Cordyceps - Discover the Remarkable Benefits of this Medicinal Herb

Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition
Cordyceps - Discover the Remarkable Benefits of this Medicinal Herb
Recent findings on Cordyceps, a traditional Chinese medicinal mushroom, expand on why this Eastern herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years. Often used for immune support, it also provides benefits for digestive tract health, inflammation, spinal discs, memory and brain protection, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and kidney and lung health.

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Recent studies discovered that Cordyceps sinensis is helpful for intestinal permeability concerns and digestive inflammation. A May 2015 study reviewed the impact that Cordyceps had on the effects of overwhelming infections in the gut in rodents. High levels of toxins from the infection caused a breakdown in the intestinal barrier. The toxins and inflammatory products caused damage to the tight-junctions or the “doors” that selectively open and close within the gut wall. When this happens, the tight junctions fail to close and intestinal permeability increases. This is commonly known as leaky gut syndrome.

When the septic rodents were treated with Cordyceps, the normal function of tight junctions was restored. The mucosal lining of the digestive tract was no longer breaking down and dying. Rather, the intake of the Cordyceps restored the normal intestinal lining. This is a remarkable turn-around and restoration of function in this animal study. Sepsis is the state of an overwhelming infection that is often lethal due to the toxins and infection overwhelming the rest of the body. Researchers found that Cordyceps protected the gut barrier and restored the normal gut function induced by overwhelming infection.

One animal study found that Cordyceps protected the gut from breakdown and leaky gut syndrome development in a different context, i.e. indomethacin use and high levels of stress. Indomethacin (Indocin) is a common NSAIDs or anti-inflammatory medication. It is similar to ibuprofen and other NSAIDs. These pain relieving prescriptions are notorious for high risks for digestive inflammation and sudden GI bleeds. The inflammation and GI bleeds occur because of the breakdown in the gut lining literally making the tissue friable because it causes the gut cells to die. When Cordyceps was given to rodents treated with the indomethacin, the tissue breakdown reduced by 63 percent. The authors recommended that Cordyceps be used as functional food for prevention and treatment of injury to the bowel.

Increased intestinal permeability occurs with other factors. High levels of stress, food allergies, gluten intolerance, gut microbiome changes with antibiotics and germ overgrowth, and Roundup/glyphosate exposure. There are no studies that evaluate how Cordyceps affects the gut with these other leaky gut syndrome triggers, but the previous studies clearly show potent and protective effects on the gut lining.

Spinal Disc Herniation

Those who suffer from spinal disc herniation(s) and are taking indomethacin or other NSAIDs may find that Cordyceps is helpful for their back pain as well. A new study released just days ago identified it as a potential treatment for disc herniations. Cordyceps was found to protect the whole disc including the center of the disc called the nucleus pulposus. The nucleus pulposus is like the filling in the center of a jelly donut. When there is a disc herniation or a slipped disc, the center of the jelly donut (nucleus pulposus) pushes out of the cartilage disc compressing the spinal nerve or cord. In this cell study, scientists found that Cordyceps protected the disc as a whole from inflammation and breakdown, i.e. degenerative joint disease. This medicinal herb quenched high levels of free radicals from MMP-3, MMP-13, PGE-2, and other factors that caused the disc to weaken and the center to herniate outward. Moreover, it was found that Cordyceps could work as a preventative or pretreatment as it provide anti-inflammatory and anti-degenerative effects on the discs.

Brain Protection

Research published last month opens the door to a completely different use on this unique mushroom extract. In this animal study, scientists investigated the effects of Cordyceps on the short-term memory, nerve cell death, and brain repair after a stroke-like event. To their delight, the authors found several amazing things. In this study, Cordyceps alleviated the effects of the cerebral ischemia that affected short-term memory. Cerebral ischemia occurs when there isn’t enough blood flow to the brain to meet the metabolic demand due to stroke or mini-strokes/TIAs. In particular, the Cordyceps protected the memory center of the brain, i.e. the hippocampus from ischemic damage. The nerve cells were able to withstand injury from the stroke. This herbal extract also enhanced the brain repair compound BDNF. The authors concluded “Cordyceps overcomes cerebral-ischemia-induced neuronal apoptosis, thus facilitates recovery following cerebral ischemia injury.”

Another recent study demonstrated that rats treated with Cordyceps following stroke had significantly less neurological injury. The treated rats had considerably reduced size of stroke and less brain swelling. There was less damage to the surrounding nerve cells and blood brain barrier which resulted in less injury and neurological deficits. They also found improved survival even after the stroke. It was suggested that Cordyceps may be a promising, safe, anti-ischemic (anti-stroke) drug candidate administered after the stroke.

Another recent study found that cordycepin, an active compound found in Cordyceps, provided other anti-inflammatory benefits to the brain’s microglial cells. It was found that over-activity of the microglial cells could be quenched by cordycepin. Microglial cells support neuro-immune cells within the brain. Microglial cell activity is necessary to help the brain repair with daily insults, but when these cells become over-stimulated by high levels of wear and tear, injury or toxins, brain inflammation and cell degeneration escalates. This leads to nerve cell death.

