Are Functional Mushrooms really “all that”?

It’s not a new thing that functional (medicinal) mushrooms are trendy. A couple years ago, a barista was promoting a new line of coffee to me which included different types of mushrooms that claimed to cure a number of ails. I tried a bit for about a month and shrugged it off as a fad and one that didn’t seem to deliver what it purported to do (for me). There was Cordyceps for “Performance” (mood and energy boosting!) and Chaga for “immune boosting” and “anti-inflammatory properties”. Lion’s Mane for “regulating blood pressure”. These coffee blends didn’t taste as good as the beans I usually enjoy and I didn’t notice any “stress relief” or “mood elevation”.

Whenever I feel tempted by the pitch before me, in spite of my innate skepticism, I do a quick search online to see if there are any worrying side effects and there didn’t seem to be anything too troublesome. I also recall ordering a latte at another joint offering the beneficial properties of these “magic” mushrooms (who doesn’t feel tempted by “hormone balancing” and “anxiety relieving” claims at 50-something?). Unfortunately, that magic latte made me feel a little nauseous afterwords and it seemed to spur on a hot flash well before I was getting them regularly. Perhaps, my body’s way of saying “JUST STOP WITH THIS SHIT”? I opted to stick with my usual Americano from then on (still, always magical for me).

Medicinal mushrooms fall into the category called “Adaptogens”. According to UCLA Health, “Adaptogens” are “herbs, roots and other plant substances (like mushrooms) that help our bodies manage stress and restore balance after a stressful situation“. Full disclosure, I have been taking maca for years, which is apparently an adaptogen. Am I leery of the claims made about maca? Yes. Do I still take them because I haven’t noticed any ill side-effects and they were recommended to me years ago by a naturopathic doctor and I am a creature of habit. Yes. Am I wasting my money taking maca? Possibly?

The other day I noticed someone on LinkedIn, of all places, promoting her company’s (“healthy fat chocolate”) partnership with a medicinal mushroom company. The post on LinkedIn claimed the following:

Adaptogens are hot and here’s why:

– they help us manage stress
– maintain balance (homeostasis)
– strengthen our internal systems which
– promotes vitality
– stabilizes mood
– improves focus and performance

I was somewhat surprised to see such emphatic claims by a successful CEO on LinkedIn. It kind of irked me. The absolutism of this type of marketing led me to do a quick search “proper science about medicinal mushrooms”. I’ll admit, “proper”, isn’t a scientific term.

I found an article from “Harvard School of Public Health” about the nutritional benefits of regular mushrooms (not medicinal), in general. I found a Guardian article from 2019 that discusses some of the promises of medicinal mushrooms, that are still being studied, but the line that stood out from this article was “There’s a dearth of evidence from clinical trials on whether those varieties help prevent or treat disease in humans.”

Of course, there are number of questionable “science journals” that talk about the benefits as if they have been proven but I couldn’t find anything from what I would think of as reputable sources that confirm the science behind the claims.

I am not a scientist and I didn’t do extensive research. Medicinal mushrooms may have promising benefits. They may not. Like most “wellness” marketing, the claims appear to be over the top to me and I don’t see myself jumping on the bandwagon in any real way, any time soon. I would suggest caution even in the face of slick business marketing.

What do you think? Are you sold on the magic of mushrooms? I’m sure there are many who disagree with me. Perhaps, who even have science to back them up.

Nicole P. on a stress-relieving jog around Chicago’s lakefront path on a quick trip recently.

3 thoughts on “Are Functional Mushrooms really “all that”?

  1. Like with most things in the “wellness” industry, I think self-testing is the best way to figure out if something works for you or not. And if its functionality is not “scientifically proven” yet and people want to say something is “just” a placebo, I’m not sure that’s too relevant. If the food or practice works for you, it works for you. So long as we are discerning and truly assessing impact. Lots of nuance.

    1. I agree about placebo and nuance, in general. My concern is when we don’t fully understand the risks. Also, the way these products are marketed with absolute certainty about benefits.

  2. I’m not a fan of taking anything whose effects we don’t understand. I worry about interaction with other drugs I’m taking so it’s not just a ‘does it work?” question.

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