If being considered healthy is a race, then coffee is like U.S. 800 meter runner Dave Wottle at the 1972 Olympics. Just as Wottle seemed stuck at the back of the pack, coffee was far from something most would consider a health food just a few years ago. People worried the beverage was a potential cause of heart disease and even cancer. But now, new (and better) research has emerged.
For example, a 2012 New England Journal of Medicine study re-examined the research and discovered that, when you eliminate confounding lifestyle factors like smoking or poor diets, coffee drinkers are actually far less likely to suffer from cardiac issues — or any other life-threatening disease, for that matter. The data showed an inverse relationship between coffee and all major causes of death. Reversing course, the World Health Organization has announced coffee does not cause cancer and may help protect you from the disease. And just as Wottle kicked it into high gear down the home stretch to blow past his competition and win a gold medal, coffee has surged into the top spot on the list of health foods people consume daily.
Data already shows coffee is far and away the number 1 source of antioxidants in the American diet. (The fact most Americans need to eat more veggies and fruits is another topic.) Now manufacturers are trying to take things a step further by offering infused coffees that deliver even more beneficial properties per sip. They’re doing this by mixing in compounds, like nootropics, which protect or improve the brain’s performance, and foods like mushrooms, which amp up antioxidant levels even further. Here are three of the most popular blends on the market and what they can do for you:
If you went to a coffee farm, the plants don’t look anything like those hard little beans we all grind in the morning. The beans are hidden inside a large, round, reddish fruit. Until recently, the fruit mostly went to waste, being discarded in the coffee production process. Emerging research suggests it’s a potent source of antioxidants with brain-boosting potential.
Two studies — in the British Journal of Nutrition and Food and Nutrition Sciences — shows a concentrated form of these antioxidants increases the body’s production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF repairs broken neurons within your brain or helps it grow new ones. Until recently, the most effective known way to elevate BDNF had been vigorous exercise. This new research indicates supplementation is another option. Enter Neuro Coffee, which mixes a formulation of whole coffee fruit concentrate it calls NeuroFactor in with its java.
“Intense exercise increases BDNF, but not everyone has the time or physical capacity to exercise intensely seven days a week,” says Mike Roussell, who holds a PhD in nutrition, and formulated Neuro Coffee. He adds that including the supplement in something people consume daily helps ensure consistency. “Coffee drinkers always drink their coffee. I have my PhD in nutrition and don’t take my vitamins 100% of the time.” He does drink coffee every morning. And if you’re a coffee drinker, you likely do, too.
Roussell says every cup of Neuro Coffee delivers 100mg of whole coffee fruit concentrate, which is the dose shown to be effective in studies. The brew comes in ground coffee and coffee pod versions and is available here.
The idea behind Kimera Koffee was to take the nootropics the brand’s founders were already consuming and blend them with their morning brew. The resulting mix delivers 725mg of supplements like Alpha GPC, taurine, DMAE and L-Theanine in every cup. What’s the reason for each?
- Alpha GPC has been shown to help brain health in studies of rodents and the elderly. The compound may also elicit some benefits for resistance training, as a 600mg dose was shown to boost bench press power in a trial of seven men who had at least two years of training experience. It’s also shown the potential to improve power output during an exercise session and possibly enhance the output of growth hormones at a dosage of 600mg.
- DMAE is another mind-health compound that has mostly been researched for its effect on cognitive decline among the elderly.
- L-Theanine is known to take some of the “edge” off of a stimulant, such as caffeine. In fact, a combination L-Theanine plus caffeine has been shown to improve attention and cognition.
- Taurine is a substance you may recognize if you’ve ever looked closely at a can of Red Bull — it’s in there, too. This amino acid has been shown to improve blood flow at dosages of 1500mg. It’s also shown the potential to improve exercise performance in some studies.
Kimera Koffee offers several different coffee varieties, which are available here.
FOUR SIGMATIC MUSHROOM COFFEE WITH CORDYCEPS AND CHAGA
Why would you mix your morning java with mushrooms you’ve never heard of? Here’s the argument: “Mushrooms can potentially lower the acidity of coffee, lower cholesterol and reduce the jittery feeling of coffee,” says Tero Isokauppila, the founder of Four Sigmatic and author of “Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Adaptogenic Mushrooms for Whole Body Health.” You also get access to antioxidants and nutrients you might not otherwise consume.
For example, Chinese mushrooms, such as cordyceps, have been found to have the potential to be helpful in the prevention or treatment of chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes. In fact, cordyceps have a colorful history within Chinese medicine, initially being used by mountain herders who saw yaks, goats and other livestock who consumed the mushroom while grazing became “very strong and stout.” There are also some studies of endurance athletes that show supplementing with cordyceps can improve exercise capacity.
Chaga, meanwhile, is a mushroom that primarily grows in Russia, where it is used for medicinal purposes. Studies show this mushroom can stimulate the body’s immune system and even selectively kill cancer cells. Both chaga and cordyceps are classified as adaptogens, foods that reduce the impact of stressors upon the body according to Ayurvedic medicine.
Four Sigmatic offers its mushroom coffee blends as ground coffee, coffee pods and pre-mixed packets. You can find all of them here.