The Science Behind Cordyceps Sinensis
In our last article we learned about the Health Benefits of Cordyceps Sinensis.
In this article we will examine the science and mechanisms of action for Cordyceps. Again, we will try not to put
you to sleep with a long science lesson... we will just hit on the key points.
How does Cordyceps Sinensis work once it enters my body?
While there are some specific mechanisms of action that we will discuss with the Cordyceps, its real claim to fame is
its adaptogen status.
What is an Adaptogen Herb?
In the 1940's Soviet Scientist were trying to identify herbs that could provide health benefits without side effects. In 1947 a Soviet
Scientist named Dr. Lazarev coined the term Adaptogen to describe the type of herbs they were looking for.
Adaptogen herbs must conform to these 3 standards:
What do those three standards really mean? An adaptogen herb will be nontoxic and cause few if any side effects. An adaptogen herb must
help build resistance to all areas of stress that may effect our body. For example, if an herb helped with physical exhaustion, but did nothing
to protect against viruses (biological stressor) it would NOT BE AN ADAPTOGEN. Finally, an adaptogen herb will be able to normalize the
body and place the body in proper balance. The key with an adaptogen is being able to adapt to what the body needs and balancing the body.
A herb that could increase energy if you body is fatigued and also decrease energy if your body is over stimulated, would be an example
of an adaptogen herb.
- Must be nontoxic and cause very few, if any, side effects
- Produce nonspecific resistance in the body to all types of stressors (physical, chemical and biological)
- Produce a normalizing influence on the body.
Do adaptogens herbs really exist?
We understand that from a Western medical perspective adaptogens sound too good to be true. An herb that adapts and helps our body with
whatever it needs, and does no harm... how could this be? Western medicine is based on using one drug to treat one specific problem, and then
use another drug for another problem. Adaptogen herbs take a completely different approach and treat any problems we have as all
connected to a balance issue in our body. Return balance to the body and you correct all the problems.
How are adaptogen herbs identified?
Simply by dropping rats into a bucket of water! Okay, there was a little more to it than that..
One of the most useful tests to see if an herb can help an animal adapt to stress is called the Swim Test.
A rat when placed in water will swim for 10-15 minutes and then only move in small amounts to stay a float. To test if
Cordyceps has adaptogen properties, you first measure how long a rat can swim in water (the control). You then feed the rat
Cordyceps and see how long he can swim.
In test after test, rats fed Cordyceps have significantly longer swim times than the control group.
Great, but what if I am not a rat and don't swim?
Yes, we understand that the vast majority of our readers are not rats. The Rat Swim Test is simply a great first step in determining
if a herb, such as cordyceps, can help an animal adapt to stress. Since Cordyceps has passed the swim test, over 200 clinical studies
have been done on Cordyceps to examine its effect in reducing stress in the human body.
The important thing to remember is that Cordyceps, like any adaptogen, works by keeping the whole body in balance and treats the body as
a whole - not a collection of individual parts.
Adaptogen effects sound great, but can you give me more specifics on how Cordyceps works?
Of course. Two of the primary mechanisms of actions for Cordyceps are its ability to increase oxygen capacity and increase ATP (adenosine triphosphate) levels.
Studies have shown
that Cordyceps can help increase lung capacity and lead to easier breathing and better oxygen capacity. This matches with Cordyceps use in
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a lung tonic to help support the respiratory system.
What is ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and why is it important?
Every cell in our body has these amazing little cellular structures called
mitochondria. The mitochondria are responsible for converting the nutrients from
the food we eat into energy. Yes, the mitochondria have the daunting task of providing
energy for every cell in our body, so we can eat, move, think, talk, breath, etc.
The Mitochondria converts nutrients into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which are stored
in the cell. Simply think of ATP as the fuel that our body needs to run on. As long as we produce more ATP than
our body uses, we have an energy surplus and our body feels great. On the other hand, if those tiny Mitochondria can not keep
up with the body's demand for energy - we have an energy deficit - and this can lead to many problems.
It is important to understand that when we discuss energy on the cellular level we are not just talking about the energy necessary to run or
keep us awake while reading science articles :) Cellular energy allows us to deal with emotional stress, allows our heart to function
properly, allows us to deal with a sickness, allows us to think.. you get the idea. Cellular energy is what allows us to function as humans.
ATP is made on demand in our body, we do not keep large reserves of ATP in our body. At any give time we only have about 100 grams
of ATP in our body. This may sound like a lot but an active cell requires more than 2 million ATP molecules per second.
Some quick match shows that our bodily store of ATP is sufficient to satisfy our needs for only a few seconds,
therefore, the store of ATP needs to be continuously replenished. Simply put, if our body stopped making ATP for 4 seconds - we would die.
What causes an energy deficit in our body?
Damage to our mitochondria. It can be oxidative stress, emotional stress, physical stress, toxins in our body, normal wear and tear at a cellular level - basically anything
that decreases the capacity of the mitochondria can deplete our supply of ATP and create that dreaded energy deficit.
How does Cordyceps Sinensis help with energy deficit?
Animal studies have shown that supplementing with Cordyceps can increase the ATP stores in the liver ( J Altern Complement Med. 2001 Jun;7(3):231-40).
In addition, Cordyceps is a powerful antioxidant and can defend against oxidative damage to our cells and in turn the mitochondria. Healthy
mitochandria means the cells produce more ATP.
If we have more ATP available to our cells, we increase the total amount of fuel available to our body. Add in the fact that Cordyceps helps
with oxygen capacity and now you have the two major components for real cellular energy - ATP and oxygen to burn!
The ability of Cordyceps to increase ATP levels and improve Oxygen capacity goes a long way in explaining how this herb can have
many positive health benefits.
Are there other ways that Cordyceps Sinensis works in the body?
Yep - there sure are. We have not even touched on DNA repair or immune boosting effects. What about the role of polysaccharides, cordycepin and
adenosine in our body? No offense to our biologist and chemist friends - but this type of detail is not what we would call a real "page turner".
If you do want to jump deeper into the science behind Cordyceps please take a look at this fantastic article...
Ancient Cordyceps in the Modern World by John Holliday
A full 63 pages devoted completed to Cordyceps. Want more science and references to hundreds of studies? It is all in here. John Holliday is considered one of the foremost experts on Cordyceps and has done
amazing work on Cordyceps cultivation and research. We have been so impressed with Dr. Holliday's work that we exclusively buy the
Cordyceps for our Perfect Acai Revive from Dr. Holliday.
Cordyceps sounds great - how do I try it?
We clearly love Cordyceps Sinensis - but it is important to understand that there is a world of difference between
different brands of Cordyceps. In our next article we will examine the best source for pure Cordyceps Sinensis...