Cordyceps for stamina

Lisa Petty, PhD @ 2021-12-22 06:12:22 -0800

In the 1993 National Games in Beijing, China, three female runners set 5 world records for the 1500, 3000 and 10,000 meter races. As is the norm, the athletes were tested for and subsequently cleared of using anabolic steroids and other banned substances. Their coach later admitted that the runners had been using Cordyceps sinensis extracts. [1] Although the news caught the world’s attention, this mushroom has been used for hundreds of years in China to “invigorate the lung and nourish the kidney.” [2] In fact, Cordyceps sinesis has officially been classified as a drug in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia since 1964.1 Bioactive compounds include ergothioneine and cordycepin.[3]

Not like other fungi

The name of this mushroom is derived from two Latin words: cord (club) and ceps (head).[4] Unlike many other therapeutic mushrooms, Cordyceps sinesis is a parasitic fungus found in the Tibetan Plateau, including parts of India and western China. This mushroom takes over the host organism and eventually causes its demise. Because it’s difficult to cultivate the fruiting body of Cordeceps sinesis, it’s extremely expensive. Fortunately, other members of the cordyceps family have a lot of the same health benefits – and they’re much easier to cultivate.

Cordyceps militaris, for example, is known as “orange Cordyceps sinensisand the mushrooms share similar chemical composition and medicinal properties.[5] Research has shown that cordyceps provides therapeutic benefits for a variety of diseases and conditions, including respiratory concerns and cardiovascular diseases, problems with kidneys and liver, tumours and neurological disorders, and high blood fats as well as low libido and concerns associated with aging. And like the story with the female athletes suggests, cordyceps helps to beat fatigue and boost stamina.

Fight fatigue [6]

You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to know what it’s like to get tired – but just for fun, one medical definition of fatigue is the “failure to maintain the required or expected force or power output.” In other words: Been there; haven’t finished that.

Physical fatigue is a common by-product of the elevated stress level of our modern life- styles. Energy metabolism causes the build-up of free radicals that eventually make us feel sluggish. Over-time, this accumulation can lead to over-strain, hormone disorders, and a weakened immune system.

Energy crisis management

Of course, your body has mechanisms in place to protect you. AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a fuel-sensing enzyme. It’s activated by stresses that lead to imbalances of other compounds, including the carrier molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The job of ATP is to transport stored energy to cells. AMPK stresses can be caused by limited ATP production, which might result from lack of glucose (due to a skipped meal). AMPK is also activated in skeletal muscle by exercise, which is the most extreme metabolic stress. In response, AMPK tries to recreate balance by increasing ATP generation or by decreasing pathways that consume ATP but aren’t necessary for survival.[7]  In short, AMPK helps keep cells alive and functioning even when there’s a fuel shortage. As a bonus, AMPK activation also counteracts free radical build-up.5

The cordyceps connection

Studies have shown that the bio-metabolite cordycepin is able to activate AMPK.[8] Along with enhancing energy levels, several research studies have suggested that activating AMPK may be the mechanism by which cordyceps can help to improve cardiovascular health, support blood glucose management, prevent hyperlipidemia caused by high fat diet, inhibit survival of lung cancer cells, protect against aging and even extend life span.5,[9]

Research has shown that supplementing with the fruiting bodies of Cordyceps militaris increased ATP levels and boosted activity of antioxidative enzymes, while at the same time reducing levels of lactic acid and free radicals.5 An animal study also showed that supplementing with cordyceps slightly increased grip strength. Results indicated, again, that cordeceps has the potential to improve exercise performance by increasing ATP.[10]

Staying healthy requires stamina, too

Stamina isn’t simply about endurance and exercise. It’s also about being able to stay healthy despite all the mental and physical challenges you may face in your day-to-day life. Cordyceps also has a role here. Researchers investigated the immune system impact of supplementing with Cordyceps militaris for three weeks with 40 healthy men in Korea. Over the course of the study, blood tests showed that cordyceps enhanced the natural killer (NK) cell activity and boosted proliferation of white blood cells without causing side effects. Researchers concluded that cordyceps is a safe and effective supplement for enhancing cell-mediated immunity of healthy male adults.[11]

Other research also shows that cordyceps activates macrophages, which are immune cells that detect and destroy bacteria and other harmful organisms. Still other studies show that cordyceps modulates the function of dendritic cells, which are immune cells in the skin and the linings of the nose, lungs, stomach and intestines. These cells capture invaders and help with the immune system’s “memory” functions.[12]

Whether you have aspirations of stepping up your exercise game or you would simply like to feel energetic from sun-up to sunset, cordyceps might be able to give you the support you crave.


[1] Chen, Peter Xin et al. “Properties of Cordyceps Sinensis : A Review.” Journal of functional foods 5.2 (2013): 550–569.

[2] Dong, C., & Yao, Y. (2008). In vitro evaluation of antioxidant activities of aqueous extracts from natural and cultured mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis. Swiss society of Food Science and Technology, 41, 669-677

[3] Jedrejko, K.J.; Lazur, J.; Muszynska, B. Cordyceps militaris: An Overview of Its Chemical Constituents in Relation to Biological Activity. Foods 2021, 10, 2634. 10.3390/foods10112634

[4] Ashraf, S. A., Elkhalifa, A. E. O., Siddiqui, A. J., Patel, M., Awadelkareem, A. M., Snoussi, M., … Hadi, S. (2020). Cordycepin for Health and Wellbeing: A Potent Bioactive Metabolite of an Entomopathogenic Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps with Its Nutraceutical and Therapeutic Potential. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25(12), 2735–.

[5] Zhang, Jixian et al. “Advance in Cordyceps Militaris (Linn) Link Polysaccharides: Isolation, Structure, and Bioactivities: A Review.” International journal of biological macromolecules 132 (2019): 906–914. Web.

[6]  Song, Jingjing et al. “Studies on the Antifatigue Activities of Cordyceps Militaris Fruit Body Extract in Mouse Model.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine 2015 (2015): 174616–174616.

[7] Richter, E. A., & Ruderman, N. B. (2009). AMPK and the biochemistry of exercise: implications for human health and disease. The Biochemical journal418(2), 261–275.

[8]  Hawley, S. A., Ross, F. A., Russell, F. M., Atrih, A., Lamont, D. J., & Hardie, D. G. (2020). Mechanism of Activation of AMPK by Cordycepin. Cell Chemical Biology27(2), 214–222.e4.

[9] Salk Institute. "Health effects of metabolic 'magic bullet' protein: New model lets scientists activate health-promoting enzyme AMPK at any time and in any tissue." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 January 2019. <>.

[10] Choi, E., Oh, J.,  & Sung, G-H. (2020) Beneficial Effect of Cordyceps militaris on Exercise Performance via Promoting Cellular Energy Production, Mycobiology, 48:6, 512-517, DOI: 10.1080/12298093.2020.1831135

 [11] Kang, H. K., Baik, H.W., Kim, S.J., Lee, S.G., Ahn, J. Y., Park, J. S….& Lee, S. M. (2015). Cordyceps militaris Enhances Cell-Mediated Immunity in Healthy Korean Men. Journal of Medicinal Food, (18), 102015

[12] Shin S., Park Y., Kim S., Oh H.-E., Ko Y.-W., Han S., et al. (2010). Cordyceps militarisEnhances MHC-restricted antigen presentation via the induced expression of MHC molecules and production of cytokinesImmune Netw 10 (4), 135–143. 10.4110/in.2010.10.4.135.