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Cordyceps Sinensis



What is Cordyceps Sinensis?  Cordyceps sinensis (CS), also known as Chinese caterpillar fungus, is a fungus that grows on the larvae of the Lepidoptera Moth.  It is one of the most highly valued medicinal fungi of traditional Chinese medicine, where it has been used since ancient times.  CS is believed to have many beneficial properties including: Increased exercise performance, improved fatigue and stress resistance, improved immune function, cholesterol lowering properties, anti-tumour properties, as well as anti-ageing and anti-oxidant properties. 

CS takes around six years to complete it’s life cycle. Therefore, natural Cs is both rare and expensive.  Recently it has been grown successfully in cultures, providing a much more cost effective means of gathering the raw product.  Research has shown that cultured CS has the same medicinal properties as wild species (Koh et al., 2003a).


Who might benefit from Cordyceps Sinensis supplements?  Anyone looking to enhance fatigue resistance, improve stress tolerance, enhance immune function, and improve general health and well-being may benefit from CS supplements.


Summary of Cordyceps Sinensis physiological effects:

  • Potent antioxidant with powerful anti-ageing properties

  • Has anti-tumour properties

  • Immune stimulating properties

  • Lowers the level of "BAD" LDL cholesterol

  • Increases the level of "GOOD" HDL cholesterol

  • May prevent furring of the arteries

  • No evidence of enhanced exercise performance or fatigue resistance in humans


What does research say about Cordyceps Sinensis supplementation?  CS first attracted large-scale interest, outside of China, after the 1993 World Athletic Championships.  A succession of Chinese athletes broke nine world records, some by extraordinary margins.  Their improvement was partly attributed to the consumption of CS.  Whilst it is now clear that CS alone couldn’t be responsible for all of the improvement seen in the Chinese athletes, it gathered a lot of interest in the use of CS for performance enhancement. 

In animals Cs has been demonstrated to have positive effects on physical performance.  In mice the consumption of Cs improved swim time, to exhaustion, from 75 to 90 minutes (Koh et al., 2003a).  This was partly attributed to improved resistance to stress-induced intensive exercise and enhanced immune function. 

The same researchers found that CS has a “remarkable anti-stress effect”.  They observed that the consumption of Cs helped to attenuate the normal physiological changes that occur in the adrenal gland, thymus, and thyroid.  They also found CS prevented an increase in cholesterol levels during a period of increased stress. 

In studies of human performance, CS has so far proved to be ineffective at enhancing performance.  These studies looking at the effect of CS on endurance performance failed to find any positive effects on: VO2max, ventilatory threshold, time to exhaustion, peak power output, blood lactate levels, or time trial performance (Earnest et al., 2004; Parcell et al., 2004; Colson et al., 2005).  Therefore it seems unlikely that there is a great performance benefit to be gained from the use of CS.  However, no research has looked at whether CS may aid the recovery process, post exercise, in humans. 

Although CS doesn’t appear to be beneficial for exercise performance it does appear to have a number of health benefits.   

CS has been shown to possess potent antioxidant effects (Wang et al., 2004; Wang et al., 2005) and has good anti-aging properties (Wang et al., 2004). 

CS has also been shown to exhibit potent anti-tumour activity (Shin et al., 2003; Wang et al., 2005; Yalin et al., 2005; Zhang et al., 2005) and may help to inhibit the spread of tumours cells to the lungs and liver (Zhang et al., 2005).  Cs is also believed to have an immune stimulating effect (Shin et al., 2003). 

Another interesting area of research is the way CS may inhibit the build up of cholesterol.  Koh et al., (2003b) found that CS increased the level of good cholesterol (HDL), whilst simultaneously decreasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol.  Cs has also been shown to inhibit LDL oxidation by free radicals and therefore may help to inhibit the formation of artherosclerotic lesions (Furring of the arteries) (Yamaguchi et al., 2000).  

CS also possess anti-hypoglycaemic activity and therefore may prove to be beneficial to diabetics (Lo et al., 2004).


