When it comes to fungi, people often imagine a mushroom. Indeed, the common mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) is a fungus known the world over. But it’s worth noting that other types of fungi exist, with some being a little more bizarre than the average crimini or portobello scattered on pizzas and in salads.
Take the Cordyceps genus, for example. Scientists have dubbed these mushrooms “zombie fungi” on account of their ability to control their host with sinister precision. In recent times, however, some species belonging to this genus of parasitic fungi have gained popularity, thanks to studies that highlight their potential health benefits. A review led by researchers from Taiwan — where Cordyceps mushrooms have long been used in traditional medicine — looked at the state of functional foods in the country.
“In this review, we focus on the Cordyceps sp. functional foods in Taiwan, including origins, chemistry, and biofunctions,” they wrote in their report. “This review aims to guide researchers for a better utilization of Cordyceps sp. in the development of new…therapeutics targeting various ailments.”
The article was published in the journal Food Science and Human Wellness.
A closer look at the health benefits of Cordyceps
The interuniversity study focused on four major species of Cordyceps, namely: C. sinensis, C. militaris, C. cicadae, and C. soblifera. The team looked at the potential challenges and opportunities for utilizing each species. In particular, a challenge they identified is collecting natural C. sinensis with parasitic hosts. An article in Mycology by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing identified some of the main challenges when it comes to cultivating C. sinensis.
- The hosts have long life cycles, making it difficult to maintain quality and quantity in the long run.
- During the cultivation period, the hosts are prone to highly infectious pathogens.
- The mechanism of how the fungus invades the host is unclear.
Despite these challenges, Cordyceps mushrooms remain in high demand because of their multiple biological properties, which are the subject of several studies. (Related: Cordyceps mushrooms found to protect from allergens.)
Boosts exercise performance
A study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that a Cordyceps species can improve the way the body uses oxygen during exercise. In the animal study, mice were given a polysaccharide from C. militaris and were subjected to a forced swimming test to induce physical fatigue. The researchers found that mice treated with C. militaris had improved biomarkers for fatigue, which suggested an anti-fatigue effect.
In another study, participants who were treated with a species of Cordyceps had better VO2 max levels than those who took a placebo. To note, VO2 max is a measure of the amount of oxygen a person can efficiently use and consume. It is used to indicate a person’s overall fitness level.
Fights the effects of aging
In traditional Chinese medicine, older adults use Cordyceps mushrooms to boost their strength and libido, as well as to reduce physical fatigue. Multiple studies on the effects of Cordyceps extracts in aged mice reveal that it can reduce the effects of oxidative stress and improve cognitive and sexual performance.
According to discrete studies, Cordyceps mushrooms can also prolong the lifespan of certain animals – a promising benefit indeed once studies have expanded to include clinical trials.
Improves heart health
In China, Cordyceps mushrooms are used to treat arrhythmia – a condition marked by irregular heartbeat. The antioxidant properties of these fungi account for their ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. In a study that appeared in Phytotherapy Research, researchers found that cultured C. sinensis exhibits cardioprotective effects in vivo. In particular, it improved blood flow and ventricular function, as well as helped with blood pressure regulation.
ChineseMedicine.news has everything you need on these beneficial fungi and other potent herbal medicines.