Mushrooms have long been touted for their health benefits. They’re low in calories, high in fiber and protein and provide important nutrients like vitamins B and D and minerals selenium and copper. However, does that mean they should be combined with your morning cup of coffee?
According to a new health trend, it does. Mushroom coffee has experienced a surge in popularity during the past year, with proponents saying it can help make you more productive, relaxed, and even younger looking.
Is this new beverage good for you and, perhaps most importantly, does it taste as good as your regular brewed cup?
What Is Mushroom Coffee?
Mushroom coffee is about the same as regular black coffee, except that it’s blended with mushroom extracts for additional benefits. These extracts are usually present in powder form and are infused into the regular coffee, then frequently sold in single-serving packets.
Four Sigmatic is the leading manufacturer of the coffee right now and uses the following four mushroom extracts in their formula.
Native to Asia, this mushroom has long been used in traditional medicine for health benefits. It’s a reddish mushroom with a kidney-shaped cap that grows on dead or dying trees, particularly hemlocks. It is strictly used for its health benefits and is not a mushroom to add to your evening meal.
Early studies linked reishi with boosting the immune system, reducing the risk of cancer, fighting fatigue, easing symptoms of depression and decreasing blood sugar levels. Reishi contains beta-glucans, which are complex sugars found in the cell walls that have been associated with a number of health benefits.
Beta-glucans may help prevent the absorption of cholesterol from food, for example, or increase the immune chemicals that help prevent infections. The body doesn’t produce beta-glucans on its own, so it must get them from food. Other good sources include barley, oats, rye, wheat and baker’s yeast.
Reishi also contains other healthy compounds like sterols, which are associated with lowering cholesterol and improving blood circulation, and triterpenes, which have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antimicrobial effects.
These mushrooms are found all around the world and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. They grow on the larvae of insects — mostly certain caterpillars in the mountainous regions of China — but the kind available in most supplements is made in the laboratory.
Studies show cordyceps have the potential to slow the growth of tumors, prevent oxidative damage in the body, benefit heart health, keep blood sugar levels under control and tame inflammation.
Their main claim to fame, however, is their potential ability to help boost exercise performance. Studies have found that they may help improve the body’s use of oxygen during a workout. In 2006, scientists discovered that subjects who had been sedentary who exercised using cordyceps supplements during a period of two weeks improved energy generation and experienced less fatigue.
These white, globe-shaped mushrooms have long, shaggy spines that resemble a lion’s mane, and are found naturally on dying and dead trees in Europe, North America, China, and Japan. They can be eaten raw or cooked or dried and used to make a tea.
Research suggests these mushrooms may help induce cancer cell death, keep the brain healthy, support memory and boost mood and concentration. They may also help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and prevent the formation of stomach ulcers.
The mushrooms contain two compounds known for encouraging the growth of brain cells: hericenones and erinacines. In a 2013 study, researchers noted that when these compounds were isolated from the mushrooms and exposed to human cells in the laboratory, they promoted the growth of neurons important to brain activity.
Other studies have suggested that these mushrooms may help to reduce the symptoms of memory loss and may protect the brain from the damaging effects of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Found on birch trees throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the Chaga mushroom is rich in nutrients and antioxidants and has been used for centuries to help boost immunity. Preliminary studies also indicate it may help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. In Finland, a brew made from Chaga mushrooms was once used as a wartime coffee replacement, so it has a long history of being a coffee substitute.
Some preliminary studies have shown that Chaga may help slow the growth of cancer cells in the laboratory. In 2009, researchers reported that it helped encourage tumor cells to self-destruct and, in 2010, that it helped slow the growth of lung, breast and cervical cancer cells.
Despite the presence of these mushroom extracts, mushroom coffee doesn’t taste like mushrooms — instead, it tastes like regular black coffee, perhaps with an earthier flavor. Some manufacturers add sweetener to make it more palatable or recommend it be served with milk. Manufacturers claim it’s better for you than regular coffee, particularly if you’re sensitive to the caffeine or acids.
