Cordyceps and the immune system

The role of the immune system in the human body is to be responsible for defence against viral and bacterial infections.  Within the body, cancer cells can appear as a consequence of mutations and old, dead cells and tissues can cause bacterial infection.

John Holiday suggested (in the Encyclopedia of dietary supplements) that Cordyceps can activate the body’s immune system by way of expanding the number of white blood cells. These are known to be the body’s first line of defence in combatting various infections and illness.  Amongst the many qualities of Cordyceps, this one alone leads to it being often recommended as a revitaliser for increasing energy. This while the body is recovering from a serious illness or operation.

It has been written also (The Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional Western Medicine) that Cordyceps improved the immune systems of healthy individuals as well those with leukaemia.  Studies showed that white blood cell activity was enhanced by 74% in the former and by an impressive 400% in the latter.  (Talbott, SM. A guide to understanding dietary supplements. New York: Haworth Press, 2003).

In the book Cordyceps: China’s Healing Mushroom, it tells of several immune-increasing effects of Cordyceps.  A rise in the number of white blood cells, NK cells, macrophages and  T helper cells. This manifests itself as enhanced cellular immunity against viral and fungal and other infections. (Halpern, G.,Cordyceps: China’s healing mushroom, Avery Publishing Group, New York, 1999).

Immune System – General Information

It is not difficult to imagine the immune system as being pretty much the gatekeeper for the human body. It holds the good things in and is a safeguard against the bad things.  Unsurprisingly the subject of the immune system can be a fairly complicated one.  The following information should help to clarify some of the confusion there may be.

Every person has several main biological systems and the immune system is one of the main ones.   It has a uniqueness owing to its presence, rather than in just one place, pretty much all over the body.  For example, the body’s respiratory system is made up lungs, diaphragm, trachea and other organs all used for breathing. Meanwhile, the skeletal system is made up of all of the bones in the body.  The immune system exists in multiple places, being a combination of systems and defence mechanisms whose functions are to keep the body safe.

The reason for the organisation of the immune system is evident when you consider that most infections make their way into the body through different openings in the head.

Types of Immunodeficiency

Primary Immunodeficiency

The body’s greatest defence against disease, is the immune system. Unfortunately, there are quite a number of people throughout the world who have weak immune systems, often referred to as immunodeficiency.  There are two main ways that a human can end up with a weakened immune system. The first is usually genetic and occurring at birth, called primary immunodeficiency.  A person with primary immunodeficiency often means they are lacking a part of their immune system.  Their immune system is therefore akin to a jigsaw puzzle missing a few pieces.

This type of weak immune system is extremely hard, if not impossible to correct.  If we continue with the jigsaw puzzle analogy, a person having this kind of immune system could actually be missing 50 or 60 puzzle pieces from their immune system.

Secondary Immunodeficiency

The second type of weak immune system can occur as a direct result of a disease (such as AIDS). This kind of weak immune system is known as a secondary immunodeficiency.  With a secondary immunodeficiency, a person still faces many of the same issues they would have with a primary immunodeficiency.

The difficulty is, for someone with either kind of weakened immune system, unfortunately, they are pretty much stuck with it for life.

Treatment is dependent upon what kind of immune system deficiency is present.  Overall, the conditions arising are treatable and do not need to be life-threatening these days.  What is notable, however, when a person has a weakened immune system, is that they are much more vulnerable to pathogens and can tend to get sick very easily.  Someone with a weak immune system contracting a cold can lead into an emergency room scenario if appropriate care is not exercised.


Someone does not need to have a birth defect or contract a dangerous disease to be left with a weak immune system. A weak immune system can occur in other ways, although this is not as serious as having a primary or secondary immunodeficiency.  Someone who becomes sick a good deal could be a sign that they are placing unnecessary stress on their immune system. By doing this they are making the body work more than it should in order to keep itself safe and protected.  Such a diminished immune system like this is most likely to have been caused by needless stress on the body.  Often, this can happen when someone is sleeping insufficiently or finds that they are experiencing an unnecessary amounts of stress for long periods of time.

Stress can be enormously harmful to the human immune system, the reason being that when the body is placed under unnecessary levels of stress. In essence it thinks it is in danger of being killed.  Many many years ago such a stressful situation may have been caused by being chased by a predator. Today, however, it can be something as insignificant as an argument at work or a fight with a person close to them.

In any event, the source of the stress is not important. What is important is that when the body becomes stressed, it dispenses itself of everything not immediately needed. This is to give itself every possible chance of surviving the scenario.  This can, more often than not, impact negatively on a person’s immune system. There is little physically wrong with the immune system, but, significantly, the body believes it is in physical danger of dying. It will therefore not allocate as much energy to the immune system as it should.

In addition, too much heavy exercise can also temporarily diminish the immune system, as well as a diet excessively high in sugar.  A further influence is rapid changes in the weather.

As indicated previously, these types of weakened immune systems are not the same as primary and secondary immunodeficiencies. They are more likely to be found among people who are normally healthy.  Around 1 in every 500 people have a primary immunodeficiency.  The numbers are hard to work out for secondary immunodeficiencies at present.  Most of the time, many people will only be at risk of a temporary impairment of the immune system.

The immune system is certainly a fascinating part of the body at the same time as being one of its most complex parts.  It is responsible for protecting the body against hundreds of thousands of perils on a daily basis.