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Maitake

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In Japanese, maitake (Grifola frondosa</EM>) means "dancing mushroom."

In Japanese, maitake (Grifola frondosa) means “dancing mushroom.” One story is that the mushroom’s appearance - small overlapping fan-shaped caps with stalks that often fuse together in a heavy mass - resembles a cluster of dancing butterflies. However it came by its name, maitake’s medicinal properties are giving us something to dance about today.

Maitake is rich in fibre and low in calories and fat. It is reported to aid in cancer prevention and is believed to reduce the side-effects of chemotherapy. It is also used as an immune support tonic.

Prior to the late 1970s, maitake was only accessible as a wild harvested mushroom, but due to recent developments in cultivation techniques it is now widely available.

The Chemistry of the Dance

Clincial studies suggest that maitake activates various “effector” cells, such as natural killer (NK) cells and macrophages (cells that engulf and kill foreign substances) and T cells, which are white blood cells that can destroy some tumour cells. Clinical studies have found beta-glucan polysaccharides (complex sugar molecules) that are bound to proteins stimulate this response. A standardized and purified active form of the beta-glucans has demonstrated significant anti-tumour and antiviral actions in animal tests.

Maitake mushroom extracts, in particular, have been shown to potentially slow the growth of tumours, protect healthy cells from becoming cancerous, and help prevent cancer metastasis. Maitake may also minimize the side-effects of chemotherapy such as hair loss, nausea, loss of appetite, and pain.

In a recent long-term human study, the maitake mushroom extract appeared to stimulate the body’s natural defense system against HIV. Preliminary unpublished clinical reports suggest that topical use of maitake mushroom liquid extract and DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) shows promise in treating Kaposi’s sarcoma, a skin tumour that can afflict AIDS patients.

Animal studies conducted in the last 20 years have shown that powdered, whole maitake can lower elevated blood pressure, prevent the development of hypertension, and is effective at lowering blood sugar levels in diabetic test animals.

How Should I Take It?

Christopher Hobbs, author of Medicinal Mushrooms - An Exploration of Tradition, Healing and Culture (Botanica Press, 2003), recommends a daily intake of 3,000 to 7,000 milligrams in tea and soups or in supplement form. The commercial preparations generally provide three to 25 mg of standardized extract together with 75 to 250 mg of the whole powder per capsule (take two capsules twice daily). The liquid form contains 7.5 mg pure extract per 28 drops (suggested dosage is 12 to 20 drops three times daily). The benefits of maitake mushroom extract may be enhanced when combined with the whole mushroom.

Caveats

To date, most of the published studies on maitake have been animal studies and have not indicated any adverse effects. The whole powder and fraction forms have low toxicity and are considered safe. Some studies reveal a possible hypoglycemic effect on Type II diabetic patients.

The Bottom Line

Maitake is popular among consumers not only for its culinary use but also for it anti-tumour and immune-stimulating properties. In addition, it can potentially benefit people with hypertension and diabetes and provide support for chemotherapy patients and people with the AIDS virus.

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