Mushroom Coffee: The Science Behind the Trend
A new line of mushroom coffee promises to increase productivity, focus, energy, and much more. What's the science to support the claims?
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Meg writes: “I recently got a free sample of Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee from an online grocer. Surprisingly enough, I enjoyed the flavor, but it’s awfully pricey. But if it does even half of what they say it does for you, it might be worth it. Do any of these claims actually hold water?”
Good question! Four Sigmatic is a Finnish company that blends various medicinal mushrooms with coffee, cocoa, tea, and/or various herbs to produce a variety of beverages that supposedly will increase your productivity, energy, immunity, and beauty. Sounds good to me!
But can drinking mushroom beverages really make you more productive, resilient, relaxed, or good-looking?
What Is Mushroom Coffee?
The product line features four different medicinal mushrooms that purport to produce a range of benefits. Reishi mushrooms are supposed to relieve stress and help you sleep as well as boost immune function. Cordyceps are thought to increase energy levels and athletic performance. Lion’s mane is supposed to sharpen memory and concentration. Chaga is a potent antioxidant—although most mushrooms have relatively high antioxidant activity.
These mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine for thousands of years. There is also modern research demonstrating various beneficial effects, including increases in immune function and anti-cancer activity, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol, enhanced cognitive function, reduced anxiety, and so on.
But—and this is a big but—most of this research has been carried out either in test tubes or lab rats. In the relatively few controlled trials involving humans, the benefits have been modest or, in many cases, undetectable. Many of these research studies were small or involved subjects who were suffering from specific diseases, so it’s not clear whether the observed benefits would apply to a healthy population.
For example, one trial found that a reishi mushroom supplement reduced fatigue experienced by cancer patients. That’s not really the same as reducing fatigue in otherwise healthy people. Most of these studies have not been replicated or confirmed by subsequent trials. So, the science is still somewhat unsettled.
What Do People Say About Mushroom Coffee?
That leaves us with anecdotal evidence, and we are certainly not lacking in that. Many people say that after drinking these beverages, they feel remarkably energized, focused, or calm. They sleep better, they work better, they feel better. How much of that is due to good old-fashioned placebo effect? It’s hard to say. Sleep, energy, well-being, and focus are aspects of human experience that are notoriously subjective and suggestible.
It should also be noted that many of the people offering these glowing testimonials also participate in affiliate programs or partnerships. Meaning, they make money when you buy these products. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are lying about the benefits that they experience. But the prospect of earning some money by sharing good news about these products could certainly contribute to a placebo effect.
But what’s wrong with exploiting a placebo effect if it makes us feel and function better?