What are Cordyceps Fungi and Their Traditional Medicinal Uses
Cordyceps fungi are the type of fungi that are known to affect insects. It is a parasitic fungus belonging to the genus Cordyceps and grows by infecting the larvae of insects and other arthropods (Invertebrate animals with an exoskeleton).
A case reported Cordyceps fungi infecting different species of ants in a laboratory setting.(1)
Cordyceps fungi are also known as caterpillar fungi as they infect and consume the bodies of caterpillars.
Cordyceps have been in use for a long as traditional Chinese medicine and are believed to have numerous health benefits which include:
- Boosting immune system
- Reducing inflammation
- Increasing energy and stamina
- Improving sexual function
It has also been in use for the treatment of various respiratory conditions, kidney disease, liver problems, and cancer.
Cordyceps fungi are rich in bioactive compounds including polysaccharides cordycepin, adenosine, and ergosterol. These compounds show anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antitumor effects. These bioactive compounds can make cordyceps fungi useful for potential health benefits.
Overview of Concerns About Cordyceps Fungi Infecting Humans
Cordyceps fungi are widely used in traditional medicine as a natural remedy and are considered safe for human consumption.
However, there are a few risks associated with consuming or inhaling the spores of cordyceps fungi, one of which include allergic reactions. Some people may be allergic to certain types of fungi including the Cordyceps and may suffer from hives, swelling, or difficulty in breathing.(2)
Another concern is that ingesting fungi which may be contaminated with heavy metals can lead to toxic side effects. The fungi can also infect humans when the spores enter the body and start growing leading to symptoms, which depend on the type of cordyceps species and the part of the body affected.
Cordyceps fungi are generally safe to be consumed by humans but it is important to be aware of the potential risks to ensure the source of Cordyceps is reputable and free from contamination.
The purpose of the article is to know about Cordyceps fungi in detail and include the potential benefits and risks of taking cordyceps supplements.
What are Cordyceps Fungi?
Description of Cordyceps Fungi and Their Life Cycle
Cordyceps fungi are a type of parasitic fungi that belong to the genus Cordyceps. These have a unique lifestyle involving infecting and consuming bodies of insects and other arthropods. The lifecycle of the fungi starts when the spores of the fungus enter the body of the insect or arthropod. These spores germinate and grow long, thread-like structures called hyphae. The hyphae invade the insects or arthropods and begin to grow and multiply, eventually consuming the host’s tissue and organs.
As the fungus consumes the host, a fruiting body is produced that grows out of the host’s body. These fruiting spores are released into the environment to infect the new host and continue the life cycle of the fungus.
The fruiting bodies are highly used in traditional Chinese medicine and other traditional medical practices. Cordyceps is cultivated commercially for medicinal properties and sold in various forms including powders, capsules, and extracts.
Different species of Cordyceps fungi have different lifecycles and may infect different types of hosts.
There are 400 species of Cordyceps fungi. Some of the common arthropods affected by them include ants, beetles, butterflies, moths, locusts, and spiders.(3)
Common Species of Cordyceps Fungi And Their Use In Traditional Medicine
There are several species of cordyceps fungi with unique properties and uses. Some of the common species include:
- Cordyceps Sinensis: This species is one of the most well-known and widely used in Chinese medicine. It has immune boosting, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties.(3)
- Cordyceps Militaris: This specie is known for its ability to improve energy, endurance, and athletic performance. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties and has been in use traditionally to treat asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions.(4)
- Cordyceps Ophioglossoides: This species has been in use traditionally to treat respiratory and kidney disorders. It plays a role in enhancing fertility.
- Cordyceps Cicadae: This is used for the treatment of fatigue, cough, and sore throat and is also known to have immune-boosting properties.(5)
- Cordyceps Unilateralis: This species is known to affect and control the behavior of ants and is known to have the potential to control the pest population. It is also known to possess anti-malarial properties.(6)
Cordyceps fungi have been in use in traditional medicine since long. As the research on the use of cordyceps is limited, it is important o consult a healthcare professional before using it for any treatment.
Can Cordyceps Fungi Infect Humans?
Evidence For and Against the Possibility of Cordyceps Fungi Infecting Humans
Cordyceps fungi are known to infect and manipulate the behavior of insects.(1) How different cordyceps fungi relate to each other is still debatable.(7)
Evidence that shows the possibility of Cordyceps fungi infecting humans are as follows.
Studies show that certain species of cordyceps fungi grow in human cells in vitro.(8) However, fungi infection in humans in vivo is not a surety.
Some species of cordyceps fungi are known to have antifungal and antibacterial properties. This suggests that they may have an evolved mechanism to defend against other pathogens. There have been a few isolated cases of people claiming of being infected with Cordyceps fungi.(11)
Scientifically, the possibility of Cordyceps fungi infection in humans is very unlikely. Further research is needed to understand the potential risks associated with exposure to fungi.
Comparison to Other Types of Fungal Infection
There are several other types of fungal infection that are better characterized than the Cordyceps infection.
- Candidiasis: A fungal infection caused by yeast that infects skin, mouth, throat, and genitals.
- Aspergillosis: A fungal infection caused by Aspergillus fungi and is seen infecting people with a weaker immune system.
- Cryptococcosis: It is a fungal infection that is caused by cryptococcus fungi and infects the lungs, brain, and other organs.
- Ringworm: This fungal infection presents as circular patches with raised edges.
The reports of Cordyceps fungus infecting humans are very low. But there are some similarities it has with other fungal infections in terms of potential harm.
Risks and Factors That May Increase the Likelihood of Infection
The factors that may increase the likelihood of suffering from Cordyceps infection include:
- Environmental Exposure
- Immune system compromise
- Genetic susceptibility
- Consumption of infected insects
- Occupational exposure
Health Risks Associated with Cordyceps Fungi
Consuming contaminated Cordyceps fungi products can lead to food-borne illnesses that may range from mild to severe.
Some species may lead to allergic reactions causing hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis.
It is important to purchase Cordyceps fungi products from reputable sources.
A case report published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology described a case in which the patient experienced a liver injury on consuming the Cordyceps sinensis supplement.(9)
The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter in 2011 to the companies selling Cordyceps fungi products that were found to be contaminated with lead
A case report described a case of acute kidney injury associated with the use of Cordyceps militaris.(10) The patient had elevated creatinine levels and decreased urine output. These symptoms resolved after discontinuing the supplement.
Safety Guidelines for Consuming Cordyceps Fungi Products
There are a few safety guidelines for consuming Cordyceps fungi products:
- The product should be purchased from a reputable source
- The recommended dosage should be consumed.
- Cordyceps fungi products should be stored in a cool dry place and away from the sunlight.
- A healthcare professional should be consulted before taking products containing Cordyceps fungi.
If anyone experiences adverse effects such as nausea, diarrhea, or allergic reaction after taking cordyceps fungi product, it should be discontinued.
To conclude, there have been cases of Cordyceps fungi infecting insects in the wild. It, infecting humans still needs to be researched more.
Cordyceps fungi have been in use in traditional medicines for centuries and also as a food source. Its consumption is considered safe for humans.
As with any other supplement, it’s important to exercise caution and follow the safety guidelines and if experiencing any symptoms, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional.