Cordyceps, more than just for coughs

Cordyceps is a genus of parasitic fungi that grows on the larvae of insects. When these fungi attack their host, they replace its tissue with long sprouts and slender stems that grow outside the host’s body. The remains of the insects and fungi have been hand-collected, dried, and used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to treat fatigue, sickness, kidney disease, and low sexual drive (3).


Since there is now an increased shift of attention from synthetic drugs to natural herbal products, not only to treat the common cold and flu but also to prevent chronic diseases, people start to consume various kinds of traditional medicine in an effort to prevent or control diseases (2).


Since cordyceps live only on certain caterpillars in the high mountain regions of China, natural cordyceps are hard to get and are expansive. Most supplements are made with cordyceps grown in the laboratory, which is also known as Cordyceps CS-4. People start to market products containing cordyceps in supplement form or as functional foods since many studies start to dig into their benefits. From more than 400 species of cordyceps discovered, only two types of cordyceps are commonly used, which are Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris (3).


Traditionally, people used cordyceps for various purposes; until now, certain people who were able to get wild cordyceps still used this in their daily lives. Some people mix it with milk; it is said to improve sexual drive. It is also sometimes mixed with alcohol, which is referred to as ‘chang', in which people drink it in the morning as tonic (5).


As for modern studies, apart from the usage of cordyceps in cough syrup, cordyceps also have various other health benefits, such as antihyperglycemic. A study on diabetic rats found that the 4g/kg/day that is administered to diabetic rats does not affect their fasting insulin level. When oral administration of cordyceps at 150 mg/kg/day and 500mg/kg/day is ingested by mice for 4 weeks, it significantly prolongs the swimming time of mice by about 20 to 24 minutes, respectively, thus showing that consumption of cordyceps also improves fatigue conditions. It is the involvement of cordyceps in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (energy) production that accounts for a decrease in physical fatigue when it is administered. Apart from that, the administration of cordyceps decreased the airway inflammation in ovalbumin-induced mice, thus easing breathing for individuals with cough and flu (6).


However, most studies with regards to cordyceps are conducted on mice, not humans, so the findings are considered to have insufficient evidence (1, 3, 4).


However, it is safe to consume cordyceps supplements with other medications if you have any other medical condition since the government of China uses cordyceps as a natural drug in their hospitals to treat patients (1, 3, 4).




1. Mehra A, Zaidi KU, Mani A, Thawani V. The health benefits of Cordyceps militaris a review. Kavaka. 2017;48(1):27-32.

2. Nxumalo W, Elateeq AA, Sun Y. Can Cordyceps cicadae be used as an alternative to Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis?-A review. Journal on Etnopharmacology. 2020 Apr 16:112879.

3. Healthline. 6 Benefits of Cordyceps all backed by Science. (Accessed on Oct 23, 2020).


4. WebMD. Cordyceps. (Accessed on Oct 23, 2020).


5. Pradhan BK. Caterpillar mushroom, Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Ascomycetes): a potential bioresource for commercialization in Sikkim Himalaya, India. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2016;18(4).


6. Bao-qin Lin and Shao-ping Li. Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.