By John Hand –
Coffee is part of nearly everyone’s day. Whether this means making time to walk to their local coffee shop or standing blurry-eyed over a machine waiting for coffee to brew, a cup of joe is almost as essential as breathing for millions.
Americans in particular are coffee-obsessed, downing about 400 million cups every day. For perspective, the latest U.S. census put the country’s population at approximately 333 million people.
Coffee, however, isn’t the country’s only obsession. Millions are also fixated on their own physical well-being, which for some means finding a “healthier” alternative to coffee. One increasingly popular option is mushroom coffee. But no, this doesn’t involve the mushrooms found in the vegetable aisle. Instead, this emerging alternative is concocted through a dual extraction process where medicinal mushrooms are dehydrated, crushed into fine grain and mixed with coffee beans to produce that morning brew.
The demand for mushroom coffee is booming thanks to marketing campaigns that emphasize its various health benefits. The market is already approximately $3 billion and is expected to grow by more than 30 percent by 2030 to reach $4.1 billion, according to SNS Insider. This is great news for mushroom coffee producers. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the brew’s health hype measures up to the research yet produced.
Coffee health benefits reportedly are tied to the mushrooms, such as chaga, turkey’s tail, lion’s mane, reishi and cordyceps, used in its brew. They have all been involved in Chinese medicine for centuries and boast the ability to improve focus, generate calmer energy levels and build immune support. However, these claims are misleading.
The first trade-off when switching between regular coffee and mushroom coffee is the lower caffeine content. For those looking to lower their caffeine intake, mushroom coffee might be a great option. But for others who need a morning kick-start, this alternative may come up short. Caffeine in coffee provides a psychoactive stimulant that gives a person’s system a jolt. A cup of mushroom coffee has less than half the caffeine of a regular cup, so its wake-up call is muted. In addition, despite repeated advertisements, the mushrooms themselves do not offer a cleaner energy rush.
Mushroom coffee is also purported to enhance the immune system and lower inflammation because of the antioxidants found in the mushrooms themselves. Again, here the research comes up short on backing these claims. Studies have shown that animals may benefit from these antioxidants but there have been no studies on humans to support these claims. Clinical trials on people are a must before any possible mushroom coffee benefits can be cited.
“Medicinal mushroom advocates take an absurd leap when they refer to studies on the effects of single compounds on cultured cells or lab animals as evidence for the potency of powdered mushrooms,” Nicholas Money, Ph.D., a biology professor at Ohio’s Miami University, reported in a study published in the academic journal Fungal Biology. “It is impossible, for example, to link the immunological consequences of injecting mice with cell wall polysaccharides to the expediency of drinking hot tea brewed from shiitake,” he stated in his review.
Mushroom coffee can get away with wider health benefit claims because it is characterized as a supplement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ultimately, the restrictions around nutritional supplements are far less stringent than those for traditional food and beverages, which allows companies to promote the health benefits of mushroom coffee without needing the science to back up their claims. It also allows them to play faster and looser with their published ingredient breakouts. One study, for example, found that only five out of the nineteen supplement brands had the amount of reishi mushroom they claimed to have.
Some, however, argue that health benefits are in the eye of the beholder and they need time to materialize.
“We don’t claim [Mud/Watr] is going to make you a superhuman,” Shane Heath, founder of Mud/Watr, a mushroom coffee company, explained to The Guardian. “You can drink it and over time it will give you benefits the same way vitamins do.”
Health’s assessment may be fair enough. Other mushroom coffee proponents would argue that research will eventually emerge to support their claims. Until then, mushroom coffee is at worst harmless and at best trendy and potentially beneficial. In fact, the only tangible drawback to grabbing a cup may be the price. It will likely run twice the cost of a regular cup of coffee with little or no scientific evidence to support the benefits of the nutritional supplement.