Why Mushroom Coffee is the Next Big Health Movement
Coffee has earned itself quite the reputation over the years—and not always in a good way.
Beginning in the 1500s, headlines decried the potential pitfalls of java. First, there were concerns that drinking coffee would lead to having “illegal coitus.” (Yes, really.) The pendulum swung the other way in the 1600s, when conventional wisdom stated that coffee might cause impotence. Headlines of the early 1900s declared coffee would stunt people’s growth and make children get bad grades in school, while the 1970s and 1980s saw people fretting that coffee could cause heart attacks. The humble cup of Joe didn’t fare any better in the early 2000s, during which headlines suggested coffee could increase the risk of certain cancers.
And then, around 2010, things began to change. Suddenly the headlines weren’t damning coffee—they were celebrating it. Thanks to a variety of large-scale meta-analyses, newspapers and health publications (and scientific research) began to declare that coffee could do everything from improving cognitive performance to decreasing the risk of cardiovascular issues, reducing the risk of certain cancers, and increasing longevity.
The evidence in favor of coffee came so quickly and in such large quantities that by 2015, the USDA’s dietary guidelines recognized daily coffee consumption as a means of sustaining overall health and mitigating disease risk. Meanwhile, a number of studies have concluded that for most people, coffee’s health perks far outweigh any potential harms.
Today, a whopping 64 percent of American adults consume at least one cup of coffee each day, to the tune of 146 billion cups of coffee every year. While many of these people are probably reaching for coffee in order to obtain the caffeinated energy jolt it provides, it appears they’re getting a dose of wellness in the process.
That’s part of the focus of my book Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health.
But that’s not where the story ends. While coffee is being lauded for its various health benefits—and for good reason—that doesn’t mean it’s entirely without downsides. It’s certainly not true that coffee will make you blind, or impotent, or a terrible student. But in some people coffee can have an effect on the body when it comes to acidity, digestion, sleep patterns, and several other factors.
As it turns out, adding mushrooms to coffee has the potential to offset the potential downsides.
We know: Mushroom coffee sounds like a random (and, at first glance, maybe even unappealing) combination. But in truth, switching to mushroom coffee is one of the smartest things you can do if you’re a coffee drinker. That’s because incorporating mushrooms into coffee mitigates the potential strains that coffee can place on the body while elevating coffee’s benefits and contributing several additional benefits as well. (You can read more about mushrooms’ many functional benefits here.)
The Many Benefits of Coffee
We all know coffee can provide a substantial energy boost, especially on those days when we’re feeling fuzzy brained or sluggish. In fact, this is arguably the reason why coffee became popular in the first place. But coffee is good for much more than powering through all-nighters or perking up in the morning. Here are just some of coffee’s many functional benefits.
It contains essential nutrients.
One cup of coffee contains a number of essential nutrients, including:
- Manganese, which helps maintain bone strength
- Magnesium, which is essential for maintaining bone structure and helps protect cardiovascular health
- Niacin (vitamin B3), which helps maintain proper circulation and cardiovascular health
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), which helps sustain proper functioning of the nervous system
- Potassium, which helps sustain the proper functioning of bodily cells, organs, and tissues
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2), which provides antioxidants and (like the other B vitamins) helps the body convert food into fuel
While these nutrients exist in coffee in varying amounts, if you drink multiple cups of coffee a day they will add up quickly.
It’s packed with antioxidants.
When it comes to antioxidants, fruits and vegetables typically get all the attention. While these accolades are well-deserved, it turns out there’s an even bigger antioxidant powerhouse on the block—and its name is coffee. In fact, Americans consume more antioxidants from coffee than any other source. Study after study confirms the brew is packed full of antioxidants including hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols.
These phytochemicals help protect cells from otherwise damaging free radicals, which can harm cellular proteins and DNA if left unchecked. More and more research is finding the inflammation caused by free radicals contributes to a huge range of diseases and that antioxidants play a major role in staving off disease as we age.
It fires up the nervous system.
Caffeinated coffee has been shown to stimulate the central nervous system in a number of ways. When caffeine hits the brain, it temporarily blocks the production of an inhibitory neurotransmitter (it’s called adenosine). That sounds very complex, but what it amounts to is that caffeine “tricks” the body into thinking it’s releasing adenosine when it really isn’t. With adenosine largely out of the picture, several things can happen:
- It allows for the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamate, which have an uplifting effect on the nervous system.
- It blocks certain pathways for inflammation-causing molecules.
- It temporarily shuts down the production of chemicals that would normally tell us it’s time to go to sleep.
Together, these actions yield the caffeine-induced effects we all know and love: We feel more awake and alert, think more clearly, have an easier time concentrating, and feel more physically coordinated.
It may aid in weight loss.
Studies have found that coffee consumption might facilitate weight loss in a number of ways. For starters, it may help increase metabolic rate, which plays a big role in how many calories we burn each day. Additionally, the caffeine in coffee may help the body specifically target fat cells for burning, thereby speeding up fat loss.
In addition to these direct impacts on calorie and fat burning, coffee can indirectly aid weight loss by improving athletic performance. In fact, studies have found the caffeine in coffee can increase exercise intensity and endurance (mainly by delaying fatigue) and boost overall exercise performance by as much as 12 percent. There’s also evidence that drinking coffee before a workout may increase calorie burn afterward.
It may help protect against a wide variety of diseases.
Contrary to antiquated concerns that coffee might contribute to heart disease or strokes, contemporary research has found the opposite is more likely to be true. A variety of studies have found that coffee does not increase the risk of heart disease and may actually reduce it. Additional studies have found that people who drink coffee may have a reduced risk of heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
It may provide some cognitive benefits.
A variety of studies have found that coffee consumption can give our brains a boost. In particular, studies suggest that coffee may have a positive effect on memory, mood, reaction time, focus and alertness, and overall cognitive function. There’s also evidence that high levels of coffee consumption may help protect against neurodegenerative disorders including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
Are you beginning to see why the media has changed its tune on coffee? Contemporary, peer-reviewed research finds that the bitter brew is packed with tons of sweet benefits and has the potential to boost both our physical and mental wellbeing.
The Potential Downsides of Coffee Consumption
The benefits of coffee are now virtually undeniable. But as with any drug (which, after all, coffee is), coffee isn’t entirely without downsides. Here are a few potential pitfalls of the brew.
It can make the body acidic.
Coffee can contribute to a number of issues pertaining to acidity, including acid reflux, heartburn, and stomach ulcers.
It can contribute to indigestion.
Coffee consumption has been shown to trigger the production of hydrochloric acid, especially when coffee is consumed on an empty stomach. This acid is typically used by the body to digest meals—but if the body is tapping into its reserves every time you drink a cup of Joe, then it won’t have as much left over for digesting actual food. Additionally, the high acidity of coffee itself may irritate the lining of the stomach and small intestine. This helps explain why coffee consumption can be a contributing factor to digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and IBS. There’s also some evidence that regular coffee can contribute to imbalances in gut bacteria, which can further impact digestive processes.
It may disrupt blood sugar.
In spite of the fact that the link between coffee and cardiovascular issues has been largely disproven (see the previous section), coffee may have a mild elevating effect on blood sugar in some individuals (especially those with diabetes).
It may increase cholesterol.
There’s some evidence that unfiltered coffee can raise levels of LDL cholesterol (aka the “bad” kind) in the body. That’s thanks to naturally occurring oils in coffee known as diterpenes, which have a great effect on coffee’s flavor but may not be so great from a cholesterol standpoint. While a filter will remove this substance from your cup of Joe, unfiltered coffee (think Turkish coffee, espresso, or coffee made in a French press) will retain it.
It may aggravate sleep problems.
People who have difficulty falling or staying asleep may experience even more trouble if they drink caffeinated coffee. When consumed in large quantities or close to bedtime, coffee may also contribute to insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
It may escalate anxiety.
Individuals who are already prone to anxiety may find that drinking coffee can increase their feelings of anxiety, nervousness, irritability, and jitteriness and may even contribute to panic attacks. There’s also some evidence that coffee consumption may aggravate adrenal fatigue, which is a major factor in chronic stress.
Of course, many people can consume coffee on a regular basis and never suffer these ill effects. That’s because different bodies metabolize the caffeine in coffee differently depending on a range of genetic and lifestyle factors. While these downsides aren’t a sure thing, they can have a potential impact on certain coffee drinkers.
Why Mushroom Coffee Makes for An Ideal Combination
Now that we understand the benefits and potential downsides of coffee, it’s time to look at what happens when we add mushrooms into the mix. This sounds like an unlikely combination, we know. But not only does mushroom coffee make for a delicious brew, it may also pack a serious health punch.
For starters, mushrooms proffer many of the same functional benefits as coffee. They’ve been linked to improvements in brain health, heart health, disease prevention, and overall wellness, and they’re packed with antioxidants that have been found to bolster immunity, reduce inflammation, and even slow down the process of aging. When you combine coffee and mushrooms, they work together to amplify these mutual benefits.
But what really makes coffee and mushrooms a match made in heaven is that mushrooms can help buffer the body against every one of coffee’s downsides outlined above. This means drinking mushroom coffee may allow coffee drinkers to enjoy all the benefits of coffee (and mushrooms) without suffering the downsides. Here’s how mushrooms can counteract the potential pitfalls of coffee.
They can reduce acidity.
Chaga mushrooms are particularly adept at mitigating coffee’s acidity, which means mushroom coffee is less likely to provoke acidity in the body. This helps explain why mushrooms are a boon for gut health. As an added bonus, chaga is packed full of minerals (like zinc) and has been shown to help lower inflammation (disease) throughout the body and help with alkalinity.
They can promote healthy digestion.
Studies have found that mushrooms may contribute to the production of healthy bacteria in the gut. These beneficial bacteria are responsible for helping to digest food, absorb nutrients, normalize bowel movements, and maintain smoother and more effective digestion overall.
They can help lower blood sugar.
They may lower cholesterol.
Mushrooms have been found to reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol, thereby minimizing the cholesterol-raising effects of unfiltered coffee and contributing to overall wellbeing. Reishi mushrooms may be particularly helpful in this vein, but mushrooms in general are renowned for their LDL-lowering effects.
They’re less likely to promote sleep disturbances.
Mushroom coffee generally contains much less caffeine than the regular stuff, which means you can enjoy an energy boost without the insomnia or other sleep disturbances that may come from drinking regular black coffee. There’s even evidence that reishi mushrooms can actually facilitate falling asleep and improve sleep quality overall.
They may relieve anxiety.
Mushrooms have been shown to relieve anxiety and support the adrenal glands, thereby helping to mitigate caffeine’s anxiety-provoking effects. Mushrooms are powerful stress fighters that have been shown to reduce anxiety, insecurity, irritability, and other related symptoms.
Modern scientific research suggests that both coffee and mushrooms are packed with functional benefits that can help sustain and enhance emotional and physical wellness. Put the two together, and you just might be onto one of the newest and most powerful superfoods on the planet.