Cordyceps: The Fascinating Fungus Behind “The Last of Us” and Its Real-World Benefits


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Cordyceps, a genus of parasitic fungi, has captured the imagination of people worldwide, thanks to its unique life cycle and its intriguing appearance in the hit video game and TV series, “The Last of Us.” In the game, a mutated strain of Cordyceps turns humans into zombie-like creatures, leading to a post-apocalyptic world. While this fictional portrayal is undoubtedly captivating, the real-world Cordyceps fungus offers a range of potential health benefits and has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating world of Cordyceps, its real-life benefits, and the inspiration behind “The Last of Us.”

The Natural History of Cordyceps Fungi

Cordyceps comprises over 400 species of parasitic fungi that primarily infect insects and other arthropods. These fungi infiltrate their host’s body, eventually taking over the host’s nervous system and altering its behavior. Once the host dies, the Cordyceps fungus grows out of the host’s body, producing fruiting bodies that release spores to infect new hosts. This unusual life cycle has earned Cordyceps the nickname “zombie fungus.”

Zombie ant. Cordyceps.
Cordyceps taking over an ant

Cordyceps in “The Last of Us”

In the critically acclaimed game and TV series “The Last of Us,” a mutated strain of Cordyceps known as Cordyceps Brain Infection (CBI) infects humans, turning them into aggressive, zombie-like creatures called “Infected.” The storyline follows the main characters, Joel and Ellie, as they navigate a world devastated by the outbreak and struggle to survive in the face of constant danger from both the Infected and other survivors.

While the idea of a Cordyceps fungus infecting humans is purely fictional, the creators of “The Last of Us” drew inspiration from real-life examples of Cordyceps infections in insects, such as the famous case of Cordyceps unilateralis infecting ants. This blend of reality and fiction makes the game’s premise both intriguing and unnerving.

Real-World Health Benefits of Cordyceps

Despite their sinister reputation in the world of “The Last of Us,” Cordyceps fungi offer several potential health benefits. One of the most well-known species, Cordyceps sinensis (also known as Ophiocordyceps sinensis), has been used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine for centuries. Some of the potential benefits of Cordyceps include:

  1. Boosting Energy and Athletic Performance: Cordyceps has been shown to improve energy levels and endurance, making it popular among athletes and those seeking a natural energy boost. Studies suggest that the fungus can increase ATP production, which provides energy for muscle contractions, and improve oxygen utilization in the body.
  2. Supporting Immune Function: Cordyceps may have immunomodulatory effects, helping to balance the immune system and promote overall health. Research indicates that the fungus can increase the activity of natural killer cells, which play a vital role in the body’s defense against viruses and cancer cells.
  3. Enhancing Libido and Sexual Function: Cordyceps has long been used as an aphrodisiac in traditional medicine, and recent studies have provided some evidence supporting its potential to improve sexual function and libido. The fungus may help increase testosterone levels, improve blood flow, and reduce fatigue, contributing to enhanced sexual performance.
  4. Promoting Kidney and Liver Health: Cordyceps has been used historically to support kidney and liver function. Some studies suggest that the fungus can help protect these organs from damage caused by toxins and oxidative stress, and may also aid in the recovery process after kidney or liver injury.
  1. Anti-Aging and Antioxidant Effects: Cordyceps is believed to have anti-aging properties, in part due to its antioxidant effects. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, which can contribute to aging and various health issues. Some research suggests that Cordyceps may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, promoting overall health and longevity.
  2. Potential Anti-Cancer Properties: Preliminary research has shown that some compounds in Cordyceps may have anti-cancer effects, inhibiting the growth of certain cancer cells and stimulating the immune system’s response to cancerous cells. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings and determine the therapeutic potential of Cordyceps in cancer treatment.

Precautions and Considerations

While Cordyceps offers a range of potential health benefits, there are some precautions to consider before incorporating it into your wellness routine:

  1. Allergies: Some individuals may be allergic to Cordyceps, experiencing symptoms such as itching, rash, or difficulty breathing. If you have a known mushroom allergy, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before trying Cordyceps.
  2. Drug Interactions: Cordyceps may interact with certain medications, such as anticoagulants, immunosuppressive drugs, and hypoglycemic agents. If you are taking any medications, it is crucial to discuss the potential risks and benefits with your healthcare provider.
  3. Quality and Source: As with any supplement, it is essential to choose a reputable source to ensure the quality and safety of Cordyceps products. Look for companies that provide third-party testing for purity and potency.


The fascinating world of Cordyceps has captured the imagination of people worldwide, from its intriguing portrayal in the hit game and TV series “The Last of Us” to its real-life health benefits. While the idea of a Cordyceps fungus infecting humans remains purely fictional, the real-world applications of this unique fungus continue to be explored and appreciated.

If you are interested in experiencing the potential health benefits of Cordyceps, always consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating it into your wellness routine. As research into this remarkable fungus continues, we may discover even more reasons to appreciate the complex and captivating world of Cordyceps.

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