Increase Immune Response with Cordyceps

Cordyceps has been used to boost and support energy for centuries. Himalayan Sherpas have used it to sustain energy as they endure the low-oxygen atmosphere at the higher altitudes. Traditional medicines have used it this way too, but discovered it also improves immune response making it a safe and natural way to maintain great health!

Cordyceps is an herb that it comes from a fungus native to the high altitudes of the Himalayas. It’s sometimes called the “caterpillar” fungus as it infects and then grows on specific types of caterpillars. The legend goes that people started using it centuries ago after observing its incredible invigorating effects on livestock.

What’s interesting about cordyceps is how it supports the immune system. It both enhances and inhibits immune response depending on the situation. This adaptive, modulating effect makes it effective at helping the immune system fight bacterial, fungal and viral infections while reducing the intensity of autoimmune responses.

So far, researchers have observed six ways cordyceps improves immune response.

Enhances the Innate Immune System

The innate immune system goes to work in response to wounds and injuries, or when it recognizes germs and attacks. The system involves cooperation between cells and immune cells. Basically, when non-immune cells call for help, the immune system cells get to work.

A lot of research done with animals has shown a variety of ways cordyceps aids the innate immune system to respond to bacteria, pathogens and tumors.[i]

More recently, two studies have tested the effects of cordyceps on people.

  • A 2014 Chinese study reported cordyceps decreased certain immune factors that drive inflammation. While inflammation is an important response of the innate immune system, the study found cordyceps helped to regulate it to improve recovery time.
  • In 2015, a Korean study examined the effect of a 1.5-gram daily dose of cordyceps on the innate immune response. Researchers divided healthy adult males into two groups – one got a placebo, the other the cordyceps. After four weeks, the cordyceps group showed “statistically significant” increases in natural killer cells which fuel response to infection from pathogens.

Improves the Effectiveness of Adaptive Immune Cells

The Korean study noted above also reported levels of Th1 cells of the adaptive immune system also increased. These results match in vitro and animal studies which have found cordyceps:

  • Regulates how the different cells of the adaptive immune work together
  • Boosts production of white blood cells
  • Reduces inflammatory molecule expression related to the adaptive immune response

These different effects combine to produce a more efficient response from the adaptive immune system. Additional research suggests the effect involves the immune system in the digestive tract as well.

Regulates and Supports Immune Response in the Gut

In the gut, cordyceps activates Peyer’s patches. These immune cells in the ileum section of the small intestine act as sensors to identify dangerous bacteria, trigger the immune response and help the immune system develop a response to pathogens. By stimulating activity in these patches, cordyceps has been shown to help collaborate response between both the innate and adaptive immune system in the gut.

With 80% of immune response taking place in the digestive tract, this suggests cordyceps helps to prompt the destruction of pathogens and limit infection before they become a problem.

Reduces Allergic and Autoimmune Reactions

Mast cells play a big role in allergic response. They release histamine and other inflammatory compounds which produce the physical response of swelling, mucus production and more. An active component in cordyceps, appropriately called cordycepin, has been found to regulate production of mast cells in some allergic reactions and autoimmune conditions, specifically those triggered by a specific immune cell called TSLP.

Provides Antioxidant Support

Researchers have identified that polysaccharides in cordyceps also act as antioxidants. Research so far has found this helps the immune system by protecting against the oxidative stress caused by toxins and pathogens.[viii]

Increases Oxygen

One of the ways cordyceps boosts energy is through improving oxygen access to cells. While oxygen is important to energy production, it’s also important to the immune system to neutralize and destroy infectious pathogens too.

As research continues, it’s likely more studies will find new ways cordyceps supports immune response in people. For now, the research shows cordyceps offers two benefits – energy and better health!

Lin B, Li S. Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 5. Available from:

Sun Y1, et al. Regulation of human cytokines by Cordyceps militaris. J Food Drug Anal. 2014 Dec;22(4):463-467. doi: 10.1016/j.jfda.2014.01.025. Epub 2014 Feb 28.

 Kang HJ1, et al. Cordyceps militaris Enhances Cell-Mediated Immunity in Healthy Korean Men. J Med Food. 2015 Oct;18(10):1164-72. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2014.3350. Epub 2015 Aug 18.

Lin B, Li S. Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 5. Available from:

Myoung MS1, et al. Cordycepin Suppresses Thymic Stromal Lymphopoietin Expression via Blocking Caspase-1 and Receptor-Interacting Protein 2 Signaling Pathways in Mast Cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 2016;39(1):90-6. doi: 10.1248/bpb.b15-00631.

Liu JY1, et al. Immunomodulatory and antioxidative activity of Cordycepsmilitaris polysaccharides in mice. Int J Biol Macromol. 2016 May;86:594-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2016.02.009. Epub 2016 Feb 4.

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