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Maitake Mushroom and Cancer

Maitake Mushroom

Other common name(s): maitake D-fraction, maitake, maitake extract, beta-glucan,

Scientific/medical name(s): Grifola frondosa

Maitake is an edible mushroom from the species Grifola frondosa. Maitake D-fraction® is an extract of this large mushroom native to the mountains of northeastern Japan. The maitake mushroom is eaten as a food, and maitake-D fraction is marketed as a dietary supplement in the United States and Japan. The substance in the maitake mushroom is thought to be active in humans and is called beta-glucan.

Research has shown that maitake D-fraction has effects on the immune system in animal and laboratory studies. There is no convincing clinical evidence to date in available peer-reviewed medical journals reporting that the maitake mushroom is effective in treating or preventing cancer in humans, although some human research is now underway.
How is it promoted for use?

Promoters claim that maitake mushroom extract boosts the immune system and limits or reverses tumor growth. It is also said to enhance the benefits of chemotherapy and lessen some side effects of anti-cancer drugs, such as hair loss, pain, and nausea.
What does it involve?

Maitake D-fraction is available in liquid extract, tablet, and capsule in health food stores, although the amount of beta glucan contained in each form may vary. The usual dosage of dried mushroom is between 3 and 7 grams daily. Maitake mushrooms are also available in grocery stores and can be eaten as food or made into tea.
What is the history behind it?

For thousands of years, Asian healers have used certain edible mushrooms in tonics, soups, teas, prepared foods, and herbal formulas to promote health and long life. Until recently, the healing properties of mushrooms have been the subject of folklore only. In the past few decades, however, researchers in Japan have been studying the medicinal effects of mushrooms on the immune system, cancer, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

The Japanese word “maitake” means “dancing mushroom” because people in ancient times were said to dance for joy when they found these mushrooms, which were literally worth their weight in silver. Modern research on the maitake mushroom and its D-fraction extract began in Japan in the mid-1980s and has only recently spread to the United States.

As of the early 21st century, much has been written about maitake and its purported magic healing qualities. This has sparked a great deal of interest in its use for various human illnesses.
What is the evidence?

Maitake mushrooms and the maitake D-fraction prepared from them contain a type of polysaccharide (a large molecule formed by multiple sugar molecules linked together), called beta glucan (sometimes called beta glycan). Beta glucan is found in several mushrooms, yeasts, and other foods. A polysaccharide is a large and complex molecule made up of smaller sugar molecules. Beta glucan is believed to stimulate the immune system and activate certain cells and proteins that attack cancer, including macrophages, T-cells, natural killer cells, and interleukin-1 and -2. In laboratory studies, it appears to slow the growth of cancer in some cell cultures and in mice.

Most of the research on maitake D-fraction has been done in Japan using an injectable form of the extract. A 1997 study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science found that maitake D-fraction was able to enhance the immune system and inhibit the spread of tumors in mice implanted with breast cancer. In a 1995 report published in the same journal, researchers concluded that maitake D-fraction was able to activate the immune systems of mice that had been injected with liver cancer cells. The extract seemed to prevent the spread of tumors to the liver and prevent the development of cancer in normal cells. A nonrandomized study of fifteen dogs with lymphoma did not find any evidence of benefit from the use of maitake extract.

While animal and laboratory studies may show a certain compound holds promise as a beneficial treatment, further studies are necessary to determine whether the results apply to humans. In 2002, a group of Japanese people with different types of cancer were given maitake D-fraction and maitake powder in addition to standard cancer treatment. Although the researchers thought some patients showed improvement, the study did not include a control group. Because of limitations in the study design, no reliable conclusions can be drawn. It is impossible to say for certain whether any effect was caused by the maitake treatments or standard cancer treatments the patients also received. More scientifically designed studies are needed to determine maitake’s potential usefulness in preventing or treating cancer.

The National Cancer Institute is sponsoring a very early (Phase I) study at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to learn whether beta glucan can increase the effectiveness of rituximab (a drug used for treating some types of lymphoma and leukemia) by increasing cancer cells’ sensitivity to it. This clinical trial is studying the side effects and best dose of beta glucan when given with rituximab. It will look at young patients with relapsed or progressive lymphoma, leukemia, or similar disorders.

