Until recently, the benefits of maitake mushrooms were just folklore. Current research has emerged and shows this little mushroom contains many chemicals to help us stay healthy. Common names for the maitake mushroom include cloud mushrooms, dancing mushrooms, and hen of the woods. The scientific name is Grifola frondosa. The mushroom has been shown to contain anti-diabetic properties as well as anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties.
Maitake mushrooms are native to Japan. As just mentioned, they are commonly known as dancing mushrooms; this name comes from Japanese folklore that states when these mushrooms were found, the lucky person would dance with joy because these fungi were literally worth their weight in silver. They are used extensively in traditional Japanese medicine.
In the United States, the mushrooms are eaten raw or cooked. Dietary supplements available in the form of capsules and liquids are sold with the supplement name of Maitake D-fraction.
General Health Benefits of Maitake D-fraction
The supplement is highly promoted as a potent anti-cancer and anti-tumor remedy. Maitake mushrooms are known to help relieve the effects of chemotherapy. Reversal or prevention of tumor growth are other benefits to be gained by consuming the mushroom. What makes maitake D-fraction so healthy is a polysaccharide called beta-glucan, which occurs in other mushrooms and organisms such as yeast.
The benefits of beta-glucan are well known. In particular, certain beta-glucans help increase the immune functions of cells. The supplement exhibits similar properties.
May Prevent Certain Cancers
There is clinical proof that maitake D-fraction has a positive effect on the immune system. In particular, studies have shown that this polysaccharide promotes the growth of cancer fighting cells and it increases the ability of cells to fight off tumor growth.
Studies conducted at the Department of Microbial Chemistry at Kobe Pharmaceutical University (Japan) demonstrate that there is a direct link between the supplement and the body’s ability to fight off cancer1. A clinical study completed in 2002 included cancer patients ranging from 22 to 57 years of age. All patients were in cancer stages II to IV. In a non-random study, patients were given the supplement and whole maitake powder. The results were surprising. More than half of the lung cancer, liver cancer and breast cancer patients showed remission or noticeable improvements in symptoms. Other cancers such as brain cancer, stomach cancer and leukemia only showed a 10 to 20 percent improvement in symptoms.
Other studies involving the effects of maitake on cancer cells, tumors, and T-cells have been completed. Supplementation with maitake D-fraction appears to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy. The results of these studies are all showing great promise for maitake D-fraction as potential cancer fighting agents.
Maitake and Diabetes
In addition to anti-cancer properties, maitake shows great promise for improving or reversing diabetes symptoms. Studies done at the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, Faculty of Home Economics, Nishikyushu University in Saga, Japan in 2001 demonstrates that a diet high in maitake mushrooms can have a positive effect on insulin and blood glucose levels2. Further studies have shown that powdered maitake has distinctive anti-diabetic properties.
Are Maitake Mushrooms Safe?
Research has discovered no adverse effects or toxicity from using maitake mushrooms in any form. Toxicity studies show no adverse effects of maitake D-fraction when taken in pill, powder or liquid form.
The American Cancer Society states that supplementation with maitake D-fraction may be of help to cancer patients3.
The only caveat of the supplementation appears to be with patients taking medications to control blood sugar levels. For these patients, including those taking insulin, maitake supplementation is not recommended unless a physician is consulted. Combining maitake mushrooms with prescription diabetes medication can result in hypoglycemia and other complications regarding blood sugar. To date this is the only known negative effect of supplementation with maitake.
Call it what you want, maitake, dancing mushroom, cloud mushroom, hens of the woods, or Grifola frondosa, this mushroom should be added to every diet. To gain maximum benefits, consume maitake in dried, cooked, or supplement form.
1“Can maitake MD-fraction aid cancer patients?" Kodama N, Komuta K, Nanba H.: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12126464?dopt=Citation
2“Maitake (Grifola frondosa) improve glucose tolerance of experimental diabetic rats." Horio H, Ohtsuru M.: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11349892?dopt=Citation
3“A phase I/II trial of a polysaccharide extract from Grifola frondosa (Maitake mushroom) in breast cancer patients: immunological effects." Deng G, Lin H, Seidman A, Fornier M, D'Andrea G, Wesa K, Yeung S, Cunningham-Rundles S, Vickers AJ, Cassileth B.: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19253021?dopt=Citation
Mitake Mushrooms Information, History and Health benefits: https://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/DietandNutrition/maitake-mushrooms