Common Names

  • Vegetable caterpillar
  • Chinese caterpillar fungus
  • dong chong xia cao
  • semitake
  • hsia ts'ao tung ch'ung
  • yarsha gumba

For Patients & Caregivers

Cordyceps has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.

Cordyceps, used in traditional Chinese medicine, contains a fungus that grows on caterpillar larvae; both are contained in the product and both are consumed. Cordyceps has not been studied extensively in the laboratory, but existing studies show that cordyceps stimulates many different immune cells when directly applied to them in a test tube. It is not known if cordyceps stimulates the immune system in humans. Other experiments in animals suggest that cordyceps can stimulate progesterone production and reduce kidney toxicity from harsh medications, but scientists are not sure how cordyceps exerts these effects or if they will occur in humans. Studies in kidney transplant patients suggest cordyceps can help improve kidney function.

Cordyceps has “blood thinning” property. It may also reduce blood sugar level.

  • To lower high cholesterol
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To stimulate the immune system
    Laboratory studies show that cordyceps stimulates several aspects of the immune system, but it is not known whether this effect occurs in the human body.
  • To treat kidney failure
    A few studies show that cordyceps may help improve renal function.
  • You have a myelogenous type cancer such as AML or CML (Cordyceps has been shown to increase proliferation of red blood cell precursor cells. These cells arise from the same lineage as the cells that cause myelogenous cancers).
  • You take insulin or other blood-glucose lowering medications (Cordyceps may have an additive hypoglycemic effect; blood glucose should be monitored).
  • You take a drug that has “blood thinning” activity (Cordyceps may increase the risk of bleeding)
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For Healthcare Professionals

Ophiocordyceps sinensis (renamed 2007), Cordyceps sinensis, Sphaeria sinensis

Cordyceps includes the fungus that grows on the larvae of the caterpillar Hepialus armoricanus Oberthuer. Both are contained in the product and both are consumed. Cordyceps is used for a wide range of conditions including fatigue, sexual dysfunction, coughs, and as an adaptogen or immune stimulant. In vitro and animal studies show antitumor (10) (11) (14), radioprotective (12), antiplatelet (19) and antidiabetic effects (15) (16). In addition, cordyceps enhances recovery of mice with taxol-induced leukopenia (13) and increases the cytotoxicity of cisplatin in non-small cell lung cancer cells (17).

Cordyceps products improved renal function and reduced nephropathy in renal transplant patients (18) (21) (23). However, studies on exercise performance in healthy subjects yielded mixed results (22) (24)
Cordyceps may increase the adverse effects of antidiabetic drugs and anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs. Animal studies showed proliferation of progenitor red blood cells with cordyceps (8). Therefore, it should not be used by those with myelogenous type cancers.

Cordyceps also stimulated testosterone production in mice (9). Whether it exerts similar effects in humans is not known.

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Nephropathy
  • Diabetes
  • Immunostimulation
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Strength and stamina

Cordyceps stimulates the number of T helper cells, prolongs the survival of lymphocytes, enhances TNF-alpha and interleukin 1 production, and increases the activity of natural killer cells in cultured rat Kupffer cells (3). Enhanced proliferation of erythroid progenitor cell in the bone marrow of mice is also shown (8). One study suggests that cordyceps can stimulate progesterone production in animal cells (5). Another study shows that cordyceps may be effective against tumor celIs by down-regulating MHC class II antigen expression (7). In addition, anecdotal data suggest reduction of cyclosporin and aminoglycoside-induced renal toxicity, although the mechanism of action is not known (4). Cordycepin, an active constituent in cordyceps, inhibits collagen-induced platelet aggregation by lowering calcium ion and thromboxane A2 activities (19).

Hypoglycemics / Insulin: Cordyceps may have additive hypoglycemic effect (16) (17).
Anticoagulants / Antiplatelets: Cordyceps inhibits platelet aggregation and may increase the effects of these drugs (19).

  1. Huang KC. The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs, 2nd ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 1999.

  2. Zhu JS, Halpern GM, Jones K. The scientific rediscovery of a precious ancient Chinese herbal regime: Cordyceps sinensis, Part I. J Altern Complement Med 1998;4:289-303.

  3. Zhu JS, Halpern GM, Jones K. The scientific rediscovery of a precious ancient Chinese herbal regime: Cordyceps sinensis, Part II. J Altern Complement Med 1998;4:429-57.

  4. Li, Y. et. al. Effect of Cordyceps sinensis on erythropoiesis in mouse bone marrow. Chin Med J (Engl). 1993 Apr;106(4):313-6.

  5. Wu WC, Hsiao JR, Lian YY, et al. The apoptotic effect of cordycepin on human OEC-M1 oral cancer cell line. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2007 Jun;60(1):103-11.

  6. Liu WC, Chuang WL, Tsai ML, et al. Cordyceps sinensis health supplement enhances recovery from taxol-induced leukopenia. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2008 Apr;233(4):447-55.

  7. Kubo E, Yoshikawa N, Kunitomo M, et al. Inhibitory effect of Cordyceps sinensis on experimental hepatic metastasis of melanoma by suppressing tumor cell invasion. Anticancer Res. 2010 Sep;30(9):3429-33.

  8. Zhang Z, Wang X, Zhang Y, Ye G. Effect of Cordyceps sinensis on Renal Function of Patients with Chronic Allograft Nephropathy. Urol Int. 2011;86(3):298-301.

  9. Ding C, Tian PX, Xue W, et al. Efficacy of Cordyceps sinensis in long term treatment of renal transplant patients. Front Biosci (Elite Ed). 2011 Jan 1;3:301-7.

  10. Li Y, Xue WJ, Tian PX, et al. Clinical application of Cordyceps sinensis on immunosuppressive therapy in renal transplantation. Transplant Proc. 2009 Jun;41(5):1565-9.

  11. Parcell AC, Smith JM, Schulthies SS, et al. Cordyceps Sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) supplementation does not improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Apr;14(2):236-42.

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