Cordyceps sinensis is the Cordyceps species most widely used as a dietary supplement. Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus that naturally grows on the back of caterpillars. The Cordyceps fungus replaces the caterpillar tissue, eventually growing on the top of the caterpillar. The remaining structures of the caterpillar along with the fungus are dried and sold as the dietary supplement cordyceps.
Commonly known as dong chong xia cao (summer-plant, winter-worm) in Chinese, cordyceps has been used as a food supplement and tonic beverage among the rich because of its short supply. Cordyceps is also an ingredient in soups and foods used traditionally in Chinese medicine to help people recover from illness.
The fungus became popular in 1993 when two female Chinese athletes, who used cordyceps supplements, beat the world records in the track and field competition at the Stuttgart World Championships. The women were drug-tested for any banned substances such as steroids and were negative. Their coach attributed the performance to the cordyceps supplementation.
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Combination product examples: CUF2 (Astragalus mongholicus Bunge, Cordyceps sinensis Sacc., radix Stemonae, bulbus Fritillariae cirrhosae, and Radix Scutellariae), Fuzheng huayu (semen Persicae, cordyceps, Salviae miltiorrhizae, pollen pini, etc.).
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Cordyceps may improve various symptoms related to aging. However, higher-quality studies testing specific symptoms of aging are needed.
Limited research suggests cordyceps may reduce some asthma symptoms. The effect of cordyceps on asthma has yielded mixed results. Additional studies are needed in this area.
Early research suggests cordyceps has the potential to benefit cancer patients. More well-designed studies in this area are needed.
Exercise performance enhancement
In 1993, two female Chinese athletes, who acknowledged using cordyceps supplements, beat the world records in the track and field competition at the Stuttgart World Championships for the 1,500-, 3,000-, and 10,000-meter runs. However, there is conflicting evidence from other studies on cordyceps for improving exercise performance. More studies are needed in this area.
Cordyceps may lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, although these changes may not be long-lasting. More studies are needed to determine the long-term effects.
Combination herbal treatments including cordyceps may suppress the immune system during kidney transplants. More studies in this area are needed.
Cordyceps may strengthen kidney function. More studies in this area are needed.
Kidney toxicity (drug-induced)
There is not enough evidence from current studies to support cordyceps for kidney toxicity. Additional research is needed in this area.
Liver disease (cirrhosis / chronic hepatitis B)
Cordyceps may stimulate the immune system and improve liver function. Additional research on cordyceps and liver disease treatment is needed.
Reduction of adverse effects of chemotherapy and radiation
There is insufficient evidence for the use of cordyceps to protect against adverse effects of chemotherapy. However, the preliminary results are promising.
There is insufficient evidence for the use of cordyceps for bronchitis or related lung disorders. Although results are promising, more studies are needed in this area.
Cordyceps may increase libido. Higher-quality studies in this area are needed.