Herbal Highlights: Cordyceps Mushroom - Effects on Fatigue, Stress, Physical Health + Nutritional Profile

Herbal Highlights: Cordyceps Mushroom - Effects on Fatigue, Stress, Physical Health + Nutritional Profile

Quick Overview

Cordyceps Militaris is an edible (when cooked) mushroom that is now safely and effectively cultivated, which seems to have various positive metabolic effects in humans due to its wide range of novel polysaccharides and because of the compound Cordycepin.

History and Culture

Cordyceps are a class of parasitic mushrooms that typically grow from the bodies of insects. Although Cordyceps Sinensis (also known as “The Caterpillar Fungi) is usually thought of when people mention Cordyceps, the one most commonly used in Asia as food, and the one most commonly used globally as a supplement, is actually Cordyceps Militaris. Both were historically used in Chinese Traditional Medicine, although Sinensis was mostly reserved for the wealthy and elite due to its rarity (and still is), while Militaris was also used more commonly and sporadically in Ayurvedic medicine. Historically, Militaris was primarily used in Asian countries as a food, although it was sometimes turned into a tonic used to treat infections or taken as raw and whole for male sexual issues.[1] Today, it is being researched for its potential in improving weakened immune systems, possibility of inducing apoptosis in cancerous cells, and partial adaptogenic properties. Oh, and most of it does not come from the bodies of insects anymore - other mediums are now commonly used to cultivate it instead, such as rice or formulated liquid nutrition stock. You can find some which is still traditionally harvested using silkworm pupae however, but it is less common and typically the nutritional profiles of traditional cultivation and alternative cultivation do not vary much, with the liquid formula mediums having typically indistinguishable nutritional content to even wild harvested cordyceps.[2]

Nutritional Profile

Cordyceps Militaris, also found in our Nurture My Skin blend, is very rich in a multitude of polysaccharides and, like many mushrooms, is a good source of protein, making it part of a healthy diet for vegans. Of particular importance in cordyceps however is the compound Cordycepin (something I’ll be covering further down),  due to its wide spectrum in affecting biological activity, much like a true adaptogen[3]. One disclaimer though - similar to kidney beans, raw Cordyceps Militaris must be cooked with heat before consumption, as they contain a protein which can be toxic to cells otherwise.[4] Although alkaline treatment can also make the mushroom safe to eat, heat is the most common and easiest way of damaging this protein so as to render it inert, and most powdered or dry Cordyceps Militaris has been treated already. Commercially grown Cordyceps Militaris is also arsenic free, unlike the variety that is harvested in the wild, which can potentially contain high levels of arsenic based on what insect the fungus grew from, making the commercial variety safer.

Immunological Effects

Cordyceps Militaris contains polysaccharides which have shown to have varying positive effects on immunity in multiple studies, the primary being increased lymphocyte production. Although many of the studies that show this increased lymphocyte production that have been done, has been done on animals,[5,6] newer studies done on humans also show an increase in lymphocyte production. One study done on healthy korean men showed a significant increase in lymphocyte production compared to a placebo group[7]:

Now, so far many of the human studies have been small samples, but that they do reflect the results from the multitude of animal studies done show that there is a very strong possibility that the polysaccharides found in Cordyceps does help nudge the immune system towards reinforcement, as a true adaptogen would do.

Effects on Physical Health

One thing that Cordycepin is shown to do is to interfere with purine synthesis.[8] Purines are naturally found in foods you eat, such as asparagus, most seafood, or liver - but are also metabolised from other compounds, primarily phosphorus based ones. They are primarily used for building DNA and RNA nitrogen bases when combined with pyrimidines. Any excess of purines however, which is common in any modern diet, is metabolised into uric acid, which is a waste byproduct for humans, normally being removed primarily by the kidneys through your urine.[9] A buildup of uric acid in your bloodstream can occur over time, depending on certain factors, such as diet and age. This build up can then manifest as the extremely painful conditions of gout or kidney stones. It can also worsen joint pain in those who suffer from arthritis, even in lower amounts. Mid to high concentrations of uric acid in otherwise healthy and younger people can lead to more joint pain and stress after a workout, when concentrations are typically higher due to having less water volume to dilute it in the bloodstream because of sweat.

Although not completely understood yet, it is known that the way the Cordycepin found in Cordyceps interferes with purine biosynthesis is by binding to the phosphates used by enzymes to make purine, instead now creating a more stable phosphoramide[10] which is used to metabolise saccharides and which is more easily filtered out by the kidneys.

