Cordyceps Mushroom Supplement Types
What Are Cordyceps: Spores, Sinensis Vs. Militaris – What’s Really In Your Supplements?
Cordyceps is a parasitic fungus that includes over 400 different species which are found all over the world in countries like China, Japan, India, USA, Australia, Peru, Bolivia, and many more.
They typically infect other insects and arthropods with each species of Cordyceps infecting a very specific bug.
The lifecycle begins with Cordyceps spores landing on the insect and then the spore will germinate and small thread-like filaments called hyphae will begin to grow inside the insect and turn into mycelium. The mycelium will continue to consume the insect from the inside and when the insect is fully consumed and the environmental conditions are correct, a blade-like mushroom (fruiting body) will be produced from the insect’s head. The mushroom will then release spores and the lifecycle will start over.
Wild Cordyceps Sinensis (Ophiocordyceps Sinensis) – The Caterpillar fungus
Wild Cordyceps Sinensis. The caterpillar is below ground while the mushroom is above ground. ©Nammex
The most well-known species of Cordyceps is Cordyceps Sinensis (now known officially as Ophiocordyceps sinenCordyceps Mushroom Supplement Types sis) which infects the caterpillar of the Hepialus moth. It is mainly found at high elevations in Tibet and the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai, and Gansu. It can also be found but is less abundant in India, Nepal, and Bhutan.
In Tibet, it is known as Yarsagumba or yartsa gunbu and in China, it is known as Dōnɡ Chónɡ Xià Cǎo (冬虫夏草) which translate to summer grass, winter worm.
Due to the rapid rise in price on this precious resource (more below), it has now been dubbed “Himalayan gold” or “Himalayan viagra”, becoming a significant contributor to household income in the harvesting regions. So much so that there have been disputes over-harvesting territory and outsiders have tried to push their way in. There are now harvesting permits being issued by the Chinese government and local landholders for access to the growing regions. For more on Cordyceps harvesting and the lifestyle in Tibet, see Daniel Winkler’s article in Fungi Magazine.
More recently, concerns over the sustainability of Cordyceps Sinensis have been raised due to over-harvesting, ecosystem degradation and climate change.12
Cordyceps and the Chinese Runners
This is an entire article in itself, but Cordyceps Sinensis was made famous back in 1993 at the Chinese national games in Beijing where multiple Chinese runners shattered track and field records.
Most notable was Wang Jungxia, who beat the 10,000m world record by 42 seconds. This record lasted 23 years.
3 days later, she came second to teammate Yunxia Qu in the 1500m. They both beat the current world record and Yunxia’s record stood for 22 years.
Then 2 days after that, Wang posted a world record in the 3000m. This record still stands today and 4 of the top 5 times in the 3000m come from Chinese athletes in these 1993 games.
Their coach, Ma Junren claimed their success due to a tonic of Cordyceps Sinensis and turtle blood.
This Olympic runner’s story is touted all around the internet to promote Cordyceps products, but what is typically left out is that many of Ma’s athletes later failed drug tests. Because of this, Junren Ma was eventually dropped as part of the Chinese Olympic team.
This era of sports in the 80s to mid-90s was rife with doping scandals and it begs the question, was their success really due to Cordyceps?
Why Cordyceps Sinensis Are NOT in Your Cordyceps Supplement
True, wild Cordyceps Sinensis (shown above) is not in 99.9% of Cordyceps supplements because of its exceptionally high price tag. In fact, wild Cordyceps Sinensis costs over $20,000 per kilogram, making it the most expensive mushroom in the world.
They are almost exclusively sold in Asia and rarely make it into the North American market.
The high price is due to the fact that for many years, the Chinese have been unable to cultivate this mushroom. This has fueled increased demand for a set supply of wild Cordyceps Sinensis. Only recently have the Chinese figured out how to cultivate this mushroom but it is not at a production scale yet to make an impact on the wild Cordyceps Sinensis prices.
Even though the majority of Cordyceps supplements do not contain the caterpillar fungus, this has not stopped many companies from using photos of this mushroom in their marketing materials and label information causing customers to believe they are consuming this mushroom. Sadly, they are not.
In the 1980s, when the wild Cordyceps Sinensis was gaining in popularity and the price tag kept climbing, scientists in China set out to cultivate this fungus. Many tried and many failed. Still to this day, there is no affordable cultivated version of this mushroom. What the scientists did end up with are Cordyceps anamorphs, mycelium cultures that are unable to produce a mushroom (fruiting body).
These anamorphs were grown in liquid fermentation to create mass amounts of pure mycelium.
This process is known as liquid culture mycelium or liquid fermentation and involves growing the mycelium in a liquid solution of nutrients which can then be removed, leaving you with pure mycelium.
These anamorphs were studied extensively and were found to produce similar results to the wild Cordyceps Sinensis.
This ended up turning into what is now known as Cordyceps Cs-4. After undergoing clinical trials in China, the Chinese government approved its use in TCM hospitals and it is now recognized as a safe natural product drug in China.
If a Cordyceps supplement is claiming to be Cordyceps Sinensis and it is made in China, it is almost certainly Cordyceps Cs-4.
Other Cs-4 products may also be labeled as Paecilomyces hepiali which is an anamorph form of Cordyceps Sinensis.
Do not confuse Cordyceps Cs-4 with Cordyceps myceliated grain (below) as these are very different products.
Due to the fact that it is not economical to grow mushrooms in North America for supplement use, if a Cordyceps product is grown in North America, it is almost certainly Cordyceps myceliated grain, recently referred to as MOG (Mycelium On Grain).
Myceliated grain can also go by mycelium on grain, mycelium biomass, or grain spawn.
Myceliated grain products will typically be labeled as Cordyceps Sinensis or Cordyceps militaris.
Instead of growing the mycelium in liquid like what is used for Cordyceps Cs-4, the mycelium is instead grown in a plastic bag containing sterilized grain. This can also be referred to as solid-state fermentation.
The issue here is that unlike being in liquid, the mycelium cannot be separated from the grain so the grain ends up in the final product.
It has been shown with myceliated grain products that the mycelium does not fully consume the grain so much of the final product is actually the grain the mycelium grows on. This is most apparent with Cordyceps as it is a slow-growing fungus.
From the table below you see that the high amount of alpha-glucans, which represent starch from the grain. Starch is an alpha-glucan. This confirms that the grain medium the Cordyceps mycelium grows on is not being fully consumed.
The high amount of grain translates into a low amount of mycelium and this is confirmed in the low beta-glucan numbers. This is why it is important to measure beta-glucans and not polysaccharides for medicinal mushroom products. These samples can tout high polysaccharide numbers (beta + alpha) but the majority of it comes from non-beneficial starches which are alpha-glucans.
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