Edible mushrooms in general are very beneficial. Many studies discuss the benefits of mushrooms, cordyceps, and nutritional yeast being another beneficial fungus, but the reason the health community has become interested in mushrooms recently is because there has been a great deal of emerging research which shows many fungus contain beta glucans, which are believed to be very beneficial for human health.
Aren’t Many Mushrooms Poisonous Though?
Some mushrooms are indeed poisonous and you may have grown up being warned about this fact, but it’s curious to note that generally only Americans are afraid of mushrooms.
Many other cultures prize mushrooms as a delicacy, and some believe this could be one reason why mushrooms are looked upon with fear in the US. Since the United States is a nation composed almost entirely of immigrants, a majority being of European descent, it’s easy to see why extremely toxic American mushrooms, which look similar to tasty European counterparts, might have made current generations of Americans fearful of these common culinary ingredients.
But Why Mushroom Coffee?
People drink coffee derived from the coffee bean for its caffeine, but there are many studies which show that we do become tolerant to the caffeine over time, and it will lose its efficaciousness to act as a stimulant.
The general theory behind ingesting mushrooms on the other hand, is based on clinical studies performed around whole mushrooms. However, using concentrated mushrooms is not well studied yet and there is no proof it will address the underlying reason of why you are tired.
As mentioned above, beta glucan is believed to be a primary reason why mushrooms are being scrutinized more closely, but it is not a 1-for-1 replacement for caffeine, or especially sleep.
Using either of these coffees is simply a band-aid that may help you short-term, but it does not eliminate the problems with a poor sleep schedule or fatigue. Ultimately, addressing why you are feeling tired will help you much more in the long run than using either coffee beans or a coffee mushroom product will.
Why Does Mushroom Coffee Seem to Work for Some?
Most likely, people who are vitamin, mineral or otherwise deficient in micronutrients do experience a benefit from ingesting mushrooms. It is not a stimulant, so that person likely needed more soluble fiber, vitamin B12, vitamin D or beta glucan in their diet. This will sometimes allow a person to experience an increase in energy or overall wellness.
However, it is important to note that treating any one product as a "superfood" can be a fallacy. These products are good when taken in moderation, with a variety of other foods. The purpose of eating foods is to ensure you are not deficient, e.g. eating enough calories so your body does not cannibalize its own muscle stores. Eating too much of any one food, even a superfood, will cause you to miss out on other nutrients, which may lead to other adverse symptoms.
It’s important to keep in mind that the reason you are tired and "need" coffee may not always be due to a lack of sleep. People nowadays are so hyper-focused on macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein) that they often neglect essential micronutrients (vitamin C, vitamin D, etc.) If you are deficient in micronutrients, it could be one reason you are tired, and mushroom coffee could provide a slight benefit, but it is important to fully address why you are tired in the first place.
What Should I Consider if I Decide to Try Mushroom Coffee?
Caution has to be taken during the manufacturing process, particularly when dehydrating ingredients as everything can become super concentrated.
What's important when evaluating a new product like this is understanding how the specific manufacturer is deriving the ingredients. In other words, examine their testing methods and ensure that the processor is following the proper protocols and standards in manufacturing the product. This is particularly true for a new product category like “mushroom coffee,” which would require vetting each and every individual brand creating said product, evaluating their testing methodology in detecting any possible toxins, contaminants, heavy metals or other harmful substances that could become super concentrated during processing. One manufacturer could be using a tainted ingredient, while another with the same list of ingredients could be perfectly fine. Much of this relies on trust, but with a new product like this, trust has not been fully established yet and it is possible for a nascent brand to cut corners when times are tight.
For instance, mushrooms that have no heavy metals present when first harvested, could have trace amounts that become more prevalent when they are dehydrated and ground down to be used in the coffee product. Ensure that testing is being done by a reputable lab that is accredited and certified by the USDA. It is not enough for the mushroom grower or even the processor to be inspected by the USDA. Every part of the inspection and testing process must be overseen by trusted and reliable sources and presence of toxins must be tested for, especially at the forms that will reach you, the consumer. And a test performed on one lot does not mean it is forever good. Regular testing and using a proven and responsible supply chain is very important.
Are There Any Side Effects to Mushroom Coffee?
Some people may be allergic to genistein and have a delayed immune reaction to it. Another compound that is present in shiitake mushrooms called lentinan is good for some people, but others still may be allergic to it. Worse yet, lentinan causes a bad rash that presents 10 days after it is ingested, so it may not be readily seen as the cause of the allergy in the first place.
Heavy metals or other toxins which are not properly identified by an accredited and trusted lab are yet another concern, but because super concentrated mushroom extracts are not a well-studied field as of yet, it is still undetermined if they are present in these types of mushroom products.
It is important to remember that mushrooms are beneficial, but focusing on solely one plant, chemical or other "superfood" can have unintended side effects. While mushrooms are very good and should be part of a balanced diet, every person is different and deficiencies as well as super-concentrations of compounds can affect every person differently.
Think about how you might know a family member who can get by with slightly less sleep, or a certain friend who seems to be able to eat more fatty foods with seemingly less consequences. While they may seem fine now, a poor lifestyle or diet may eventually lead to problems that flare up when their immunity is low, i.e. another medical complication occurs and things seemingly cascade into numerous health problems.
No one food is prescribed as medicine. If you are looking for a quick fix, thinking about if you need more rest or if eating fresh fruit and vegetables may help, but it is important to address the underlying cause so you can avoid complications when you are older and your immunity is not as strong.
Human beings are not like camels. We cannot "store" sleep, energy, or certain micronutrients. Focusing on one food or chemical may work for a while, but it is important to understand you are using it as a band-aid for an issue that can linger and present further complications down the line. A healthy and balanced diet is a better way to address energy concerns, and “energy boosters” should be seen as a way to get you to establish better everyday health habits, not become an addiction you can’t function without.