Maitake, the well known anti-cancer medicinal mushroom

Latin name: Grifola frondosa, Japanese name: Maitake ('dancing mushroom')

The ram's head mushroom prefers the temperate Northern forests and mainly grows at the base of beech and oak trees. Its clusters can be found in Europe, Asia, and the North-East half of Japan and at the Eastern side of North America.

Maitake is a Japanese word which means 'dancing mushroom'. According to legends in ancient China and Japan those who found these mushroom danced with joy because they knew that their find is more valuable than silver.

The Maitake mushroom is a well known mushroom, its scientific name is 'Grifola frondosa', it’s also commonly known among English speakers as hen-of-the-woods or ram's head. It grows in small groups under oak trees and certain groups can be up to 50 centimetres and weight up to 50 kg as well.

Maitake primarily grows in Japan and in the United States. Nowadays it has been produced under controlled conditions to meet the ever increasing demand. Chinese medicine has been using it for hundreds of years whilst it has only been since the 1960's that the western world has been researching its impact. Even back in the 60' it has been found that the mushroom extract is effective against the flu and since then numerous new research results have been published.

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The active substance in the ram's head is lentinan which stimulates the body's immune system.

It’s a tasty mushroom whose positive effect on health has been long known. Scientist have shown that the active ingredients found in the ram's head mushrooms enhance the bodies’ insulin production while at the same time reduce blood glucose levels and therefore its consumption can be beneficial for diabetics. It reduces high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In experiments conducted on rats the ram's head mushroom suppressed the d-glactosamin's liver damaging effects which suggest that consumption can protect the liver against the harmful effects of an unbalanced diet. It reduces appetite, inhibits weight gain and therefore it can be beneficial for those on a diet. Because of its high ergosterol content it can contribute to the prevention of osteoporosis as well.

The ram's head is one of the well known medical mushrooms with anti-cancer effects.

Maitake, the well known anti-cancer medicinal mushroomA Japanese study in 2003 found that the medicinal mushroom's D-fraction inhibited metastases and improved the activity of certain anti-cancer cells (NK cells). In another clinical trial in Japan (2002) the effects of the ram's head mushroom was studied on cancer patients with advanced staged II-IV cancers. The study concluded that ram's head mushroom and its medicinal mushroom extract caused regression or caused significant overall improvements in 68.8% of breast cancer patients, in 62.5% of lung cancer patients and in 58.3% of patients suffering with liver tumours. According to the study the activity of the immune-competent cells which received chemotherapy increased by 20-40% for those using medicinal mushroom extract compared to those naive.

The active ingredient in the ram's head mushroom extract has proven to be effective for the treatment of various cancers in both animal and clinical trials. Grifon-D, which is a purified beta beta-D-glucan extract, caused the majority of isolated/cultured prostate tumour cells to die within 24 hours. There are promising clinical trials for liver, lung and breast cancers as well as promising results (in mice trials) with bladder cancer. The so-called D-fraction (which is a beta-glucan) compound was seen successful besides standard chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients in the 3rd and 4th stage of the disease. The study involved 165 patients who reported a decline in the adverse side effects of chemotherapy and improved overall-wellbeing.

A further purified version of D-fraction called MD-fraction eased the symptoms of patients with HIV and the resulting secondary infections in 85% of the cases. A detectable increase was noticed in T-cell numbers as well as a decrease in viral load of the body.

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The Grifola frondosa (ram's head mushroom) can significantly contribute to the prevention of osteoporosis; this is thanks to its high ergosterol content.

More complex natural compounds could also contribute to the anti-osteoporosis (bone density loss) effects. The ram's head mushroom can be a cheap alternative to complement specialised therapies which are aimed to reduce blood glucose levels. The Grifola frondosa was also proven to be very effective in complementing breast and lung cancer therapies.

The Maitake mushroom extracts are effective in the following areas:

  • Active ingredient protects against 'tobacco mosaic virus'
  • Significantly inhibits the growth of type-1 HSV herpes
  • It could be able to reduce the size of certain cancers and activate/strengthen that part of the immune system which is responsible for the destruction of cancer cells. Thanks to its composition it has anti-tumour effects because it drastically enhances immune cells. Due to its active ingredient the side effects of both chemo and radio therapy can be significantly reduced. The beta-glucan content of the ram's head mushroom largely supports the body’s immune system.
  • It reduces blood glucose levels and increases insulin sensitivity. The ram's head mushroom naturally contains a compound which reduces the rate of absorption of carbohydrates and therefore a slower and healthier rise in blood glucose is achieved. According to studies 1 gram of ram’s head powder a day is beneficial.
  • It strengthens the liver and provides support for the immune system.
  • It can contribute to the prevention of osteoporosis.
  • It is effective in the treatment of fibroids and especially at reducing the development of benign tumours in the uterus of women.
  • It can help lose weight, its high fibre content improves digestion and increases satiety and it regulates blood glucose levels and promotes the metabolism of fats.
  • The Maitake mushroom is quite rich in vitamin-B and vitamin D2 as well as magnesium, potassium, unsaturated fatty acids, phospholipids, protein and fibres. Vitamin C is not included but a number of other substances are found within it which are very similar in the structure and effect of ascorbic acid. It’s very rich in minerals (calcium, potassium, and magnesium) and vitamins B2 and D. The mushroom also contains amino acids and fibres.

The ram's head mushroom nowadays is mostly available as a dietary supplement in the form of capsules containing the medicinal mushroom extract or as drops.

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