Edited By: Dr. Asha Jyoti Bharati
Name – Cordyceps mushroom
Scientific name– Cordyceps sinensis and C. militaris , Family Clavicipitaceae
Common name- Caterpillar fungus (English), Hia tsao tong tchong and dong chong xia cao (Chinese), Dong Chung Ha Cao (Korean ) Tocheikasa (Japanese), Yartshagumba, Yarsagumba and Yartsa gunbu (Tibetan) meaning ‘winter-worm summer-grass, Himalayan Viagra, Himalayan Gold, Keera ghaas (Indian), Keera jhar, Jeevan buti, Keeda ghass, Chou kira (Nepali) and herbal Viagra (Traditionally)
Origin- Cordyceps mushroom is a fungal parasite that grows on a rare caterpillar (Hepialis armoricanus) until the caterpillar dies and the mushroom sprouts from the caterpillar’s head and ends at the club-like cap, including the stipe and stroma. It has been used as a tonic herb in Chinese traditional medicine. Cultivated in – Subtropical and tropical regions, especially east and south-east Asia, North America, and Europe except Antarctica an altitude of 3500–5000 meters above sea level (1).
History– Cordyceps was first introduced to Western society during the 17th century. Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis belong to the same genus, but the different species and have been valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than 2000 years.
Cordyceps mushroom is highly-priced fungus or medicinal mushroom throughout the world, hence known as “fungal gold” or “soft gold”. The color of the fruit body is dark brown to black the larval body pervaded by the mycelium, is yellowish to brown color with sweet in taste and neutral in nature (2).
Nutritional value of Cordyceps mushroom
Cordyceps mushroom is highly nutritious rich in essential amino acids (lysine, glutamic acid, proline, and threonine), vitamins like B1, B2, B12 and K, different kinds of carbohydrates such as monosaccharide, oligosaccharides and various medicinally important polysaccharides, proteins, sterols, nucleosides, and other trace elements (3). The fruiting body is also rich in unsaturated fatty acids (e.g., linoleic acid), which comprises about 70 % of the total fatty acids. The most abundant unsaturated acid was linoleic acid. A number of bioactive constituents present in this mushroom such as polysaccharides, cordycepin, mannitol, aminophenol and ergosterol with various pharmacological actions, such as nephroprotective, hepatoprotective, inflammatory effects, antioxidant and antiapoptotic properties (4).
Health benefits of Cordyceps mushroom
1. Treat anemia
Cordyceps sinensis intake relaxes contractions in the liver blood vessel system, increase hepatic energy metabolism via increased blood flow in the liver and other organs and increase liver ATP levels which accelerate recovery and improvement of liver function in patients with anemia (hypoferric anemia) (5).
2. Immunomodulatory properties
Polysaccharides obtained from Cordyceps sinensis enhance the phagocytic capacity of peritoneal macrophages, proliferation ability of spleen lymphocytes and defense against microbial invasion, leukocyte activation enhance the innate immune system (6). Furthermore, cordycepin found in this mushroom affected the actions of immune cells and the cytokine network (7).
3. Anti-inflammatory properties
Cordyceps militaris mushroom contains active components which act as an anti-inflammatory agent that suppresses tissue injury associated with the pathological processes of many inflammatory diseases including bronchitis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis gastritis, and rheumatoid arthritis (8).
4. Anti fibrotic properties
Cordyceps militaris contain extracellular biopolymers (30 mg/kg/day for 4 weeks) may be helpful as an effective drug for liver fibrosis which may prevent or cure liver fibrosis induced by bile duct ligation and scission (BDL/S) operation (9).
5. Anticancer properties
Cordyceps militaris is a rich source of cordycepin, ergosterol and other bioactive compounds which are responsible for growth inhibition on free radical NO and cytokines (TNF- and IL-12) production and inhibit colon cells proliferation by cell cycle arrest and induce apoptosis (10). Moreover, cordycepin inhibited cell growth and decreased cell cycle proteins further anti-tumor effects for the treatment of bladder cancer cells, human lung carcinoma cells, human colorectal carcinoma cells, hepatocellular carcinoma cells, breast cancer (11,12).
Furthermore, this mushroom consumption possesses anti-metastatic activity with no weight loss or toxicity against liver metastasis of Lewis lung carcinoma (LLC) and B16 melanoma (B16) cells (13).
6. Treat high glucose induces cytotoxicity
Cordyceps militaris contain cordycepin which exerts their protective action against oxidative stress through directly scavenging reactive oxygen species and NO, which may regulate the expression of Bcl-2 family protein, caspase activity, and mitochondrial function (14).
7. Polysaccharides of Cordyceps mushrooms help in managing diabetes
A research study suggested that Cordyceps sinensis polysaccharide (10 mg/kg body weight) act as a hypoglycemic agent lowered the plasma glucose level is normal in and streptozocin-induced diabetic mice after intravenous administration. Reduction in plasma glucose level is more potent than Omphalia lapidescens and Tricholoma mongolicum (15).
8. Treat male/female sexual dysfunction
Supplementation of Cordyceps militaris improves sperm quality and quantity via increase percentages of motile sperm cells and sperm morphology. Moreover, Cordyceps sinensis possess sex steroid-like effects by increasing production of testosterone, enhance reproductive activity and restore the impaired reproductive function, thus may be useful as a therapeutic agent in treating hypolibidenism and other sexual malfunction in both men and women (16, 17).
