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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?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
Episode #477

The Placebo Effect is Real

My colleague Brock Armstrong recently devoted an episode of the Get-Fit Guy podcast to the topic of placebos and he makes several interesting points. First, he notes that when we perceive a positive effect from a placebo, we may not be imagining things. Our belief or expectation that the treatment will have a beneficial effect may actually change how our bodies behave and respond in measurable ways.

In other words, you may not just feel sharper after drinking some Lion’s Mane coffee, you might actually score better on a test of cognitive function. Is the mushroom responsible for this or is it power of suggestion? Perhaps it’s a bit of both. As long as it’s not doing any harm, who cares?

You may feel nothing or you may feel like a million bucks.

Brock also cites studies demonstrating that the placebo effect isn’t entirely dependent on deception. Even if you know you are taking a placebo instead of an active medication, you may still get some benefit.

(For more on how the placebo effect can be used to enhance athletic performance, be sure to check out his entire episode.)

Of course, a placebo must also be harmless. And these beverages do appear to be safe. The amount of active compounds per cup is generally less than the doses used in various research and are well within what’s considered safe.

But the power of suggestion can be a double-edged sword. It’s possible to experience negative effects from a sham treatment, something we call the nocebo effect. A friend of mine, for example, tried the lion’s mane coffee and experienced a temporary but unpleasant state of agitation. Was it a reaction to the mushroom or power of suggestion? Who cares? It was enough for him to decide that this product was not for him.

These products are thoughtfully produced. There are two categories of active compounds in medicinal mushrooms; polysaccharides, which are water-soluble, and triterpenoids, which are fat-soluble. To their credit, Four Sigmatic uses a dual extraction process that captures and preserves both types of compounds. The products are also tested for pesticide residues, heavy metals, and mycotoxins.

Even so, the company can’t offer any direct evidence that drinking these beverages will increase your productivity, focus, or energy, boost your immune system, help you relax, or make you more beautiful. You may feel nothing or you may feel like a million bucks. Whether or not the benefits you perceive justify the expense will depend on your subjective experience (and maybe your budget). As Meg points out, this stuff isn’t cheap…you’ll spend $1-$2 per cup.

You may also be thinking that the benefits would have to be pretty extraordinary to be worth drinking mushroom flavored coffee! But these extracts are fairly mild in flavor. When blended with coffee or cocoa, you can barely taste them.

Have you already tried these new brews? I’d love to hear how you like them and whether or not you feel any different when you drink them. Post your thoughts below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.

Image of mushrooms © Shutterstock

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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