Cordyceps mushrooms are gaining more popularity as people look for alternatives to pharmaceuticals to assist with a range of health problems, including chronic breathing issues.
While there are a variety of supplements for lung health on the market, Cordyceps contains a number of beneficial bioactive compounds that provide a range of health benefits, including respiratory support.
With allergies and other respiratory conditions on the rise, people want effective and safe treatment options with minimal side effects.
Cordyceps mushrooms may help those struggling with conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other breathing issues. 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 a respiratory condition here’s what you should know.
All About Cordyceps Mushrooms
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
However, these fungi are very rare in the wild because of the lifecycle of the fungi and specific environmental growing conditions necessary for them to thrive. Each of the 400+ species of Cordyceps will infect a very specific insect unique to it. Don’t worry though as cultivated cordyceps do not require an insect to grow.
After this infection occurs 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 infects 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 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 supplement 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 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 mushrooms, a different species and close relative of Cordyceps sinensis, contain the full complement of the bio-active compounds found in the mushroom (fruiting body). The primary beneficial compound in both types of Cordyceps is beta-glucans and adenosine, though Cordyceps militaris also contains another special compound called cordycepin. Therefore, the robust health benefits of Cordyceps militaris are similar to its extravagantly priced sinensis cousin, making these extracts excellent supplements for lung health.
Traditionally, these fungi were used to help with conditions such as fatigue and reduced sexual function as well as asthma, lung, liver, and kidney problems. Researchers are working to learn about each of the 400 species and determine how to best use them to benefit human health, including use as supplements for lung health.
Respiratory Conditions on the Rise
Thought to be a result of environmental influences and toxins in our surroundings, respiratory conditions are on the rise. Allergies are one of the most common forms of respiratory conditions, and 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
An allergic reaction causes your body to produce antibodies in order to fight what it believes are potentially toxic invaders. This can cause inflammation in your respiratory and digestive system, as well as potentially spreading to other parts of your body like your skin and lymph nodes.
The severity of an allergic reaction will differ from person to person and can change over the years, as our bodies and environments also change. An allergic reaction can be minor and easy to handle or life-threatening and require urgent treatment and hospitalization.
Asthma is a respiratory condition that causes your airways to narrow and swell. It makes it hard to breathe while triggering coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.3 It can occur as a direct result of an allergic reaction, and the cause is thought to be a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
While there is no cure, it is possible to control with a combination of medications along with lifestyle and environmental modifications, including the use of supplements for lung health.
Other common respiratory conditions include:
- Bronchitis – inflammation of the bronchial tubes caused by viral and bacterial infections, as well as smoking.4
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – a group of conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that are known to cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.5 The National Institute of Health has a COPD National Action Plan to address what seems to be one of the most urgent health concerns facing the US population today.6
- Pneumonia – infection of the air sacks in one or both lungs caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and fungi.7
- Pneumoconiosis – an interstitial lung disease caused by breathing in certain kinds of dust particles that damage your lungs over years of repeated exposure. It’s also called occupational lung disease as it’s most commonly a result of spending the majority of the time in a dusty workplace.8
- Interstitial lung disease (ILD) – ILD is a group of diseases that cause scarring of the lungs (fibrosis) which prevents oxygen from entering the bloodstream and causes difficulty breathing.9 Without treatment, ILD can cause severe and irreversible lung damage. There can be a variety of different causes for ILD including genetics, certain medications, as well as exposure to hazardous materials.
- Pulmonary sarcoidosis – a specific form of sarcoidosis (a rare type of inflammation) which causes a formation of lumps of inflammatory cells (granulomas) in the lungs.10 These lumps can cause scarring and negatively affect the overall function of the lungs. The cause is unknown, although scientists believe how a variety of bacteria, viruses, and chemicals may trigger this type of inflammation.
Viral infections such as influenza and similar viruses can cause breathing problems and shortness of breath.11 In severe cases, treatment may require hospitalization, or result in permanent lung damage.
Benefits of Cordyceps Supplements for Lung Health
The anti-inflammatory and therapeutic characteristics of Cordyceps mushrooms have been widely researched in recent years, and show promising results.¹² While more clinical data is still needed, many of these studies found a link between Cordyceps and improved lung health.¹³
This means that Cordyceps may be used as supplements to aid in reducing lung inflammation and improve respiratory function. They can also be used as lung supplements for smokers, and may help with lung support while trying to quit smoking.
