Nutrition Notes

The Latest on the Health-supportive Role of Cordyceps

Cordyceps is a genus containing numerous species of medicinal mushrooms. Cordyceps have been traditionally used in Chinese and Tibetan medicine and have been the subject of many research studies for their potential to support human health. Cordyceps (including the species of Cordyceps sinensis (C. sinensis) and C. militaris) has been shown in research to support immune health, the body’s response to inflammation and oxidative stress, cellular health, and healthy metabolism. 

A recently published controlled animal study by Zheng and colleagues explored the impact of C. militaris (CM) on the gut microbiome and intestinal integrity. More than 150 swine were assigned to either a control group or a CM group that included supplementation with 300 mg/kg of CM for 88 days.  

Study results indicate that the presence of CM increased the concentrations of acetate and butyrate, two short-chain fatty acids shown to support health in many ways. Increases in certain beneficial microbiota were observed in the treatment group. The cellular composition of the intestines showed increases in goblet cells and intraepithelial lymphocytes in the presence of CM. The duodenal ratio between villus height and crypt depth was also improved in the treatment group. 

In addition, CM was shown to influence the expression of cytokines related to inflammation; the pro-inflammatory cytokines of interleukin (IL)-12, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-ɑ), and interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) were downregulated, whereas the anti-inflammatory cytokines of IL-10 and IL-4 were upregulated in the presence of CM. The authors concluded that CM may have the potential to improve immunological barrier function and other aspects of gut health and microbiome integrity. However, human studies need to be conducted on this specific topic before further conclusions can be made. 

Regarding clinical studies, a recently published review article described the many ways in which Cordyceps may support human health. The article describes a clinical trial exploring the potential pulmonary-supportive effect of CM supplementation in 100 adults. This 12-week randomized controlled trial reported increases in the activity of natural killer (NK) cells and immunoglobulin A concentration. Another trial in healthy adult males showed that daily supplementation with 1.5 g of CM for 4 weeks increased levels of NK cells, IL-2, IL-12, TNF-ɑ, and IFN-ɣ. 

The genus Cordyceps includes more than 700 species and belongs to six different classes. Certain species within the Cordyceps genus have been shown to play a supportive role in the human body. Cordyceps may support the body’s response to oxidative stress and inflammation. It may also help support immune, gastrointestinal, and cellular health. 

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT