Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
Adaptogenic Mushrooms May Have Health Benefits, but the Research is Still Catching Up
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 may 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.
It’s possible that some of the benefits of mushroom coffee could simply result from a lower amount of caffeine and added fiber from the mushrooms, instead of any medicinal effects from the mushrooms themselves.
While you can certainly give mushroom coffee a try, simply adding more varieties of mushrooms to your diet can provide health benefits.
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 regular.
Plant adaptogens have more research and clinical studies to back up their benefits and may be a helpful alternative to mushrooms for now.
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 an adaptogen (a substance considered to 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? It might be worth a try, but the current research doesn’t sufficiently back up these claims, and we don’t know how much of the reported positive effects are the result of placebo.
Today, I’ll dive into mushroom coffee and its reported benefits, answer the question of whether mushroom coffee is worth it, 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 of coffee and adaptogenic mushroom powder to create an instant coffee drink (just add hot water) that mimics the taste of 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.
Adaptogenic mushrooms are reported to have similar stress relief and energy benefits as adaptogenic herbs. However, the research on the effects of these mushrooms in humans is still developing, while we have a lot more evidence to support the efficacy of herbal adaptogens.
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:
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 . However, only one company I could find directly said how much mushroom powder is in their coffee: 2 grams (2,000 mg), which is 7 hundredths (0.07) of an ounce.
That’s not much, given that a typical 6-oz cup of coffee is brewed with 1–2 tbsp of ground coffee, which weighs about 0.4–0.6 oz . This may be enough to achieve beneficial effects (general well-being, immunity) according to what research we have, however, that research is just too slim to make any conclusive claims [3, 4].
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
Modulates the stress response
Easier on your adrenals and HPA 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
The truth is we just don’t have enough research at this point to fully back up these claims. A few human clinical trials have shown that certain non-hallucinogenic, edible mushrooms have what we might approximate as adaptogenic effects . For example, one RCT found reishi improved fatigue and sense of well-being in patients with symptoms resembling chronic fatigue syndrome (fatigue, muscular aches and pains, dizziness, headaches, sleep disturbance, inability to relax, irritability, and dyspepsia) . Two additional RCTs found that cordyceps supplements enhanced immunity in healthy people with no negative side effects [7, 8].
There are more studies like these with other mushrooms, but none of them are very strong and we need repeated research to confirm these effects [3, 9, 10, 11].
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 caffeine than a standard cup of coffee. Many people don’t do well with caffeine and may feel better if their morning cup contains less. Less caffeine (or even switching to decaf for the highly sensitive) may also mean avoiding the afternoon crash that often comes with consuming high amounts of caffeine earlier in the day.
Another factor that may blunt the stimulant effect of caffeine in mushroom coffee: 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 5% . Fiber may also support your digestion and counteract both the caffeine and acidity of the coffee.
Is Mushroom Coffee Worth It?
When it comes to mushroom coffee, you’re probably better off saving money (mushroom coffee costs more than the regular stuff) and just eating mushrooms for their known nutritional benefits. In few calories, common 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 .
That said, if you’re curious, trying a mushroom coffee probably won’t hurt you, and a reputable mushroom supplement will likely provide a more therapeutic dose than mushroom coffee. We just don’t know the long-term effects of drinking it yet.
Mushroom Coffee Alternatives for Managing Stress
So if not mushroom coffee, 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 it’s an imbalanced gut microbiome, inflammation, or poor digestion, gut issues are a major cause of poor response to stress (as well as a direct cause of stress), low energy, anxiety, and other symptoms.
Fixing your gut means taking a look at your diet and potential food sensitivities, identifying any gut microbe imbalances (SIBO, candida, etc.), and looking at other factors that could be impacting your gut health, like sleep and mental/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.
Other research-backed lifestyle recommendations to reduce stress and improve 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, Ashwagandha, and Ginkgo biloba, which all have higher-quality research and clinical studies backing their effectiveness than mushrooms (for now).
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 or switch to matcha 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 that supports the benefits of adaptogen mushrooms and mushroom coffee (not that you can’t still try them out if you’re curious). This might well change in the future, but for now, there are many other proven strategies and steps you can take to improve your ability to handle stress and manage your energy throughout the day. Some of these include improving your gut health, investing in good sleep habits, and eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet.
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 without needing to turn to a trendy health product.
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.
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