What is Maitake Mushroom?
Maitake mushroom, also known as the Hen of the Woods, the Dancing Mushroom, Sheep’s Head, Sheepshead, Rams Head, the King of Mushrooms, the Cloud Mushroom, or by its scientific name Grifola frondosa, is a popular medicinal mushroom that initially gained popularity in Japan. Although it is most popular in Japan, it can also be found in the forests of North America, Europe, and China, where it is commonly found at the base of oak, elm, and maple trees. They are often harvested from September to October.
Maitake mushrooms have a very characteristic appearance. The top portion of the mushroom possesses several layers of caps that are curved upwards like spoons. The caps can obtain massive proportions, averaging anywhere from 40 to 50 pounds in the wild, although records exist that report specimens upwards of 100 pounds. The mushrooms change color over the fungi’s lifetime, with younger mushrooms being more yellow in color that later fade into grey or brown as it becomes older.
Many people enjoy the strong flavor associated with maitake mushrooms, and it can often be found at local grocery stores and specialty markets. The caps are usually the portion that is eaten, because the stems can be quite thick and difficult to chew. A ripe, edible Maitake mushroom is still firm to the touch and has an earthy flavor. Some people also claim it has a mild spiciness to it as well.
While many mushrooms have been used in traditional Asian medicinal practices, the amount of research backing the use of maitake mushrooms for several conditions is astounding. While many areas of research still need further study, the preliminary results are promising and warrant further study with human clinical trials.
Maitake Mushroom Benefits and uses
A Japanese study conducted in 2002 reported that maitake mushrooms contain compounds that may aid the fight in cancer. Those compounds (beta-1 and 6 glucan with beta-1,3 branched chains) increase the cellular immune response. In that study, people aged 22 to 57 with stage 2,3, and 4, cancers were given powdered maitake, and 58% of cancer patients with liver, breast, and lung cancers experienced improved symptoms. However, maitake was not shown to be significantly effective for patients with leukemia, stomach cancer, and brain cancer. This shows that maitake mushroom may have targeted effects on particular cancers. When maitake was taken in combination with chemotherapy treatments, cellular immune activities were also enhanced more than usual. While more research is still needed, animal studies were also conducted that support the same results.
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Although only preliminary research is available, the effects of maitake mushrooms on diabetes is promising. In 2010, an animal study was conducted where diabetic rats were given a maitake mushroom treatment. The results showed that maitake mushrooms were responsible for a decrease in body weight, improved insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol, and several other health benefits. The compound thought to be responsible for those effects is MT‐α‐glucan, which is thought to have an anti-diabetic effect. Another study also showed that maitake mushrooms also improved glucose levels in rats as well.
In 1987, a study was performed on hypertensive rats to determine the effects of maitake mushrooms on blood pressure. The rats were fed a diet that consisted of 5% maitake mushroom for a 9-week period. Not only did the experiment show that the mushrooms lower blood pressure, but it also had a positive effect on cholesterol as well. Those results were supported by several other animal studies performed in the early 2000’s; however, human studies and clinical trials have not been performed yet. Even though there are no human studies, many people report having lower blood pressure when regularly supplementing with maitake mushroom capsules.
Many of the studies that show maitake mushrooms may be beneficial for diabetes also had an unexpected result: weight loss. This weight loss, along with several other factors, contributes towards managing the condition. However, you do not need to have diabetes in order to reap the benefits of weight loss from maitake mushrooms. Maitake mushrooms are low in calories, fat, and cholesterol, making them a great addition to any diet. They also possess many key vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin C, D, B2, niacin, magnesium, potassium and calcium, making them a superfood.
In 2007, an anti-viral compound was extracted from the fruiting bodies of freshly grown maitake mushrooms. That protein was recognized in a test-tube experiment to inhibit the properties of herpes simplex virus type 1, the version of the virus that produces cold sores. While the effects of the specific compound on herpes type 2, the version of the virus that produces genital herpes, are not yet known or tested, maitake mushrooms themselves have been tested in a few animal studies and one small clinical trial in the 1980’s and 1990’s with promising results. Although more research is still needed, many people swear that it prevents the spread of cold sores and genital herpes.
A compound called D-fraction was extracted from maitake mushrooms during a study in 2007. This compound was used in combination with a standard hepatitis treatment, human interferon (IFN). The results showed that when the two treatments are used together, it may be effective for treating patients with chronic hepatitis. Another study was conducted that tested the effects of maitake mushrooms on 32 patients with hepatitis. While the placebo group was given an ineffective capsule, the treatment group was given capsules containing maitake mushrooms. The control group had a faster recovery from hepatitis than the placebo group, warranting further study in this line of research with a larger clinical trial.
Maitake mushrooms are thought to have an anti-tumor effect, and the compounds they contain promote both lymphocyte and macrophage activity. Although this line of research lacks studies on humans, it has been tested in dogs. The compound PET fraction was extracted from the mushrooms, and 3 drops per kilogram per day was administered to 15 dogs with intermediate or high-grade lymphoma. Although the results were inconclusive, no adverse effects were reported, and more research will hopefully be conducted that explores this area further.
Every study performed on cancer as well as studies testing the effects of viruses (e.g., HIV, herpes, and hepatitis) report that maitake mushrooms stimulate the immune system. In many of the cancer studies, researchers report that maitake mushrooms boost the immune system, allowing the body to fight the cancer itself. Similar processes are seen in fighting viruses. Even though there is still not much research on immune activity alone, in its use as a traditional Chinese medicine, maitake mushrooms were most commonly used to boost the immune system.