In another clinical trial, beta glucan is being tested together with other drugs to learn whether they increase the effectiveness of a monoclonal antibody (3F8). Combining different types of biological therapy may kill more tumor cells. This is a small open label trial (so called because both patients and researchers know which treatment is being administered) in patients with neuroblastoma that has not responded to treatment. A trial of maitake extract as treatment for breast cancer is also in progress.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
This product is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. Unlike drugs (which must be tested before being allowed to be sold), the companies that make supplements are not required to prove to the Food and Drug Administration that their supplements are safe or effective, as long as they don’t claim the supplements can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease.
Some such products may not contain the amount of the herb or substance that is written on the label, and some may include other substances (contaminants). Actual amounts per dose may vary between brands or even between different batches of the same brand.
Most such supplements have not been tested to find out if they interact with medicines, foods, or other herbs and supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Because of these limitations, any information on ill effects and interactions below should be considered incomplete.

The maitake mushroom itself has been used as food for centuries and is generally presumed to be safe. So far, studies have not shown any adverse effects from maitake D-fraction or beta glucan, but human studies of their effectiveness in treating cancer have not yet been completed.

In animal studies, beta glucans of the type in maitake mushrooms lowered blood sugar and should be used with caution in people with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or those who are on medicines to reduce or control blood sugar. Beta glucans also reduced blood pressure in animals and may have a similar effect in people. Additional studies are needed to find out whether these effects occur in humans.

Allergies to many types of mushrooms, including maitake, have been reported. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.

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The Wondrous Maitake Mushroom

The Wondrous Maitake Mushroom

Maitake Mushrooms have been shown to help treat viruses, bacterial infections, cancers, and a plethora of issues. The Japanese call it Maitake, but it goes by a variety of other names such as Hen of the Woods, Sheep’s Head, and Ram’s Head. The proper name is Grifola frondosa. These mushrooms can be found growing in clusters at the bottom of trees. It is native to both North American and Japan, but is mostly known throughout Japanese herbology as a way to take body systems that are out of balance and put them into balance. Many find this mushroom to be quite appetizing, although some individuals may experience an allergic reaction, but this is very rare.

It is actually the underground tubers that the mushroom grows out of that is used in traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine. They are used to enhance the immune system. Research has also suggested that taking in whole Maitake has the capability of regulating glucose levels, blood pressure, and insulin. It may also be useful for weight loss because of the regulation of cholesterol, liver lipids, phospholipids, and triglycerides.

What makes Maitake Mushrooms so unique is the fact that they are rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium and they contain vitamins such as D2, Niacin, and B2. There are also certain fibers and amino acids that are essential for proper body function. Fortunately, just like many other mushrooms that are known to boost the immune system, Maitake contains polysaccharides, or complex sugars, that are needed to fight disease.

Deterring Cancer

Something that is particularly interesting about Maitake Mushrooms is that they are literally eaten as a food. It is their extract that is marketed in both Japan and the United States as a supplement. This is because of the beta-glucan that is included within it that is essential to sustain the immune system. This is a long chain sugar, which is called a complex sugar. It is a polysaccharide.

Tests have been conducted on lab animals that show the incredible immune boosting effects. Amongst these immune boosting effects is an impact against cancer. There has not been any thorough evidence that suggests that Maitake has a significant effect on cancer in humans, but there is human research underway. It is believed that there should not be any reason in which Maitake wouldn’t have a positive influence on someone battling cancer. It contains a plethora of other benefits that involve the introduction of vitamins and the immune boosting sugars.

It has also been suggested that the reversal of tumor growth is a possibility. There have been some cases in which this effect has been evaluated. Also, a person undergoing chemotherapy may experience less nausea, reduce pain, reduce hair loss, and feel relief from some of the other side effects of chemo. There have not been tests on humans to support these claims, but studies have been started.

Nevertheless, it is not dangerous to take in Maitake Mushrooms because there are no significant side effects except for allergic reaction in very few individuals. This is not something that is experienced by many and there may be other factors involved such as the use of certain medications while taking Maitake. There is also the fact that individuals should consult with a doctor regarding the ingestion of anything that is considered herbal to help health conditions.

