It’s no surprise that caffeine is considered to be the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive substance. Think about its well-known benefits, including heightening focus, and its lesser-known advantages like delaying aging and reducing risk of cognitive decline, depression, and cancer. But caffeine isn’t everyone’s best friend. In fact, our favorite productivity fuel can actually trigger some pretty terrible side effects in some people–like anxiety, rapid and irregular heartbeat, restlessness, sleeplessness, gastrointestinal upset, and a host of other health issues.
I quit coffee six months ago. I only ever drank one or two cups of coffee a day, but I had started to notice that my anxiety levels were highest in the morning, soon after I had my morning cup. It’s no wonder that my anxiety peaked then. Coffee stimulates our adrenal glands, triggering the release of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Once I stopped drinking coffee, I noticed that the panic I would feel immediately after drinking coffee dissipated. This isn’t to say that my anxiety was cured, but it returned to baseline levels. The bad news? I definitely experienced headaches from caffeine withdrawal, but given that I was more of a mild coffee drinker, these subsided after a few days.
Still, after about a full six coffee-free months, something made me come crawling back. Perhaps coffee’s intoxicating smell, or the comfort in the familiar morning routine. Either way, I (sort of) relapsed.
Because I’m into trying weird holistic things, instead of going back to the regular stuff, I ordered instant mushroom coffee. I’d seen medicinal mushrooms becoming more popular over the last year, on wellness blogs, like MindBodyGreen and Well+Good, and wanted to give it a try. Mushroom coffee is just regular ground coffee with powders from medicinal mushrooms (it doesn’t taste like mushrooms at all, and the prep is the same as regular coffee). The coffee I bought at Whole Foods contained a blend of certified organic and fair-trade 100% Arabica coffee with endurance-boosting cordyceps, calming chaga, and lion’s mane mushroom extracts, which is thought to have cognitive-enhancing properties. I have been drinking it virtually every day for a month, and counting.
With mushroom coffee, I feel energized and alert without feeling anxious, restless, or experiencing an accelerated heart rate. I feel grounded, too, and even find myself sleeping quite well, even on days when I have a cup of coffee at 3 or 4 p.m., which usually would have sabotaged my 10 p.m. bedtime and delayed my ability to fall asleep until well after midnight. I also don’t seem to have any digestive discomfort, another side effect I experienced while I was a regular coffee drinker. Even though the medical community needs more clinical trials to come to a research-backed conclusion, I’ve come to a verdict.
As for what the science currently says, mushrooms like chaga, reishi, lion’s mane, and cordyceps are anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, gut-friendly, contain high amounts of antioxidants (more than acai, blueberries, and cacao), and support our liver in flushing out toxins. Mushrooms are also adaptogens–healing plants that, well, heal. World-renowned integrative medicine guru Andrew Weil, MD, describes adaptogens as being able to bring the body back to homeostasis. It’s no wonder medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries. Studies confirm they mitigate the effects of stress by supporting our adrenals–the glands responsible for balancing our hormones, and regulating things like our energy levels, emotions, metabolism, and brain function. And although an 8-ounce cup of mushroom coffee has around 50 milligrams of caffeine, about half that found in regular coffee, it is enough to keep you alert.
I’ve definitely enjoyed welcoming mushroom coffee into my mornings. If you’re someone who, like me, enjoys the taste and smell of coffee, but feels caffeine-sensitive, I’d encourage you to try it. It’s pretty cost-effective too. A cup averages to less than $1. It also comes ground, if instant coffee isn’t your thing. Alternatively, you can find mushroom powder alone and use it with any beverage, smoothie, or soup. Gwyneth does.
There are better tasting coffees, but I have found it’s one wellness trend that has lived up to the hype.
Joanna Townsend is a licensed psychotherapist and holistic health coach based in the Washington, D.C., area. She is passionate about wellness, real food nutrition, and mental health. Follow her for more wellness tips and tricks on Instagram.