October 2021 Issue
Ask the Expert: Mushroom Coffee
By Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND
Vol. 23, No. 8, P. 10
Q: My clients have been asking about mushroom coffee. What is it, and what are its purported health benefits?
A: If you haven’t heard about this popular coffee, you will. Mushroom coffee involves adding mushroom extracts to regular ground coffee or using prepared blends that contain dried and ground mushrooms mixed with ground coffee beans. It tastes like coffee and is available as ground and instant coffee and coffee pods.
Mushroom coffee has many touted benefits, including decreasing stress and inflammation, supporting the immune system, improving memory and sleep, increasing energy levels, and relaxing sore muscles. The purported benefits are attributed to both coffee (which contains antioxidant compounds) and the supposed adaptogenic properties of the mushrooms used. This article provides an overview of mushroom coffee, including what’s driving its popularity, its nutrient content, and the science behind some of its health claims.
Rise in Popularity
Although mushroom coffee predates COVID-19, it’s become even more popular as the pandemic has continued, likely because certain mushrooms are claimed to help with symptoms and conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia—all of which have increased in the past year and a half since lockdowns and stay-at-home orders began.
A study released in 2021 investigated the early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sleep and psychological symptoms in 5,641 adults living in China and found high rates of insomnia (20%), acute stress (15.8%), anxiety (18.5%), and depression (24.5%).1 In the United States, symptoms of anxiety and depression also increased from April to June 2020 at a greater rate than those seen in the same period in 2019.2
Trendy Functional Mushrooms
Mushrooms certainly are nutrient dense. Although the nutritional composition of each mushroom varies, they tend to be a good source of vitamin D when exposed to UV light. Furthermore, mushrooms provide zinc, selenium, copper, thiamin, magnesium, and phosphorus, among other nutrients, many of which help support the immune system.3
The following mushrooms are among the most popular for use in mushroom coffee:
• Reishi is a tough and woody fungus with a bitter taste. Research shows that beta-glucans in reishi may help stimulate the immune system in animals and may have antitumor effects. It’s also been used to help treat Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer; however, this isn’t evidence based.4
• Lion’s mane is a mushroom that grows on trunks of hardwood trees and also is farmed. It’s purported to help alleviate anxiety and depression and improve cognitive function, but there’s very little research to support this5; and an investigation into its claimed effects on cognitive function in middle-aged adults showed no benefit.6
• Chaga is a mushroom traditionally used in some European and Russian herbal remedies. It contains the phytonutrients betulinic acid and polyphenols, which act as antioxidants, and has been used to help treat heart disease, diabetes, stomach and intestinal cancer, liver disease, parasites, stomach pain, and tuberculosis. However, there’s insufficient evidence for its efficacy in any of these conditions.7
• Cordyceps is a fungus that lives on caterpillars in high mountain regions of China. It also can be created in the lab. As with the other mushrooms, cordyceps also has insufficient reliable information about its alleged efficacy for treating fatigue, asthma, arrhythmia, and hypercholesterolemia.8
Health Benefits of Coffee
Coffee has been shown to be associated with numerous health benefits, including helping to lower the risk and progression of Parkinson’s disease, protect against the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and improve athletic performance.9-12 However, the 2020– 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming no more than three to five 8-fl oz cups, or no more than 400 mg caffeine, per day.13
Recommendations for Clients
If clients would like to consume mushroom coffee, RDs can advise them in the following ways:
• Recommend clients read the ingredients list to determine what they’re consuming, and suggest they choose mushroom coffee that uses dried and ground mushrooms rather than an extract, as the dried and ground mushrooms contain more of the whole mushrooms’ nutrients.
• Check for potential medication interactions with the mushrooms. For example, lion’s mane is contraindicated for people with diabetes, bleeding conditions, and surgery, as it can interact with certain diabetes medications and may slow blood clotting.
• Remind clients that mushroom coffee, as with any other foods or supplements, can’t provide a “magic” solution. If clients are experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, or insomnia, they should be referred to the appropriate health professional.
• Reassure clients they can consume mushrooms (whether fresh, canned, or frozen) and coffee separately and receive the same nutrients; they don’t need to be combined to maximize health benefits.
— Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, is the founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition (tobyamidornutrition.com) and a Wall Street Journal bestselling author. She’s written several cookbooks, including The Best Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook and The Family Immunity Cookbook: 101 Easy Recipes to Boost Health. She’s also a nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com and a contributor to U.S. News Eat + Run and other national outlets.
1. Morin CM, Carrier J. The acute effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on insomnia and psychological symptoms. Sleep Med. 2021;77:346-347.
2. Czeisler MÉ, Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(32):1049-1057.
3. Fulgoni VL 3rd, Agarwal S. Nutritional impact of adding a serving of mushrooms on usual intakes and nutrient adequacy using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011–2016 data. Food Sci Nutr. 2021;9(3):1504-1511.
4. Reishi mushroom. Natural Medicines website. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=905#scientificName
5. Hericium erinaceus. Natural Medicines website. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1536#scientificName
6. Saitsu Y, Nishide A, Kikushima K, Shimizu K, Ohnuki K. Improvement of cognitive functions by oral intake of Hericium erinaceus. Biomed Res. 2019;40(4):125-131.
7. Chaga. Natural Medicines website. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1474#scientificName
8. Cordyceps. Natural Medicines website. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=602#scientificName
9. Hong CT, Lung C, Chyi-Huey B. The effect of caffeine on the risk and progression of Parkinson’s disease: a meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1860.
10. Eskelinen MH, Kivipelto M. Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S167-S174.
11. Williamson G. Protection against developing type 2 diabetes by coffee consumption: assessment of the role of chlorogenic acid and metabolites on glycaemic responses. Food Funct. 2020;11(6):4826-4833.
12. Karayigit R, Naderi A, Firat A, et al. Effects of different doses of caffeinated coffee on muscular endurance, cognitive performance, and cardiac autonomic modulation in caffeine naive female athletes. Nutrients. 2021;13(1):2.
13. US Department of Agriculture; US Department of Health and Human Services. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Published December 2020.