Have you heard of Cordyceps militaris? It’s not the well-known Ophiocordyceps sinensis, but it belongs to the same fungal kingdom as Ophiocordyceps sinensis and Ganoderma. Like many medicinal mushrooms, Cordyceps militaris has numerous beneficial functions. Here are 8 major benefits of Cordyceps militaris, a “sibling” of Ophiocordyceps sinensis.
What Is Cordyceps Militaris?
Cordyceps, in a broad sense, refers to a complex state where fungi parasitize the larvae, pupae, or adult insects. Currently, over 400 species of Cordyceps have been discovered, and wild Cordyceps are composed of two essential elements: fungi and the host insect body. Depending on the specific fungi involved, Cordyceps can be categorized into three families: Clavicipitaceae, Cordycipitaceae, and Ophiocordycipitaceae. Ophiocordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris are the two most famous and extensively researched types of Cordyceps, both of which are edible in Taiwan. Here are some differences between Cordyceps militaris and Ophiocordyceps sinensis:
- Biological Classification: Ophiocordyceps sinensis belongs to the Ophiocordyceps family and genus, while Cordyceps militaris belongs to the Cordyceps family and genus.
- Host Range: Ophiocordyceps sinensis primarily parasitizes the larvae of more than 20 species of ghost moths (Hepialidae), while Cordyceps militaris has a wider host range, infecting over 70 different insect species.
- Fruiting Body Appearance: Ophiocordyceps sinensis has a dark brown cylindrical fruiting body, while Cordyceps militaris has an orange-red elliptical fruiting body.
- Cultivation: Ophiocordyceps sinensis fruiting bodies cannot be artificially cultivated, whereas Cordyceps militaris fruiting bodies can be produced through artificial cultivation due to the broader range of host insects and less stringent growth conditions.
- Cordycepin Content: Cordycepin is an important active component in Cordyceps. Ophiocordyceps sinensis often contains lower levels of cordycepin, and some strains may lack genes for cordycepin synthesis altogether. In contrast, wild Cordyceps militaris typically contains cordycepin, and artificial cultivation methods can further increase its content.
Differences Between Cordyceps Militaris’ Fruiting Body and Mycelium
The life cycle of Cordyceps requires two key elements: fungi and the insect body. Fungal spores land on leaves through wind dispersion. When insects consume the leaves, they ingest the spores. These spores germinate inside the insect’s body, giving rise to a profusion of mycelium. When two mycelia fuse, they produce the fruiting body. The fruiting body generates spores, continuing the life cycle.
Cultivating Cordyceps militaris involves either fruiting body or mycelium cultivation. Fruiting body cultivation focuses on controlling light, temperature, humidity, and pH levels. Mycelium cultivation requires precise management of fermentation conditions, including carbon sources, nitrogen sources, trace elements, dissolved oxygen levels, temperature, humidity, and fermentation time. Research has shown that fruiting bodies contain significantly higher levels of amino acids, adenosine, and cordycepin compared to mycelium.
Eight Major Benefits of Cordyceps Militaris
Cordyceps militaris contains various unique nutrients, such as cordycepin, adenosine, ergosterol peroxide, and polysaccharides, leading to the following eight major benefits:
Enhanced Reproductive Capability
Cordycepin has been found to improve sperm quality, quantity, and motility. Additionally, Cordyceps militaris supplementation can increase testosterone levels, enhancing reproductive capability.
Fatigue Resistance and Improved Exercise Performance
A fungal mixture containing Cordyceps militaris, when consumed for 1-3 weeks, has been shown to delay fatigue and increase maximum oxygen consumption, enhancing endurance during high-intensity exercise. In animal experiments, Cordyceps militaris fruiting body supplementation increases ATP levels, antioxidative capacity, and reduces lactate, free radicals, and lipid peroxidation, thus countering fatigue.
Cordyceps polysaccharides have been found to scavenge α,α-diphenyl-β-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) radicals, enhance reducing power, and chelate ferrous ions. Cordyceps militaris extract supplementation can increase superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase, displaying potent antioxidant capabilities.
Cordyceps militaris fruiting body extract can reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines, such as Interleukin-6 and Tumor necrosis factor-α, showcasing anti-inflammatory properties.
Clinical studies have shown that daily supplementation with 1.5 grams of Cordyceps militaris extract for four weeks can increase natural killer cell activity, lymphocyte proliferation, and the production of Type 1 helper T-cell cytokines, resulting in immune modulation.
Blood Sugar Control
Cordyceps militaris extract can enhance glucose utilization in skeletal muscles, improving insulin resistance and stimulating insulin release to lower fasting blood sugar levels.
Cordyceps militaris extract contains fibrinolytic enzyme activity, which can activate the fibrinolysis pathway by binding to fibrin, contributing to its antithrombotic effects.
Cordyceps militaris’ cordycepin and polysaccharides have been found to inhibit the proliferation of various cancer cells, such as MCF-7 (breast cancer cells), Hep-G2 (liver cancer cells), Hela (cervical cancer cells), suggesting antitumor potential.
Are There Any Side Effects of Cordyceps Militaris?
Cordyceps militaris is generally considered safe for most people. In a 90-day animal toxicity study, mycelium doses of up to 4 grams per kilogram of body weight did not result in adverse effects, as no abnormalities were observed in terms of body weight, histology, biochemistry, and more. Additionally, a clinical study in 2015 administered 1.5 grams of Cordyceps militaris extract daily for two months to individuals with mild liver dysfunction, and there were no differences in blood biochemistry or liver ultrasound findings before and after the experiment. However, certain groups should avoid its consumption, particularly children, pregnant women, and those who are allergic to fungi.
Cordyceps militaris is a relatively safe herbal supplement choice. Opting for the fruiting body of Cordyceps, which has higher nutritional value, and selecting products from reputable manufacturers are recommended. Following the product’s recommended dosage guidelines makes it relatively safe for most people. Artificially cultivated Cordyceps militaris fruiting bodies can control the nutrient content within a certain range through environmental conditions. Consistent long-term supplementation can provide effective nourishment.