The Benefits of Oyster Mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms

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The oyster mushroom is a common type of edible mushroom. There are approximately 40 species of these mushrooms, such as Pleurotus ostreatus and Pleurotus eryngii. Often consumed as a food, it's also available in dietary supplement form. In certain systems of medicine (such as traditional Chinese medicine), oyster mushrooms are used to treat a variety of health conditions.

Oyster mushrooms contain a number of substances thought to influence health. These substances include dietary fiber, beta-glucan, and several other polysaccharides (a class of carbohydrates found to affect immune function).

Uses for Oyster Mushrooms

In herbal medicine, proponents claim that oyster mushrooms may help to treat the following health problems:

In addition, oyster mushrooms are purported to stimulate the immune system and protect against some forms of cancer.

The Benefits of Oyster Mushrooms

So far, few scientific studies have focused on oyster mushrooms. While there's currently a lack of clinical trials testing the effects of oyster mushrooms, some preliminary research has examined the potential benefits of this fungus. Here's a look at some findings from the available research:

High Cholesterol

A preliminary study published in Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry in 2013 found that oyster mushrooms may reduce cholesterol levels. In tests on rats, the study's authors observed that treatment for seven days with an oral oyster mushroom extract helped increase the animals' antioxidant status and decreased their levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. High triglyceride levels have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

In addition, a 2015 study found evidence that the dietary fiber component of oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) may be useful in reducing triglyceride accumulation in the liver.

Immune Function

Oyster mushrooms may enhance immune function, according to a small study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine in 2015. For the study, participants ingested an oyster mushroom extract for eight weeks. At the study's end, researchers found evidence that the extract may have immune-enhancing effects.

Cancer

Some preliminary research indicates that oyster mushrooms may possess cancer-fighting properties. This research includes a study published in International Journal of Oncology in 2008, in which tests on human cells demonstrated that an oyster mushroom extract may suppress the growth and spread of breast cancer and colon cancer.

Additionally, a mouse-based study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms in 2011 determined that an oyster mushroom extract may fight tumor growth, in part by activating certain immune cells. 

Side Effects

Although oyster mushrooms purchased at a grocery store are generally considered safe when consumed as a food (when properly handled), some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to this fungus. In addition, oyster mushrooms may cause an upset stomach when consumed in large amounts.

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of taking oyster mushrooms in dietary supplement form. Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

You can learn more about how to use dietary supplements safely here.

Alternatives to Oyster Mushrooms

There are several types of medicinal mushrooms that may help strengthen your immune system. These mushrooms include maitake, ganoderma, and shiitake

Getting your fill of immune-boosting foods may also help enhance your immune function. 

For help in keeping your cholesterol in check, make sure to get plenty of soluble fiber (found in a wide range of foods, including flaxseed and many grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables), limit your intake of saturated fats, and load up on omega-3 fatty acids.

There's also some evidence that drinking green tea on a regular basis and consuming plant sterols may help combat high cholesterol.

Where to Buy Them

Oyster mushrooms are sold as a whole food in many grocery stores. You can also buy oyster mushrooms in dietary supplement form in natural-food stores and stores specializing in natural products, as well as online.

The Bottom Line

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend oyster mushrooms as a treatment for any condition. It should be noted that using oyster mushroom supplements as a substitute for standard care in treatment of a condition (such as high cholesterol) may have harmful effects. If you're considering using them for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

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