Oyster mushrooms are white mushrooms that resemble oysters, and they’ve been used in cooking and as folk medicine for thousands of years. In traditional Chinese medicine, oyster mushrooms are used as a tonic for your immune system and to treat a number of ailments. They contain several health-boosting compounds, including beta-glucans, polysaccharides and a number of vitamins and minerals. Oyster mushrooms are one of the easiest to grow at home and find in the wild, as they grow in virtually any climate wherever you find decaying trees.
Amazingly, oyster mushrooms have a medicinal effect that works against several of the most common diseases we face today, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. They’re shown to effectively protect cells from oxidative stress linked to cancer, lower blood sugar levels and reduce heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It isn’t hard to incorporate oyster mushrooms into your diet, and because they’re so safe you can even take oyster mushroom capsules as a daily supplement. Here are 9 impressive benefits of eating oyster mushrooms:
1. Provides Antioxidant Support
Antioxidants are important nutrients that lower your risk for disease by neutralizing free radicals. Free radicals are damaging molecules that destroy healthy cells and DNA in the body by stealing electrons from their molecules. Antioxidants stabilize free radicals with the spare electrons they need, preventing them from wreaking havoc on the body.
Oyster mushrooms are a source of multiple antioxidants, including ergothioneine, which is an antioxidant uniquely found in fungi. Whereas many antioxidants found in other food sources are destroyed in the cooking process, studies show that ergothioneine concentrations in oyster mushrooms aren’t affected by heat and cooking. Just 3 ounces of oyster mushrooms gives you 13 milligrams of ergothioneine, which is a significant concentration of antioxidant power .
Ergothioneine isn’t the only antioxidant compound in oyster mushrooms, however. The beta-glucans in oyster mushrooms also have an antioxidant effect shown to neutralize free radicals in animal models .
2. Helps Prevent and Fight Cancer
Polysaccharides found in oyster mushrooms have shown anti-tumor activity in test tube and animal studies. One type of polysaccharide known as pleuran is shown to kill colon cancer cells. The antioxidants in oyster mushrooms also help with cancer prevention, as free radical damage has been linked to cancer. The beta-glucans in oyster mushrooms help the immune system fight cancer by activating immune cells responsible for killing cancer cells. In fact, beta-glucans have been shown to stop the spread of cancer in animal studies, suggesting that food sources of beta-glucans such as oyster mushrooms could potentially play a role in helping to treat cancer . At the very least, oyster mushrooms can assist in cancer prevention.
3. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
High blood sugar is associated with diabetes, which has become a modern epidemic around the world. Oyster mushrooms can help prevent and combat diabetes with its natural compounds that lower blood sugar levels, including guanidine and beta-glucans. In a study on diabetic mice, oyster mushrooms were shown to lower blood sugar levels significantly and help restore kidney function .
Beta-glucans are also shown to lower blood sugar levels, as well as increase insulin sensitivity . Diabetics are resistant to insulin (the hormone responsible for transporting glucose from the bloodstream into cells) whereas insulin sensitivity is required for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. In a human study on patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, beta glucan lowered glucose levels in both groups. The higher the dose of beta glucan and the longer it was administered, the greater the effects were in improving diabetes. These findings suggest that oyster mushrooms, as a source of beta-glucans, may help diabetics manage their blood sugar .
4. Reduces Blood Pressure
Oyster mushrooms lower blood pressure and have a relaxing effect on the muscles in arterial walls. As a result, they help lower your risk for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease. Studies suggest beta-glucans are responsible for these effects. In animal models of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, they’ve been shown to effectively lower high blood pressure . This evidence indicates that oyster mushrooms can help keep your blood pressure in check and even reduce your risk for diabetes and heart disease .
5. Lowers Inflammation
Oyster mushrooms modulate the immune system in a way that reduces the inflammatory response. This can help manage autoimmune diseases, allergies and inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis. Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer and more. By keeping inflammation down, oyster mushrooms can help prevent disease as you get older.
6. Improves Immune Function
Another benefit of oyster mushroom’s immunoregulatory abilities is that it boosts your immune system when it needs a boost and downregulates it in the case of autoimmune disease and allergies, when the immune system is hyperactive. If you get frequent colds or your immune system is compromised by chronic stress, cancer treatment or another cause, oyster mushrooms can help rebuild your immune system’s activity. It helps stimulate the production of immune cells like B cells and T cells, responsible for producing antibodies and killing off infections and malignant cells. On the other hand, if you have an autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, taking oyster mushroom as a dietary supplement may help improve your symptoms by bringing your immune system into balance.
7. Fights Infections
Oyster mushrooms have antimicrobial and antiviral activities, even against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, including E. coli and Staph infections. They’re also shown to inhibit the replication of HIV virus cells. Oyster mushroom’s antifungal compounds are shown to kill Candida, which is a yeast associated with symptoms like heartburn, brain fog, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and sugar cravings.
8. Reduces Cholesterol Levels
Supplementing with oyster mushroom is shown to lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides in people with diabetes. High LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels are linked to heart disease, atherosclerosis and stroke, because LDL cholesterol builds up as plaque in the walls of your arteries and triglycerides add inches to your waistline. In human studies that show oyster mushrooms are able to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, no harmful side effects occurred. Therefore, it’s safe to say oyster mushrooms are a safe and effective supplement to help lower your risk for heart disease .
9. Improve Brain Function
Oyster mushrooms contain nutrients that are vital to brain function and preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. For example, niacin, which is found abundantly in oyster mushrooms, is shown to help ward off cognitive decline and prevent Alzheimer’s disease in elderly adults . Riboflavin, another B vitamin found in oyster mushrooms, also improve brain function and help preserve motor function as you age.
Oyster mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin B12, which is a nutrient typically only found in animal products. Vegans can enjoy the brain-boosting benefits of vitamin B12 by eating oyster mushrooms. Vitamin B12 helps boost energy levels, protect against neurodegenerative diseases and preserve nerve health.
10. Provides an Excellent Source of Vitamin D
Getting enough vitamin D is critical when you’re not exposing your skin to sunlight, which helps the body synthesize vitamin D. Oyster mushrooms are one of the few food sources containing vitamin D. Without adequate vitamin D levels, calcium can’t be assimilated. Calcium is the mineral your body requires in the highest amounts. Higher vitamin D intake is associated with better bone health and improved cellular function.
The vitamin D content of oyster mushrooms varies based on how much they’ve been exposed to UV light while growing. A cup of mushrooms has around 100 IU of vitamin D on average, or about 25 percent of your daily requirement.
Incorporating Oyster Mushrooms into Your Diet
The taste and health benefits of oyster mushrooms have been enjoyed by Asian cultures throughout the ages. However, Western medicine has recently confirmed its traditional uses and isolated several medicinal properties found to have amazing effects in the body. In addition to being a nutrient-dense food with few calories and virtually no fat content, oyster mushrooms have healing capabilities that can help people managing diabetes, cognitive decline, inflammatory conditions, high cholesterol, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure and more. They also help protect against disease by providing the body with antioxidants.
Oyster mushrooms are considered safe and have rarely caused adverse effects at reasonable doses. However, some people can be allergic to oyster mushrooms. Also, to avoid gastrointestinal side effects, avoid taking excessive amounts of oyster mushrooms. As a rule of thumb, stick to the recommended dose on any supplement label.
Eating oyster mushrooms at mealtimes is another great way to reap their benefits, as the nutritional and medicinal components of them aren’t destroyed in the cooking process. Look for oyster mushrooms in the produce section of your local supermarket or Asian grocery store. Or, grow your own oyster mushrooms at home for the freshest taste.