Cordyceps – A Powerful Supplement For Energy & Endurance by Alex Leaf, M.S.

Author: Alex Leaf, M.S.
Medical Reviewer: Evan Hirsch, MD

Let’s talk about mushrooms. Not the magic kind, but the medicinal. In particular, cordyceps, a parasitic mushroom that feeds on insects and their larvae. It’s climb to fame started with the simple observation of herders that livestock grazing on cordyceps became unusually strong and stout.

That observation manifested into thousands of years of use in traditional Chinese medicine for enhancing vigor and vitality, increasing sexual function, and treating numerous chronic and infectious diseases [1].

Currently, several lines of evidence support a variety of health benefits, such as reducing the risk of metabolic diseases, protecting organ systems, lowering inflammation and oxidative stress, improving immune function, and increasing energy levels [2,3].

Cordyceps Increases Mitochondrial Function and Energy Production

Cordyceps has an impressive list of effects, many of which have roots in the way that cordyceps interacts with our mitochondria. For example, several studies have found that cordyceps supplementation protects against organ damage and dysfunction of the brain, liver, and kidneys by virtue of preserving mitochondrial function and integrity [4–8].

One of the ways it preserves mitochondrial function in the face of harmful conditions is by stimulating the activity of our natural inborn antioxidant enzymes, such as glutathione, superoxide dismutase, and catalase [9,10].

Another way is by increasing mitochondrial oxygen consumption and energy production, which was demonstrated by Chinese researchers after supplementing mice with cordyceps for just three days [11]. Compared to mice that didn’t receive cordyceps, those that did received the supplement presented with a 30% increase in mitochondrial respiration and ATP production.

Cordyceps Increases Endurance

We can see the mitochondrial-enhancing effects through cordyceps’ anti-fatigue abilities. In rats undergoing a swimming exercise routine for two weeks, cordyceps supplementation enhanced swimming endurance by 30% compared to those not taking it [12]. In sedentary rats, the effects were even more pronounced, with cordyceps increasing endurance capacity by 80% relative to the sedentary control.

When the researchers investigated potential mechanisms to explain this benefit, they noted that cordyceps increased the expression of several genes involved in mitochondrial biogenesis and energy production, including AMPK and PGC-1ɑ. There was also an increase in antioxidant signaling and enzyme activity.

These observations were upheld in a later study of mice, with researchers noting that cordyceps improved endurance performance on several different tests, reduced oxidative stress, and increased ATP concentrations in muscle tissue [13].

In humans, there appears to be some benefits as well. While data on young and well-trained athletes is equivocal, studies in elderly adults who have worse mitochondrial function and higher levels of oxidative stress by virtue of being older report 8–13% increases in anaerobic threshold, which represents the point at which mitochondrial respiration can no longer fully support activity levels [14,15].

A meta-analysis of 15 interventions also reported that cordyceps supplementation improved endurance capacity and quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) [16].


Cordyceps is a parasitic mushroom used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to restore vigor and vitality. We now know it accomplished this feat through improving mitochondrial function.


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Medically Reviewed ByEvan Hirsch, MD

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