Olympians Accused of Using Performance-Enhancing Drugs

March 3, 2024 | Dr. Silvana Jakupovic, ND

The use of Cordyceps for fitness is not a new concept. In 1993, the world of athletics was abuzz with allegations against Chinese athletes, who were accused of using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. These allegations surfaced after Chinese athletes performed exceptionally, breaking multiple records, particularly in distance running. The spotlight fell on Ma Junren, the coach of these athletes, whose training methods and the sudden improvement of his athletes were met with skepticism and suspicion from the international sports community.

However, it was later revealed that the secret behind the athletes' improved performances was not illegal drugs but a traditional Chinese herbal supplement containing Cordyceps. These athletes used cordyceps, a fungus known for its medicinal properties in traditional Chinese medicine, as part of their dietary regime. This discovery shifted the narrative from cheating to discussing the boundaries of natural supplements in sports.

Cordyceps, also known as Cordyceps sinensis or militaris, is believed to boost energy, endurance, and overall vitality. In Chinese medicine, it's often used to treat fatigue and respiratory diseases. Its use by the Chinese athletes brought it to the forefront as a natural supplement that could significantly enhance athletic performance.

The Chinese athletes' use of Cordyceps sparked a broader interest in traditional Chinese medicine mushrooms and their potential applications in modern sports. It led to increased research on Cordyceps and its effects, with some studies suggesting it could improve exercise performance and help with recovery.

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What are the Known Medical Cordyceps Benefits?

Cordyceps adaptogenic mushrooms are celebrated for their extensive health benefits, making them a prime supplement choice for athletes aiming to boost their physical capabilities and overall well-being. Key benefits of these energy-boosting mushrooms include enhanced immune function, a boost in energy and stamina, diminished inflammation, and improved heart health. 

These mushrooms are rich in adaptogenic substances, aiding the body in coping with both physical and mental stressors. They also possess anti-inflammatory qualities, crucial in mitigating inflammation and accelerating recovery from muscle damage caused by exercise. Furthermore, Cordyceps are known to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and support cardiovascular health by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Athletes incorporating Cordyceps into their regimen can expect a range of positive effects from its usage.

The Cordyceps Benefits for Athletes: Natural Energy Supplements

1) Cordyceps for Endurance and Athletic Performance

Cordyceps, a natural performance enhancer, has long demonstrated its capability to elevate athletic performance. This is achieved by enhancing blood flow, optimizing oxygen use by the body, and serving as a Cordyceps antioxidant [1]. Research focusing on Cordyceps revealed its potential to boost endurance in animals by activating key metabolic regulators in muscles, genes promoting endurance, and antioxidant genes [2]. Additionally, Cordyceps enhances angiogenesis and improves glucose and lactate uptake in muscles during and outside exercise sessions [2].

2) Combating Fatigue and Boosting Energy Levels

Further studies indicate Cordyceps' effectiveness in extending endurance and reducing fatigue during physical activities [3]. In one study, mice receiving Cordyceps treatment showcased significantly longer swimming durations than control groups, suggesting enhanced stamina [3]. This study also analyzed fatigue-related biochemical markers, discovering that Cordyceps reduced serum lactic acid levels, urea nitrogen, creatine kinase, and various enzymes while increasing liver and muscle glycogen stores and concentrations of powerful antioxidants [3]. These findings suggest that Cordyceps could be a potent anti-fatigue agent.

3) Boosting VO2 Max and Oxygen Uptake: Cordyceps and Respiratory Health

Research involving 28 participants who took a mushroom blend with Cordyceps revealed notable improvements in maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max), endurance, and ventilatory thresholds after three weeks [1]. The supplement enabled a higher availability of oxygen during physical exertion and increased the ventilatory threshold – the point during exercise at which lactate starts to build up in the blood, allowing for enhanced oxygen intake.

4) Enhancing ATP Production

Clinical studies indicate that Cordyceps enhances energy production pathways in the body, increasing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy carrier in cells [1]. Moreover, its antioxidant properties contribute to improved cellular and mitochondrial antioxidant status, further boosting the capacity for ATP generation [4].

