Also referred to as “hen of the woods”, or “dancing mushroom” by the Japanese, maitake is a mushroom native to China, but can also be fund growing in Japan and North America in clusters at the base of oak, maple or elm trees. While it has historically been revered as an important culinary mushroom in Japan, and widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its longevity and immune boosting properties, it wasn’t until the 1980s that maitake was grown and cultivated for commercial use.

Maitake is rich in polysaccharide fibers called Beta glucans, which activate and increase production of certain immune system cells, such T-cells and natural killer cells. These cells can help the immune system to efficiently fight against illness and increase our resistance to disease and sicknesses. Like other medicinal mushrooms, maitake is also an adaptogen, which helps the body adapt to physical, emotional and environmental stress, by supporting the adrenals, boosting the immune system and allowing the body to maintain balance.

Research is ongoing into the effects of maitake on cancer, blood sugar control, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and lowering blood pressure.

Active constituents 
Beta-glucans, fractions D and MD; Grifon-D, complex immunostimulant polysaccharides, amino acids, minerals (potassium, calcium, and magnesium) and vitamins b2, d2 and niacin.

Cautions and warnings
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult a health care practitioner prior to use.

AVAILABLE RESEARCH

Immune system
This study aimed to examine the immunomodulatory activities of maitake and its bioactive compound ergosterol peroxide (EPO). At low concentrations, EPO showed a full protection against cell toxicity.  Results from this study offer the conclusion that EPO may play an important role in the immunomodulatory activity of maitake through inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory mediators and activation of NF-κB signaling pathway.

The role of glucans (polysaccharides derived from D-glucose) in stimulation of immune reactions has been studied for several decades. In this report, researchers focused on the effects of orally administered maitake and shiitake on immune reactions. Short-term oral application of natural immunomodulating glucans from both mushrooms strongly stimulated both the cellular and humoral branch of immune reactions.

In this report, the effects of maitake and shiitake on immune reactions were examined. In the discussed study, mice were treated orally twice a day for 14 days with either maitake or shiitake, along with a negative control. The doses used in the study correspond to the recommended daily human-equivalent dose for each ingredient. It was found that short-term oral application of natural immunomodulating glucans from maitake and shiitake strongly stimulated both the cellular and humoral branch of immune reactions.

Polysaccharides are believed to be strong immunostimulants that can promote the proliferation and activity of T cells, B cells, macrophages and natural killer (NK) cells. This study aimed to investigate the effects of five polysaccharides, taken from mushrooms including maitake. Findings from this study indicate that polysaccharides may be used as immune regulators to promote the health of the public and astronauts during space missions.

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

There is ongoing research on the effects of maitake as it relates to the following health concerns:

Cancer
Maitake D-Fraction (extracted from maitake) has been reported to have an antitumor effect in mice by enhancing the immune system through activation of macrophages, T cells, and natural killer (NK) cells. In a previous study, the combination of immunotherapy with the maitake D-Fraction and chemotherapy suggested that the D-Fraction may have the potential to decrease the size of lung, liver, and breast tumors in cancer patients. In the this study, maitake D-Fraction was administered to cancer patients without anticancer drugs, and at the same time NK cell activity was monitored to investigate whether the activity is closely related with disease progression. Maitake D-Fraction hindered metastatic progress, lessened the expression of tumor markers, and increased NK cell activity in all patients examined. Thus maitake D-Fraction appears to repress cancer progression and primarily exerts its effect through stimulation of NK activity. 

Study of the maitake mushroom, with its immunomodulatory and antitumoral properties, has led to the isolation of several bioactive compounds. One of these, D fraction, is known to reduce tumor cell viability. This study examined the effect of isolated D fraction on viability and apoptosis of human breast cancer cells. These cells were treated with maitake (D fraction) extract or were left untreated (control) for 24 hours. The results confirm the apoptotic effect of maitake D fraction in breast cancer cells.

D-fraction has demonstrated anticancer and immunomodulatory activities, which are also shown to be potentiated by vitamin C (VC). It was thus hypothesized that a combination of PDF and VC (PDF + VC) could be an alternative approach to more effectively inhibiting cancer growth. This study demonstrates that the combination of PDF and VC can become highly cytotoxic, inducing severe cell death in cancer cells. This cytotoxic mechanism appears to be primarily attributed to oxidative stress, accompanied by a G1 cell cycle arrest. Therefore, as PDF and VC may work synergistically to induce apoptotic cell death, they may have clinical implications in an alternative, improved therapeutic modality for advanced renal cell carcinoma.

Injection of MD-Fraction (maitake extract) has been reported to inhibit tumor growth via enhancement of the host immune system. In this study, it was demonstrated that oral administration of MD-Fraction as well as i.p. injection significantly inhibited tumor growth in murine tumor models. The preclinical study suggests that MD-Fraction is a useful oral therapeutic agent in the management of patients with cancer.

Blood sugar control
This study examines the effects of maitake on insulin concentration, organ weight, serum composition, and islets of Langerhans in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Observation of insulin antibody stain in the Langerhans cells of the pancreas showed a decrease insulin antibody stain in the D group. The cells of the DM group were stained more darkly than those of the D group. These results indicate that the bioactive substances present in maitake can ameliorate the symptoms of diabetes.

Maitake has been confirmed to contain substances with anti-diabetic activity. In this study, when maitake was given orally to a genetically diabetic mouse, blood glucose reduction was observed, in contrast to the control group in which the blood glucose increased with ageing. Moreover, levels of insulin and triglyceride in plasma demonstrated a change similar to blood glucose with feeding of maitake. Results from the study suggest the anti-diabetic activity of reishi.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
This article reports that maitake improves insulin resistance, which is a key feature of PCOS. The examined study suggests that maitake may induce ovulation in PCOS patients and may be useful as an adjunct therapy for patients who failed first-line clomiphene citrate (CC) treatment.

This study aimed to determine the effects of an extract from maitake on ovulation in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). During the treatment period, 66.7% of the patients in the maitake group ovulated compared with 30.8 % in the control group. During the same period, ovulation was confirmed in 48.9% of the maitake group and only 15.4% in the control group. These results conclude that maitake is effective in the treatment of PCOS and that it improved the ovulation rate independent of insulin resistance.

High blood pressure
In this study, the effects of maitake on progressive, age-related elevation of blood pressure, over activity of the renin-angiotensin system (RAS – hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance), decreased insulin sensitivity, and inflammation in an in vivo laboratory model were assessed. It was concluded that maitake stopped the gradual elevation of systolic blood pressure over the four months of study, even reversing some of the previous elevation that occurred over time. Data suggests that maitake can lessen age-related hypertension, at least in part, via effects on the RAS.

This study demonstrates that the blood pressure of spontaneously hypertensive rats was significantly reduced by maitake feeding for an eight-week period, beginning at a time when the animals were 10 weeks of age with well-established high blood pressure.