Imagine a mushroom so incredibly valuable that, upon finding it in the wild, ancient foragers would literally dance with delight. In fact, this is where the Maitake mushroom is said to have got its name (in Japanese Mai means “dance” and take means mushroom). The mushroom was actually reported to be worth its weight in silver- a healthy sum indeed!
The reason why Maitake was thought to be so valuable was because of its many reported health benefits- a fact well known in Japan for many years.
In more recent times, the mushroom is becoming better known throughout other parts of the world, including the USA- and for good reason!
In fact, research done with Maitake extracts has shown promising results for treating diabetes, HIV/AIDS, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even cancer. More research is being done all the time.
What is Maitake?
The scientific name for Maitake is Grifola frondosa. It is actually a polypore mushroom, which means it has pore structure under the cap as a way to release its spores, rather than gills. The fruiting body is a cluster of multiple grey-brown caps, folding over each other, each between 1-4 inches across. In the wild, single clusters of Maitake have been reported to weigh up to 100 lb!
Maitake is one of the few medicinal mushrooms that is also a culinary delight, and is well sought after by mushroom foragers in the North Eastern USA and Canada, where it naturally grows at the base of oak trees. Here, Maitake is more commonly known as “hen of the woods”, due to its resemblance of a hen with fluffed out plumage. It is also sometimes referred to as “sheep’s head” or “ram’s head.”
Health Benefits of Maitake Mushrooms
Maitake has one of the highest concentrations of Beta-D-Glucans out of all the medicinal mushrooms, and various studies have been done to determine the mushrooms effectiveness against certain ailments.
A standardized version of the Beta-D-Glucan from Maitake, known as D-fraction, was developed in 1984. This compound, along with MD-fraction (an even more purified version of the Beta-D-Glucan) are the most commonly used forms of Maitake used in scientific research.
Various benefits of Maitake have been reported, including improving diabetes, helping reverse obesity, fighting viral infection, and modulating of the immune system. Maitake extracts have also been reported to be helpful to cancer patients undergoing treatment for chemotherapy. Many of the incredible health benefits of Maitake are backed up by rigorous scientific studies.
Helping Your Immune System
One common trait between all medicinal mushrooms is their ability to modulate the immune system. This means that they can help to kick-start a slow or sluggish immune system into action, or help put the brakes on an immune system that is overreacting. Mushrooms are able to do this because of the presence of Beta-D-Glucans. Each mushroom, however, will affect the immune system in slightly different ways.
Maitake extracts have a high concentration of Beta-D-Glucans relative to other medicinal mushrooms. Maitake mushroom extract powder from Thrive 6 contains no less than 35% Beta-D-Glucans.
The Beta-D-Glucans from Maitake are thought to have an effect on macrophages- the cells with the job of engulfing and destroying foreign invaders. The D-fraction appears to “activate” these macrophages, causing them to excrete proteins that act as a signalling device- allowing the macrophage to rapidly be aware of the presence of an invader.
It has also been discovered that Maitake has a profound impact on “natural killer cells” (NK cells) by increasing their effectiveness against tumor cells.
MAITAKE AND DIABETES
Diabetes (Type 1) is related to a malfunctioning immune system, where immune cells erroneously attack other cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. The inability to produce the right amount of insulin causes an accumulation of excess sugar in the blood, which can have a tremendous negative effect on overall health.
Studies have been done with diabetic mice, to see the effect of Maitake extracts on insulin levels. It was found that Maitake can favourably influence the production of insulin, lowering blood glucose levels. This could be due to Maitake’s ability to modulate the immune system.
Diabetics considering taking Maitake mushroom should use caution however, as medication intended to lower blood sugar combined with the effects of Maitake could cause blood sugar to drop below healthy levels.
MAITAKE AS AN ANTI-VIRAL
In lab experiments, extracts from Maitake have shown to have significant anti-viral properties. Recent studies support the potential use of Maitake extracts to fight HIV, with subjects reporting an improvement in symptoms. It is thought that Maitake works on HIV by both direct inhibition of the virus and by improving overall immunity, making subjects less susceptible to other diseases.
MAITAKE AND YOUR HEART
Maitake has shown promise in its ability to lower cholesterol, decrease blood pressure and help maintain or even lose weight- all of which are good for your heart. Animal studies have been performed showing that the subjects that were fed a high-cholesterol diet in combination with Maitake powder showed a lower increase in body fat. Human studies have also been done, with results showing that Maitake may help obese people lose weight by simply adding Maitake powder to their diet- with the Maitake helping to curb appetite.
MAITAKE AND POLYCYSTIC OVARIAN SYNDROM (PCOS)
This mushroom is known to improve fertility health. Maitake extracts have can be helpful in a large proportion of PCOS cases where insulin resistance was present. Studies have shown that Maitake was able to induce ovulation in many women that failed to ovulate with other prescribed treatment. This mushroom has proven to be beneficial as a standalone treatment and also when used in conjunction with other PCOS medication.
Get Some Maitake in Your Life!
If you're thinking you could use some Maitake, you should consider our 6 Mushroom Blend- THRIVE 6. It contains powerful Maitake extract, along with 6 other incredible species!