Is Cordiceps Sinensis effective?  Research on humans has failed to support early research suggesting that CS could improve exercise performance and fatigue resistance.  It does have many health benefits including: an antioxidant effect, anti-tumour properties, cholesterol lowering properties, and it protects against furring of the arteries.


How should I take Cordyceps Sinensis?  CS has so far proved to be ineffective for improving sporting performance.  However, it is not clear whether it may enhance the recovery process and immune function in hard training athletes.  It shows promise as a general health supplement although further research on humans is needed to verify this.  A general recommendation would be 1000-3000mg daily, in 1-3 doses. 



Colson, S. N., Wyatt, F. B., Johnston, D. L., Autrey, L. D., FitzGerald, Y. L. and Earnest, C. P. (2005) Cordyceps sinensis- and Rhodiola rosea-based supplementation in male cyclists and its effects on muscle tissue oxygen saturation. J Strength Cond Res. 19 (2), 358-363. 

Earnest, C. P., Morss, G. M., Wyatt, E., Jordan, A. N., Colson, S., Church, T. S., Fitzgerald, Y., Autrey, L., Jurca, R. and Lucia, A. (2004) Effects of a commercial herbal-based formula on exercise performance in cyclists. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 36 (3), 504-509. 

Koh, J. H., Kim, K. M., Kim, J. M., song, J. C. and Suh, H. J. (2003a) Antifatigue and Antistress Effect of the Hot-Water Fraction from Mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis. Biol Pharm Bull. 26 (5), 691-694. 

Koh, J. H., Kim, J. M., Chang, U. J. and Suh, H. J. (2003b) Hypocholesterolemic effect of hot-water extract from mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis. Biol Pharm Bull. 26 (1), 84-87. 

Lo, H. C., Tu, S. T., Lin, K. C. and Lin, S. C. (2004) The anti-hyperglycemic activity of the fruiting body of Cordyceps in diabetic rats induced by nicotinamide and streptozotcin. Life Sci. 74 (23), 2897-2908. 

Parcell, A. C., smith, J. M., Schulthies, S. S., Myrer, J. W. and Fellingham, G. (2004) Cordyceps Sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) supplementation does not improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 36 (3), 504-509. 

Shin, K. H., Lim, S. S., Lee, S., Lee, Y. S. Jung, S. H. and Cho, S. Y. (2003) Anti-tumour and immuno-stimulating activities of the fruiting bodies of Paecilomyces japonica, a new type of Cordyceps spp. Phytother Res. 17 (7), 830-833. 

Wang, Y. H., Ye, J., Li, C. L., cai, S. Q., Ishizaki, M. and Katada, M. (2004) An experimental study on anti-aging action of Cordyceps extract. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 29 (8), 773-776.  

Wang, B. J., Won, S. J., Yu, Z. R. and Su, C. L. (2005) Free radical scavenging and apoptotic effects of Cordyceps sinensis fractionated by supercritical carbon dioxide. Food Chem Toxicol. 43 (4), 543-552. 

Yalin, W., Ishurd, O., Cuirong, S. and Yuanjiang, P. (2005) Structure analysis and antitumour activity of (1à3)-bea-d-glucans (cordyglucans) from the mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis. Planta Med. 71 (4), 381-384. 

Yamaguchi, Y., kagota, S., nakamura, K., Shinozuka, K. and Kunitomo, M. (2000) Inhibitory effects of water extracts from fruiting bodies of cultured Cordyceps sinensis on raised serum lipid peroxide levels and aortic cholesterol deposition in atherosclerotic mice. Phytother Res. 14 (8), 650-652. 

Zhang, W., Yang, J., Chen, J., Hou, Y. and Han, X. (2005) Immunomodulatory and antitumour effects of an exopolysaccharide fraction from cultivated Cordyceps sinensis (Chinese caterpillar fungus) on tumour-bearing mice. Biotechnol Appl Biochem. 42 (pt 1, 9-15. 

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Last modified: 01/05/06