Cordyceps mushrooms are gaining more popularity as people look for natural supplements for lung health.
While there are a variety of supplements for respiratory support on the market, Cordyceps contains a number of beneficial bioactive compounds that provide a range of health benefits, including lung health support.
Cordyceps mushrooms may help maintain open airways, enabling free and easy breathing. They hold the potential to be effective supplements for shortness of breath and other respiratory issues.
Before you decide to talk to your health care provider about trying Cordyceps to help with respiratory health, here’s what you should know.
Cordyceps mushrooms are powerful medicinal mushrooms with a long history of use in the Far East as well as South America. With over 400 different species known today, you find Cordyceps all over the world, from China and Japan to Brazil and the US (1).
Traditionally, these fungi were used to help support energy levels and healthy sexual function as well as bronchial, lung, liver, and kidney health. Researchers are working to learn about each of the 400 Cordyceps species and determine how to best use them to benefit human health, including use as supplements for lung health.
However, these fungi are very rare in the wild because of the lifecycle of the fungus and specific environmental growing conditions necessary for it to thrive. Each of the 400+ species of Cordyceps will grow in the wild on a very specific insect unique to it. Don't worry though, as cultivated cordyceps such as those in Real Mushrooms’ supplements do not require an insect to grow.
After Cordyceps enters an insect’s body, the fungus’ spores grow inside the insect and turn it into mycelium (the “root-like” filament structures that will sprout mushrooms). The mycelium continues to grow inside the insect until it fully consumes it and completely turns it into mycelium. The mushroom, or fruiting body, of the fungi then grows out from the head of the insect.
The most well-known and common species of Cordyceps mushrooms is Ophiocordyceps sinensis. Previously known as Cordyceps sinensis, it enters and grows from the caterpillar of the Hepialus moth. When found in the wild, the mushroom will be above the surface with the body of the insect below the ground. These specific fungi are found only in certain alpine areas of the Himalayan Plateau in the regions of China and Tibet, making them very rare and valuable.
The scarcity of the wild variety of Cordyceps sinensis results in a high price tag (around $20,000 per kilogram). Therefore, these fungi are not typically in any supplements for lung health you can readily purchase.
Beware of any product claiming it is made from Cordyceps sinensis, as it is almost guaranteed not to be the caterpillar fungus but some form of inferior Cordyceps mycelium instead (1). For more details, see our Cordyceps guide.
Commercial cultivation of Cordyceps sinensis is difficult to do at scale—the best efforts thus far have produced mycelium grown in liquid culture. Research shows that the liquid mycelium culture has some of the same health benefits, but it is not a genuine mushroom product.
Alternatively, extracts made of pure Cordyceps militaris mushroom, a different species and close relative of Cordyceps sinensis, contain the full complement of the bio-active compounds found in the mushroom (fruiting body) of Cordyceps sinensis.
Cordyceps militaris is known as Scarlet Club Fungus, or Caterpillar Killer in the U.S. It is the Cordyceps species that can grow on the largest variety of insects and can be found widely in North America and Asia.
The primary beneficial compounds in both types of Cordyceps are beta-glucans and adenosine, though Cordyceps militaris also contains another special compound called cordycepin. In fact, the militaris species can contain up to 90 times more of this unique health-supporting compound than its sinensis cousin (22).
Unlike the sinensis species, Cordyceps militaris can be commercially cultivated at scale to produce a mushroom (fruiting body), and it is becoming quite popular for use in supplements for lung health.
Learn more about the differences between these two type of Cordyceps species in our article, Cordyceps Sinensis vs Militaris: What’s the Best Cordyceps Supplement?
Thanks to environmental influences and toxins in our surroundings, people are increasingly concerned with respiratory health. Many folks struggle with seasonal challenges, as they can be triggered by a wide variety of sources such as food, plants, animal sheddings, chemicals, drugs, and even particles in the air around you (2).
Seasonal challenges are basically overreactions of the immune system. It launches an all-out war in order to fight what it believes are potentially toxic invaders but which are actually harmless. This can cause a reaction in your respiratory and digestive system, as well as potentially spreading to other parts of your body like your skin and lymph nodes.
How your body reacts to seasonal irritants will differ from person to person and can change over the years, as our bodies and environments also change. Using supplements for lung health can help you adapt to these environmental and physiological shifts.
The helpful characteristics of Cordyceps mushrooms have been researched for a wide variety of indications in recent years, and this research shows promising results (12). While more clinical data is still needed, many of these preclinical studies found a link between Cordyceps and improved lung health (13).
