On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Safety of Ongoing Mushroom Consumption Raises Questions

DEAR DR. BLONZ: What is known about the Ganoderma mushroom that gets roasted and used as a coffee substitute? I am having trouble finding out information from sources that do not benefit from its sale. I had a sample and enjoyed the flavor, and I have read about health benefits, but I want to know more about what I would be ingesting before I buy. Thank you for your help. -- G.G., Hayward, California

Dear G.G.: Definitely best to check things out in advance. A mushroom is a fungus and not considered a plant. It gets the nutrients it needs from organic matter; in essence, mushrooms live off dead plants. A number are treasured for culinary uses, while some are feared for their deadly toxins, and others are known for their psychoactive effects. Some mushrooms are studied for their medicinal properties. For example, a number of mushroom compounds are being investigated for effects on cancer when taken alone or used in conjunction with more conventional therapies. As is often the case with natural-occurring compounds, there can be variations from harvest to harvest. All this translates to plenty of unknowns about the precise identification and level of active ingredients and what they will do in the human body.

The beverage you mention is made from roasted Ganoderma, its full name being Ganoderma lucidum, more commonly known as the reishi mushroom. Reishi mushrooms have a long history in traditional Eastern medicine and herbology. An active area of study with reishi relates to their bioactive compounds and potential benefits to the immune system.

As exciting as this all is, it is essential to not get ahead of the science. I mention this because the compounds in mushrooms evolved to protect the mushroom’s ability to grow and propagate. They are in the mushroom to help the mushroom, not us, so they can be present in tiny amounts (although with some toxins, this is enough!). Does this all change if we “extract” a specific component from a mushroom’s symphony of self-made compounds and then give it to a human at higher levels? It can be an undertaking with some risks, so caution is advised. We should understand what’s going on as best we can to avoid inadvertently ingesting something that can cause harm. (See b.link/vpxxw for a general take on mushrooms.)

I am familiar with reishi being taken as a tea or added to a coffee product; it can also be dried and used as a dietary supplement. I am not very familiar with the roasting of reishi for use as a coffee substitute. It is unclear whether and how a roasting process might affect reishi’s bioactive compounds. Could there be potential interactions with health conditions, medications or other dietary supplements? If it will be used as a routine beverage, will there be an effect from chronic usage?

My concerns might seem a bit excessive, but it is important to think and act prudently when tossing unknowns into our mix, particularly if we have ongoing health conditions and are using medications. (Ironically, it is often when something is wrong and we are disappointed with existing treatments that we turn to such alternatives.) We go through this whenever we add something new, but we have a long history of use as a guide with foods and culinary mushrooms.

I realize that I am leaving you with more questions than answers, but I want you to be aware of the issues. Exercise caution. If you have ongoing health conditions and are taking meds, please run this by your health practitioner and your pharmacist and track what happens.

Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.