There are few things that bring me as much joy as a flat white of oats. Yes, I know, what a sad little life… but there’s the familiar, warming constant she brings to an otherwise manic morning routine, as well as the way she refreshes my brain for another mental workout in the afternoon. .
Indeed, perhaps like you, I’ve always credited a shot of caffeine—consumed while sitting or walking, from a coffee or my kettle—with all the productivity I need to fuel my to-do list.
And yet, over the past few months, I’ve slowly come to realize that my habit of having two coffees a day could be more than a temporary energy boost. It struck a chord, for example, when a friend told me that the first thing her new therapist asked her was if she was drinking coffee.
How much caffeine is too much?
Indeed, there is some evidence that caffeine can increase the likelihood of anxiety and panic attacks – the first of which I experience quite frequently. This is why the NHS states that more than 600mg a day can produce “insomnia, restlessness, palpitations, diarrhea and restlessness”.
One shot of espresso contains 64mg of caffeine, which means your regular two-shot, barista-brewed coffee has 128mg. While my two-a-day habit therefore adds up to 256 mg, this information still got me thinking – especially since there are vast differences in how different bodies are sensitive to the compound and how quickly they metabolize it.
So while I’ve always believed in the health benefits of the world’s most commonly used psychoactive drug, such as improved brain and heart health, as well as improved longevity and gym performance, and that I’ve always stuck to a ‘no coffee after 3 p.m. rule’, lately I’ve been reassessing my relationship with coffee. And, like clockwork, the wellness world has simultaneously concocted a seriously clever alternative: functional coffee.
What is a functional cafe?
What is functional coffee, I hear you ask? Well, it’s the coffee you know and love, but with an added blend of adaptogens (more on those later) and, sometimes, ingredients like probiotics and CBD. A slew of emerging brands are making such products, claiming they can stave off a caffeine crash to promote focus and calm.
Meghan Markle – who on her Archetypes The podcast revealed she ditched coffee during the pandemic – was ahead of the game in 2020 when she endorsed Clevr blends (lattes containing adaptogens, mushrooms and probiotics).
Meanwhile, London Nootropics (which contains balanced coffee with adaptogens) and Dirtea (balanced coffee with mushroom extracts) are helping it make a splash in the UK. In fact, the global functional coffee market is gaining momentum and is expected to grow by $2.36 billion between 2022 and 2027.
But is sipping functional coffee really the productivity hack your daily routine really needs? Or is it the latest wellness gimmick that makes wishy-washy promises to help you get up and work? This is what happened to my productivity levels, as well as my sanity, when I swapped my regular brew for the functional strain…
How could functional coffee work?
But first, let’s get to the bottom of its supposedly soothing, slow-release energy. As you may know, regular coffee acts as a central nervous system stimulant that fights fatigue by blocking receptors for the neurotransmitter adenosine to increase levels of other energy-regulating neurotransmitters. This can cause an energy “crash”. This is what functional coffee makers claim to be able to soothe using a group of ingredients called adaptogens.
“These are herbs and mushrooms that are thought to have particular health benefits,” says Karine Patel, registered dietitian and founder of Dietitian Fit & Co. These include the ability to modulate stress hormones, such as cortisol, and to have a positive impact on neurotransmitters associated with dopamine synthesis, norepinephrine release and increased serotonin.
“It is thought that, in coffee, they can help your body offset the ‘stress’ caused by caffeine.” Namely inhibit the action of an enzyme involved in the metabolism of caffeine. Sounds good, but is there any research to verify the idea?
Does any research back up the functional claims of coffee?
A little. Jo Cunningham, registered dietitian at Green Light Nutrition, mentions a 2020 study that compared regular coffee to adaptogen coffee and a placebo drink. “Those who consumed the coffee were found to experience a greater increase in diastolic blood pressure compared to the adaptogen version, although both of these increases were within the healthy range,” she explains.
“However, the research concluded that while both beverages saw increases in most aspects of cognition and mood, the effects waned sooner with the standard coffee compared to the adaptogen version where the improvements were – although more gradual – observed beyond 108 minutes.” The study, it should be noted, was funded by a company that sells functional beverages, with an author directly under their employ – the latter reality representing a conflict of interest.
That’s not the only red flag with existing research. Patel notes that: “Most research studies are very small and have been conducted in animals or test tubes.” To prove the benefits of these drinks, further research is therefore absolutely necessary.
Switch from ordinary coffee to functional coffee
Curious to see if functional coffee looked like it would work for me, even pending firm confirmation, I ditched regular coffee in its entirety for just under a month and swapped functional coffee from London Nootropics.
My box of sachets, which worked out to £1 per serving, had three varieties with appealing names. There was Flow (adaptogenic coffee with lion’s mane and rhodiola) for the “motivation, mental clarity and focus” that I would enjoy first thing in the morning to beat procrastination.
I would then switch between the immune-boosting Mojo (adaptogenic coffee with cordyceps mushroom and Siberian ginseng) and soothing Zen (adaptogenic coffee with CBD and ashwagandha) in the afternoon. Mixed in my beloved Soho Home mug with water and a sprinkle of oat milk, it tasted pretty much the same as my regular brew.
Guess what? My productivity skyrocketed. While I noticed the lack of a strong initial mental boost (you know, the kind that makes you feel like you can take on the world…for about 30 minutes), this simple tweak seemed to avoid quickly the caffeine “crashes” that I often experience after my regular coffee.
My energy levels
As a result, my energy levels remained stable throughout the day before gradually declining. This meant that even in the afternoon, when I would usually have a pesky meltdown, my focus and motivation remained high. Although, as always, the placebo effect may be at play, it certainly made a real difference in my time.
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How I felt at the end of the day
Another surprising thing also happened. Before, when I arrived at the party, I felt exhausted and mentally drained (I realize now probably because of my previous caffeine crashes), but with the functional coffee, I found that I had even more energy to give. Whether it’s to support my loved ones during dinner or my self-care routine.
The latter, centered around yoga, baths and (in fairness) curling in front real housewives was enhanced with a cup of Dirtea’s Super Mushroom Cocoa Blend (like a caffeine-free hot chocolate with calming properties). Also, my late-night anxiety showed much less and I went to bed wonderfully relaxed.
Are there benefits to sipping less coffee?
It’s certainly not me telling you to ditch your everyday Americano in favor of functional blends. “If your caffeine intake is moderate – up to four cups of coffee a day – then there is little evidence of health risks and growing evidence of health benefits,” Cunningham insists.
“As well as making us feel more alert, if you have a brew made from fresh ground, rather than instant, then among other bioactive compounds you will get plant chemicals called polyphenols, which have been linked to antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.
But it should be remembered that less is more. “Reducing caffeine has multiple benefits, such as less anxiety and better sleep,” notes Patel. “It can also have a positive impact on your gut and help you absorb nutrients better, as well as lower blood pressure and reduce headaches. Plus, although caffeine provides energy, it can lead to fatigue when its effects wear off – and we all know how it can stain teeth.
The final verdict
While functional coffee research is still emerging, Cunningham and Patel see no harm in trying to see if it benefits you. However, for anyone taking medication or undergoing chemotherapy, it is best to consult a doctor or pharmacist first, as with many types of medicinal mushrooms there have been cases of herb-drug interactions.
As you’ve probably guessed, I’m personally sold and think you should watch this space (AKA the menu board at a cafe near you)…
#replaced #flat #whites #functional #coffee #Ive #energy