5) Reducing Muscle Damage and Aiding Recovery

Cordyceps' role in improving oxygen use and blood circulation can lead to more efficient lactate clearance, potentially delaying muscle fatigue and soreness [1]. Blood lactate concentration is often used to indicate muscle damage following exercise, suggesting that Cordyceps may aid quicker recovery and reduce muscle damage [5].

6) Cordyceps and Immunity: Cordyceps and Inflammation

Cordyceps mushroom extracts have shown efficacy in reducing inflammation via multiple pathways. One key mechanism involves suppressing inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) expression, which is typically elevated in inflammatory diseases and can lead to cell damage [6]. Cordyceps reduces iNOS expression, thereby lowering inflammation levels. It also decreases pro-inflammatory markers while increasing anti-inflammatory ones.

Research also suggests that Cordyceps can activate the immune system. A study demonstrated that the oral intake of Cordyceps fruiting body extract boosts IFN-y secretion by macrophages through IL-18, indicating potential use as an immune stimulant or anti-tumour agent [6].

7) Cordyceps for Lung Health 

Cordyceps may offer significant benefits for lung function and respiratory health. Studies have investigated the use of Cordyceps for COPD and Cordyceps for asthma. A comprehensive review and meta-analysis on the impact of Cordyceps on patients with stable COPD suggested promising treatment possibilities. 

Analyzing 15 studies with 1,238 patients, researchers found that Cordyceps could improve lung function, exercise capacity, quality of life, and symptoms in stable COPD patients [7]. These benefits likely stem from Cordyceps' ability to prevent the thickening and remodelling of airway walls and reduce inflammatory cell accumulation and production [8]. The study also found that Cordyceps could rebalance disturbed intracellular feedback mechanisms in COPD involving SMAD, essential transcription factors in COPD [8,9].

A separate study focusing on individuals with moderate-to-severe asthma compared Cordyceps supplementation over three months to a placebo. While participants continued using their regular inhalers and medications, adding Cordyceps enhanced their quality of life, as measured by the Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ) [10]. After three months, participants showed significant improvements in AQLQ scores, asthma symptoms, and overall lung function. Additionally, inflammatory markers in the serum significantly decreased, and IgG levels, which combat bacterial and viral infections, increased compared to the control group.

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Where to Buy Cordyceps Mushroom Supplements?

Numerous athletes have praised the effectiveness of Eversio Wellness' Cordyceps athletic supplements, such as the two Rugby players below: 

"As a professional athlete, using natural products is paramount, and Energize Now is a game changer. Warrior gave me actual sustained energy throughout the day unlike a pre-workout or energy drink would! I’m grateful Eversio Ambassador Stacy Paetz chose me to try this product and I will be keeping this in my routine."

Conner Mooneyham, the first ever #1 Major League Rugby collegiate draft selection

"Sustainable Energy without the Jitters! I am a coffee every morning athlete. Since taking a “non-addictive” approach with Eversio Wellness Cordyceps I have been less reliant on that boost in the morning. It feels like a more sustainable energy without any noticeable jitter or heart race like I may at times get from a strong espresso. In a pill form, it became a simple substitute in my daily routine. As an international athlete, supplementation is risky due to the strict guidelines for substance abuse, however, the Energize Now Cordyceps is natural mushroom extract and is not a cause for concern for world class competing athletes. I recommend this to anyone who is trying to keep that consistent energy and enthusiasm in their day."

Nate Augspurger, Team USA Rugby

When shopping for medicinal mushroom supplements, like Cordyceps capsules or Cordyceps powder, it's crucial to understand the ingredients. Terms like full spectrummycelial biomass, or extracellular compoundson labels indicate that the product includes grain substrate, primordia, and fruiting body, but often not in extract form. While full spectrum is sometimes marketed as beneficial, these products may require higher dosages to match the efficacy of 100% fruiting body extracts.

