Scientific Name(s): Grifola frondosa (Dickson ex Fr.) S. F. Gray.
Common Name(s): Dancing mushroom, Hen of the woods, Huishu hua, King of mushrooms, Maitake, Monkey's bench, Ram’s head, Sheep’s head, Shelf fungus
The maitake mushroom is found in northeastern Japan but also grows and is cultivated in the United States and Europe.1, 2 It is a basidiomycetes fungus in the Polyporaceae family (synonym, Polyporus frondosus Dicks. ex Fries).3, 4 The maitake mushroom grows in clusters near the foot of oak trees and can reach 50 cm in base diameter. One bunch can weigh up to 45 kg (100 lbs). Maitake has a rippling, flowery appearance resembling dancing butterflies, hence one of its common names, dancing mushroom.1
In China and Japan, maitake mushrooms have been consumed for 3,000 years, valued most for their legendary properties. Maitake's scientific name, G. frondosa, is derived from an Italian mushroom name referring to the gryfon, a mythological half lion and half eagle beast. Many years ago in Japan, the maitake actually had monetary value and was worth its weight in silver. In the late 1980s, Japanese scientists identified the maitake as more potent than lentinan, shiitake, suehirotake, and kawaratake mushrooms, all of which are used in traditional Asian medicine for immune function enhancement.1
The polysaccharide beta-glucan is present in low quantities (0% to 0.2%)2 in most of the mushrooms in the Polyporaceae family (eg, reishi mushroom) and possesses antitumor activity.1 The D fraction of beta-glucan appears to be the most active and potent form of the polysaccharide, a protein-bound extract developed in Japan.5 An MD-fraction has now been described, as well, with purportedly superior activity.1, 6 Both structure-functional relationship7 and fractionation by anion exchange chromatography of beta-glucan8 have been reported.
Neutral, acidic, and water-soluble polysaccharides have been extracted from maitake, and their structure has been determined.2, 4, 9, 10 Two different glycan conformations have been obtained from the plant.11 The beta-1,3-glycan grifolan conformation has been elucidated using magnetic resonance spectroscopy.12
Ascorbic acid analog and glycoside studies have been reported.13 A lectin from maitake has been isolated and characterized.14, 15 In addition, a grifolisin enzyme and the enzyme phytase have been described3, 16 and lysophosphatidylethanolamine has been identified in studies examining apoptosis in neuronal cells.17
Uses and Pharmacology
Immunostimulant activity is a characteristic of many medicinal mushrooms, including shiitake, suchirotake, or kawaratake, that are used clinically as anticancer drugs in Japan.1 Maitake's polysaccharide may be slightly different from the beta-glucans found in other fungi. The large molecular weight of the polysaccharide molecule and branch structure configurations may be important for its antitumor or immunostimulant effect.20, 21, 22 In 1998, the US Food and Drug Administration approved an Investigational New Drug Application for a phase 2 pilot study on the effect of maitake D-fraction on advanced breast and prostate cancers.1
Maitake extract has been studied in mouse and in vitro studies involving Escherichia coli.23 It activates macrophages;24, 25 enhances cytokine, natural killer, and cytotoxic-T cell production;1, 24 has antigen-specific antibody response;5 and is an immunostimulant protecting against toxicity of chemotherapeutic agents.26, 27, 28
Maitake demonstrated antitumor activity in mouse experiments4, 29, 30, 31 while in other experiments it exhibited synergism with coadministered chemotherapeutic agents.4, 27 Other experiments failed to show direct antitumor action.27 Prevention of metastasis by maitake has been demonstrated in mice.32
Some pharmacokinetic parameters of beta-D-glucan have been evaluated in mice.33 Experiments have attempted to evaluate dose-dependent anti-tumor activity as well as route, timing, and other factors.34, 35, 36, 37
There are a limited number of well-designed clinical trials investigating maitake's effects in cancer therapy. Additional controlled studies are needed.
