• Ingesting 1 g of Cordyceps sinensis before intense exercise speeds up the expansion of stem cells that regenerate muscle. 
  • Cordyceps sinensis also leads to an earlier resolution of muscle damage after exercise. 
  • Previous studies have shown that Cordyceps sinensis increases the lifespan of mice by 10%, raises NAD+ levels, and improves aerobic performance in humans.

As we age, maintaining muscle mass and strength becomes increasingly challenging. This condition, known as sarcopenia, involves the gradual loss of muscle tissue, leading to decreased mobility, strength, and overall quality of life. Increasingly, more experts are acknowledging the paramount role of muscle mass maintenance in driving longevity. 

One of the key factors in fighting muscle decline is ensuring effective muscle repair and regeneration after exercise. A new study suggests that C. sinensis, a fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine, might be the secret to speeding up muscle repair and growth while helping to counteract the muscle decline associated with aging.

C. Sinenis Boost Muscle Stem Cells 

Stem cells play a crucial role in maintaining and repairing muscle tissue. They respond to the micro-tears caused by intense exercise, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). However, with age, the efficiency of stem cell recruitment and function diminishes, contributing to slower recovery and muscle deterioration. Additionally, while never before observed in humans, bone stem cells can develop into muscle stem cells, suggesting bone-to-muscle development. 

With this in mind, researchers from the University of Taipei in Taiwan examined the effects of C. sinenis on post-exercise muscle recovery. For the study, sedentary young men (average age: 24) ingested either 1 g of C. sinensis or a placebo before undergoing HIIT. The HIIT protocol was done on a stationary bike, whereby participants pedaled with maximum intensity for 20 seconds followed by a 20-second rest interval for 15 sets. 

The researchers found that the participants who received C. sinenis showed a significant increase in bone-derived muscle stem cells 3 hours post-exercise. C. sinensis supplementation also led to an earlier resolution of muscle damage. However, there was no significant improvement in muscle regeneration, as measured by muscle fibers with central nuclei. 

(Dewi et al., 2024) Earlier Increase in Muscle Stem Cell Abundance. 3 hours (h) after exercise, bone-derived muscle stem cell abundance [CD34+/Pax7+ (% area)] was increased in the Cordyceps group but not the placebo group. After 24 h, bone-derived muscle stem cell abundance was increased in both groups relative to before exercise (baseline).

These findings provide the first human evidence that bone marrow stem cells develop into muscle stem cells after recovery. By converting into muscle stem cells, the bone marrow stem cells may add to the available pool of muscle stem cells, which are responsible for muscle regeneration. The results also show that pre-exercise C. sinensis supplementation triggers bone-to-muscle stem cell conversion at an earlier time point following exercise, suggesting expedited recovery from intense exercise. 

The Anti-Aging Effects of Cordyceps Sinensis

C. sinensis supplementation was previously shown to increase the lifespan of mice by about 10%, suggesting it could have anti-aging effects in humans. Indeed, a 6-week clinical trial showed that 3 g of C. sinensis increased VO2 max, a critical indicator of longevity, in older individuals. Similarly, a 12-week clinical trial showed that 2 g of C. sinensis lowered the resting heart rate and improved the aerobic performance of amateur marathon runners (average age: 37). Furthermore, topical application of a C. sinensis extract counteracted skin aging in a 28-day clinical trial. 

Interestingly, the latter study showed that C. sinensis extract boosts NAD+ levels in human skin cells. This finding begs the question of whether C. sinensis raises NAD+ levels in other cells if taken orally. If so, the anti-aging effects of C. sinensis could be partially explained by its effects on elevating NAD+. Additionally, C. sinensis has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in preclinical studies, which likely also contributes to its anti-aging effects. 

Overall, C. sinensis supplementation appears to improve aerobic performance, but more studies are needed to confirm its effect on muscle recovery, especially in older individuals.