In the year 2000, a study was performed testing a maitake mushroom extract on 35 HIV-positive individuals. The majority of the patients had increased T-cell counts and 85% of the patients reported an increased sense of well-being regarding their condition and the effects of secondary viruses and illnesses. While this experiment still needs some fine-tuning and needs to be repeated with a much larger sample size, those initial results are promising regarding treatment for HIV.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
In this 2010 study, liquid extracts were removed from maitake mushrooms, and their effects on colon inflammation were evaluated. This study tested the effects of the extract on isolated human cells, and the results were so promising that a rat model was developed to also test the effects. In the rat model, the maitake mushroom extract was shown to be as effective as a standard IBD treatment, and if mushrooms were taken in combination with standard IBD treatment the results were even more promising. While human studies are still needed, the researchers suggest that maitake mushrooms may be an important food for the treatment of IBD.
Maitake Mushroom Dosage
Maitake mushrooms have been administered in capsule, tablet, and extract form in various studies. Since research is still preliminary, safe and effective doses have not been established.
In most instances, dosage ranges from 1 to 3 grams per day for preventative care (regardless of the mushrooms form), and up to 7 grams if using the mushroom to treat a particular ailment. However, dosage can vary due to factors such as height, weight, sex, and potency of the supplement. Thus, it is important to follow all instructions provided for the supplement. In all cases, mushrooms should be administered orally. These standards have not been determined by the medical community but are recommended by holistic practitioners and patient testimony.
Maitake Mushroom Side Effects, Safety, Dangers and Warnings
Maitake mushroom is generally considered to be safe to consume; however, potential side effects or toxicity have not been studied or scientifically reported yet. Human data on the effects of maitake mushrooms are limited, so it is not yet recommended to ingest maitake for the purposes of medical treatment, particularly without the consult or observation of a doctor. Because not much is known about the possible side effects of maitake mushrooms, there are some recommended precautions for the ingestion of the fungus.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid taking maitake as a supplement since possible side effects are unknown. In rare instances, an allergic reaction is reported.
Maitake mushrooms are known to reduce blood sugar, so if taking any medications for diabetes, it is best to first consult with a doctor. Due to its effects on blood sugar, it is also recommended not to take any maitake mushroom at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery. There are a few known drug interactions associated with maitake mushrooms, and they are mostly associated with diabetes medications such as (but not limited to): glimepiride, glyburide, insulin, pioglitazone, rosiglitazone, chlorpropamide), glipizide, and tolbutamide.
Low blood pressure is also associated with maitake mushrooms, and thus it may interfere with blood pressure medications.
It is not suggested to take maitake mushroom supplements if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are taking blood-thinning medications.
If you have an immune disorder, consult with a doctor before taking maitake mushroom supplements.
Buying the Best Maitake Mushroom Supplement
Buying the best mushroom supplements can be a confusing ordeal. It doesn’t help that there is an influx of cheap inferior products on the market. The 2 most important things to remember in order are:
- Only buy a Mushroom product that is listed as a Dual Extract.
- Make sure the Mushroom is measured by Beta-D-Glucan content.
This applies to Maitake Mushroom and all other mushrooms.
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Why a Dual Extract?
Most of the time extracts contain the important, medicinal properties of any mushroom, including maitake mushrooms. In order to get all the beneficial properties, maitake mushrooms undergo two extraction processes, resulting in a “dual extract.” This dual extraction allows both the water-soluble and fat-soluble compounds to be available for the body to take in, making the treatment much more potent. Without a dual extract, not all of the compounds can be broken down and taken in by the body, leaving many nutrients and benefits of maitake mushrooms to be unabsorbed. More specifically a single extraction process does not penetrate the cell walls of the chitin in Maitake Mushroom. This results in those beneficial compounds being “trapped” and not bio-available for the human body to absorb. A dual-extract ensures that you are getting the most you can from your maitake mushrooms.
Beta D Glucans vs Polysaccharides
Many people think that since mushrooms contain numerous polysaccharides, they are extremely healthy. Because of this, many supplement companies boast that their mushroom supplements have high levels of polysaccharides. However, high levels of polysaccharides are actually a poor indicator of mushroom quality, but there is one particular polysaccharide that is a good measure of quality: beta-d-glucans. Beta-d-glucans are usually the particular compounds that are tested in scientific studies and possess medicinal properties.
So, when purchasing a maitake mushroom supplement, do not be fooled by the polysaccharide content boasted on the bottle. Instead, look for the amount of beta-d-glucans contained in the supplement, sometimes labeled as β-glucans.
Mycelium vs Mycelium on Grain
There are different stages in the life cycle of a fungus, and two of those stages are the fruiting body and the mycelium. A mushroom as we typically think of it with a stalk and a cap is a fruiting body, but the mycelium represents a much earlier stage in the mushroom life cycle. Mycelium is a network of spores that collect together that only later develop into a fruiting body. The role of the mycelium is to collect enough nutrients to help the fungus grow into a mushroom, and grain is often a carrier of mycelium. Grain that contains mycelium is often sold to mushroom farmers for them to use to spawn and grow mushrooms.
Although the primary use of mycelium on grain is to grow new mushrooms, some people sell and use it as a nutritional health supplement. However, if you purchase mycelium on grain, you are mostly purchasing powered grain and the mycelium content is actually very low. Thus, the health benefits are minimal, and the supplements are high in starch content. When purchasing a mushroom-based supplement, it is best to avoid mycelium-based products. Instead, look carefully to ensure that you are buying actual fruiting body of mushrooms.