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Cordyceps Sinensis Mushroom = $20,000/kg

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Zombie Mushroom or Cancer Killer?

Insect with cordyceps fungus growing out of head.
A caterpillar with Cordyceps growing out of it's head.

Mysteries of Cordyceps Sinensis Mushroom

A mushroom that's as intriguing as it is beneficial. This unique fungus, also known as the "caterpillar fungus," or on a popular TV show as the “zombie fungus”, has been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. It's found in the lofty heights of the Himalayas, with Tibet and Nepal being its primary habitats.

But how come this mushroom carries a whopping price tag of $20,000 per kilogram? The answer lies in its rarity and the intricate process involved in its collection.

Cordyceps Sinensis has a parasitic relationship with insect larvae, especially caterpillars. The spores of the fungus invade the caterpillar, consume it from the inside, and eventually sprout a long, slender fruiting body. This entire process unfolds during the harsh winter months, hidden beneath layers of snow.

As spring arrives and the snow melts away, the mushroom reveals itself. Harvesters then have the painstaking task of handpicking these mushrooms, a process that is both labor-intensive and time-consuming. This combination of rarity, unique growth process, and laborious harvesting contributes to the mushroom's high cost.

It's worth mentioning that there are different varieties of this mushroom, with Cordyceps Militaris being another common one. While both Sinensis and Militaris are part of the Cordyceps family, they differ in several ways. Sinensis is wild and grows in high-altitude regions, while Militaris can be cultivated, making it more accessible and affordable. Both types contain beneficial compounds, but the concentration may vary, with Militaris often having up to 90 times higher concentration of the beneficial compound cordycepin.

Zombie Ants... What About Humans?

Schematic diagram illustrating the digestive tract (a), host larva (b), Cordyceps sinensis (c), and the inner structure of Cordyceps sinensis (d).
Schematic diagram illustrating the digestive tract (a), host larva (b), Cordyceps sinensis (c), and the inner structure of Cordyceps sinensis (d).

The Cordyceps Sinensis mushroom has a fascinating and somewhat gruesome life cycle. In one species of Cordyceps, it is known for it's ability to infect ants and turn them into what scientists call "zombie ants."

The spores of the fungus enter the body of the ant and take over its brain, causing it to climb to a high point and latch onto a leaf or twig before it dies. The fungus then grows out of the ant's body, releasing more spores to infect other ants. This unique process is critical to controlling insect populations, keeping the ecosystem in balance.

However, before you start worrying about a zombie apocalypse, rest assured that humans are not susceptible to this mind-controlling effect.

There are over 600 worldwide species of cordyceps that are each specific to a species of insect (like the diagram above showing an infected caterpillar). This means it only affects certain species, not including humans or other animals. Eating Cordyceps Sinensis mushrooms or supplements made from them is perfectly safe and will not turn you into a zombie. But it may put a dent in your wallet.

Cordyceps Sinensis Mushroom: A Cure in the Forest?

The Cordyceps Sinensis mushroom is not just a fascinating organism; it also holds potential medicinal properties. One of the key compounds found in this mushroom is Cordycepin, which has been the subject of numerous scientific studies for its potential anticancer properties (see resources below).

In multiple studies published on PubMed over the last several years, researchers found that Cordycepin inhibited the growth of testicular cancer cells and induced apoptosis.

This apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a normal process that occurs in our bodies to get rid of old, damaged, or unnecessary cells. However, in cancer cells, this process is often disrupted, allowing our cells to grow and divide uncontrollably. By inducing apoptosis, the Cordycepin compound found in Cordyceps has been shown to stop the growth of cancer cells and even shrink tumors.

Breakthrough in cancer research with 3 deoxyadenosine also knows as ATP also known as Cordycepin.

The University of Oxford and biopharmaceutical company NuCana developed a chemotherapy drug called NUC-7738, which is derived from Cordycepin but has up to 40 times greater potency for killing cancer cells. In a 2021 phase-1 clinical study with humans, they tested the drug in patients with advanced solid tumors that were resistant to conventional treatment. Early results from the trial showed promising signs of anti-cancer activity and were well tolerated by patients. More research is needed in a Phase 2 clinical trial to determine the true effectiveness of this incredible compound.

Testicular Cancer: The Serendipitous Odd Ball

Prior to my diagnosis, I had already started developing energy bars infused with Cordyceps. Back then, my purpose was to enhance my endurance and stamina on longer adventures. But shortly after starting chemotherapy, I stumbled upon these studies about Cordyceps and testicular cancer. Even though the specific type of testicular cancer discussed in the studies was different from my own, the connection was too serendipitous to ignore.

This discovery forced me to re-consider the purpose of Odd Balls. It was no longer just about increasing performance in the backcountry; it transformed into sharing a potential lifeline, a way to move forward after a diagnosis or even a serious injury. A way to give back to a community I inadvertently became apart of.

Climber on top of a snowcapped mountain.
This is not me yet, but I plan to get here.

I plan to increase my performance to levels I've never before achieved. It's not just about "getting back to where I was". The reality is that there is no going back. I've changed. That's final.

But I can and I will be stronger than I was before. I can and I will be healthier than I was before. Like the name of this blog, "Oddly Healthy", I aim to push my body and my mind to limits beyond B.C. (Before Cancer) Jon and I strongly believe Cordyceps can help bring that change.

Oddly, We Aim to Kick TC in the Balls.

While Cordyceps Sinensis is too expensive to use in our Odd Balls, we do still extract and incorporate the cordycepin compound found in Cordyceps Militaris mushrooms into our Odd Balls. These mushrooms are still costly (not $20,000/kg thankfully), and do offer the same potential health benefits, including increased energy and stamina, and a promising likelihood of disease-fighting properties.

Testicular Cancer kicked us hard in the balls. Now, it's our turn to kick back.

Incorporating Cordyceps into your diet has shown a strong likelihood to help prevent cancer cell proliferation. I'm using it to help enhance my performance during my outdoor pursuits, and to be purposeful with my long-term health. I believe that all cancer patients should consider doing the same.

This is not medical advice, this is just real talk, or shooting the shi*, or waiting room convo, from one cancer patient to another. Introducing mushrooms into your diet is about promoting a healthier, more resilient lifestyle, especially for those who have faced the challenge of cancer, or other chronic illnesses, or even long-term injuries. These little fungi are a tool to not only reclaim our past performance, but enhance it.

Why Not Go Full Zombie?

In conclusion, taking Cordyceps won't hurt. At the very least, you'll go full zombie, which means your dead and therefore can't "die" again, and you'll likely have sustained energy, walking forever with your arms out, even if you don't move very fast 😉.

Cartoon zombie wearing a mask.

But on a more serious note, the potential health benefits of Cordyceps, particularly its anti-cancer properties shown in these recent clinical studies, make it a worthwhile addition to your diet. So why not give it a try? You won't become a zombie, but you could potentially boost your biological time clock and enhance your own performance.

Did we mention it can also increase your libido? If that's your kind of thing, we'll talk about it in a separate blog post...