Cordyceps sinesis is an ancient Tibetan healing fungus with a wealth of medicinal properties. One of these – its ability to treat asthma – has just been proven a human clinical study.
Furthermore, as we’ll discuss, this ancient medicine has also been proven to treat a number of other medical conditions.
What is Cordyceps sinesis?
Many have classified C. sinesis as a mushroom. Close. But strictly speaking, it’s actually a fungus. Mushrooms are a type of fungi, but fungi are not necessarily mushrooms.
Nonetheless, ancient healers of Tibet and China did classify the fungi as a medicinal mushroom. And today, medicinal mushroom texts do include Cordyceps discussions alongside those of Maitake and Reishi mushrooms. This is because it grows in grassy pastures just like mushrooms. But there is a caterpillar involved. Thus, some call Cordyceps the Chinese caterpillar mushroom.
C. sinesis is a type of Ascomycetes fungus. The fungi grows in regions of high altitude, above 10,000 feet. The fungi is often harvested among the grassy meadows in the Himalayan mountains and the Tibetan Plateau. Other Cordyceps species, such as C. subsessilis – will grow in more temperate climates.
Cordyceps sinesis will look like an oddly-shaped mushroom as it pokes up through the grass. Its cylinder or club shape is what encouraged its species name – from the Greek word kordyle – meaning “club.”
The Tibetans call Cordyceps Yarsa gumba, which means winter-summer. The Napalese call it Keera Jhar, which means “insect herb.”
Cordyceps is seeded from the caterpillar of the Hepialis armoricanus moth – also called the ghost moth. The fungi will grow within the caterpillar and then swell up and grow upwards as it mummifies the caterpillar within its underground base.
Today, most commercial C. sinesis are cultivated on rice or similar substrates instead of using caterpillers. The fungi will grown and harvested within a controlled environment. The medicinal compounds in domestically produced Cordyceps are similar to Cordyceps that grows in the wild.
Cordyceps treats asthma
Several studies over the past decade have shown that Cordyceps helps the lungs and improves airway heath. A 2016 study has now found that C. sinesis can indeed be used to treat asthma.
Researchers from the Department of Respiratory Medicine at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine studied 120 people with moderate to severe cases of chronic asthma. The study excluded smokers, those with other lung conditions, pregnancy, or recent hospitalization.
The researchers randomly divided the patients into two groups of 60 people each. The control group was treated with standard prescriptions of corticosteroid inhalers and Beta2-adrenergic agonists. The other 60 people were given 1.2 grams of C. sinesis three times a day for three months. The Cordyceps group was also given the ability to use the same inhalers and B2-adrenergic agonists as needed.
Before and after the three months of treatment, the patients received a battery of tests. These included lung function testing using the spirometer. The researchers tested the patients for forced expiratory volume one second (FEV1), forced vital capacity (FVC) and mean peak expiratory flow (PEF).
The researchers also gave each patient symptom questionnaires and blood tests to test their immunity levels and sensitivities. The researchers used the 32-item Juniper’s Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire to assess patients’ improvements in symptoms.
After the three months, the researchers found the Cordyceps group had improved lung function scores. Their FEV1 and PEFR scores improved significantly compared to the control group.
The Cordyceps group also had better immunity scores, showing reduced inflammation. These included decreases in inflammatory markers such as IgE, ICAM-1, IL-4, and MMP-9.
The researchers also found the Cordyceps group had improved scores in asthma symptoms, activity limitations and emotional function categories.
The C. sinesis treatment also resulted in more symptom-free days compared with the control group. Daytime symptom onset levels also significantly decreased among the Cordyceps group. The Cordyceps group slept better, and awoke less in the middle of the night.
The C. sinesis group also used significantly less rescue medications.
The researchers continued to follow the patients for another three months after they stopped the Cordyceps treatment. Their asthma symptom improvements compared to the control group continued.
The researchers discussed this along with other improvements:
“The beneficial effects of Corbrin [Cordyceps in capsule form] were noted as regards the parameters “activity limitation,” “asthma symptoms,” and “emotional function.” The effects were more profound at the 3-month follow-up period, compared with the postintervention period, and were possibly attributed to the improvement of lung function and asthma symptoms by Corbrin. In addition, Corbrin increased significantly the mean number of symptom-free days and the mean number of rescue-free days compared with the control group, while it decreased the mean number of daytime onsets.”
