What To Know About Grifola Frondosa
China and Japan have a long history of using the maitake mushroom medicinally. While this fungus traditionally treats diabetes and hypertension, modern research is revealing unique properties that could benefit more systems in the body. In Japanese, the name maitake means “dancing mushroom,” reportedly because people would dance in the forest when finding it.
As research and scientific study reveals, the main bioactive compound in maitake is a complex sugar known as beta-glucan. When eaten whole or extracted, a wide variety of beneficial effects have been documented and observed in both animals and humans. Here we’ll discuss the main uses, how beta-glucan works in the body, and what research supports any wellness claims.1
The Unique Properties Of Maitake Mushroom
Maitake, also known by its scientific name Grifola frondosa, grows wild both in Japanese forests as well as parts of North America. It grows wavy, leaf-like clumps and has been eaten and used in medicine in Japan and China for thousands of years.
As a food, maitake mushrooms are nutritionally rich, flavorful, low in fat, and are low on the glycemic index. They also contain antioxidants, fiber, minerals, amino acids, vitamins B and C, copper, and potassium while being low in sodium. These properties, shared by all mushrooms, make them a healthy and delicious choice when added to the diet.
The beta-glucan in maitake mushrooms--also present in most other medicinal mushroom varieties--is said to activate the immune system, exhibit antitumor properties, help control blood sugar levels, and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Beta-glucan is also an adaptogen, a substance in plants that help combat stress in the body and maintain homeostasis. When this complex carbohydrate is extracted from maitake, it forms a specific type of glucan called “Maitake D-Fraction.” Using this fraction, scientists continue to research the impact maitake has on specific systems in the body.2,3
Examining The Research
With a wealth of purported health benefits, is there any research to back up these claims? Maitake mushrooms have been extensively studied with promising results. While more research is needed to verify beta-glucan’s effects on humans, a variety of studies indicate that Maitake D-Fraction is a diverse and effective adaptogen.
Blood Sugar And Insulin Levels
Around the globe, Type-2 Diabetes is a growing epidemic with many harmful health consequences. In efforts to investigate how maitake mushrooms could help balance blood sugar and insulin levels, researchers in China examined how diabetic rats responded to eating fermented maitake and its broth. After two weeks, results showed a marked improvement in blood sugar levels and immune response in the diabetic rats.4
Another study examined the effects of alpha-glucan extracted from maitake mushrooms on diabetic rats. When treated with alpha-glucan (another complex carbohydrate), the rats lost weight and lowered insulin, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. It also increased insulin sensitivity and decreased insulin resistance--both factors in Type-2 Diabetes in humans.5
These studies suggest that maitake mushrooms could be beneficial in managing blood sugar levels and insulin resistance in humans. While more research is needed to verify the effectiveness in humans, the evidence is promising.
The Immune System
In addition to its positive effects on blood sugar and insulin levels, maitake has been noted to have immune-supporting properties. In studies on both mice and human cells, Maitake D-Fraction was observed to support immune system activity in essential ways.
In one study on human cells, the extract balanced interleukin-2 (IL-2), a molecule that signals immune system cells to attack harmful invaders. IL-2 can be synthetically made to target-treat tumors, though even small doses can be toxic to the body. The study observed that adding Maitake D-Fraction with a lower dose of IL-2 produced the same effective immune response as a higher dose of interleukin-2. This suggests that the maitake extract can help support various immune therapies while reducing harmful side effects.6
Another study in mice aimed to research beta-glucan’s effect on the natural, healthy immune system. Mice given Maitake D-Fraction showed a stimulated immune reaction, specifically in Natural Killer (NK) cells. NK cells are responsible for attacking other cells that become infected with bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. The results suggest that healthy humans could support their immune system with maitake mushrooms to prevent or better fight infections.7
Adding Maitake Mushrooms To One’s Wellness Routine
Given the good nutrition and possible benefits supporting overall health, incorporating maitake to one’s diet can be a delicious and beneficial addition. Adding the mushrooms cooked or raw into various meals provides an earthy, strong flavor packed with nutrients. Alternatively, maitake can be taken as a supplement in capsule form or powder, such as EcoNugenics’ MycoPhyto Complex. While maitake is known to be safe, people shouldn’t take it if:
- They are currently taking blood-sugar-lowering medications, as maitake might increase these effects in those with Type-2 diabetes
- They are currently taking warfarin, as a case with an adverse reaction has been reported1
As with any health routine and regimen--and especially if one is managing any serious health conditions-- always consult with a healthcare professional to make sure a supplement is safe. With a long history of health benefits and immune system support, maitake could be an effective addition to a person’s wellness journey.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Are maitake mushrooms safe to eat?
A: Maitake mushrooms have been eaten by people in China and Japan for thousands of years, and current research shows they’re safe to eat and take as a supplement. Of course, allergic reactions are always possible with any food, so it’s wise to ingest a small amount and note any adverse reactions before adding to a diet or wellness regimen.
Are maitake mushrooms good for us?
A: Anecdotal evidence and scientific studies both support benefits to overall health, including balancing blood sugar and insulin levels, supporting the immune system, and more. As a food, they’re low glycemic, low fat, and low calorie, a great choice for those managing their weight.
What is the best maitake mushroom supplement?
A: When choosing a maitake mushroom supplement, care should be taken to research the quality and potency. A formula that contains a blend of medicinal mushrooms, such as MycoPhyto Complex, can increase the benefits of maitake by combining it with other health-promoting mushrooms.
2 Gale Encyclopedia Of Alternative Medicine. Maitake. Encyclopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maitake
3 Kozarski M, Klaus A, Jakovljevic D, et al. Antioxidants of edible mushrooms. Molecules. 2015;20(10):19489-19525.
4 Chen Y-H, Lee C-H, Hsu T-H, Lo H-C. Submerged-culture mycelia and broth of the maitake medicinal mushroom Grifola frondosa (higher basidiomycetes) alleviate type 2 diabetes-induced alterations in immunocytic function. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2015;17(6):541-556.
5 Hong L, Xun M, Wutong W. Anti-diabetic effect of an alpha-glucan from fruit body of maitake (Grifola frondosa) on KK-Ay mice. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2007;59(4):575-582.
6 Johnson DM, Edwards E, Rosales A, Birdsall TC, Staren ED, Braun DP. Abstract 3515: Maitake D-Fraction, a natural mushroom extract, synergizes with Interleukin-2 for increased lytic activity of peripheral blood mononuclear cells against various human tumor cell histologies. Cancer Res. 2012;72(8 Supplement):3515-3515.
7 Kodama N, Kakuno T, Nanba H. Stimulation of the natural immune system in normal mice by polysaccharide from maitake mushroom. Mycoscience. 2003;44(3):257-261.