People who eat a lot of mushrooms may notice digestive issues, such as bloating or gas, after meals.
You may be wondering why, if mushrooms are such a healthy food, would they irritate your digestive system?
Mushrooms and upset stomach
Why would mushrooms cause digestive problems?
The first category of people who experience digestive issues when eating mushrooms — those who have gas and bloating — are probably reacting to a compound called raffinose.
Raffinose is a type of sugar found not only in mushrooms, but also in other foods notorious for causing gas — legumes (i.e., beans), cruciferous vegetables (i.e., cabbage and broccoli), and whole grains (i.e., wheat and oats).
Humans lack the enzyme required to digest raffinose.
This means that when you eat a raffinose-containing food (like mushrooms), this sugar passes through your small intestine and stomach undigested.
It then passes into your large intestine, which is home to countless bacteria and microbes.
Even though you lack the enzyme to break down raffinose, the bacteria in your large intestine do make this enzyme and can therefore ferment raffinose and turn it into a food source for itself.
The result is the production of short-chain fatty acids and methane, as well as flatulence.
The second category of people who experience digestive issues from eating mushrooms — those who have more serious symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain — may actually have an allergy to a component of the mushrooms’ cell walls known as chitin.
Chitin is one of the characteristics that distinguish mushrooms from plants.
While plants have cellulose as a key building block of their cellular walls, mushrooms have chitin.
Chitin is also a key element in the exoskeletons of insects.
Humans do produce the type of enzyme necessary to break down chitin — it’s called chitinase.
Some populations of humans have more capacity to consume chitin than others, especially if they historically consumed a lot of insects in their evolutionary past.
However, humans also have immune receptors that are sensitive to chitin.
This is why chitin can induce an intense immune response.
In people who have a mushroom allergy, their body does not recognize the mushrooms as safe and therefore mounts an immune defense.
As part of the immune response, histamine is released.
This causes inflammation and the onrush of symptoms we associate with inflammation — nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sometimes even trouble to breathe, skin rashes or hives, or headaches.
How to prevent getting gas from mushrooms?
If you have consistent digestive issues, like gas or bloating, after eating mushrooms, you’ll want to experiment with different strategies to mitigate those symptoms.
Digestive health is not one-size-fits-all, so what works for someone else may not be effective for you, and vice versa.
Self-experimentation is key to understanding how to improve your digestion.
The most obvious strategy for improving mushroom digestibility is to cook them first.
Mushrooms cannot be eaten raw by humans.
Cooking helps to break down the chitin in the mushrooms’ cellular walls, which makes them much easier to digest once you eat them.
There are many different ways to cook mushrooms:
- Sautéed in a pan, with oil and vegetables or meat
- As part of a soup or stew
- Slow-cooked or oven-roasted
Experiment with the different methods and see which ones you enjoy and which ones result in fewer digestive symptoms after eating.
This video can give you an idea for cooking tasty sautéed mushrooms!
Another strategy for digestive issues after eating is to simply limit your portion size.
It may be that you will experience an uncomfortable level of gas or bloating if you eat large portions of mushrooms, but it may be more tolerable if you simply eat less of them.
Experiment with different portion sizes to see how much you can tolerate at a time.
Finally, exercise is a great all-around strategy for improving digestion and reducing the amount of gas in your intestines.
Resistance training and easy cardio workouts are always a good strategy, as is increasing your overall daily movement.
Walking after meals is a great habit to implement to improve both your blood sugar response and your digestion.
Many European and Asian cultures have this practice, and we in Western cultures would do well to imitate them.
According to diabetes and exercise researcher at Old Dominion University, walking after meals stimulates peristalsis, which is the process of food moving through your intestines.
Even just a 10-minute walk will likely provide benefits.
Mushroom stomach ache remedy
If the above mitigating strategies didn’t work, or if you accidentally ate too many mushrooms and are having some intestinal discomfort, there are a number of traditional remedies that may help relieve your symptoms.
Some of the most popular are herbal remedies that include herbs like ginger or fennel.
You can buy these as a tincture, or even get whole herbs and steep them to make your own digestive tea.
Essential oils diluted in a carrier oil and rubbed on the stomach are another go-to strategy to relieve digestive symptoms.
There are many essential oil blends available that are designed specifically to help with digestive problems.
Mint tea, or any herbal tea that claims to aid digestion, is a good remedy to try and is also easy to find in grocery stores, and cheap.
For some people, adding a few drops of bitters to tonic or club soda is a good way to offset digestive discomfort.
Some people take digestive bitters prior to eating to facilitate good digestion.
For other people, apple cider vinegar can help, either before or after eating.
Just make sure to take no more than a tablespoon, and dilute it in water or another beverage before drinking.