Cordyceps boosts the immune system
One of the reasons why C. sinesis is so potent is because it boosts the immune system. In a study of 20 children with asthma, Cordyceps was found to stimulate the immune system by reducing inflammatory cytokines. Here is a summary of effects noted by the researchers:
“Cordyceps extract can inhibit the proliferation and differentiation of Th2 cells and reduce the expression of related cytokines by down-regulating the expression of GATA-3 mRNA and up-regulating the expression of Foxp3 mRNA in PBMCs. Meanwhile, it can alleviate the chronic allergic inflammation by increasing the content of IL-10.”
Treats other conditions
Ancient traditional healers utilized Cordyceps for a variety of ailments. It is considered a general tonic, because it has proved so useful for so many conditions. This is likely related to the above point about boosting immunity.
It seems C. sinesis may have become noticed thousands of years ago when the people of the villages noticed their men became much stronger and potent after eating the fungus from the fields.
At some point, healers began using the fungus for conditions related to weakened metabolism. Here is a list of ailments treated by traditional healers with C. sinesis even today:
• Back pain
• Chronic pain
• Heart disease
• Kidney conditions
• Libido problems
• Liver conditions
• Metabolic weakness
• Prostate enlargement
Yes, even today, traditional doctors in Nepal, Tibet and China still prescribe Cordyceps for many of these conditions.
Cordyceps treatments proven in research
Is there other research evidence for this fungus’ incredible healing properties?
Yes. Here are just a few:
Cordyceps and one of its constituents, cordycepin, has been studied extensively against a number of types of cancer. In several studies, cordycepin has been found to kill breast cancer cells. Research has also found Cordyceps inhibited colorectal cancer cells, lung cancer cells and oral cancer cells.
Six clinical research studies found that C. sinesis improved outcomes for kidney disease patients. Among those who received kidney transplants, C. sinesis improved survival and reduced rejection rates.
A study of 120 patients with type-2 diabetes found that 2 grams of Cordyceps three times per day helped protect patients from kidney injury and renal insufficiency.
An analysis of 22 studies that included 1,746 people with chronic kidney disease found that Cordyceps significantly:
• Reduced serum creatinine
• Increased creatinine clearance
• Reduced proteinuria
• Reduced kidney disease complications
A study from Peking University Hospital studied 231 people with chronic kidney disease. Among the group treated with Cordyceps, renal function improved in 72 cases, stabilized in 38 cases and worsened in only 12 cases. Among the control group, rental function improved in only 14 cases.
A study from Japan’s Tosashimizu Hospital tested 101 patients with liver cancer. Most also had cirrhosis, hepatitis-C virus (HCV) or hepatitis-B virus (HBV). The researchers found that included C. sinesis in their treatment resulted in significantly better survival rates and reduced symptoms of the other liver issues.
A study from South Korea’s Duksung Women’s University found that Cordyceps contains compounds that inhibit COX-2 enzymes. This means it reduces pain.
Metabolic issues and athletic performance
In another article, we discussed research research showing that Reishi and Cordyceps combined boosts testosterone and athletic performance.
Researchers from UCLA tested 20 healthy people between 50 and 75 years old. They gave the subjects either a Cordyceps supplement (1,000 milligrams per day) or a placebo for 12 weeks. The resarchers found that the Cordyceps increased metabolic threshold and ventilation threshold. The placebo group did not experience any increases. The researchers concluded:
“This pilot study suggests that supplementation with Cordyceps sinensis improves exercise performance and might contribute to wellness in healthy older subjects.”
Consistent with this point: C. sinesis and cordycepin has also been found in the research to inhibit oxidative stress. Researchers found cordycepin blocked osteogenesis in the bone marrow among mice in one study.
Illustrating nature’s intelligence, researchers from Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University studied Cordyceps sinesis and identified 50 medicinal compounds. These included a number of compounds that exhibited anti-inflammatory activity.
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