Allergies and related breathing problems are connected to an activation of an immune cell called the mast cell, that can release histamine and other inflammatory immune cells that can wreak havoc in the body.14
Thymic Stromal Lymphopoietin (TLSP) is an epithelial-derived cytokine which is a major contributor to mast cell development and activation.15
Studies have shown how Cordyceps mushrooms may significantly suppress TLSP from activating and causing the inflammatory allergic reaction.16
Other studies show the effect these medicinal mushrooms have on assisting the body with asthma¹⁷, lung fibrosis¹⁸, and other lung and bronchial health-related conditions as they relax the bronchial walls and promote enhanced oxygen utilization efficacy.¹⁹
These benefits, along with the minimal and mild nature of potential side effects from Cordyceps supplements for lung health, make the fungi useful to any situation where an increase or improvement in lung function is important.
Cordyceps Mushrooms as an Immunomodulator
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 harmful pathogens and lower any potential inflammatory response.20 Lowering inflammatory responses is one of the key actions to fight lung and respiratory issues.
Who Should Stay Away from Cordyceps Mushrooms and Why?
Despite limited evidence supporting any contraindications, Cordyceps is not for everyone. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, those with severe auto-immune conditions such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, and bleeding disorders should avoid these fungi.
Caution should be taken with anti-platelet (blood thinning) and immunosuppressant medications, as they have a moderate interaction warning with cordyceps. This includes anyone who is about to undergo surgery or is recovering from a significant injury.
As with any mushroom supplement, make sure to check with your health care provider before you start or stop taking any supplement or medication.
Choosing Quality Supplements for Lung Health
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 supplements for lung health.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has thus far been the major proponent of these incredible fungi. Thanks to today’s advanced scientific approach 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.
*Disclaimer: The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is intended for educational purposes. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by licensed medical physicians. Please consult your doctor or health practitioner for any medical advice.
1. Chilton, Skye, 2017, ‘Cordyceps Mushroom Supplement Types Explained + The Health Benefits’, Real Mushrooms Blog, https://www.realmushrooms.com/cordyceps-supplements-guide/
2. Mayo Clinic, 2020, Allergies, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/allergies/symptoms-causes/syc-20351497
3. Mayo Clinic, 2020, Asthma, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20369653
4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2020, Bronchitis https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/bronchitis
5. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, 2020, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), https://www.cdc.gov/copd/index.html
6. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2017, COPD National Action Plan, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/education-and-awareness/COPD-national-action-plan
7. Mayo Clinic, 2020, Pneumonia, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pneumonia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354204
8. Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020, Pneumoconiosis, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/pneumoconiosis
9. American Lung Association, 2020, Interstitial Lung Disease, https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/interstitial-lung-disease
10. Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020, Pulmonary sarcoidosis, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/pulmonary-sarcoidosis
11. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, 2020, Coronavirus (COVID-19), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
12. National Center for Biotechnology Information, 3 Biotech. 2014 Feb; 4(1): 1–12, Published online 2013 Feb 19.
13. National Center for Biotechnology Information, Exp Ther Med. 2018 Mar; 15(3): 2731–2738, Published online 2018 Jan 19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5795554/
14. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 2020, MAST CELL ACTIVATION SYNDROME (MCAS), https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/related-conditions/mcas
15. National Center for Biotechnology Information, Expert Rev Clin Immunol. Author manuscript,
16. National Library of Medicine, J Invest Dermatol, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26725432/
17. National Center for Biotechnology Information, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5165155/
18, National Library of Medicine, Ethnopharmacol, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22796203/
19. ScienceDirect, Cordyceps sp.: The Precious Mushroom for High-Altitude Maladies
Mamta Pal, Kshipra Misra, in Management of High Altitude Pathophysiology, 2018,
20. National Center for Biotechnology Information, Bao-qin Lin and Shao-ping Li, Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition, 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92758/
21. Real Mushrooms, Cordyceps-M Capsules, https://shop.realmushrooms.com/products/organic-cordyceps-extract-capsules