Although recent studies have shown that coffee can have many health benefits on its own, including boosting focus, memory, mood, and energy, it can also have some drawbacks for some people. See if any of the following sound familiar to you:
- It upsets your stomach: Coffee is naturally acidic, which means that it can cause stomach upset in some people. If you suffer from bloating, indigestion, heartburn or belching after drinking coffee, it could be that the acids are too harsh for you. Consuming coffee on an empty stomach can also lead to stomach irritation and, in time, may even contribute to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
- It can disrupt sleep: When consumed close to bedtime, coffee can disrupt sleep for some people because of the caffeine content. Within 15 minutes of consumption, the caffeine stimulates body and mind, and it can take up to six hours to eliminate just half of it. Even if you drink your coffee six hours before bed, it can still affect you. In a 2013 study, researchers found that caffeine is taken at three or six hours before bedtime disrupted sleep and reduced total sleep time.
- It might stress you out: Although caffeine can help you get through your day by keeping you alert and energized, it can also affect you in a negative way, increasing your feelings of stress. Again, it depends on the individual, but it’s possible. Researchers found in one study, for example, that when compared to a placebo, caffeine caused more than double the levels of stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol.
- It might make you dependent: The more you drink coffee, the more you may find that you need to drink coffee. In time, the body can build up a tolerance to the caffeine, which means that if you try to go without it, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal like headaches, sleepiness, mood swings and lack of focus.
Manufacturers of mushroom coffee say the mushroom extracts help lessen some of the negative effects of regular coffee.
Mushroom coffee fans often describe the beverage as a “gentler” form of coffee, with a less bitter taste and a tamer effect on the body. You still get the energy- and focus-boosting effects, without as many of the potential drawbacks.
Although are currently no scientific human studies showing the purported benefits of mushroom coffee, and even the studies on mushrooms themselves have been small and are often conducted in animals. It does appear that mushroom coffee is less acidic than regular coffee, however, which means it may be easier for people with sensitive stomachs to tolerate.
Manufacturer Four Sigmatic claims that Chaga mushrooms, in particular, help mitigate coffee’s acidity, so it’s not so irritating to the stomach lining. The company also notes that mushrooms can help promote the production of healthy bacteria in the gut, potentially easing digestion and improving absorption of nutrients.
Mushroom coffee contains less caffeine than normal coffee too — about half as much — so it may produce less stress, anxiety, and jitteriness in sensitive individuals and may also be a better drink for those who suffer from insomnia or other sleep problems. Reishi mushrooms have even been linked with improved sleep in some studies. In 2012, for example, scientists published an animal study showing that reishi helped significantly increase total sleep time.
Might mushroom coffee be better for those suffering from coffee-induced anxiety? Manufacturers seem to think so. There are several preliminary studies indicating that mushrooms may help relieve anxiety and even depression. Again, we have only animal studies on this, but one published in 2015 showed that lion’s mane mushroom showed antidepressant effects and could have potential as a supplement to prevent certain types of depression.
Then there are the antioxidants in mushrooms. The coffee itself has disease-fighting antioxidants and adding mushroom extracts to it increases and varies the supply. Researchers reported in a 2004 study that the Chaga mushroom helped protect DNA from oxidative damage, which could lead to a number of health benefits. Considering these potential benefits, should you give mushroom coffee a try?
If you’re curious about mushroom coffee, it won’t hurt you to check it out. Many people rave about the benefits, stating that it helps them to feel more energy, focus, and calm. Some say they sleep better-drinking mushroom coffee rather than regular coffee, and others say they feel better overall than when drinking normal coffee.
It’s worth remembering that so far, these are anecdotal statements without scientific evidence behind them but, then again, we do have quality studies showing the health benefits of coffee, so it could be that adding mushroom extracts may make this healthy beverage even better for you.
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