Cordyceps: Nootropic Benefits, Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects

An artistic representation of the nootropic effects of cordyceps on neurotransmitters

Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris (L.) Fr. Ascomycota.) is a genus of parasitic fungi that grows on insects, most notably caterpillars, in high-altitude regions of Asia.

Cordyceps are a medicinal mushroom renowned for their centuries-long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fatigue, enhance athletic performance, and boost cognitive function.

This article explores the characteristics, benefits, and best uses of Cordyceps for cognitive enhancement.

What Are Cordyceps?

photorealistic image of cordycept mushrooms and their molecular structure

Cordyceps (also known as caterpillar fungus, Dong Chong Xia Cao, or Tochukaso) are a type of fungus belonging to the Ascomycota phylum.

Cordyceps have earned the nickname ”Zombie Fungus”. However, unlike the undead as seen in The Walking Dead, these parasitic organisms infect insects (such as caterpillars and cicadas).

There are over 400 species of Cordyceps, but the most commonly used for medicinal purposes are:

  • Cordyceps sinensis
  • Cordyceps militaris
  • Cordyceps ophioglossoides
  • Cordyceps sobolifera

What Are the Bioactive Compounds in Cordyceps?

Cordyceps contains bioactive compounds such as cordycepin, polysaccharides, and adenosine, which contribute to its nootropic effects.

  • Cordycepin: A nucleoside analog, has been shown to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the brain, providing energy for neural processes.
  • Polysaccharides: Demonstrate neuroprotective properties, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain.
  • Adenosine: As a neuromodulator, it plays a role in regulating sleep-wake cycles and promoting deep sleep, which is crucial for memory consolidation.

Additionally, Cordyceps has been found to increase the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth and survival of neurons.

What Are the Cognitive Benefits of Cordyceps?

Cordyceps offer several cognitive benefits, including:

  1. Treating mental fatigue
  2. Boosting learning and memory
  3. Supporting neuroprotection

Note: Further research is needed to fully understand the pharmacokinetics and long-term effects of Cordyceps on cognitive function.

How Do Cordyceps Treat Fatigue?

Cordyceps treats fatigue by increasing ATP production in the body.

ATP is the primary energy currency of cells, and Cordyceps has been shown to boost ATP levels by up to 55%. This increased energy production helps combat physical and mental fatigue.(1)

How Do Cordyceps Enhance Athletic Performance?

Cordyceps enhances athletic performance by improving oxygen utilization and reducing lactic acid buildup.

A study by Dr. Hirsch found that Cordyceps supplementation increased VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake) by 7% and decreased lactic acid accumulation by 12% in athletes.(2)

How Do Cordyceps Enhance Learning and Memory?

Cordyceps enhance learning and memory by increasing BDNF levels in the brain.

BDNF is a protein that supports the growth, differentiation, and survival of neurons. Higher BDNF levels are associated with improved cognitive function, particularly in learning and memory tasks.

According to a study by Dr. Lee in 2016, Cordyceps supplementation improved learning and memory in mice by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels.(3)

How Do Cordyceps Support Neuroprotection?

Cordyceps support neuroprotection through their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Inflammation and oxidative stress are major contributors to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Cordyceps contain compounds like cordycepin and polysaccharides that reduce inflammation and scavenge harmful free radicals in the brain.(4)

photorealistic image of cordyceps mushroom growing in a forest

What are the Potential Side Effects of Cordyceps?

Cordyceps are ordinarily well-tolerated, but potential side effects may include:

  • Digestive issues like nausea, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort
  • Allergic reactions in some individuals
  • Interactions with certain medications, such as blood thinners and immunosuppressants

What are the Potential Interactions with Medications and Cordyceps?

Cordyceps may interact with several medications, including:

  • Blood thinners like warfarin and heparin
  • Immunosuppressants used after organ transplants
  • Diabetes medications that lower blood sugar

These interactions can increase the risk of bleeding, alter immune function, or cause hypoglycemia.

Always inform your doctor about any supplements you are taking to avoid potential drug interactions.

Who Should Avoid Using Cordyceps?

Certain individuals should avoid using Cordyceps or consult with a healthcare provider before starting supplementation:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women (limited safety data)
  • People with autoimmune disorders like lupus or multiple sclerosis (Cordyceps may stimulate the immune system)
  • Individuals with bleeding disorders or taking blood thinners
  • Those scheduled for surgery (Cordyceps may increase bleeding risk)

What Are the Best Ways to Use Cordyceps for Cognitive Enhancement?

The best ways to use Cordyceps for cognitive enhancement include:

  1. Taking standardized Cordyceps extracts in capsule or tablet form
  2. Consuming Cordyceps mushroom powder in smoothies, coffee, or tea
  3. Using Cordyceps tinctures or liquid extracts
  4. Incorporating Cordyceps into recipes like soups or stir-fries

Consistency is key when using Cordyceps for cognitive benefits.

It’s recommended to take Cordyceps daily for at least 4-6 weeks to notice improvements in energy, focus, and memory.

The recommended dose of Cordyceps varies depending on the form and concentration of the supplement.

The following doses are considered safe and effective:

Cordyceps extract capsules1000-3000 mg per dayDivided into two or three doses
Cordyceps mushroom powder1-3 grams per dayMixed into beverages or food
Cordyceps tinctures or liquid extracts30-60 dropsTwo to three times per day

It’s best to start with a lower dose and gradually increase it as tolerated.

Follow the instructions on the product label and consult with a healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

How Do You Find the Best Cordyceps Products?

To find the best Cordyceps products, look for the following:

  1. Standardized extracts with at least 20% cordycepic acid content
  2. Organic or wild-crafted Cordyceps sourced from reputable suppliers
  3. Third-party tested for purity and potency
  4. Free from additives, fillers, and contaminants
  5. Manufactured by a trusted brand with good reviews and transparency

Remember to do your research and choose a nootropic that aligns with your specific needs and preferences.

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Tuli, Hardeep S et al. “Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin.” 3 Biotech vol. 4,1 (2014): 1-12. doi:10.1007/s13205-013-0121-9
  2. Hirsch, Katie R et al. “Cordyceps militaris Improves Tolerance to High-Intensity Exercise After Acute and Chronic Supplementation.” Journal of dietary supplements vol. 14,1 (2017): 42-53. doi:10.1080/19390211.2016.1203386
  3. Lee, Sang-Hak et al. “Aqueous extract of Cordyceps alleviates cerebral ischemia-induced short-term memory impairment in gerbils.” Journal of exercise rehabilitation vol. 12,2 69-78. 26 Apr. 2016, doi:10.12965/jer.1632586.293
  4. Sharma, Himadri et al. “Unique Bioactives from Zombie Fungus (Cordyceps) as Promising Multitargeted Neuroprotective Agents.” Nutrients vol. 16,1 102. 27 Dec. 2023, doi:10.3390/nu16010102

Jacob Kovacs is a cognitive neuroscientist and author at WholisticResearch, specializing in nootropics and neuroactive peptides. His expertise in neuroscience and psychopharmacology bridges cognitive science with drug development. Kovacs’ work focuses on enhancing cognitive functions and brain health through innovative, efficient neuroactive compounds that overcome traditional pharmacokinetic challenges. His contributions are pivotal in advancing the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases.