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Mushroom Coffee: Nutritional Mainstay or Just Another Fad?

Adaptogenic Mushrooms May Have Health Benefits, but the Research Is Still Catching Up

Key Takeaways:
  • Mushroom coffee combines coffee and adaptogenic mushroom powder to create a “superfood” drink that provides the energy lift of caffeine without the crash or jitters.
  • While the benefits seem promising, the research on medicinal mushrooms is still in its early stages, and we don’t yet know about long-term effects or side effects. 
  • Some of the benefits of mushroom coffee could simply result from its lower amount of caffeine, added fiber from the mushrooms, or plant adaptogens added to the blends. 
  • Still, quality brands of mushroom coffee are likely safe for most people and fine to try if you’re curious.  
  • Other strategies for managing stress and increasing your energy levels include eating an anti-inflammatory diet, regulating your circadian rhythm, getting healthy sun exposure, and making sure your gut is functioning well. 
  • If you’re holding off on adaptogenic mushrooms until research is more robust, you can check out better-researched plant adaptogens, like ashwagandha, rhodiola, or eleuthero.

Perhaps you, like millions of others around the world, love the taste and daily ritual of drinking coffee. But you’ve started to notice that coffee makes you feel more anxious than energized, and leaves you feeling drained and tired later in the day. It’s a cycle many of us find ourselves in, and mushroom coffee—coffee combined with adaptogenic mushrooms—offers an appealing alternative. 

As a potential adaptogen (a substance considered to safely relieve stress and provide balance to various systems in the body), mushroom coffee promises not just energy and sustained focus, but also relief from stress and anxiety, plus the lift you feel from drinking coffee without the afternoon crash. It’s certainly a tempting promise! But should we believe it? 

In this article, I’ll dive into mushroom coffee and its potential health benefits, answer the question of whether mushroom coffee is worth the money, and provide some alternatives for managing stress daily.

What is Mushroom Coffee?

Mushroom coffee is marketed as a coffee alternative that combines roughly equal parts ground coffee beans and adaptogenic mushroom powder to create an instant coffee drink (just add hot water) that tastes like coffee but offers additional health benefits due to the mushroom content. Other ingredients like powdered creamer, superfoods like cacao, and sweeteners may be added along with the mushroom extracts for taste. And some blends of instant mushroom coffee contain adaptogenic herbs, like ashwagandha.

Adaptogenic mushrooms may have similar stress relief and energy benefits as adaptogenic herbs (which are plants, not fungi). However, the research on the effects of these mushrooms in humans is still developing, and we have a lot more evidence to support the efficacy of herbal adaptogens [1]. 

Medicinal mushrooms often included in mushroom coffee blends include:

  • Reishi mushrooms
  • Cordyceps mushrooms
  • Lion’s mane mushrooms
  • Chaga mushrooms

Each of these species of mushrooms has different effects, so combining them is supposed to provide a range of benefits (which we’ll dig into more below). 

Some of the brands of mushroom coffee you might have heard of include: 

  • Four Sigmatic
  • RYZE
  • Joe’y
  • Om Mushrooms

There doesn’t seem to be a consistent coffee-mushroom ratio among these brands, and most use a combination of different mushrooms, so it’s hard to know what you’re actually getting. One consensus seems to be that there is a roughly equal amount of coffee and mushrooms per serving [2].  

I found several popular companies that said they contained close to 2 grams (2,000 milligrams) of mushroom powder per serving of mushroom coffee. Given that as little as 1 or 2 milligrams of medicinal mushrooms was enough to enhance well-being in one clinical trial [3], and just 2.5 to 100 milligrams demonstrated immune support in a systematic review [4], 2,000 milligrams per cup of coffee seems more than enough to yield benefits. 

The main potential benefits of adaptogenic mushrooms, according to what research we have, include an enhanced sense of wellness and immune support [5, 6]. However, that research is not yet very robust. 

Far more research shows the benefits of herbal adaptogens (like ashwagandha or rhodiola) than mushroom adaptogens [1]. Some mushroom coffee manufacturers may be aware of this because several of them include ashwagandha in their products. Unfortunately, that makes it impossible to know whether mushrooms are the source of their adaptogenic benefits.

Benefits of Mushroom Coffee

Mushroom coffee brands claim that it offers the following benefits: 

  • Lower caffeine content, yet sustained energy from the adaptogenic effects of the mushrooms
  • No jitters or anxiety associated with full-strength coffee
  • Calm, sustained focus
  • Enhanced memory
  • Modulates the stress response
  • Easier on your adrenals and HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis 
  • No afternoon slump
  • No mushroom taste, just tastes like coffee
  • Better stomach and gut health due to less acidity from the coffee as well as the mushrooms
  • Better immune system regulation
  • Better mood
  • Improved sleep

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough high-quality research at this point to fully back up these claims. 

That said, several human clinical trials have shown that common mushrooms in mushroom coffee may have adaptogenic effects [7], such as reducing stress-related damage and symptoms, and boosting physical and mental capacity, all without harming the body [7]. The following table lists common mushrooms in mushroom coffees and their potential benefits, according to the highest quality available research.

Medicinal mushroomPotential benefits
Reishi mushroomsOne randomized controlled trial (RCT) found that reishi may have improved fatigue and a sense of well-being in patients with a syndrome that causes fatigue, muscular aches and pains, dizziness, headaches, sleep disturbance, inability to relax, irritability, and indigestion [8]. In a very small RCT, reishi caused no negative side effects [9].
Cordyceps mushroomsTwo RCTs found that cordyceps supplements enhanced immunity in healthy people with no negative side effects [10, 11]. Another small RCT showed a cordyceps supplement may support aerobic performance in older people [12].
Lion’s mane mushroomsOne RCT found that lion’s mane safely but minimally improved the cognitive function of healthy people [13].
Chaga mushroomsClinical (human) research is lacking on the effects of chaga, but it demonstrates antioxidant activity in cell studies, suggesting it has the potential to help counteract cancer and diabetes, and enhance immune function against infections [14].

Perhaps the strongest evidence of the potential for mushrooms to have adaptogenic effects is in a 2021 systematic review of RCTs looking at beta-glucans, the polysaccharides in edible mushrooms thought to promote health.

The study found that beta-glucans (in shiitake, reishi, and oyster mushrooms, as well as in some yeasts) had positive effects on upper respiratory tract infections and possibly on mental health. These benefits probably resulted from beta-glucans’ ability to strengthen the immune system [4]. 

The studied beta-glucans were not from mushroom species typically used in mushroom coffee, so we can’t yet say the same is true for reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, or chaga. Indeed, mushrooms can naturally contain anywhere between 3.1% and 46.5% beta-glucans, depending on the species, their environment, and how old they are [15]. 

For example, raw cordyceps contained 3.79% beta-glucan in one food study. But once the mushroom went into coffee, its beta-glucan content went down to 2.03% [16]. All this means is that we need more specific data on each species to build a solid case for its science-backed benefits.

At this point, the research on the adaptogenic effects of medicinal mushrooms isn’t very strong, but it’s a start. We’ll keep our eyes out for repeated clinical studies and meta-analyses to confirm the beneficial effects of mushroom coffee.

Meanwhile, the mushrooms in most mushroom coffees appear to be generally safe [9, 10, 13]. So, as long as you’re buying from a quality-assured brand, you should feel free to give it a try. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, dealing with a serious illness, or taking medications, please be on the safe side and check with your doctor first.

What Else Could Account for the Positive Effects of Mushroom Coffee?

One of the most popular benefits people report from mushroom coffee is a more calm, sustained energy throughout the day. Perhaps this is due to the mushroom content, but it could also simply be that mushroom coffee contains far less (often, half as much) caffeine than a standard cup of coffee. Many people don’t do as well as they think with caffeine and may feel better if their morning cup contains less. Less-caffeinated coffee (or even decaf or caffeinated teas, which still have a little caffeine) could also help you avoid the afternoon crash that often comes with consuming high amounts of caffeine earlier in the day. 

