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Cordyceps. Mushroom. Help or Hype?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

We’ve fielded inquiries recently about supplement products containing Cordyceps Sinensis, a fungus originally used in Chinese medicine touted for its ability to increase endurance performance. Besides looking like something that should have a starring role in a Ridley Scott movie, we didn’t know too much about it.

After being linked to some of the marketing copy for these various products, we wanted to take a more in-depth look to see if this fungi had any merit.

Right off the bat, we had recently read this article by the venerable Alan Aragon where Cordyceps was discussed (click image for article):

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Reading that wasn’t exactly confidence inspiring, and we decided to go deeper (cue Inception joke) and crawl Pubmed to see what else was out there. We were specifically looking for human studies related to exercise performance.

A single study showing benefit, another showing no benefit, and a review of the research by the JISSN that was far from an endorsement. Not too promising. What’s interesting is when we go to the product websites selling Cordyceps, the marketing copy sounds convincing.

What gives?

Let’s take a look at what we ran across:

 

If you take a close look at the website copy and then the references provided you’ll see a couple things.

  • The narrative for the first study says “In a double-blind study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise…..” Fact checking this against the reference provided shows that this isn’t the case. A list of articles published in the journal related to Cordyceps can be found here.
  • As far as we can tell, the first study quoted was never published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is not indexed on PubMed, and the study itself was funded by Pharmanex, a multi-level marketing company.

  • While the funding source raises some eyebrows and takes away some unbiased aspects of the study, it’s not necessarily an indicator the study is flawed. The problem is, we weren’t able to find additional details of the study in order to examine its design, other than this infographic.
  • The narrative for the second study quoted says “In another study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition…..” We were not able to find the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and it appears the study was published in a different journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Without being able to read the abstract, we decided to see what other research was available before purchasing the article.

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Another common claim is that Cordyceps works well with Rhodiola. A PubMed crawl of peer-reviewed research found two relevant studies. Both showed no significant benefit of using Cordyceps or Rhodiola together.

 

On the flip side, here’s the marketing copy from a website selling Cordyceps:

Prevention Magazine. Although we couldn’t find the magazine article, it appears the study they reference is the same exact one as funded by Pharmanex discussed earlier. So the same study is referenced multiple times in different places to make consumers think the body of research supporting the ingredient is bigger than it is.

In conclusion, the evidence basis for Cordyceps appears weak. The issue with many esoteric ingredients is that the research IS limited, allowing companies to make bold claims or twist information around for their own gain. In this case, the ratio of research showing positive benefit to that showing no benefit make a case to label this supplement hype.

As always, if you’re considering taking this supplement you shouldn’t take our word for it. Look into the research for yourself and use a detailed/critical eye when examining the references and claims used.

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Summary:

  • Limited evidence basis to support use of Cordyceps as ergogenic aid.
  • Spend your money elsewhere. If you’re an endurance athlete, chocolate milk and pasta would be a good start.

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If you have comments, questions, or information that contradicts what we have posted, please email info@citadelnutrition.com or visit our Facebook page and leave a comment.

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