This is seen in numerous conditions like neurodegenerative disorders, traumatic brain injuries, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, chronic pain and migraine disorders, high stress, diminished resiliency and aging. Cordycepin reduced the inflammatory compounds TNF-alpha and IL-1 beta. In this cell study, the cordycepin helped the nerves recover and actually demonstrated the ability to help nerve tissue sprout and grow within the culture! The authors felt that this was such a powerful demonstration of the anti-inflammatory and restorative effects of cordycepin, that it could pave the way to new therapies for nerve/ brain injuries and neuro-regeneration. These findings certainly advocate this traditional mushroom extract for amazing brain protection.

Type 2 Diabetes

The Canadian Diabetes Association published a study last month on the effects of Cordyceps on the beta cells of the pancreas and treatment of diabetes. Efforts are being made to find safe treatment options for high fat, high sugar diets that can lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes. This animal study found that after four weeks of treatment with Cordyceps, elevated fasting blood glucose and fasting insulin levels improved. Pancreatic beta cells were protected making them more resilient to challenging dietary stressors and unhealthy habits.

Cancer and Cordyceps

There is quite a bit research activity investigating Cordyceps protection against cancer growth. This fascinating compound is rapidly becoming known for its anti-cancer benefits. One study showed that the active ingredient in Cordyceps sinensis, cordycepin, demonstrated an anti-cancer effect and anti-metastatic effects through different mechanisms. It stimulated the adenosine A3 receptor and inhibited platelet aggregation induced by cancer cells. It also suppresses cancer cells invasive ability by inhibiting activity of inflammatory compounds - matrix metalloproteinase MMP-2 and MMP-9. Results obtained from this cellular study prompted researchers to suggest that it might be an anti-cancer and anti-metastatic agent.

Cordycepin was evaluated against breast cancer cells in cellular and animal experiments. The active ingredient in Cordyceps effectively created a toxic response to the MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cancer cells. The findings revealed that cordycepin induced cell death to human breast cancer cells. It was considered a strong possibility for safe breast cancer treatment.

Promising research and case studies show significant benefit with cordycepin causing cancer cell death with malignant melanoma, kidney cancer, certain leukemia cell lines, metastatic bladder cancer, gallbladder cancer, prostate cancer, and uterine cervical cancer. A first-of-its-kind study in 2015 found that Cordyceps sinensis provides natural and effective antioxidant protection and a strong, toxic agent to cancer cells. Cancer cells lines studied in this test were liver, breast, and lung. It was suggested that Cordyceps sinensis may be used as an effective antioxidant and anti-cancer treatment of natural origin.

Kidney and Lung Health

As modern science discovers the benefits of this ancient Chinese medicine, we see increasing evidence and power of natural plants. The discussion on Cordyceps would be incomplete if kidney and lung function were omitted. This herb has been historically used to support these tissues, especially when weakened.

A study published last month demonstrated the effects of Cordyceps extract on kidney disease, i.e. nephritic syndrome and glomerulonephritis. Rodents with kidney disease were treated with Cordyceps extract for four weeks. Upon completion of the study, marked improvement was found in kidney function. There was decreased protein in the urine, improvements in total cholesterol, triglycerides, BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and serum creatinine. In addition, serum albumin and serum protein improved. The antioxidant levels for glutathione and SOD – superoxide dismutase improved and several inflammatory markers improved or reverted back to normal levels. With the rise in chronic kidney disease, Cordyceps appears very promising.

Several studies have investigated the benefits of Cordyceps on lung cancer. Other studies have looked at lung inflammation and disorders like asthma and pulmonary fibrosis. Animal studies found that cordycepin provided excellent anti-inflammatory activity from acute lung injury and inflammation, i.e. asthma. This mushroom extract calmed down the over-active airways, excess mucus secretion, and allergic inflammation. Cellular studies demonstrated strong ability to reduce pulmonary/ lung inflammation and fibrosis. Cordyceps sinensis quenched the highly destructive ROS oxidant and restored the antioxidant SOD. Pretreatment with this medicinal fungus markedly reduced lung stress and injury.

This finding gives great possibilities for those who suffer from various lung disorders. Taking Cordyceps prior to an aerobic challenge as well as after the event or action that flared things up may help the individual be able to participate with less health challenges. Ongoing support may be considered by those who struggle with day-to-day challenges.

The versatility of this ancient medicine is absolutely amazing. It is historically used for immune system support, but research identifies solid anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer actions. Don’t forget about brain protection, memory support, and astonishing nerve regenerative possibilities, along with remarkable support and protection for intestinal permeability, gut inflammation, spinal disc, pancreas, lungs, and kidneys. Clearly, this highly prized natural, non-toxic medicinal compound has stood the test of time. It stands as a natural, vitality enhancing adaptogen and tonic to the body.

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