of a water-soluble extract of Cordyceps sinensis on steroidogenesis and capsular morphology of lipid droplets in cultured rat adrenocortical cells. J Cell Biochem . 1998;69:483–9.
Last reviewed October 2007 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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