Cordyceps: To Be or Not To Be

With increasing demands for Cordyceps and the extreme rarity of the species in the wild, many counterfeit products have been sold as health supplements worldwide. Lead and bacterial contamination have also been major issues with cultivated Cordyceps products sold in the market.

Most products sold in the market today do not feature the true species with companies attempting to sell the more easily cultivatable Cordyceps militaris or Cs-4 as the true species of Cordyceps. As seen in the figure below, although Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris are closely related species, the two species differ greatly in their morphology (color, shape, and size), chemical composition, and health benefits.

Another popular commercial species sold in the marketplace as Cordyceps sinensis is Cs-4. This isolated strain was believed to be the same species as the wild-type Cordyceps until 2006 when researchers discovered that Cs-4 belonged, in fact, to a different genus and species known as Paecilomyces hepiali. That is, Cs-4, still being sold worldwide as Cordyceps, comes not only from a different species, but, in effect, a different genus! As an analogy, it would be akin to representing dogs or cats as humans.

This shocking revelation speaks for the kind of glaring misrepresentation being perpetuated in this kind of market. Not surprisingly, Cs-4 has only an 82.192% similarity in rDNA sequence when compared to the wild-type Cordyceps sinensis rDNA. It is puzzling as to why Cs-4, or Paecilomyces hepiali, should have been confused with the true Cordyceps species. Researchers have since discovered that Cs-4, or Paecilomyces hepiali, represents in effect an endoparasitic fungus (a contaminant really!) that grows naturally within the fruiting body of Cordyceps. Since this contaminant fungus grows so much more quickly and easily than Cordyceps, it is not surprising that it would take over any culture at the expense of the true species. Thus, without the benefit of detailed genetic analysis and comparison, when scientists isolated Paecilomyces hepiali from the fruiting body of Cordyceps, it was simply assumed to be an authentic strain of Cordyceps. To put it mildly, through all these years, a culture contaminant belonging to a different genus of mushroom has been marketed as Cordyceps! Sadly, Cs-4 supplements are still being sold in the marketplace and advertised as an authentic strain of Cordyceps by leading health supplement companies despite all the irrefutable scientific evidence accumulated to date. To many, it would appear unconscionable as to why companies seeking to promote natural health would choose to ignore the truth and instead continue to misrepresent their products as being authentic when they really are not.

This kind of misrepresentation has recently stirred a major controversy in Taiwan since many health supplement companies have been deemed by the government authorities to have misled consumers with false claims. Companies labeling their products as representations of Cordyceps have actually used other inauthentic species, like Cs-4, as substitutes. The government of both Taiwan and China now require market products to reflect the exact strain that is used and have recognized only a single authentic strain of Cordyceps known as Hirsutella sinensis.

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

References

Paecilomyces hepiali