20 Nov 2023
If you’ve never heard of mushroom coffee before, the idea might sound a little strange. After all, we’re used to putting ingredients like chocolate, cinnamon, and agave nectar in our coffee, but not fungi! Yet the concept itself is nothing new.
Practitioners of traditional medicine have been consuming functional mushrooms in drinks for generations. Meanwhile, in Finland people used chaga mushrooms as a coffee substitute during World War II, when the real thing was in short supply.(1) And thanks to the many benefits of mushroom coffee, it’s now celebrated as a health-boosting beverage around the world.
So, what exactly is mushroom coffee? You might be visualizing a cross between coffee and mushroom soup, but don’t worry! The drink looks just like a normal cup of joe. The difference is that it’s made with ground medicinal mushrooms in addition to coffee beans.
Taste-wise, mushroom coffee is similar to regular coffee, but with more of a nutty, earthy flavor. The specifics will vary slightly depending on the type of fungi you use, because each has a unique flavor profile. Different functional fungi also have their own individual strengths when it comes to the potential health benefits of mushroom coffee.
Before we look at the benefits of mushroom coffee, it’s worth touching on the wellness-enhancing properties of coffee in general. Many of us consume it every morning to tackle fatigue, but coffee does more than prepare you for the day.
For instance, research links drinking coffee with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.(2) The drink may even significantly reduce the chances of developing depression.(3) Coffee’s neuroprotective effects could also lessen the risk of cognitive decline and conditions like dementia.(4)
Interestingly, coffee might be beneficial for weight management too. This is because it can decrease body fat and enhance gut health.(5)
So, how could adding mushrooms to your coffee bring even greater health benefits? Let’s take a look.
For those unfamiliar with them, medicinal mushrooms are specific species of fungi that have health-boosting properties beyond their nutritional value. And it’s because of these benefits that mushroom coffee is soaring in popularity. While each variety of fungi has its own advantages, there are numerous ones that they all share.
For example, one of the principal benefits of drinking mushroom coffee is the positive influence it can have on immunity. Functional fungi are rich in potent polysaccharides called beta-glucans. These help to activate certain types of immune cells, including macrophages and natural killer cells.(6)
In addition, beta-glucans act as a prebiotic.(7) That means they nourish the good bacteria in your gut and enable them to flourish. This further supports immunity because much of the immune system is located in the gut. Moreover, the condition of the gut even affects our brain health. So another of the benefits of mushroom coffee is that it enhances our mental health and cognitive functions.
Medicinal mushrooms also possess anti-inflammatory properties. This is key because experts have linked chronic inflammation with a host of diseases, from arthritis and diabetes to cancer. On top of this, functional fungi can act as antioxidants. That means they protect your cells against the damage caused by free radicals. Research suggests that such oxidative stress may contribute to several harmful health conditions, as well as ageing.
Improved cardiovascular health could also be among the many benefits of drinking mushroom coffee. Beta-glucans can work to improve cholesterol levels, which in turn lowers the risk of heart disease.(8)
That’s a lot of excellent reasons to give mushroom coffee a try!
Excitingly, the health benefits of mushroom coffee go beyond our physical wellbeing. The drink may also be good for our mental health.
As touched on above, one reason for this is the positive effect functional fungi can have on gut health. The gut produces certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which influence our emotions.(9) Therefore, keeping it healthy could actually help to boost your mood.
However, that’s not all. Medicinal mushrooms also function as adaptogens. This means they enable your mind and body to cope with short and long-term stress more effectively. That includes emotional stress as well as physical stress. Both can have very detrimental effects on our wellbeing, making this one of the key benefits of mushroom coffee.
There are two types of fungi in particular that are advantageous for our mental health: reishi and lion’s mane. Starting with reishi powder, studies have shown that this mushroom could help to relieve feelings of both depression and anxiety.(10) Furthermore, reishi can improve the quality and duration of your sleep.(11) Good sleep is among the most important factors in boosting both our mental and physical wellbeing. As such, this is one of the central benefits of mushroom coffee made with reishi.
Moving on to lion’s mane powder, this fungus also has the potential to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.(12) It contains bioactive compounds called hericenones and erinacines, which could boost dopamine levels and stimulate the growth of brain cells. Consequently, lion’s mane can additionally protect against memory loss, cognitive decline, and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.(13) All of which means lion’s mane is perfect if you want a mushroom coffee that helps to improve your focus.
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