Another factor that could blunt the stimulant effects of caffeine in mushroom coffee is fiber. Extra fiber from the mushroom powder could stretch out any stimulant effects so they’re less intense and longer lasting. In fact, mushroom powder is relatively high in fiber, possibly bumping the fiber content of your coffee by up to 16% [17]. Fiber may also support your digestion and counteract both the caffeine and acidity of the coffee. 

Finally, many popular mushroom coffee brands add adaptogenic herbs, like ashwagandha, to their mushroom mixture. In general, there’s a lot more research on adaptogenic herbs than medicinal mushrooms, though we still don’t fully understand how they work [1]. 

But recent clinical research has shown that ashwagandha is safe, at least in the short term [18], and it may sharpen cognitive function [19], reduce anxiety [20], and even improve sleep, especially in people with insomnia [21]. Therefore, mushroom coffee companies that include ashwagandha or other adaptogenic herbs in their blends could be giving the mushrooms credit where it isn’t due.

Is Mushroom Coffee Worth It?

When it comes to mushroom coffee, its biggest drawback may be its cost. If you’re less of the experimental type and you’d like to save money, you’re probably better off drinking regular coffee and adjusting the caffeine content to see if you feel better. You could also try black or green teas, or even decaf coffee, all of which have some but less caffeine than your typical medium or dark roast.  

That said, if you’re curious, trying a mushroom coffee is probably safe [9, 10, 13], though it might cause side effects in some and we don’t know the long-term effects of drinking it yet. As always, take your time to notice the effects and listen to your body.

Mushroom Coffee Alternatives for Managing Stress

So, if mushroom coffee doesn’t do it for you, what can you do to help better manage stress and sustain your focus and energy throughout the day?

One key factor you should always consider when it comes to stress and energy levels is your gut health. Whether you’ve got an imbalanced gut microbiome, inflammation, or poor digestion, gut issues can cause stress and reduce your ability to tolerate it [22, 23, 24], contributing to low energy, anxiety, and other symptoms.

Supporting your gut means taking a look at your diet and potential food sensitivities, identifying any gut microbe imbalances (like from SIBO, Candida, or antibiotic use), and looking at other factors that could be impacting your gut health, like sleep and mental or emotional stress. If you want to learn more about my step-by-step approach to gut health, you can start with this article on how to heal your gut or grab my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You

On that dietary note, it’s worth mentioning that everyday culinary mushrooms (like buttons and portobellos) have lots of known nutritional benefits. In few calories, common cooked types of mushrooms provide good amounts of protein, fiber, antioxidants, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, selenium, and copper, as well as vitamin D if they were exposed to UV light [25]. If your gut tolerates them well, cooked mushrooms can be a great addition to a nutrient-dense diet. 

Other science-backed lifestyle recommendations for reducing stress and improving energy levels include: 

Even making improvements in just one or two of these categories can make a huge difference in your ability to handle stress and keep your energy levels up throughout the day. 

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to help support your resilience to stress while you work on these factors, you could look at adding plant adaptogens like Rhodiola rosea [1], eleuthero [1], and ashwagandha [19, 20, 21], which all have more research backing their effectiveness relative to mushrooms (for now) [1]. 

If you’re a regular coffee drinker but find that full-strength coffee gives you anxiety, you might want to try a reduced-caffeine version (like decaf or half-caf) or switch to black or green tea for a time and see if you notice a difference. Often, it’s the simpler change that works the best. 

There’s More to Learn About Mushroom Coffee

For the moment, we don’t have enough human research to strongly recommend adaptogenic mushrooms and mushroom coffee. But common, high-quality mushroom coffees are safe for most people, and they could give you the results you’re looking for. 

For those looking beyond mushroom coffee, you can try many other science-based strategies to improve your ability to handle stress and have stable energy throughout the day. Some of these include improving your gut health, investing in good sleep habits, and moving your body regularly. 

Often, when we take a step back from our daily habits, reevaluate, and make simple lifestyle changes that align with our goals, we see the results we’ve been looking for. 

If you’re interested in seeing a functional health professional for guidance on reaching your health goals, reach out to us at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Health. For more actionable health tips and accessible explanations of the latest research in functional health, check out my YouTube channel

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

➕ References
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