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Cordyceps – A Unique COVID/Post-COVID Fungus Remedy

James Odell, OMD, ND, LAc

The fungus Cordyceps sinensis has been used for several millennia in Tibetan and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to treat numerous illnesses. In TCM, it is commonly used to replenish the kidney and soothe the lung, for the treatment of fatigue, night sweating, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, asthenia after severe illness, respiratory disease, renal dysfunction, renal failure, arrhythmias, and other heart diseases, as well as liver disease.1, 2, 3, 4, 5 This article illuminates the medicinal properties of Cordyceps in relation to Covid-19 infection and post Covid symptoms.

Cordyceps is a genus of ascomycete fungi belonging to the family Ophiocordycipitaceae (formerly Clavicpitaceae), parasitic mainly on insects and other arthropods. There are some other closely related species of cordyceps found, but in historical usage, the term Cordyceps normally refers to the species C. sinensis only, which has been valued for many centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. These types of fungi are thus named entomophagous (feeding on insects) fungi. The medicinal preparation from the fruiting bodies of C. sinensis is named dong-chong-xia-cao which translates as winter worm and summer grass. C. sinensis generally infects the larvae of the Hepialidae moths, found only in the highlands of the Himalayan region. The larva hibernates underground through the winter.

Hepialidae moth, a host species of Cordyceps sinensis,

collected from Qinghai Province, China. Credit: Wang X-L and Yao Y-J

The fungus kills the infected host and grows throughout the cadaver, and in the summer, a rod-like stroma of the fungus grows out from the mummied shell of the dead host. Cordyceps species are generally known as the "caterpillar fungus" due to this characteristic parasitism of the living larvae of insects.

The spores of C. sinensis are spread by the wind over the soil and onto plants, where they come into contact with insect larvae, particularly when the caterpillars emerge to feed on roots and herbaceous vegetation. The caterpillars may eat the spores or the spores lying on their bodies may germinate and enter their bodies through the mouth or respiratory pores. Its mycelium invades the caterpillar’s body, killing the insect, and eventually completely replacing the host tissue. The dead caterpillar appears yellowish to brown.

Biological Properties and Clinical Studies

Cordyceps species has a long history of use in TCM as a lung and kidney tonic, and for the treatment of chronic bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis, and other diseases of the respiratory system. The cardiovascular effects of cordyceps are being observed more frequently by researchers, as it works through a variety of possible ways - either by lowering high blood pressure via direct dilatory effects or mediated through M-cholinergic receptors resulting in improvement in the coronary and cerebral blood circulation. Thus, cordyceps has implications at the therapeutic level as well by rectifying the abnormalities in rhythmic contractions (also known as cardiac arrhythmia).

Recent studies have demonstrated its multiple pharmacological actions, such as anti-oxidation 6, 7, 8, 9, potentiating the immune system 10, 11 and anti-tumor activities.12, 13, 14

Since Covid 19, cordyceps and its active biochemicals have been extensively studied and numerous papers reveal it is helpful for the recovery from Covid-19 infection as well as to alleviate post-Covid symptoms.15, 16, 17, 18, 19

Not only does it exhibit antiviral properties, but an antibacterial protein has been isolated from cultured mycelia of C. sinensis which inhibited the growth of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria but had no significant inhibition activity against fungi and yeast.20

Fermentation broth of C. sinensis showed antibacterial activity on Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, Bacillus subtilis, and Bacillus thuringiensis; especially has a stronger effect on Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli.21

At the cellular level, diverse biological effects of C. sinensis, such as activating macrophages 22, modulating apoptosis 23, 24, or inhibiting tumor metastasis 25, 26, have been described, many of which can be attributed to the production of cytokines.

One of the more interesting studies indicates that C. sinensis can minimize damage induced by total-body irradiation by preventing radiation-induced death of bone marrow and intestinal crypt, as well as promoting the proliferation and differentiation of bone marrow stem cells.27 Hence, C. Sinensis is a useful radioprotector for individuals undergoing radiotherapy.

In another study, C. sinensis benefited from depressed white count after Taxol treatment. Recovery of blood-forming stem cells from cytotoxic chemotherapy requires not only the hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSC/HPC) to be stimulated, but also an appropriate microenvironment in which the cells can develop. C. sinensis shows that it can promote the differentiation of HSCs both directly and indirectly through its action on osteoblast differentiation.28

C. sinensis became popular during the Chinese National Games in 1993, when a group of women athletes broke nine world records - when asked for their secret, they replied they had been taking cordyceps regularly. Recent literature further confirms that cordyceps enhance cellular energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate).29

Active Ingredients

Cordyceps are an excellent source of bioactive metabolites that exhibit many clinically proven benefits for human health. It contains polysaccharides, cordycepin, cordycepin acid, vitamins, sterols, nucleosides, macro, and microelements, as well as many sugars, including mono, di, and oligosaccharides. In addition, this medicinal herb also contains many vitamins (B1, B2, B12, E, and K) and minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc) that are good for human health. C. sinensis contains a high concentration of adenosine, guanosine, and uridine.