Clinical case studies of liver, lung, stomach, breast, brain, and prostate cancers involving the use of maitake have been reported.1 A phase 1/2 dose-escalation trial in 34 postmenopausal (natural or treatment-induced) breast cancer patients who were currently disease-free, reported the largest functional immunological increases (more than 50% above baseline) in granulocyte response as well as production of interleukin (IL)-10, IL-2, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha by various subsets of T cells. Additionally, the largest increase occurred with the intermediate of 5 doses (approximately 5 to 7 mg/kg/day). In contrast, about a 20% decrease was noted in interferon-gamma production at a high dose (10 mg/kg/day). These results highlight the relativity of an "optimal dose," which is dependent on the specific immunological parameter measured.49
In a study of 165 patients, results suggested that quality of life indicators had improved. Of these patients, 90% reported an improvement in cancer-treatment symptoms (eg, nausea, hair loss) and 83% reported pain reduction.38
Insulin resistance/Diabetes/Polycystic ovary syndrome
When maitake powdered fruit body was administered orally to genetically diabetic mice, blood glucose reduction was observed compared with a control group.39 Maitake may control blood glucose levels by possible reduction of insulin resistance and enhancement of insulin sensitivity.1
Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia are prominent features of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). A randomized, open-label comparator trial (n = 57) investigated the ability of monotherapy and combination therapy of a maitake extract formulation (standardized to at least 18% SX-fraction) and clomiphene citrate to induce ovulation in women with PCOS. Nonresponders in either monotherapy group were subsequently given Maitake plus clomiphene combination therapy. Although ovulation cycle rates were significantly higher with clomiphene monotherapy than maitake extract (69.9% vs 41.7%, respectively), 87% of monotherapy nonresponders ovulated with the combination therapy.50
A few reports, mostly of animal experiments, on maitake's effects on diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, and viruses are available.
Hypertensive rats given 5% maitake mushroom powder had a reduction in blood pressure.40, 41 Similar blood pressure-lowering activity was seen in another study performed in rats, in which maitake extract lowered blood pressure from 200 to 115 mm Hg in 4 hours.42 In an unpublished human trial, 11 patients with documented essential hypertension took 500 mg maitake mushroom tablets twice daily. A mean decrease in diastolic blood pressure of approximately 8 mm Hg and a mean decrease in systolic blood pressure of about 14 mm Hg were reported.43
Maitake altered lipid metabolism by inhibiting the accumulation of liver lipids and the elevation of serum lipids in hyperlipidemic rats.44 Similar results were seen in rats fed a high-cholesterol diet.45 In another report, total cholesterol and very low density lipoprotein-cholesterol decreased in rats given powdered mushroom preparations.40
At least 2 studies are available concerning maitake's antiobesity activity. After 18 weeks, overweight rats fed unheated maitake powder lost weight compared with controls.46 In an observational study, 30 patients lost between 3 and 12 kg (7 and 26 lbs) after administration of 20 to 500 mg tableted maitake powder per day for 2 months.47
In an in vitro study, the D-fraction of maitake exhibited an inhibitory action on the hepatitis B virus alone and a synergistic action with interferon alpha-2b.48
A human trial of poor methodology attempted to demonstrate a positive effect on CD4+ count and viral load. In 35 HIV-positive patients given maitake powder and DM-fraction extract over 12 months, 85% reported an increased sense of well-being. The effect of maitake on CD4+ count and viral load was minimal.6
An in vitro experiment demonstrated that lysophosphatidylethanolamine, a chemical component of maitake, evoked a cascade mechanism that resulted in the induction of neuronal differentiation and the halting of neuronal apoptosis.17
Commercial preparations commonly provide 3 to 25 mg of standardized D- or MD fraction plus 75 to 250 mg whole powder per capsule. Whole powder capsules generally contain 100 to 500 mg, and a liquid extract of 1 mg D-fraction extract per drop is available.
Disease-prevention doses of commercial preparations range from 12 to 25 mg of the extract and 200 to 250 mg or 500 to 2,500 mg of whole powder daily. A trial among HIV-positive patients used doses of 6 g/day whole powder or 20 mg purified extract with 4 g whole maitake powder.
A trial among HIV patients used daily doses of 6 g whole powder per day or 20 mg purified extract with 4 g whole maitake powder.6
However, there are limited clinical studies to substantiate the efficacy or safety of this dose.1
Pregnancy / Lactation
Information regarding safety and efficacy during pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
Information is limited.
Because potential adverse reactions exist from mistaken mushroom identity, use caution when obtaining this particular natural product. (For more information, see the Mushroom Poisoning Decision Chart monograph).
In vitro studies indicate maitake beta-glucan had a suppressive, but not cytotoxic, effect on hematopoiesis at 200 mcg/mL, while maitake-derived grifon-D extract was cytotoxic to human prostate cells at doses of 480 mcg/mL or more.28
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