As for research that has been conducted, it began in the 1980s in Japan and involved the D-fraction extract that is believed to have the biggest influence on cancer. This research has just spread to the United States. The evidence states that D-fraction contains that beta-glucan, which has already been mentioned as being a complex sugar with a lot of influence on the immune system. The beta-glucan is believed to stimulate the immune system so that it can fight off cancer and influence the growth of T-cells.

The Immunity Factor

Not only does Maitake Mushrooms possibly fight cancer, but the immune system effects are believed to fight off other diseases as well. Being that there are essential vitamins that occur naturally within the mushrooms, a person can receive some of their necessary nutrition. The immunity boost that is received can fight off many bacterial infections and anything that can interfere with the integrity of the immune system. By strengthening T-cells, the cells responsible for fighting off disease, Maitake is a great way to live a healthier lifestyle.

So if you’re looking for a way to feel better all around, improve body functions, have a positive influence on your heart, and increase your immune system, Maitake mushrooms is a great way to do that. They are readily available in both the United States and Japan. Although there is not scientific research yet available that etches the effects on cancer in stone, the nutritional benefits are worth making Maitake a part of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

The Power Within the Mushroom
By Omid Jaffari

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Maitake, Grifola frondosa, is a mushroom found growing wild in Japan and in forests in the eastern part of North America, where it grows on dying or already dead hardwood trees. The word maitake means “dancing mushroom” in Japanese; the mushroom was given this name because people were supposed to have danced for joy when they found it. It is also called “hen-in-the-woods” and can reach the size of a head of lettuce. Because maitake comes from the polypores group, it produces a bunch of leaf-like clumps that are intertwined. During Japan’s feudal era, maitake was used as currency; the daimyo, or provincial nobles, would exchange maitake for its weight in silver from the shogun, the military ruler of Japan.

The mushroom is also cultivated in laboratories by growing a small amount of it on a sterile medium in a Petri dish. This culture is used to make what is called a spawn, which is then inoculated into production logs made from sawdust and grain. During the next 30 days, the spawn settles in and binds to the log. Then the logs are placed in temperature- and humidity-controlled mushroom houses until the mushrooms begin forming. They are then moved to a mushroom fruiting house. The entire procedure requires a period of 10–14 weeks.

Maitake’s main ingredient is the polysaccharide beta-1.6-glucan, a complex carbohydrate substance high in sugar components bound together. The patented extracted form of this glucan is called the Maitake D-Fraction. Both terms can be used interchangeably. Two other components of maitake, named fraction X and fraction ES, were discovered by Harry Preuss, a medicine and pathology professor at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC.

General use

Although the Chinese and Japanese have used maitake in cooking and healing for many centuries, it is only in the last 20 years that studies have been conducted concerning its functions. Maitake’s main functions are activating the immune system and acting as an antitumor agent. Maitake is known as an adaptogen and tonic, and as such it aids healthy people to keep their levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight normal. The beta glucan in maitake is a cell-surface carbohydrate. This means that beta glucan aids cell communication in specific circumstances. As a polysaccharide, this glucan activates the white blood cells, called macrophages, which in turn devour microorganisms that produce disease, as well as tumors.

A 1995 study at Japan’s Kobe Pharmaceutical University investigated the effects of maitake’s D-fraction on cancer in mice. Results showed 73.3-45.5% reduction in breast, lung, liver and prostrate cancer growth, 25% reduction in leukemia, 33.3% reduction in stomach cancer and 0–16% in bone cancer. These benefits increased 4–13% when combined with traditional chemotherapy treatment, as well as reducing chemotherapy’s side effects and making it work better in treating cancer. Researchers attribute this latter result to the X and ES fractions of the mushroom. More recent studies of the use of MD-fraction in treating cancer patients have also found that its effectiveness varies somewhat depending on the type of cancer; a higher proportion of patients with cancers of the breast, lung, or liver showed improvement than patients with leukemia or brain cancers.

Another study by the same group of researchers looked at maitake’s D-fraction function of activating memory T-cells. In turn, these T-cells remember the cells that started the tumor growth and nail them for destruction. The study found that maitake both decreases cancer cells and prevents them from occurring elsewhere in the body. In addition to its antitumor effects, maitake extract appears to increase cellular immunity to cancer.

Cancer research on apoptosis is one of the main areas of study. This process of programmed cell death is found to kill not only cancer cells, but all cells. At the Department of Urology, New York Medical College, in vitro research by Hiroshi Tazaki and his team shows that the D-fraction can kill prostate cancer cells.

Preuss, who discovered the fraction X (anti-diabetic) and fraction ES (anti-hypertensive) components of maitake, conducted studies based on the hypothesis that such chronic diseases of aging as diabetes, hypertension and obesity are connected partly to glucose/insulin disorders. From his 1998 study, Preuss concluded that maitake could positively affect the glucose/insulin balance and prevent these age-related diseases. A study done at Georgetown University in 2002 found that an extract of maitake does indeed improve glucose/insulin metabolism in insulin-resistant mice.

Maitake’s affect on liver and cholesterol were discovered in two more studies at Kobe Pharmaceutical University. A 1996 study on rats with hyperlipidemia were fed either cholesterol or dried powder containing 20% maitake mushroom. Results showed that maitake altered the metabolism of fatty acids by stopping fatty acid from increasing in the liver and fatty acid levels from rising in the blood serum.

Maitake can also decrease high blood pressure. In 1994, a study at New York’s Ayurvedic Medical Center, hypertensive patients took maitake concentrate two times daily for a month. Results showed their blood pressure decreased from 5–20%.

Studies have also shown maitake can help AIDS patients. In Mushrooms as Medicine, two 1992 in vitro studies, one in Japan and one at the United States National Cancer Institute, showed that maitake both improves T-cell activity and kills HIV. One study, using a sulfated maitake extract, stopped HIV killing T-cells by 97%. Another study, in 1996 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, looked at the functions of a variety of edible mushrooms, including maitake. Although the study showed that the information for mushrooms wasn’t as strong as for vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, the study also recommended that more research should be done regarding the use of mushrooms to treat serious diseases, such as cancer and AIDS.

In 1999, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Maitake Products approval to conduct a clinical study using maitake (in its patented D-fraction form) in people with advanced breast cancer and prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) is less supportive of the claims made for maitake, stating in its guide to complementary and alternative treatments that “There is no scientific evidence that the maitake mushroom is effective in treating or preventing cancer in humans.” The ACS points out that the Japanese studies of maitake have been done on mice, and that further research is necessary to show that the benefits also apply to humans.

Maitake mushroom may be eaten fresh, made into a tea, taken as capsules, or taken as an alcohol extract.

When maitake mushroom is cooked, the taste is woodsy. The mushroom must be washed and soaked in water until it turns soft. It is sautéed in oil and used as a side dish, in stews, sauces, or in soups. Maitake mushrooms will keep from five to 10 days if properly stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator.

Dried maitake pieces may be made into a tea by using two to four grams per day, split into two preparations of tea. It is best to drink the tea between the morning and evening. To make the tea, it is first required to grind the dried maitake in a coffee grinder, then it is added to water, boiled and simmered from 20 minutes to four hours. Tea should be filtered before drinking. Grounds can be reused as long as they retain their color. Maitake can also be mixed with other tonic herbs, such as green tea or ginseng.

Capsules are available in 150-500 mg with a standardized D-fraction powder extract of 10 mg. They may be taken twice a day between meals or first thing in the morning. Dosage varies from one capsule of 150 mg to six capsules of 500 mg. It is best to consult with a health care provider for therapeutic doses. Taking maitake with vitamin C helps to increase maitake’s absorption. Capsules should be stored in a cool dry place.

The FDA approved-for-clinical-study maitake products are available in D-fraction extracts of two to four ounce bottles, as well as capsules.

Maitake is not recommended for children. Pregnant women and nursing women should consult a health care provider before taking maitake. People with such autoimmune diseases as lupus should avoid maitake. The mushroom stimulates the immune system, and their immune systems are already in overdrive.

Side effects

Side effects are rare and the only known one is possible loose bowels and stomach upset if the whole mushroom is eaten. To avoid this, take in capsule form.

Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine