Everything You Need to Know About Cordyceps Supplements in 2023
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It’s been a rough 2023 for cordyceps supplements. Due to the mushroom’s center-stage feature in HBO’s The Last of Us they’re now at the mental forefront of health nuts and skeptics alike, and not for an ideal reason. There are now two large camps surrounding the dried mushroom pills — those terrified of turning into man-eating zombies and nutrition experts trying to assuage the fears of this supplement that’s been vetted for boosting athletic performance. SPY editors are in the second camp.
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In the show, cordyceps infect the brains and bodies of humans, turning them bloodthirsty and thus nearly wiping out the human global population. To be clear, this scenario is nearly impossible in today’s world. However, the fictional premise didn’t come from nowhere, it was rooted in the true nature of these heterotrophic growths.
Cordyceps is a parasitic mushroom that infects insects and takes over their body. As the fungus approaches maturity, it consumes over 90% of the infected insect, ultimately mummifying the host. Not so great news if you’re an insect, but for humans, these mushrooms are harmless and even contain a myriad of health benefits.
What The Experts Say
Jules Annen, PhD, nutritionist and holistic wellness coach, told SPY that they are often taken for their potential to increase energy, endurance, and athletic performance as well as for their pro-regulating and anti-inflammatory effects. “Cordyceps are rich in antioxidants, polysaccharides and other bioactive compounds that may offer these benefits,” she said.
When discussing cordyceps, the specific species also matters. More than 600 species have been discovered, but only two, Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis, have been subject of research due to their adaptogenic, immune, energy-boosting, antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Most studies have been conducted on rodent models and in vitro, so besides anecdotal and Eastern folklore evidence, human trials are still needed to draw conclusions for human use. Be sure to consult your doctor before adding any supplement, including cordyceps, to your diet and wellness routine.
What The Research Says
Cordyceps may help regulate blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing insulin resistance. A study on type 2 diabetic rats found that the group given cordyceps militaris had a significant reduction in blood glucose levels by promoting glucose metabolism and had lower fasting blood sugar. Plus, a supporting eight-week study, also on rats, showed enhanced glucose utilization in skeletal muscles.
The energy-boosting power of Cordyceps militaris comes from two active compounds: cordycepin and adenosine. Adenosine might sound familiar from your intro to biology class, as it’s an essential part of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an organic compound that your cells use to generate energy. The more ATP you have the more energy you’ll have, too. That’s why cordycepin comes in handy too. its chemical profile is very close to adenosine, so the body finds it easy to use it for extra energy.
A 2018 study out of UNC Chapel Hill of 28 individuals investigated the effect of cordyceps on high-intensity exercise and found that the group that supplemented with the mushroom had significantly higher levels of endurance, oxygen utilization and increased blood flow.
Cordyceps contains polysaccharides and beta-glucans, which have the power to modulate the immune system in a manner to turn it up or turn it down. For example, they can boost an immune response to fight off infections and also downregulate an overactive immune response via anti-inflammatory cytokine modulation. Basically, they can act as the smart thermostat for your immune system in times of lower or higher risk of infection.
A 2015 study of 70 healthy male subjects out of Korea showed a significant increase in natural killer cells, which contribute to this fungi’s ability to enhance immunity.
The rich polysaccharide content of cordyceps has been found to increase the body’s own antioxidant levels and reduce free radicals and oxidative stress as a result.
High levels of free radicals and lingering chronic oxidative stress have been found to play a role in aging, so mitigating those effects by boosting the body’s innate antioxidant properties may contribute to longevity and anti-aging.
What to Look for in a Cordyceps Supplement
Annen suggested that when choosing a cordyceps supplement, it is important to look for a reputable brand that uses high-quality ingredients and has undergone rigorous testing for purity and potency. “Look for supplements that use certified organic or wild-harvested cordyceps and avoid products that contain fillers or additives,” she said. There are whole agencies dedicated to testing store-bought supplements for ingredient quality, including ConsumerLab and the NSF.
