Traditional medicine of the east brings us another fantastic mushroom! People use maitake to support immunity, liver function, and stress response, while modern research reveals exciting anti-cancer potential. Read on to discover the surprising maitake benefits, along with dosage and safety precautions.
What are Maitake Mushrooms?
Synonyms: Champignon Maitake, Dancing Mushroom, King Of Mushrooms
The King of Mushrooms
Maitake or Grifola frondosa is an edible mushroom from East Asia, now widely cultivated around the world for its nutritional and medicinal values. In the wild, it forms huge clusters at the tree base during the autumn months. Impressive size has earned it the nickname: “the king of mushrooms” .
This mushroom has recently gained popularity in the west for its health and vitality-promoting effects. People from Japan and China have used it for centuries in their cuisine and traditional medicine.
Did you know? In Japanese, “maitake” means dancing mushroom. Legend says that people would dance with joy upon finding this mushroom in the wild, knowing about its healing properties.
Traditional and Modern Uses
Ancient medical scripts from the east mention maitake as a powerful remedy to protect the lungs and liver and boost “qi” or life force. Traditional Chinese medicine uses this mushroom as an adaptogen — a tonic that balances the entire body and improves stress resilience [2, 3].
In modern medicine, people mostly use maitake to enhance immunity, combat diabetes, and support cancer treatment .
This post reviews the scientific evidence to determine the potential uses & benefits of maitake, while pointing out significant drawbacks and limitations.
- Stimulates the immune response
- May improve metabolic health
- May have anti-cancer effects
- May induce ovulation
- Limited clinical evidence
- May cause allergic reactions
- Unknown safety for pregnant and nursing women
Active Components & Mechanism of Action
The primary active ingredients in the fruit body are beta-glucans, polysaccharides with versatile health benefits. In maitake, they are fused with protein to form specific glycoproteins: D-fraction and SX-fraction. This mushroom is rich in other metabolites and healthy fiber, too .
A decent amount of research backs up the uses of maitake D-fraction. Japanese scientists took a step further and purified a so-called MD-fraction, which supposedly offers therapeutic advantages .
- Boost the immune response
- Reduce oxidative stress
- Inhibit cancers cells
- Improve metabolic health
Different polyphenols enhance the antioxidant properties of maitake mushrooms .
Besides their active components, the excellent nutritional profile makes maitake a popular cooking ingredient around the globe. They provide :
At the same time, maitake mushrooms are low in fat, sodium, and calories.
Like all mushrooms, maitake produces vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) when exposed to UV/sunlight. This form of vitamin D is not as potent as D3 (cholecalciferol) but still contributes to bone health, immunity, and other vital functions .
Health Benefits of Maitake Mushrooms
Insufficient Evidence for:
The following benefits are only supported by low-quality clinical studies and preclinical research. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of maitake for any of the below-listed uses. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
1) Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
In women with PCOS, the ovaries produce more male reproductive hormones, which may cause acne, weight gain, and reduced fertility .
A product containing the SX-fraction and maitake powder helped induce ovulation and increased the effectiveness of standard treatment (clomiphene citrate) in 80 women with PCOS. When taken alone, the maitake product was less effective than clomiphene .
Patients with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) have impaired bone marrow function, which reduces their blood cell counts and increases the risk of infection. In 18 MDS patients, maitake extract enhanced the production and activity of neutrophils and monocytes, thus improving their immune response .
In 34 older breast cancer patients, post-treatment supplementation with a maitake extract boosted some immunity parameters but suppressed others. The authors called for further research on maitake’s immune-modulating effects .
Studies in animals and test tubes indicate the potential of maitake polysaccharides to stimulate the bone marrow and increase the activity of white blood cells. A combination with another medicinal mushroom, shiitake, may be even more potent [16, 17, 18].
The D-fraction (beta-glucan) is primarily responsible for the observed immune-boosting activities .
3) Anti-Cancer Effects
The findings discussed below stem from preliminary clinical research and animal studies. They should guide further investigation, but you shouldn’t interpret them as supportive of the anti-cancer effects. Maitake supplements aren’t approved for cancer prevention or treatment.
Potent effects of maitake on the immune system have led scientists to investigate its anti-cancer potential. The US National Cancer Institute has acknowledged the anti-cancer and immune-stimulating properties of this mushroom. Chinese doctors already use D-fraction as a complementary cancer drug [20, 5].
One trial tested a combination of maitake powder and D-fraction in cancer patients who discontinued chemotherapy due to side effects. Significant improvement or cancer regression occurred in :
- 69% (11/16) of breast cancer patients
- 58% (7/12) of liver cancer patients
- 63% (5/8) lung cancer patients
Patients with leukemia, stomach cancer, and brain cancer saw less significant improvements.
The same maitake extract increased NK cell activity 1.2-2.7 times in 8 cancer patients and maintained the change for one year .