The most prominent and studied bioactive compounds are adenosine and cordycepin:

  • Adenosine helps improve sleep quality, improves blood circulation to the heart, and prevents the formation of blood clots and myocardial ischemia.

  • Cordycepin has anti-cancer, and anti-microbial effects, preventing cancer cells from metastasizing or regenerating; Antibacterial-Clostridium supports the treatment of intestinal diseases exceptionally effectively. In addition, this type of compound in Cordyceps can also prevent type-2 diabetes genes from developing, helping to support the treatment of diabetes.

Adenosine is shown to have beneficial effects on coronary and cerebral circulation 30, control of blood flow 31, prevention of cardiac arrhythmias 32, and nerve-tissue functions such as the inhibition of neurotransmitter release and the modulation of adenylate cyclase activity.33

Adenosine, a mediator of innate immunity, is abundantly secreted by the injured lung tissues during inflammation. Through the activation of adenosine receptors A1, A2A, A2B, and A3, adenosine plays an important role in protecting against acute lung injury and brain injury.

Adenosine also acts as an anti-inflammatory molecule by suppressing the production of a cytokine storm, protecting against organ damage, and repairing damaged tissue from acute lung diseases. The activation of adenosine receptors benefits the recovery of lung diseases and is of great significance for the amelioration of pneumonia.34

Cordycepin (3-deoxyadenosine) is an activator of adenosine receptors. It can enhance human immunity, promote anti-inflammatory processes, inhibit RNA virus reproduction, protect against brain, lung, liver, heart, and kidney damage, and ameliorate lung fibrosis in clinical and animal models. Cordyceps and cordycepin products could be used as a potential medicinal adenosine receptor agonist that can play a beneficial role in the amelioration of Covid-19 pneumonia and protection of the brain.35

Studies have shown that cordyceps has the effects of enhancing human immunity, inhibiting virus reproduction, reducing inflammation, inhibiting the generation of cytokine storms, protecting the lungs, liver, heart, and kidney, and resisting pulmonary fibrosis.

In cordyceps species, there also occurs a wide range of nutritionally important components including various types of essential amino acids, as well as vitamins like B1, B2, B12, and K, different kinds of carbohydrates such as monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, and various medicinally important polysaccharides, proteins, sterols, nucleosides, and other trace elements. The fruiting body harbors many abundant amino acids such as lysine, glutamic acid, proline, and threonine. The fruiting body is also rich in unsaturated fatty acids (e.g., linoleic acid), which comprise about 70 % of the total fatty acids.


When speaking of mushrooms and fungi, many consumers worry about toxicity. However, no human toxicity report was found with cordyceps, and even animal models failed to determine the median lethal dose. Cordyceps dosage of up to 80 g/kg body weight/day for 7 days was injected intraperitoneally in mice and even then, it did not cause any fatality.36

In another study, rabbits fed orally for 3 months at a dose of 10 g/kg/day did not show any deviancy in blood reports, or in kidney or liver function.37 Even water extract of C. sinensis was found to be non-toxic on macrophage cells line RAW264.7 proliferation.38 It is suggested that caution should be taken while taking C. sinensis by patients who are undergoing anti-viral or diabetic drug treatments as cordyceps contains hypoglycemic and anti-viral agents, which can further affect the dosage of these drugs.39

Dosage and Standardization

As with all medicinal mushroom supplementation, the dosage of cordyceps depends on the patient’s health, age, and other conditions. Typical doses can range from 3-9 grams daily, but lower doses of 300 mg taken three times a day have also been used in studies. Consult a healthcare practitioner before deciding on taking this food supplement. In human research trials, dosages in the range of 1,000 – 3,000 mg have been used. This dosage is either taken all at once or split into two administrations with meals. Cordyceps may be standardized to contain 8% cordycepic acid and 0.28% adenosine, both considered important ingredients.

Medicinal mushrooms have gained global scientific attention due to a wide range of pharmacological and nutraceutical properties. C. sinensis has been described as a fungal therapeutic bio-factory due to the presence of medicinal metabolites like cordycepin, cordycepin acid, uridine, adenosine, guanosine, and numerous nutrient elements. Species of cordyceps have been used for thousands of years in the prevention and treatment of disease. Numerous cancer-related deaths could be prevented or reduced by supplementing our diet with medicinal mushrooms such as cordyceps, as they are antioxidant, anti-tumorous, apoptotic, and immunomodulatory.

For many, Covid-19 has primarily caused social, psychological, and/or financial damage. For many others, the impact was physical—a bad cough, time spent in intensive care, and a slow road to feeling well again. Cordyceps is shown to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is responsible for delivering energy to the muscles. This means cordyceps can have a major impact on muscle fatigue and recovery. Overall, cordyceps is proven to offer numerous healing benefits for those infected with viruses such as Covid-19 or those suffering from post-Covid-19.


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