What is Cordyceps Mushroom and the Benefits of Cordyceps?

METERMy mom was an earth mother. She was a curious spirit who yearned to understand and discover more of the miracle of the world around us. She believed in the inherent goodness of nature and her desire to heal as much as she was aware that our own vulnerable human bodies are prone to self-destruction. He spoke to me about free radicals and antioxidants when I was too young to understand such concepts, grew organic vegetables in his manicured suburban yard while raising four children and worked full time, and preached the many virtues of countless Chinese herbs, and remedies. My mother was a true encyclopedia of knowledge destined to keep her children well.

I never appreciated how far ahead of holistic health trends she always was. Even while fighting for his life against stomach cancer, she never gave up hope that the secrets of a long life would rise from the earth. It was during this time that I first became aware of the term “functional mushrooms”.

My mom had read recent studies on cordyceps that suggested the mushrooms could stimulate immune cells and potentially even fight some viruses and cancer. So when Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center included mention of cordyceps in their reference materials (with a caveat that more study is needed), we jumped on board. We went online and ordered various types of the 400 known species of these endoparasitoid fungi for her, not quite knowing what they promised yet, but trusting that she would do it.

Since then, this oriental medical miracle has risen to the forefront of the wellness world. In 2020, Well+Good predicted that functional mushrooms would grow larger than life this year, and they were right. Adaptogens, nootropics, cordyceps – these are some of the biggest buzzwords for wellness products that have emerged in this second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is not difficult to understand why. The entire world has struggled to persist under the pressure of stress like we have never experienced since the start of the pandemic; many have battled unprecedented emotional, mental, and physical fatigue. As a result, we hope, like my mother, that magic mushrooms can provide a sense of relief or resolution. (And they do sometimes.)

But what exactly are cordyceps and what sets it apart from adaptogens and nootropics? Here, we turn to five experts to help explain the spotlight on one of TCM’s oldest supporting players finally taking center stage.

What is cordyceps fungus?

Although there are hundreds of species of cordyceps, for our purposes they are generally divided into two types, Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris. The broad term used to categorize a group of ascomycete fungi that are known to grow, you know, from the bodies of insects and arthropods, explains Catty Khoury, founder of adaptogenic trail mix brand Toodaloo.

Board-certified herbalist and New Chapter Director of Education Charlotte Traas goes into more detail. “Another name for Cordyceps sinensis is ‘caterpillar fungus’; it infects the caterpillars and then takes over their body, eventually consuming and killing them… Gross, right? she laughs. But, as Traas explains, “this type of mushroom is extremely valuable as mushroom hunters have to go looking for the caterpillar bodies and collect them. In fact, cordyceps are also historically strongly associated with Chinese royalty, used only by emperors, and are called ‘soft gold’ because the price of authentic sinensis can range from $13,000 to over $140,000 per kilo.”

Cordyceps militaris, on the other hand, are a bit more palatable to the mind and the wallet. These strains are most commonly grown in a lab and fed with a substrate, then harvested, explains Traas. Khoury also shares that they can be bred in a lab using sawdust, wood chips, compost, or straw.

Why are cordyceps and other functional mushrooms so hot right now?

Oriental medicine practitioners like Tom Marciano, a doctor of chiropractic medicine and board-certified acupuncturist, traditionally believed that they help balance yang energy in the body. Cordyceps have long been popular in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to treat various symptoms and ailments.

“Traditional Chinese Medicine uses an ancient theory of the five elements to identify and harmonize imbalances between yin and yang,” says Marciano. This is what I, as a Chinese-American, grew up understanding as ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ energies, not unlike the old-fashioned Western concept of ‘moods’. “Briefly simplifying, this imbalance is expressed as symptoms of illness, for which herbal concoctions are formulated based on which organs or elements need to be toned or calmed,” he adds.

Although the cordyceps mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 5,000 years to treat Jing (also known as kidney essence), it didn’t attract much attention from the Western world until 1993, says Traas. “That’s when some Chinese World Championship long-distance runners attributed their success, including breaking three world records, to cordyceps.”

As Om Mushroom Superfood co-founder and Doctor of Preventive Medicine Sandra Carter, MA MPH, Ph.D. says, “The Western world is finally catching up with the ancient traditions of the East, and there is more research substantiating the various “Functional and unique benefits of mushrooms have been published. With increased education and awareness, there is great interest in the power mushrooms can bring to immune and cognitive health, athletic performance, and more.” In fact, many new scientific studies are beginning to understand the benefits of cordyceps cordycepin and ergosterol, among others, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, hypoglycemic, and renoprotective properties Dr. Carter also says that her cordyceps products help consumers improve their endurance naturally by supporting respiration, oxygen delivery and cellular function, which is a huge draw for athletes. Research has shown that cordyceps can help increase endurance as measured by Max V02, a test that shows an athlete’s overall ability to exercise at high intensity for a prolonged period.”

In that regard, Dr. Carter makes the excellent point that “we’re also seeing a tremendous increase in consumer demand for adaptogens, including mushrooms.”

How are adaptogens and nootropics different from cordyceps?

Adaptogens are broadly defined as non-toxic plants, herbs, and roots that can help increase the body’s resistance and tolerance to forms of physical and emotional stress. “Adaptogens also help reduce the fight-or-flight mechanism that can cause anxiety and detrimental effects to overall health,” explains Dr. Carter. And she’s not surprised they caught on so quickly. In the past year, people are looking for natural products that they can use on a daily basis to help them deal with anxiety, depression, and other stress-related issues,” she says.

Nootropics, on the other hand, are supplements that can contribute to increased mental performance, which has also been a hot topic lately, as many struggle with exhaustion. “Nootropics are compounds that help facilitate improvements in brain function, whether related to memory, creativity, or general nerve health,” explains Dr. Carter. Generally speaking, all cordyceps are adaptogens, but they may not all be nootropics. Khoury says that Cordyceps sinensis is better for endurance and stress relief, while Cordyceps militaris is better for intense exercise and mood stability.

Buying advice for cordyceps fungus

Before you buy, keep in mind that you should talk to a doctor before trying cordyceps, adaptogens, or nootropics. And like all supplements, they are not regulated by the FDA. (And just because they’re all more popular and have fancier packaging now doesn’t make any product more virtuous than the Chinatown and Flushing, New York, herbalist shops I used to tag along with my mom as a kid.) .

When researching cordyceps products, Dr. Carter recommends looking for those that contain the full functional fungus and looking up where it was grown. “All fungi are bioaccumulators, meaning they accumulate whatever they grow on,” he says. “When grown in an environment with heavy metals and pesticides, all of that will be included in the final product.” For this reason, lab-grown Cordyceps militaris is often a safer bet. “Sinensis is also extremely rare, so finding authentic samples is difficult.” When purchasing militaris, Traas also recommends looking for a company that DNA verifies the identity of their mushrooms, such as New Chapter.”

Also, keep in mind that in traditional Chinese medicine, herbs and supplements are not meant to stand alone; rather, they tend to play a role in a compound. “Traditional Chinese medicine often works to bring balance to the body and typically doesn’t use one herb or mushroom exclusively,” says Traas. This is why you will often find cordyceps and other forms of mushrooms mixed with additional good-for-you herbs. For example, Carter’s Om Mushroom Superfood Master Blend contains three different species of functional mushrooms (including cordyceps), plus other botanical adaptogens. Their Immune Multi Boost adds vitamin C.

Khoury’s Toodaloo trail mixes also make it easy to get your blended solution. Nut mixes combine more than 30 superfoods and adaptogenic herbs, including chaga, Lion’s Mane, ashwagandha and maca, and are available in five flavors including Smoke Show BBQ, Slow Your Roll Maple and Deja Brew Coffee.

But then again, regardless of how you’d like to incorporate cordyceps, nootropics, adaptogens, or functional mushrooms into your diet, all of these experts recommend that you first consult your doctor before delving too far into this trend. Once you’ve been blessed, consider giving cordyceps and its siblings a try. After all, it all comes down to one question: Do you believe in magic?

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