Be sure to flip the bottle and look at the label for not only whether it’s militaris or sinensis, but whether the company used the mycelium or the actual fruiting body in its product. The label might say “100% fruit body”, “no mycelium or grain” or “mycelium biomass” or “mycelium and fruit body”. Also look for badges that say things like “no fillers”, “no artificial ingredients” or “certified organic”.
It is the fruiting body, the mushroom itself, that contains the most potent active compounds, such as beta-glucans and other polysaccharides that yield the best health benefits.
Cordyceps supplements are available in pill, tincture and powder form, and while the nutritional or performance gains may be similar, the absorption and effectiveness of the supplement may vary depending on your body and dosage.
The Best Cordyceps Supplements of 2023
Real Mushrooms Cordyceps-M Supplement
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Real Mushrooms is one of the few that provide high-quality organic ingredients in their capsules and powders to ensure one is getting the purest form of cordyceps militaris. The transparency around their products is a great indicator that they go the extra mile to ensure safety and efficacy, and even guarantee a high percentage of beta-glucan content, which is one of the key active compounds you need to boost your health and performance. They offer the option to take it in a capsule or blend the powder in your morning smoothie or coffee.
Mushroom Revival Chewables
Mushroom Revival has turned cordyceps into chewables for adults who still prefer taking their supplements in gummy form. The taste is funky, but they do utilize cordyceps militaris and only the fruiting body of the mushroom, so one knows they’re getting all the benefits that come with this fungi. The company has also performed toxicity testing showing safe levels, and, according to their website, they will soon be sharing their beta-glucan content as well. Besides gummies, Mushroom Revival also sells capsules, powders, and tinctures, so you can pick your favorite form of mushroom extract.
BEST POWDER MIX
Four Sigmatic Mushroom Mix With Cordyceps
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Four Sigmatic is extremely popular for its wide variety of mushroom nutritional products, and their cordyceps blend measures up to our quality standards. They use the fruiting body of 100% USDA organic mushrooms. Plus, the team produces their products according to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), which are guidelines that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration enforces to govern the manufacturing process of a product to ensure that the quality and safety are consistent. In addition to that, Four Sigmatic also works with third-party labs to check for the purity of the formulas.
Fresh Cap Cordyceps
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Fresh Cap’s products contain no grains, no fillers, and are made out of organic cordyceps militaris extract from the fruiting body. This brand is known for its transparency, and it’s refreshing to see such a detailed nutrition label. It claims that it contains 32% Beta-Glucan and 0.3% Cordycepin, both of which are key players in immunoregulation and energy production. Fresh Cap sells both capsules and powders.
Nootropics Depot Cordyceps Mushrooms
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Do you ever wonder what a laboratory is like where they test supplement safety, purity and efficacy? Nootropics Depot will let you take a 360-degree tour of their in-house analytical laboratory online, which if you are a nerd like us, is very exciting. This is where they test for identity, purity and for the presence of dangerous and toxic compounds such as heavy metals. Their cordyceps capsule supplement is extracted from the whole fruiting body and contains 25% beta-glucan and 0.2% cordycepin. You can choose from powder and capsule options.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cordyceps Supplements
What Do Cordyceps Supplements Do?
Cordyceps supplements, like any supplement, will vary in their effectiveness from person to person. Some studies have shown they may be able to boost energy levels, increase immunity and regular blood sugar levels as well.
How Often Should I Take Cordyceps Supplements?
Dosage and frequency will vary from supplement to supplement. Most recommend taking 1-2 tablets each day to maximize your chances of feeling the effects.
Are Cordyceps Supplements Expensive?
There are two main types of cordyceps mushrooms that are used for dietary supplements: militaris and sinensis. Sinensis tends to be the much more expensive kind with minimal benefits over militaris, so we recommend purchasing the militaris variety.
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