The inhibitory effect of Cordycepin in mono- and tri- phosphate states on the enzymes, phosphoribosyl pyrophosphate synthase and phosphoribosyl pyrophosphate amidotransferase, involved in purine biosynthesis pathway

Effects on Oxidative Stress

Skin aging can be divided into intrinsic aging (chronological aging), which is the process of senescence that affects all body organs, and extrinsic aging, which occurs as a consequence of exposure to environmental factors such as sunlight, smoking, and dryness. One of the most important extrinsic aging factors is sunlight, particularly exposure to ultraviolet irradiation, which causes skin aging by generating intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the human body. Extracts of Cordyceps Militaris have shown protective effects against oxidative stress of the skin. [11] One such study using Cordyceps Militaris extract (also found in our Nurture My Skin blend_that was done in vitro on human dermal fibroblasts showed significant cytoprotective effects against hydrogen peroxide-induced oxidative stress, with the percentage of protection against radicals being dependant on dosage concentration, as shown in the graph below:

Additional Information

There can be some interactions with immunosuppressive drugs, due to the mushroom’s possible effects on supporting the immune system, so check with your doctor before eating or taking Cordyceps Militaris if you take any anti rejection medications due to an organ transplant. Otherwise, there is a lot of potential benefit from including Cordyceps Militaris in your diet, whether as a food source or as a supplement, and makes a great adaptogen to add for those following an adaptogenic regiment. Just remember to always cook it if you obtain it raw and/or unprocessed!


From this article: 



1: Darcy. (2020, April 27). Medicinal Mushrooms: List of the Best Fungi and Their Healing Benefits. Retrieved June 08, 2020, from https://medicinalherbals.net/medicinal-mushrooms/

2: Lu, Y., Zhi, Y., Miyakawa, T., & Tanokura, M. (2019). Metabolic profiling of natural and cultured Cordyceps by NMR spectroscopy. Scientific Reports, 9(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-019-44154-x

Retrieved June 08, 2020 from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44154-x

3: Wong, Y. Y., Moon, A., Duffin, R., Barthet-Barateig, A., Meijer, H. A., Clemens, M. J., & Moor, C. H. (2009). Cordycepin Inhibits Protein Synthesis and Cell Adhesion through Effects on Signal Transduction. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 285(4), 2610-2621. doi:10.1074/jbc.m109.071159

Retrieved June 08, 2020 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2807318/

4: Bai, K., & Sheu, F. (2018). A novel protein from edible fungi Cordyceps militaris that induces apoptosis. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 26(1), 21-30. doi:10.1016/j.jfda.2016.10.013

Retrieved June 08, 2020 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1021949816301624#fig4

5: Wang, M., Meng, X. Y., Yang, R. L., Qin, T., Wang, X. Y., Zhang, K. Y., . . . Xue, F. Q. (2012). Cordyceps militaris polysaccharides can enhance the immunity and antioxidation activity in immunosuppressed mice. Carbohydrate Polymers, 89(2), 461-466. doi:10.1016/j.carbpol.2012.03.029

Retrieved June 12, 2020 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S014486171200241X

6: Wang, M., Meng, X., Yang, R., Qin, T., Li, Y., Zhang, L., . . . Xue, F. (2013). Cordyceps militaris polysaccharides can improve the immune efficacy of Newcastle disease vaccine in chicken. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, 59, 178-183. doi:10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2013.04.007

Retrieved June 12, 2020 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0141813013001785

7: Kang, H. J., Baik, H. W., Kim, S. J., Lee, S. G., Ahn, H. Y., Park, J. S., . . . Lee, S. M. (2015). Cordyceps militaris Enhances Cell-Mediated Immunity in Healthy Korean Men. Journal of Medicinal Food, 18(10), 1164-1172. doi:10.1089/jmf.2014.3350

Retrieved June 12, 2020 from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2014.3350

8: Overgaard-Hansen, K. (1964). The inhibition of 5-phosphoribosyl-1-pyrophosphate formation by cordycepin triphosphate in extracts of Ehrlich ascites tumor cells. Biochimica Et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Specialized Section on Nucleic Acids and Related Subjects, 80(3), 504-507. doi:10.1016/0926-6550(64)90154-9

Retrieved June 14, 2020 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14153854/

9: Zimmermann, H. (1996). Extracellular purine metabolism. Drug Development Research, 39(3-4), 337-352. doi:10.1002/(sici)1098-2299(199611/12)39:3/43.0.co;2-z

Retrieved June 14, 2020 from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/%28SICI%291098-2299%28199611/12%2939%3A3/4%3C337%3A%3AAID-DDR15%3E3.0.CO%3B2-Z

10: Team, E. (n.d.). ChEBI. Retrieved June 14, 2020, from http://www.ebi.ac.uk/chebi/searchId.do?chebiId=CHEBI%3A58017

11: Park, J., Lee, J., Lee, K., Ha, S., & Hong, E. (2014). Cordyceps militaris Extract Protects Human Dermal Fibroblasts against Oxidative Stress-Induced Apoptosis and Premature Senescence. Nutrients, 6(9), 3711-3726. doi:10.3390/nu6093711

Retrieved June 15, 2020, from https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/9/3711

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