This means that Cordyceps supplements may aid in supporting lung health and improving respiratory function. They can also be used as lung supplements for smokers, and may help with lung support while trying to quit smoking.
Seasonal challenges involve activation of an immune cell called the mast cell, which can release histamine and other immune cells that can wreak havoc in the body (14).
Thymic Stromal Lymphopoietin (TLSP) is an epithelial-derived cytokine that is a major contributor to mast cell development and activation (15).
Studies conducted in vitro have shown how Cordyceps mushrooms may significantly suppress TLSP from activating, thus maintaining homeostasis in the body (16).
Other studies show the effect these medicinal mushrooms have on assisting the body with respiratory health, as they relax the bronchial walls and promote enhanced oxygen utilization efficacy (17,18,19).
These benefits, along with the minimal and mild nature of potential side effects from Cordyceps supplements for lung health, make the fungi useful in any situation where an increase or improvement in lung function is important.
Cordyceps mushrooms have been known for their ability to support the immune system and are considered to be biomolecular immunomodulators. They help the body adapt better to immune threats and support a healthy inflammatory response, which is key to promoting respiratory health (20).
Just like other medicinal mushrooms, these fungi are effective adaptogens and immune supporters, helping to protect you against immune threats in your everyday environment.
When choosing Cordyceps supplements for lung health, the key to achieving desirable results is ensuring you’re getting a 100% mushroom supplement of the best possible potency and quality (21). This means choosing a supplement made from mushrooms (fruiting bodies), not mycelium (which, unfortunately, is what most Cordyceps supplements sold in North America are made from). Real Mushrooms Cordyceps supplements are an exception: they have the highest potency of health-supporting compounds possible because they contain the actual mushroom (fruit bodies) and are made using optimal extraction methods.
Human and animal studies have shown that Cordyceps and other mushroom-based supplements can have a significant impact on athletic performance. One way that Cordyceps is believed to do this is by supporting lung function. It turns out this mushroom makes ideal supplements for lung health in those with respiratory issues, but also helps those with healthy lungs improve their respiration for athletic gains.
While more research is needed, there is animal and human data indicating cordyceps calms agitated bronchial tubes and supports healthy respiratory function (23,24).
Some animal research suggests that Cordyceps may boost the body’s adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production (25,26). ATP is a molecule that’s essential for delivering energy to your muscles. Increasing ATP may help your body optimize the use of oxygen, especially during exercise. This may help you exercise at a higher intensity for longer.
In one study involving 30 healthy older adults, researchers tested the effects of Cordyceps on exercise endurance. Half of the participants received 3 grams of a synthetic strain of Cordyceps called CS-4 while the other half received a placebo. After 6 weeks, the CS-4 group had increased their VO2 max by 7%, while the placebo group remained the same. VO2 is a measurement used to determine how much oxygen your body can absorb during exercise (27).
For more information about how Cordyceps can improve respiration for athletic performance, read our article Stimulant-Free Pre-Workout & Post-Workout Mushroom Supplements.
Despite limited evidence supporting any contraindications, Cordyceps is not for everyone. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid these fungi, as well as those with severe auto-immune conditions, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, and bleeding disorders.
Caution should be taken with anti-platelet (blood thinning) and immunosuppressant medications, as they may interact with cordyceps. This goes for anyone who is about to undergo surgery or is recovering from a significant injury too.
As with any mushroom supplement, make sure to check with your health care provider before you start or stop taking any supplement or medication.
By learning about and understanding the way Cordyceps and other medicinal mushrooms can influence your overall health and wellbeing, you can be more confident and make better decisions about your diet and wisely choose supplements for lung health.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has thus far been the major proponent of these incredible fungi. Thanks to today’s scientific investigation, we’re able to reap the benefits and use them as supplements for lung health.
Take a look at Real Mushroom’s line of high-quality mushroom supplements, including our Cordyceps-M, available in both capsule and powder form.
Cordyceps-M is made from 100% hot-water-extracted organic Cordyceps militaris mushrooms. Our line of supplements ensures that you’re getting the best Cordyceps supplement from genuine mushrooms.
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25. Xu, Y.-F. (2016). Effect of Polysaccharide from Cordyceps militaris (Ascomycetes) on Physical Fatigue Induced by Forced Swimming. International journal of medicinal mushrooms. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28094746/.
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27. Yi, X. et al. (2004, September). Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02836405.
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