Mushrooms arouse mixed feelings in many people. Of the 38,000 types of mushrooms, only about 50
are poisonous and another 50 have medicinal value. However, several important historical figures –
Claudius II, Pope Clement VII, and Buddha – were poisoned to death by ingestion of mushrooms
and thus the image of mushrooms as potentially fatal lingers on in some minds.
Nonetheless, in the last decade, there has been increasing recognition in the Western world of the
beneficial effects of certain types of mushrooms. In Japan and China, legends about the ability of
medicinal mushrooms to preserve youth and increase longevity date back centuries, but only in the last
20 years has scientific research provided a factual basis for these legends.
In Japan, the Shiitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes) is the most popular mushroom for culinary
purposes. One of its extracts called lentinan was approved as an anticancer drug in the 1980’s in
Japan due to its ability to stimulate the immune system. However, for medicinal purposes it was less
than ideal since it had to be injected intravenously and was not effective by oral administration. There
are other mushrooms with medicinal value such as Reishi, Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, Turkey Tail and
Agaricus.. These mushrooms not only stimulate the immune system but are a rich source of amino
acids, vitamins, and minerals while containing little fat or cholesterol and few calories. No mushroom,
though, has been found to provide the health benefits of Maitake mushroom.
It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that a technique for artificial cultivation of maitake (Grifola frondosa)
was devised in Japan making it possible to conduct research on its properties. Moreover, it was
discovered that in animals maitake is clinically effective when taken by interperitoneal injection or by
oral administration. Subsequently, the focus of research and culinary interest in medicinal mushrooms
switched from shiitake to maitake.
The ingredient in maitake that confers its medicinal properties is a complex carbohydrate called
beta-glucan which comes from the fruiting body of the mushroom. The chemical structure of this large
and heavily branched molecule is similar to that found in other mushrooms or natural products such as
yeast and oat bran. However, maitake’s beta-glucan is more heavily branched than the others and has
proven to be more effective in activating immune cells that attack infection or cancer and in production
of immune modulating molecules such as interleukins and cytokines. A water soluble extract consisting
of this glucan bound to protein – called the D-fraction – is the bioactive material of interest for
A study was done comparing the cytotoxic capabilities of the D-fraction of maitake with
beta-glucans from other mushrooms and natural products such as the recognized immune system
booster arabinoxlyan. This study looked at the ability of these compounds to kill prostate cancer cells
in cell culture. Maitake’s D-fraction was by far the most potent.
What makes maitake truly unique among mushrooms and other natural products used for health
benefits is its wide range of actions on many disease conditions. While the so-called D-fraction
(Maitake D-Fraction®, produced by Maitake Products, Inc.) is effective as an anti-tumor agent and
immune system modulator, it has also been found to prevent cell death in helper T-cells infected by
the HIV virus. Some doctors have used the maitake liquid extract topically applied to Kaposi’s
sarcoma, a lesion frequently found in AIDS patients, and seen a reduction in the size of the lesion.
In addition to these immunological benefits, recent research has shown a remarkable effect of another
extract of maitake on the medical conditions collectively known as Syndrome X. Syndrome X
includes such metabolic disorders as elevated glucose, insulin, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels,
along with hypertension and obesity. Taken together these conditions constitute a significant risk for
diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. The "SX-Fraction™" of Maitake Products, Inc. has
been shown in numerous clinical studies to reduce levels of all of the above indicators in rats and mice.
In humans, there is mounting evidence that this fraction, consisting of a glycoprotein, is an effective
product for the treatment of the hyperglycemic condition found in Type II diabetes. In addition, when
consumed as the SX-fraction, maitake has caused weight loss in both animals and humans.
Medicinal mushrooms are neither plant nor animal but instead are a fungus with a wide variety of
healing powers attributed to them by myth and now substantiated by scientific proof. While once the
food of emperors in Japan and Pharoahs in Egypt, they are now accessible to ordinary consumers.
More Information about Maitake Mushrooms can be had from holisticonline.com