9. Anti-aging properties
Cordyceps sinensis contains various antioxidants such as crude protein, D-mannitol, cordycepin and cordyceps polysaccharide which improved learning and memory by shortened escape latency, prolonged step-down latency and decreased the number of errors. It also improves antioxidative enzyme activity and promotes sexual function thus prevent the detrimental effects associated with aging (18).
10. Antifungal properties
Cordyceps militaris is a good source of protein which shows strong antifungal effect against the growth of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum and exhibited fungicide or for meat tenderizer because of its protease activity, as has been suggested previously (19). Furthermore, cordycepin exhibited potent antifungal efficacy against Candida albicans and Candida krusei thus cordycepin is a new class of antifungal compounds and offer new options for the treatment of fungal infections (20).
Presence of various antioxidants like cordycepin, cordycepic acid, sterols (ergosterol), nucleosides, and polysaccharides in Cordyceps are useful to treat different types of viruses including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), herpes virus (HSV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and influenza virus by modulation of the immune function of macrophages. This mushroom also possesses a balancing effect on host immune regulation because it shows an immune-enhancing effect in uninfected, healthy animals and an immune-inhibitory effect in virus-infected with stable body weight and reduced mortality (21, 22).
12. Improve gut health
Intake of Cordyceps sinensis may decrease harmful bacteria populations (Salmonella sp. and E. coli.) and increase helpful bacteria numbers (Lactocbacillus sp.) in the small intestine, improve body weight gain and survivability thus improve gut health (23).
13. Enhance exercise performance and treat fatigue
Fatigue is a common symptom in sickness and in health and classified into mental and physical fatigue. However, supplementation of Cordyceps militaris (4g/day) for one week improves tolerance to high-intensity exercise, improvements in oxygen consumption, ventilatory threshold, time to exhaustion, and delaying fatigue (24). In another study suggested that oral administration of Cordyceps sinensis (500 mg/kg/day for 4 weeks) show antidepressant-like activity which prolonged the swimming time and enhance immunity with reduction of fatigue (25).
14. Treat asthma
C. sinensis consumption reduces asthma-induced inflammation; improve the quality of life of the patients by reducing asthma-related symptoms and asthma onset frequency and severity. Therefore this mushroom may be helpful as effective Chinese medicine for asthma patients without additional safety risks (26).
15. Boost brain health
Bioactive components such as adenosine, cordycepin, and polysaccharides found in C. militaris significantly reverse the scopolamine-induced deficit in memory and improve neurite outgrowth. Thus, Cordyceps militaris may act as a therapeutic agent which may develop safe and healthy dietary supplements for brain and cognitive health (27).
16. Melanin pigments of mushrooms have radioprotective properties
Cordyceps militaris is a good source of melanin pigment which may effective against radiation-induced DNA damage. Cordyceps militaris increased free radical scavenging activity and decreased radiation-induced plasmid DNA strand breaks inhibited the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and cellular DNA damage Thus wood ear mushroom melanins possess the ability to mediate local shielding against external radiation (28).
17. Lower cholesterol levels due to cordycepin in mushrooms
Cordycepin, present in C. militaris acts as a natural hypolipidaemic agent which reduce total cholesterol (TC), triglycerides (TG), and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol as well as LDL-C/HDL-C (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) and TC/HDL-C ratios. Therefore, cordycepin of C. militaris regulates lipid profiles (29).
18. Healthy heart due to adenosine in Cordyceps mushrooms
Adenosine (nucleosides) natural bioactive compound obtained from Cordyceps mushroom possess heart-protective effects and reduce heart injuries. Therefore, cordycepin may act as an antiatherosclerotic agent and prevent cardiovascular disease (30).
19. Polypeptides in Cordyceps helps in lowering hypertension
Cordyceps sinensis contains polypeptide which may reduce the mean arterial pressure and induce a direct endothelium-dependent vasorelaxant effect through stimulating the production of nitric oxide and treat hypertension (31).
20. Healthy kidney
Cordyceps sinensis contain polysaccharides reduce the formation of reactive oxygen species and the damage through transforming growth factor pathway. Thus polysaccharide of this mushroom had a significant protective effect of chronic renal failure (40 mg/kg and 80 mg/kg) (32).
21. Polysaccharides of Cordyceps mushrooms treat liver fibrosis
Polysaccharide present in Cordyceps sinensis modulates the cellular immune function and increases the serum complement level in the patients with post-hepatitic cirrhosis. It also improves the immunological functions of organic cells, removing harmful components and thus reducing the injury to liver cells by promoting the degradation of the collagens. Therefore, this mushroom possesses a protective effect on immune liver injury, the effect on patients with chronic hepatitis B, the effect on patients with hepatic cirrhosis after hepatitis, protective effect on liver fibrosis (33).
Side effect of Cordyceps mushroom
A novel protein found in Cordyceps mushrooms is known as CMP which is the harmful protein that causes cell death through mitochondrial-dependent apoptosis, However, heat treatment and alkalization degraded CMP. Therefore, cooking is necessary before consumption to eliminate CMP (34).
Furthermore, various health benefits Cordyceps mushrooms reported but some of these research done on the animal, human clinical trials not done yet thus precaution should be needed before consumption.