Cordyceps sinensis in its sexual stage is the primary form used.1 However, more than ten related species (in sexual and asexual stages) as well as artificially cultured mycelium are today used as substitutes in commercial preparations. C. sinensis, C. ophioglossoides, C. capita, and C. militaris are the most common species in commerce.
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1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
3 to 4.5 grams twice per day
Cordyceps has repeatedly been shown effective in trials at improving liver and immune function in people with chronic hepatitis B, including those with cirrhosis.
Cordyceps has repeatedly been shown effective in clinical trials at reducing fibrosis and improving liver and immune function in people with chronic hepatitis B, including those with cirrhosis.3 , 4 , 5 The usual amount taken is 3 to 4.5 grams twice daily as capsules or simmered for 10 to 15 minutes in water to make tea.
Refer to label instructions
Cordyceps has immune-strengthening actions and may be helpful in a wide range of conditions in which the immune system is weakened.
Cordyceps has immune strengthening actions in human and animal studies.6 , 7 Further research is needed but it may be helpful in a wide range of conditions in which the immune system is weakened. The usual amount taken is 3 to 4.5 grams twice daily as capsules or simmered for 10 to 15 minutes in water for tea.
In ancient China, cordyceps was used in the Emperor’s palace and was considered to have ginseng-like properties.2 It was used to strengthen the body after exhaustion or long-term illness, and for impotence, neurasthenia, and backache. It was also used to cure opium addiction.
Cordyceps contains a wide variety of potentially important constituents, including polysaccharides, ophiocordin (an antibiotic compound), cordycepin, cordypyridones, nucleosides, bioxanthracenes, sterols, alkenoic acids, and exo-polymers.8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14
Many studies on the medicinal effects of cordyceps do not give a clear picture of its actions because many of the studies (1) are in animals or test tubes; (2) use different species, preparations, and intake levels; (3) inject cordyceps and/or its constituents rather than administering them orally; or (4) are not available in English and, therefore, cannot be reviewed for accuracy and design.
There are some clinical trials supporting the efficacy of cordyceps, particularly for liver, kidney, and immune problems. A number of studies indicate that cordyceps may have a anti-cancer, anti-metastatic, immuno-enhancing, and antioxidant effects.15 , 16 , 17 , 18 , 19
The recommended intake of cordyceps is 3 to 9 grams taken twice daily as a liquid extract, as food, or as powdered extract.20
There are insufficient studies on the safety of cordyceps. However, it has a long history of use as a food and is generally considered safe.21 There is no information available about safety in pregnancy, lactation, or use in children.
There are two reported cases of lead poisoning associated with the use of apparently contaminated cordyceps powder.22 Cordyceps should only be purchased from companies that test to exclude heavy metal contamination.
1. Yue QC, Ning W, Hui Z, Liang HQ. Differentiation of medicinal Cordyceps species by rDNA ITS sequence analysis. Planta Med 2002;68:635–39.
2. Hobbs C. Medicinal Mushrooms: An exploration of tradition, healing and culture. Santa Cruz, CA: Botanica Press, 1995.
3. Gong HY, Wang KQ, Tang SG. Effects of Cordyceps sinensis on T lymphocyte subsets and hepatofibrosis in patients with chronic hepatitis B. Hunan Yi Ke Da Xue Bao 2000;25:248–50 [in Chinese].
4. Zhou L, Yang W, Xu Y, et al. Short-term curative effect of cultured Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc. Mycelia in chronic hepatitis B. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi 1990;15:53–5, 65 [in Chinese].
5. Zhu JL, Liu C. Modulating effects of extractum semen persicae and cultivated cordyceps hyphae on immuno-dysfunction of inpatients with posthepatitic cirrhosis. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi 1992;12:207–9,195 [in Chinese].
6. Zhu JL, Liu C. Modulating effects of extractum semen persicae and cultivated cordyceps hyphae on immuno-dysfunction of inpatients with posthepatitic cirrhosis. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi 1992;12(4):207–9, 195 [in Chinese.
7. Nakamura K, Yamaguchi Y, Kagota S, et al. Activation of in vivo Kupffer cell function by oral administration of Cordyceps sinensis in rats. Jpn J Pharmacol 1999;79:505–8.
8. Ling YJ, Sun YJ, Zhang LvP, Zhang CK. Measurement of cordycepin and adenosine in stroma of Cordyceps sp. by capillary zone electrophoresis (CZE). J Biosci Bioeng 2002;94:371–74.
9. Yuan YS, Zhang L, Xu XF, et al. Determination of nucleosides in cordyceps by RP–HPLC. Chin Pharm J China 2002;37:776–8.
10. Isaka M, Tantichareon M, Thebtaranonth Y. Structures of cordypyridones A-D, antimalarial N-hydroxy- and N-methoxy-2-pyridones from the insect pathogenic fungus Cordyceps nipponica. J Org Chem 2001;66:4803–08.
11. Isaka M, Kongsaeree P, Thebtaranonth Y. Bioxanthracenes from the insect pathogenic fungus Cordyceps pseudomilitaris BCC 1620 II. Structure elucidation. J Antibiot 2001;54:36–43.
12. Isaka M, Tanticharoen M, Thebtaranonth Y. Cordyanhydrides A and B. Two unique anhydrides from the insect pathogenic fungus Cordyceps pseudomilitaris BCC 1620. Tetrahedron Lett 2000;41:1657–60.
13. Kim DH, Yang BK, Jeong SC, et al. A preliminary study on the hypoglycemic effect of the exo-polymers produced by five different medicinal mushrooms. J Microbiol Biotechn 2001;11:167–71.
14. Bok JW, Lermer L, Chilton J, et al. Antitumor sterols from the mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis. Phytochem 1999;51:891–898.
15. Nakamura K, Yamaguchi Y, Kagota S, et al. Activation of in vivo Kupffer cell function by oral administration of Cordyceps sinensis in rats. Jpn J Pharmacol 1999;79:505–8.
16. Nakamura K, Yamaguchi Y, Kagota S, et al. Inhibitory effect of Cordyceps sinensis on spontaneous liver metastasis of Lewis lung carcinoma and B16 melanoma cells in syngenic mice. Jpn J Pharmacol 1999;79:335–41.
17. Lui JL, Lui RY. Enhancement of cordyceps tail polysaccharide on cellular immunological function in vitro. Chin Pharm J China 2001;36:738–41 [in Chinese].
18. Shin KH, Lim SS, Lee SH, et al. Antioxidant and immunostimulating activities of the fruiting bodies of Paecilomyces japonica, a new type of Cordyceps sp. Ann NY Acad Sci 2001;928:261–73.
19. Yamaguchi Y, Kagota S, Nakamura K, et al. Antioxidant activity of the extracts from fruiting bodies of cultured Cordyceps sinensis. Phytother Res 2000;14:647–9.
20. Hobbs C. Medicinal Mushrooms: An exploration of tradition, healing and culture. Santa Cruz, CA: Botanica Press, 1995.
21. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1998.
22. Wu TN, Yang KC, Wang CM, et al. Lead poisoning caused by contaminated Cordyceps, a Chinese herbal medicine: Two case reports. Sci Total Environ 1996;182:193–5.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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