The Health Benefits of Maitake

A Mushroom That May Improve Ovulation in Women With PCOS

Maitake (Grifola frondrosa) is a type of medicinal mushroom native to northeastern Japan. Also known as "hen of the woods," this feathered, frilly mushroom is often consumed as a food and the extract is available in dietary supplement form.

Health Benefits

Maitake mushrooms are said to offer a wide range of health benefits. A key component in maitake mushrooms is beta-glucan, a type of polysaccharide, a long molecule of carbohydrates found to affect the immune system.

Maitake is often said to boost immune function and, in turn, fight certain infections. Maitake is also touted as a natural remedy for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It's even being researched as a potential cancer-fighter.

Although maitake supplements are often marketed to enhance immune function, there's currently a lack of clinical trials testing the effects of maitake in humans. Most of the studies have been laboratory studies. Here's a look at some findings from the available research:

Cancer

In laboratory research, scientists have found that maitake extracts may slow the growth of certain tumors. By spurring activity in immune cells (such as natural killer cells and T-cells), maitake is thought to help inhibit the growth of cancer cells. A component of beta-glucan known as the D-fraction has been found to have anti-tumor activity.

However, researchers have yet to demonstrate that maitake offers any cancer-fighting benefits in controlled clinical trials.

Diabetes

Some animal studies suggest that maitake may reduce blood glucose levels. In a study published in 2015, for example, maitake was found to reduce glucose levels in rats. Another preliminary animal study found that maitake mushroom extract improved insulin resistance. A health condition known to raise your risk of type 2 diabetes (as well as heart disease), insulin resistance occurs when the body fails to respond properly to insulin (a hormone that plays a key role in using blood sugar for energy).

High Blood Pressure

Maitake may help lower blood pressure, according to animal-based research. For instance, a 2010 study on rats found that maitake helped protect against high blood pressure (in addition to enhancing insulin sensitivity and curbing some aspects of inflammation).

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

A preliminary study shows promise for women with PCOS. In the study, 80 patients took either took clomiphene citrate or three tablets of a specific combination product containing maitake mushroom powder three times daily for three cycles. The researchers found that the mushroom treatment can improve ovulation cycle rates, but does not appear to be as effective as clomiphene in women with PCOS. However, there is potential for the treatment to be used when traditional treatments fail.

Potential Side Effects

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the side effects or safety of regular or long-term use of maitake mushroom extract. However, there's some evidence that maitake mushroom supplements may interact with certain medicines (such as blood-sugar-lowering medications and blood-thinning drugs like warfarin).  Avoid taking maitake supplements within two weeks of scheduled surgery.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough scientific data to provide a recommended dose of maitake mushroom extract. The appropriate dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice.

What to Look For

Maitake mushrooms are flavorful, extremely versatile mushrooms that can be roasted, sautéed, pickled or added to soups and other dishes.

If you're considering the use of maitake supplements or extracts, however, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen. Given the lack of clinical trials on maitake's benefits, supplements made from these mushrooms cannot currently be recommended for the treatment or prevention of any health condition.

If you choose to purchase a supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).

Lastly, NIH suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

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