In essence energy arrives from the Sun, but humans are unable to convert it directly to run metabolic processes. Therefore, we depend on photosynthesis to convert solar energy into chemical storage (in the form of carbohydrate). Through catabolic metabolism, carbohydrate is converted into the energy currency of ATP, it is the principal carrier of energy for all forms of life. ATP is estimated to provide 95% for all cellular energy throughout the body. It becomes immediately apparent that ATP must be constantly and effectively synthesized to provide a continuous supply of energy. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that when an interruption of the energy producing substances (such as oxygen or blood carrying nutrients) occurs, (such as a heart attack or stroke) that as the production of ATP is effected a cascade of free-radical damage begins.Recent research indicates that it may be an ATP-imbalance, that leads to increased neuronal cell death.
Scientists are increasingly accepting our theory that aging begins in mitochondria cells that make life energy (ATP). No wonder that Cordyceps suddenly became world famous when in 1993 at the Chinese National Games, 9 world records were broken. It has, among other things, an extraordinary ability to increase ATP (30%) and oxygen usage (40%).
Today in the West Cordyceps is most widely used by two groups of people: Athletes and the elderly. The use of Cordyceps by athletes stem from the publicity surrounding the remarkable performance exhibited by the Chinese Women’s Track and Field team at the Chinese National games in 1993. In that competition, 9 worlds records were broken, and not just by a little bit, but by startling amounts! At first the governing sports authorities suspected that some performance-enhancing drug had been used. But it was freely admitted by the team’s coach that the secret to their success was in the Cordyceps he had been giving the team! Recent research has confirmed that Cordyceps usage increase both the cellular ATP level (Guowei, 2001) and the oxygen utilization (Jia-Shi Zhu, 2004). ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) is the molecule that actually releases energy in the cell. We talk about consuming fats, and proteins and starches to gain energy, but what it all boils down to at the cellular level is ATP. ATP releases energy in the cell by losing a phosphate and converting from a three-phosphate form of adenosine to a two-phosphate form, called ADP (adenosine di-phosphate). When the ATP loses a phosphate, the breaking of that bond releases energy that is then available for the cell to use. An increase in cellular ATP means a real increase in actual energy, energy that is available for use. This contrasts to the perceived increase in energy such as that which occurs from the use of CNS stimulants such as caffeine, ephedrine and the amphetamines. While some drugs such as amphetamines may make the patient feel like they have more energy, they actually don’t. That is a CNS effect rather than a cellular effect, and it results ultimately in an energy deficiency. That is why amphetamines lead to weight loss. The brain thinks there is plenty of energy to burn and keeps going. But of course with no actual extra energy available for the moment-by-moment needs of the cell, the body is forced to draw on its reserves, the fat stores. With Cordyceps use the double effect of increased ATP and better oxygen utilization go hand-in-hand; more fuel to burn and more oxygen to burn it with. This is why athletes gain extra energy with Cordyceps and soldiers use it for the lessening of fatigue. It has also found favor with the elderly for much the same thing; extra energy and easier breathing.
An interesting note is that the energy and performance increases seen with Cordyceps may be more profound in people that are less than optimally fit verses the highly trained athlete. In one recent study, Cordyceps was tested in highly trained professional athletes and, contrary to most of the other studies that have been done on the performance of non-professional athletes, it was shown to have no appreciable effect in increasing performance. Perhaps these subjects were already optimally fit, and an increase in available ATP or oxygen utilization was of no significant physiological value to them. (Parcell et al 2004)
For the rest of us though, it seems that Cordyceps could supply that bit of extra energy we need to get through our day-to-day hectic lifestyle. Perhaps we should consider Cordyceps to be the ancient herbal treatment for the stresses of modern life.
Of all the effects that Cordyceps is noted for, perhaps the one that is best known is the relief of fatigue.
There is an ancient legend told in the Himalayas, relating the way Cordyceps was originally found; it was from a time long ago, when the tribes people of Tibet and Nepal took their animals into the high mountain pastures for springtime grazing. There they would see goats and yaks grazing on some sort of a small, brown grass-like mushroom, growing from the head of a caterpillar. After eating this strange looking creature, the animals would become frisky and start chasing the other goats and yaks around with lustful intent. I guess this added vigor must have looked like a pretty good thing to those tribes’ people, so they started collecting these small mushrooms and eating them as well. They got frisky as well, and even a bit lustful.
Today, those people that live in the high mountains consume Cordyceps on a regular basis. It gives them energy, and offsets the symptoms of altitude sickness. With Cordyceps at their disposal, they are able to trek higher into the mountains and stay there for longer periods of time. We now know the reason for this energy boosting effect to be this increase of cellular ATP as mentioned earlier. In addition, the increased oxygen availability facilitated from taking Cordyceps would also assist in these high altitude jaunts.
Cordyceps is in regular used today by most high altitude mountain climbers, and it is doubtful if Mount Everest would get nearly so many visitors if it were not for the remarkable fatigue reducing effectiveness of Cordyceps.
In a placebo-controlled clinical study of elderly patients with chronic fatigue, results showed that most treated with Cordyceps sinensis reported significant clinical improvement in the areas of fatigue, cold intolerance, dizziness, frequent nocturia, tinnitus, hyposexuality, and amnesia, while no improvement was reported in the placebo group. (Cao and Wen, 1993; Zhang et al., 1995)
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