With autoimmune diseases, your immune system attacks your body mistakenly. The immune system can typically distinguish between your own cells and foreign cells. But when you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system misinterprets a component of your body, like your skin or joints, as being foreign and generating autoantibodies that attack them.
Living with an autoimmune disease can be complicated. There are no cures for the condition, but symptoms can be managed with steroids, anti-inflammatories, etc. Some people even try complementary therapies, and many laud the effects of Cordyceps.
A household name in traditional Chinese medicine, Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris are unconventional fungi. Nevertheless, it is used as a tonic to increase strength, rejuvenation, and immunity. But how does the ancient Chinese remedy ease symptoms of auto-immune disease?
Extracts of cordyceps have shown inhibitory effects on the immune system. This mechanism is similar to immunosuppressive agents that control autoimmune disorders and prevent tissue damage. Below we will explore the beneficial effects of natural and cultured Cordyceps.
What is Cordyceps?
Cordyceps are a fungus with potent biochemical properties and a fascinating ecology. They have been used traditionally for centuries, with high esteem for improving well-being and longevity. They also considered energizing, able to improve athletic performance, respiration, and libido from just a single dose.
The ecology of cordyceps mushrooms are particularly intriguing and unique. They parasitize insects, feeding on their live tissues, and even altering their behaviors! While there are hundreds of cordyceps species that occur in the wild there are two main types of Cordyceps that are conventionally used in medicine. These are Ophiocordyceps sinensis aka “Chinese Caterpillar Fungus” and Cordyceps militaris aka “Scarlet Caterpillar Club”.
Ophiocordyceps sinensis aka “The Caterpillar Fungus”
- Scientific Name: Ophiocordyceps sinensis
- Common Name: Caterpillar Fungus
- Where It Grows: Exclusively on the larvae of ghost moths in the high mountains (>10,000 ft) of Tibet, Nepal, and India. Cultivation techniques have been developed but are not an economically viable option for large-scale production. Because of this, the cultivation of liquid mycelium is also conducted, resulting in a high potency strain called “CS-4” that is used in supplements.
- Description: The limited supply, difficulty of harvesting, and folklore surrounding this mushroom make it one of the most expensive natural commodities on the market. Depending on the seasonal abundance a single pound of this mushroom can cost between $10,000 to $50,000!
This is not to be confused with CS-4 cordyceps (sinensis) products that are much cheaper and commonly found in supplement powders.
Cordyceps Militaris aka “Scarlet Caterpillar Club “
- Scientific Name: Cordyceps militaris
- Common Name: Scarlet Caterpillar Club
- Where It Grows: This species is relatively common in forested parts of the USA, Mexico, and Europe. It is considered a generalist as it can parasitize a wide range of insect hosts. This species can also be cultivated and thus provides a more economic and sustainable alternative to the wild-harvested cordyceps.
- Description: This is the more commercially available Cordyceps that is easily recognized by its bright orange color. Its form is often jokingly compared to Cheetos. Most products made from Cordyceps use this mushroom since it is much more economically viable. While it is not as expensive as the Ophiocordyceps sinensis, it contains the same medicinal compounds, and more potent than Cordyecps CS-4 alternative.
Therapeutic Effects of Cordyceps On Autoimmune disease
The immunomodulatory effects of extracts of Cordyceps sinensis and militaris have been the subject of several research. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most significant ones.
Cordyceps mushrooms may attenuate disease severity in lupus
Taiwanese research evaluated the alterations in immunity due to cordyceps mycelia in lupus-prone mice (1).
Forty female mice were divided into four groups. At three (group A), six (group B), or eight months of age (group C), hot water extracts of the mycelium of fungus Cordyceps sinensis were administered orally at a dose of 2.4 mg/g/day, with the remaining group (group D) serving as a control.
The mice were monitored for survival, proteinuria (urine protein excretion), and anti-double-stranded DNA autoantibodies, which are characteristically present in lupus. Treatment with the mushroom extract improved survival, proteinuria, and antibody titers in groups A and B. Moreover, the percentages of CD4(+) T cells, a kind of white blood cell that activates other immune cells, were much lower in these groups.
Researchers concluded that early medication with Cordyceps sinensis attenuated the disease severity of lupus in mice. This gives hope for the therapeutic use of Cordyceps supplements in people with lupus.
Cordyceps may help balance the immune system
The American Journal of Chinese Medicine published an analysis of the immunosuppressive activity of cordyceps CS-4 on human monocyte-derived dendritic cells in vitro (2). Cordyceps CS-4 is a vegetative form of the plant and contains the same active ingredients as the fungus fruit body.
Researchers discovered that CS-4 could stop lymphocyte infiltration in tissues and reduce CD4+ T cell growth in autoimmune disorders. Moreover, it maintains equilibrium between the immune system’s Th1 and Th2 immune response subtypes. The findings indicate that CS-4 suppresses the immune system by limiting the growth of CD4+ T cells and controlling Th1 and Th2 reactions.
Cordyceps can potentially modulate the immune system
The mushroom increases immune system regulators.
The immunomodulatory properties of the Cordyceps sinensis mushroom have been described in a series of in vitro and in vivo tests (3). The results from the study titled “Immunomodulatory activities of HERBSnSENSES Cordyceps” showed that the mushroom increased blood levels of interleukins and tumor necrosis factor. These two cells are important immune system regulators.
In another study, researchers looked at the stimulatory effects of Cordyceps sinensis on the immune system (4). The mushroom’s capacity to induce protective responses against intracellular infections in vivo and activate pro-inflammatory responses in macrophages in vitro was evaluated. The sterile Cordyceps Sinensis aqueous extract was thought to stimulate the immune system by releasing a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Cordyceps can combat inflammation.
In yet another study, researchers explored the ability of the methanol extracts from the fruiting bodies of Cordyceps sinensis as an immunomodulatory agent (5). Natural killer (NK) cells and other white blood cells were assessed for proliferative response. The findings showed that Cordyceps sinensis contains immunosuppressive components.
Likewise, in a study from Taiwan, researchers looked into how the immunomodulatory qualities of Cordyceps militaris affected asthmatic mice’s airway inflammation (6). Results showed that cordyceps militaris could control airway inflammation in asthma, albeit to a lower extent than medications like montelukast or prednisolone.
The effects of Corbrin capsule, a drug derived from Cordyceps sinensis, on autoimmune thyroid disease was the subject of a 2016 study from China (7). Here 44 patients with Graves’s disease and 56 patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis were randomly given the drug alongside the conventional prescription medication for the disease. Control groups received the prescription drugs only.
Thyroid antibodies, thyroid hormones, and lymphocytes were evaluated at the start of the treatment and 24 weeks thereafter. Results showed a significant drop in autoantibody levels in the blood in the group receiving Cordyceps. The authors concluded that Corbrin capsule could restore lymphocyte balance and significantly reduce autoantibody levels.
How To Take Cordyceps For Autoimmune Diseases?
Regular use of Cordyceps helps improve symptoms of autoimmune disease. Research has shown that results may be seen in as little as one week of using the mushroom. However, it is crucial you speak with your healthcare provider before starting any mushroom supplement.
Certified organic mushroom powders drink mixes, and broths make incorporating cordyceps into your daily regimen simple. As an alternative, cordyceps powders, capsules, and teas offer a quick and simple method to add this useful mushroom to your diet.
FAQs About Cordyceps Autoimmune Effects
Does Cordyceps Help Immune Health?
By stimulating immune system cells and certain molecules, cordyceps may enhance immunity. It may also aid in the fight against cancer cells and reduce tumor size, especially with lung or skin malignancies.
Who Should Avoid Cordyceps?
Although Cordyceps is generally safe, some people may experience nausea, dry mouth, and upset stomach. If you have a bleeding disease, avoid taking Cordyceps.
There is no cure for autoimmune disease, but the right supplements can improve living with the condition. Cordyceps mushroom has been shown to affect people suffering from autoimmune diseases positively. In addition to historical anecdotes, scientific studies have supported Cordycep’s benefits.