The above trials were conducted by the same team of Japanese authors, and they have significant limitations, such as:
- A potential conflict of interest
- Tiny sample sizes
- The lack of placebo controls
We should wait for larger, well-designed clinical studies before drawing any conclusions.
In addition to supporting immunity, the D-fraction can directly combat cancer cells by making them less invasive and shortening their lifespan .
In one study on mice, the D-fraction even suppressed the triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), infamous for poor prognosis and the lack of adequate treatment. It induced cancer cell death and reduced their ability to form lung metastases .
- Boosting nitric oxide
- Preventing the growth of a tumor’s blood vessels
- Stimulating NK cells and macrophages
- Inducing cancer cell death
- Suppressing regulatory T cells
Although these results promise a lot, clinical research has yet to confirm their application in humans.
A group of doctors reported a series of cases in which they successfully treated type 2 diabetes with maitake polysaccharides. They observed significantly lower blood glucose and HbA1c levels, even in the absence of standard treatment .
That said, we can’t base any conclusions on individual case reports.
Maitake extract was able to improve glucose control in multiple studies on diabetic animals. Most of them tested the SX-fraction and discovered its potential to enhance insulin sensitivity [7, 39, 40].
Still, the potential anti-diabetic effects of maitake mushrooms lack proper clinical background.
Animal and Cell Research (Lacking Evidence)
No clinical evidence supports the use of maitake for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts but should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
Both SX- and D-fraction reduced hypertension (high blood pressure) and inflammation in rats. They acted by partly inhibiting the renin-angiotensin system (RAS), which is how some blood pressure meds work [42, 43, 44].
Pain and Inflammation
In one rat study, maitake extract reduced inflammation by suppressing inflammatory proteins such as NF-κB, IL-1b, TNF-a, and COX-2. It also blocked the pain caused by stomach contractions and skin irritation .
In rats exposed to mercury, maitake helped cut blood mercury levels in half and reduced liver and kidney damage caused by this toxin .
Limitations and Caveats
Despite the promising health effects of maitake mushrooms, the available clinical evidence remains limited and doesn’t allow for reliable conclusions .
Most clinical studies tested maitake extracts, not the whole mushrooms. In addition to that, cancer-related trials come with notable limitations discussed above.
Maitake Side Effects & Precautions
Most patients tolerated maitake mushrooms and extracts well. Mild digestive issues were the most common side effect. In rare cases, they may provoke an allergic reaction with rash, swelling, and breathing difficulties [58, 13, 14].
There’s not enough safety data for the use of maitake during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Women in these sensitive groups may want to avoid them just in case, while others should consult with their doctor before taking therapeutic doses.
Supplement-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.
One case report documented a probable interaction between maitake D-fraction and a blood thinner, warfarin .
Due to their anti-diabetic and blood pressure-lowering effects, maitake supplements might interact with drugs for these conditions.
If you’re taking any of the above drugs, make sure not to take maitake supplements before consulting with your doctor.
How to Use Maitake Mushrooms
When cooking with fresh maitake, buy the ones that look firm and hydrated, and wash them thoroughly first. You can add them to all kinds of dishes, including:
Keep in mind that maitake mushrooms have a strong, earthy flavor. Go slow in the beginning to see if you enjoy them.
This mushroom is available in various supplement forms. Dry extracts (caps, bulk powders) and liquid extracts (tinctures) are the most common, and some of them are standardized to 30% of D-fraction.
You can also find mixtures of powdered whole mushrooms (500-1500 mg) and D-fraction (60 mg). Some manufacturers add vitamin C to prevent the oxidation of active components.
The below doses may not apply to you personally. If your doctor suggests using a maitake supplement, work with them to find the optimal dosage according to your health condition and other factors.
Women with PCOS have successfully used a product with 18 mg of maitake extract and 250 mg of powdered mushrooms, nine tablets per day (3×3) .
For boosting the immune response, the effective dosage was 3 mg/kg, twice daily. That would be 420 mg of maitake extract daily for a 70-kg adult .
The opinions expressed in this section are solely from the users who may or may not have a medical background. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment. Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on SelfHacked.
People mostly use maitake supplements as a complementary cancer treatment. They report reduced tumor sizes, improved quality of life, and milder chemotherapy side effects. Some reviews seem to promote specific products and may not be genuine.
A couple of users have found maitake useful for controlling food cravings and improving sleep quality. Reported side effects include dizziness due to low blood pressure (higher doses) and allergic reactions.
Maitake mushroom is native to China and Japan, where people have used it in cooking and traditional medicine for centuries. It’s said to enhance immunity, liver health, and stress resilience.
Maitake beta-glucan, known as the D-fraction, may support the immune response and improve cancer treatment. Different maitake extracts may help with PCOS and diabetes, while other benefits lack clinical evidence.
You can cook with fresh maitake or use supplements with mushroom powder and extracts. Look for standardized extracts with 30% of D-fraction.
Maitake mushrooms may cause digestive issues and, in rare cases, allergic reactions. Pregnant and nursing women should avoid taking supplements, while others should consult their doctor first.