Cordyceps is a genus of parasitic fungi that grows on the larvae of insects.
Cordyceps may improve the way your body uses oxygen, especially during exercise (1, 2).
In one study, researchers tested their effects on exercise capacity in 30 healthy older adults using a stationary bike. Participants received either 3 grams per day of a synthetic strain of Cordyceps called CS-4 or a placebo pill for six weeks.
By the end of the study, VO2 max had increased by 7% in participants who had taken CS-4, while participants given the placebo pill showed no change (3).
VO2 max is a measurement used to determine fitness level (4).
The elderly have traditionally used Cordyceps to reduce fatigue and boost strength and sex drive.
Researchers believe their antioxidant content may explain their anti-aging potential (5).
Several studies have found that Cordyceps increase antioxidants in aged mice, helping improve memory and sexual function (6, 7, 8).
Antioxidants are molecules that fight cell damage by neutralizing free radicals, which can otherwise contribute to disease and aging (9, 10, 11).
One study found that mice that given Cordyceps lived several months longer than mice given a placebo (12).
Cordyceps’ potential to slow the growth of tumors has generated significant interest in recent years. In test-tube studies, Cordyceps have been shown to inhibit the growth of many types of human cancer cells, including lung, colon, skin and liver cancers (13, 14, 15, 16).
Studies in mice have also shown that Cordyceps have anti-tumor effects on lymphoma, melanoma and lung cancer (17, 18, 19, 20).
Cordyceps may also reverse the side effects associated with many forms of cancer therapy. One of these side effects is leukopenia.
As research emerges on the effects of Cordyceps on heart health, the benefits of the fungi are becoming increasingly apparent.
In fact, Cordyceps are approved in China for the treatment of arrhythmia, a condition in which the heartbeat is too slow, too fast or irregular (21).
A study found that Cordyceps significantly reduced heart injuries in rats with chronic kidney disease. Injuries to the heart from chronic kidney disease are thought to increase the risk of heart failure, so reducing these injuries may help avoid this outcome (22).
The researchers attributed these findings to the adenosine content of Cordyceps. Adenosine is a naturally occurring compound that has heart-protective effects (23).
Cordyceps may also have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels.
Animal research has shown that Cordyceps decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol (24, 25, 26).
LDL can raise your risk of heart disease by leading to the buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.
Similarly, Cordyceps have been shown to decrease triglyceride levels in mice (27).
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. High levels are linked to a greater risk of heart disease (28).
Unfortunately, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether Cordyceps benefit heart health in humans.
Cordyceps is said to help fight inflammation in the body.
Research has shown that when human cells are exposed to Cordyceps, special proteins that increase inflammation in the body become suppressed (29, 30, 31, 32).
Thanks to these potential effects, researchers believe Cordyceps may serve as a useful anti-inflammatory supplement or drug (33).
Cordyceps fungi: natural products, pharmacological functions and developmental products (34)
Alternative Medicine and Chinese Herbs and the Kidney (35)