Will Drinking Mushroom Tea Make You Healthier?
To brew or not to brew — that is the question when it comes to this popular drink.
Maybe you eat mushrooms in a stir-fry or on top of your salad — but what about drinking mushrooms? If you’re on Instagram, you’ve likely noticed the mushroom tea trend that’s become popular in celebrity and health influencer circles.
But why are people talking about this tea now? “I think people are always interested in the next big thing in nutrition — that one swap in your routine that will give you an edge,” says Christy Brissette, RDN, the Chicago-based founder of 80 Twenty Nutrition.
Mushrooms have long been known for their medicinal properties in Eastern medicine. “They’ve been used in ancient times, but modern research is just starting to look more closely,” says Brissette. So as more celebrities like Gwytheth Paltrow and health enthusiasts look for foods with potential health perks, it’s no surprise that mushrooms would be having a moment.
But there’s more to this tea than you might think — discover what’s in the drink (hint: It’s considered more of a supplement than a food), whether it’s healthy, and if you should be adding a cup to your morning or afternoon routine.
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The Lowdown on Mushroom Tea and What It May Do for Your Health
You may think that mushroom tea involves simply steeping some mushrooms you bought at the grocery store in hot water, but that’s often not the case. “The powders are different than mushrooms you find at the supermarket because they’re concentrated extracts as opposed to a fresh food,” says Davis.
In fact, the tea is more commonly sold as a mix, says Brissette. “Usually, it’s a powered mushroom extract blended with a type of tea, like green tea, so it’s not a food but an herbal supplement,” Brissette explains. You can also buy a mushroom-coffee blend if tea isn’t your thing — which is how Brissette usually drinks it, along with some unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
The variety of mushrooms that brands typically combine with tea — like Chaga, lion’s mane, and reishi — are chosen for a reason; they’re considered adaptogens, notes the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Adaptogens are herbs or foods that help your body adapt to stress, so there’s a lot of buzz around adaptogens and nutrition right now,” says Brissette. A November 2018 review in Chinese Medicine notes that adaptogens work by calming the central nervous system and moderating its response to cortisol, the stress hormone. They are especially helpful for external, environmental, and emotional types of stress.
Though Brissette says the modern research isn’t there yet, when it comes to backing up all the health claims about adaptogens, there is medicinal history to draw from. “The mushrooms often used in tea have a tradition in Chinese medicine and have been used for all kinds of health problems all over the world,” says Brissette.
What Are the Touted Health Benefits of Mushroom Tea?
Mushrooms in their fresh state have long been considered a health food — even in America. Fresh mushrooms are high in antioxidants and fiber and, when exposed to sunlight or UV radiation, are a good source of vitamin D, says Davis. Antioxidants play a role in preventing chronic disease, past research shows, while fiber helps you stay full and vitamin D keeps your bones and immune system strong, among other benefits, notes the National Institutes of Health.
Yet when it comes to the mushrooms in tea, the interest lies less in their fiber content. “Most of the proclaimed benefits are based on antioxidative properties of these mushrooms and their ability to fight inflammation,” says Davis, backing up research cited in a November 2014 review in Mediators of Inflammation.
Brissette echoes Davis, saying, “The potential health benefits center around the phytochemicals in mushrooms and their potential disease-fighting properties, which is why there’s so much research looking into mushrooms right now.”
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Here, three big claims that supporters of mushroom tea often tout and whether the science behind them really pans out:
Claim No. 1: Adaptogenic Mushrooms Can Help Fight Cancer
Though it sounds like an amazing claim (and if you don’t like mushrooms, it might make you want to start), the research published in May 2016 in Heliyonthat shows mushrooms may have cancer-fighting potential was done in laboratory and animal studies — not on humans. Thus, it’s way too early to draw conclusions before human trials are conducted.
“Much of the research on mushrooms has been done on animals and with isolated botanical compounds, so we don’t have a lot of high-quality, strong evidence on their effects in humans — yet,” says Davis.
Case in point: “One review of the anti-cancer properties of reishi mushrooms did not find sufficient evidence to back that claim but did find that it has immune-boosting effects,” adds Davis, referring to an April 2016 paper in the Cochrane Library.
Claim No. 2: Adaptogenic Mushrooms Help Control Blood Sugar
You might see mushrooms like reishi and Chaga promoted for their ability to help with blood sugar control and liver health, says Davis.
But again, the studies that show the link are typically done on animals and in laboratory settings. For example, previous research found that Chaga mushrooms may help mice with diabetes decrease their blood sugar levels. And in a January 2011 review in the International Review of Medicinal Mushrooms, researchers said, “Well-designed randomized controlled trials with long-term consumption are needed to guarantee the bioactivity and safety of medicinal mushroom products for diabetic patients.”
Thus, like with research on medicinal mushrooms and cancer, there just isn’t enough evidence at this point to show that they can have an impact on people managing diabetes.
Claim No. 3: Adaptogenic Mushrooms Can Give You Energy
Looking for a way to power through your day? “I’ve heard people say they get more energy from drinking mushroom coffee or tea,” says Brissette. Still, that effect could be due to the caffeine in coffee or tea that’s added to the mushroom powder.
Some supporters of the tea and its energy-boosting effects point to a few studies that explored medicinal mushrooms and athletic performance, notes Brissette. “A very small pilot study found, for example, that people taking mushroom extracts were able to exercise more heavily without being as tired,” she says, referring to a May 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The catch? Not only did the study look at just 20 people, but the subjects were taking three 333 milligram (mg) capsules of mushrooms per day (for a total of almost 1,000 mg) — not the 100 mg you might get from coffee or tea.
“This is a very high dose — so I wouldn’t expect to go to the gym and crush it because of mushroom coffee or tea,” says Brissette.
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The Final Verdict: Should You Give Mushroom Tea a Try?
Before you cast aside mushroom tea, know this: “While many of these benefits are questionable and not fully backed by science, mushrooms are certainly a healthy addition to most diets,” says Davis.
And Brissette agrees. “If you’ve checked it out with your healthcare team and the drink helps you feel better, then it’s worth a try.”
Because mushroom tea can be more expensive than conventional teas, Brissette says that the drink wouldn’t be her first recommendation.
“If people are wondering whether to invest in mushroom tea or take another supplement, I would suggest a DHA and EPA supplement if you don’t eat fatty fish, and a probiotic if you don’t eat fermented foods,” she says. “Start with basics before adding mushroom tea.”
Also, at this point, it’s unclear whether drinking the tea comes with any repercussions. “The side effects of mushrooms are just as uncertain as their benefits,” says Davis. That’s why, she says, it’s important to ask your doctor about any supplement you’re thinking about taking, especially if you are on medication.
And there’s a reason for that. “Chaga is high in oxalates, which, when taken in high doses, can reduce nutrient absorption,” says Davis. “Some mushrooms also have blood-thinning effects, so there could be interactions with medications,” she adds. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, certain mushrooms may also interfere with immunosuppressants and chemotherapy drugs.
Also important to note is the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements the same way it regulates conventional meds, making the conversation with your doctor all the more critical.
Bottom line: Discuss mushroom tea with your doctor, and if you get the sign-off, feel free to enjoy it. “I think for the majority of people there is no harm to it if you don’t drink excessive amounts,” says Davis. “So if it makes you feel good that’s great — just don’t expect it to be a quick fix to your health problems,” she says.