Eversio Wellness offers holistic health supplements made exclusively from 100% fruiting body mushroom extracts. They ensure consumer transparency by providing Certificates of Analysis (COAs) for each product. These COAs confirm the presence of beneficial compounds and check for heavy metals and microbes, ensuring product safety. Eversio Wellness also ensures vegan mushroom supplements as the capsule casings are made from organic plant-based materials.

In today’s digital world, there’s no better time to buy mushrooms online! If you're interested in exploring the health benefits of mushroom extract supplements, consider Eversio Wellness' organic Cordyceps supplements.

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[1] Hirsch KR, Smith-Ryan AE, Roelofs EJ, Trexler ET, Mock MG. Cordyceps militaris Improves Tolerance to High-Intensity Exercise After Acute and Chronic Supplementation. J Diet Suppl. 2017 Jan 2;14(1):42-53. doi: 10.1080/19390211.2016.1203386. Epub 2016 Jul 13. PMID: 27408987; PMCID: PMC5236007.

[2] Kumar R, Negi PS, Singh B, Ilavazhagan G, Bhargava K, Sethy NK. Cordyceps sinensis promotes exercise endurance capacity of rats by activating skeletal muscle metabolic regulators.J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Jun 14;136(1):260-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.04.040. Epub 2011 Apr 28. PMID: 21549819.

[3] Xu YF. Effect of Polysaccharide from Cordyceps militaris (Ascomycetes) on Physical Fatigue Induced by Forced Swimming. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2016;18(12):1083-1092. doi: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v18.i12.30. PMID: 28094746.

[4] Ko KM, Leung HY. Enhancement of ATP generation capacity, antioxidant activity and immunomodulatory activities by Chinese Yang and Yin tonifying herbs. Chin Med. 2007 Mar 27;2:3. doi: 10.1186/1749-8546-2-3. PMID: 17386115; PMCID: PMC1847515.

[5] Manojlović V, Erčulj F. Using blood lactate concentration to predict muscle damage and jump performance response to maximal stretch-shortening cycle exercise. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2019 Apr;59(4):581-586. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.18.08346-9. Epub 2018 Apr 4. PMID: 29619805.

[6] Lee CT, Huang KS, Shaw JF, Chen JR, Kuo WS, Shen G, Grumezescu AM, Holban AM, Wang YT, Wang JS, Hsiang YP, Lin YM, Hsu HH, Yang CH. Trends in the Immunomodulatory Effects of Cordyceps militaris: Total Extracts, Polysaccharides and Cordycepin. Front Pharmacol. 2020 Nov 30;11:575704. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.575704. PMID: 33328984; PMCID: PMC7735063. 

[7] Yu X, Mao Y, Shergis JL, Coyle ME, Wu L, Chen Y, Zhang AL, Lin L, Xue CC, Xu Y. Effectiveness and Safety of Oral Cordyceps sinensis on Stable COPD of GOLD Stages 2-3: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019 Apr 3;2019:4903671. doi: 10.1155/2019/4903671. PMID: 31073318; PMCID: PMC6470429.

[8] Yang L, Jiao X, Wu J, Zhao J, Liu T, Xu J, Ma X, Cao L, Liu L, Liu Y, Chi J, Zou M, Li S, Xu J, Dong L. Cordyceps sinensis inhibits airway remodeling in rats with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Exp Ther Med. 2018 Mar;15(3):2731-2738. doi: 10.3892/etm.2018.5777. Epub 2018 Jan 19. PMID: 29456676; PMCID: PMC5795554.

[9] Springer J, Scholz FR, Peiser C, Groneberg DA, Fischer A. SMAD-signaling in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: transcriptional down-regulation of inhibitory SMAD 6 and 7 by cigarette smoke. Biol Chem. 2004 Jul;385(7):649-53. doi: 10.1515/BC.2004.080. PMID: 15318814.

 [10] Wang N, Li J, Huang X, Chen W, Chen Y. Herbal Medicine Cordyceps sinensis Improves Health-Related Quality of Life in Moderate-to-Severe Asthma. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:6134593. doi: 10.1155/2016/6134593. Epub 2016 Dec 5. PMID: 28050193; PMCID: PMC5165155.

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