Maitake is among the “super foods” whose health benefits are known for thousands of years. It is rich in antioxidants and contains components called polysaccharides that benefit the immune system, cardiovascular system and even help fight cancer.
The name maitake comes from Japanese and means “dancing mushroom”. The Japanese used to say that the lucky person who finds the mushroom will dance with joy, as its benefits are priceless. Due to its special shape there have been many other nicknames like hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head and sheep’s head.
Maitake and cancer
Most studies in this field were made using medical extraction of the mushroom, which was found to encourage the creation of immune cells that destroy cancer cells and fight tumor development. The anti-cancer ability of maitake is attributed to its unique polysaccharides.
In 1997 it was found that maitake has an impact on the efficiency of chemotherapy, as it works synergistically with chemotherapy drug called mitomycin. It was also found that maitake has beneficial effect on cancer patients even if they discontinued the chemotherapy due to the severe side effects. A relief was also found from symptoms in cancer patients who have suffered a loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea and hair loss.
In a study conducted at the Kobe University in Japan it was found that there is a link between the consumption of the mushroom’s medical extract and the body’s ability to fight cancer. The study included patients of various types of cancer in different stages of the disease. The surprising results of the study have shown that more than half of patients with lung, liver and breast cancer had a significant halt in the deterioration of the disease. Also in other cancers including brain, stomach and blood cancer there was an improvement, though smaller.
In a study done on humans in 2009 in Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center it was found that maitake has an effect on the immune system in cases of breast cancer. It was found that maitake stimulates immune cells called NK cells whose job is to destroy cancer cells.
Maitake and diabetes
Maitake holds a great promise for diabetes treatment. Studies at the Nishikyushu University in Japan have found that a menu rich in maitake positively affects insulin and blood sugar levels with no side effects. However, diabetic patients treated with insulin or other medications to lower blood sugar levels need to be careful with this mushroom, in order not to get hypoglycemia.
Maitake and the immune system
Studies that have examined the link between maitake and the immune system found that on one hand it has the ability to prevent over reaction of the immune system, as in the case of allergy for example, but on the other hand it is capable of stimulating the immune system when it is weak. In addition, regular consumption of maitake provides a nice amount of antioxidants, which together with the polysaccharides enhance the immune system.
Maitake and vascular and heart disease
Maitake also helps balance blood pressure and lower blood cholesterol levels. Alongside the ability to improve blood sugar levels, it is an ideal food for patients who suffer from metabolic syndrome.
Also shiitake has a long history of medical uses thanks to its nutrients, especially polysaccharides. Other important components in shiitake are a protein called lentin, phytosterols named ergosterol that helps reduce blood cholesterol, amino acids and minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and zinc. In addition, it is an excellent source of vitamins B and D and dietary fiber.
Shiitake and cancer
The unique polysaccharide lentinan has a beneficial effect on the immune system as it is anti-microbial, anti-viral and an has an effect on blood cholesterol. Lentinan affects the immune system by helping fight against cancer cells and inhibits their development. Shiitake was found to inhibit tumor growth by encouraging cancer cell death (apoptosis). The anti-cancer ability of shiitake is attributed to its unique polysaccharides as well as other components.
Also studies on humans found that shiitake has an impact on life expectancy of patients with colon and stomach cancer who received at the same time chemotherapy. Most of the studies conducted in this field were made using the medical extraction of the mushroom, but recently it is believed that eating the mushroom has health benefits in cancer prevention, particularly prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer.
Shiitake and the immune system
Many studies have examined the relationship between shiitake and the immune system. As in maitake, is was found that shiitake has on one hand the ability to prevent over stimulation of the immune system as in the case of allergy, and on the other hand is capable of stimulating the immune system when it is weak.
Medical extraction of the mushroom has been shown to be effective in the treatment of bacterial, fungal and viral infections. Shiitake has an interesting effect on the specific type of immune cells called macrophages. These cells are responsible, among other things, for identifying and destroying cancer cells. The shiitake mushroom is able to trigger these cells and thus improve the immune system in identifying cancer cells and destroying them.
Shiitake and flu
Studies that have examined the consumption of shiitake in the daily menu have found that it is effective in treating flu and other problems associated with viral or bacterial infections. This is an intriguing area of research that is just at the beginning, and is believed to continue to yield important and interesting information.
Shiitake and heart and cardiovascular diseases
Shiitake protects against cardiovascular and heart diseases by preventing the development of plaque on the blood vessels walls. In order for the plaque to develop, there is a need to have a certain protein that involves in this process. Shiitake contains substances that inhibit the protein and thus prevents its accumulation on the walls of the blood vessels.
Oxidative stress is a significant factor in the acceleration and development of atherosclerotic plaque, so you may wish to include in your daily menu a large amount of antioxidants as much as possible. Shiitake is rich in three minerals known as strong antioxidants: manganese, selenium and zinc, as well as other elements known in their strong antioxidant ability, such as ergothioneine.
Shiitake is an excellent source of iron from non-animal food source. Studies on laboratory mice showed that the mushroom not only contains a nice amount of iron, but also its availability is higher than that of common iron supplements..
Medical safety notes
Shiitake also contain proteins called purines. Purines break down in the body in a process that creates uric acid, and there are people whose body struggles to eliminate this acid. As a result, the acid is being accumulated, usually in the joints, causing gout. Another problem that can arise from the accumulation of uric acid is kidney stones, so people who tend to suffer from kidney stones should avoid consuming this mushroom.
Where to find these mushrooms
As the miatake is native to the north-eastern part of Japan and North America, you can get it fresh in these areas, or dried and as a supplement (capsules or extract) online.
Shiitake is cultivated and consumed in many Asian countries. Shiitake is also dried and sold as preserved food. These are rehydrated by soaking in water before using. There is a global industry in shiitake production, with local farms in most western countries in addition to large scale import from Asia. It also comes as a supplement form (capsules or extract) that can be bought online. Some supplements combine the two mushrooms in capsules or extract forms.