Natural Health Journals


This Japanese mushroom may protect you from cancer and cut your cholesterol levels. It may also enhance the immunity of HIV patients – supplement brief

by Jaime Berry

What It Is

Maitake is an edible mushroom that grows in clusters on hardwood trees in parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Mushroom experts believe the rippling shape of the fungus earned it the Japanese name “maitake,” which means “dancing mushroom.”

Americans cultivate it as a gourmet mushroom. Rich in vitamin D, maitake is said to taste like roasted chicken.

How It Works

Researchers believe that the sugars in maitake called polysaccharides give the mushroom its healing power. Polysaccharides contain beta glucans, which stimulate your immune system. This could help protect you from cancer and a number of other diseases and infections. Beta glucans may also enhance the immune function of people infected with HIV.

Preliminary studies suggest that maitake can also reduce cholesterol by increasing fat metabolism in your body, which prevents fat from accumulating in your blood. However, scientists don’t know which compound in maitake causes this effect.


All published studies on maitake have been done in test tubes or on animals.

A laboratory study published last year in Molecular Urology found that maitake fought cancer. A liquid extract of maitake beta glucans killed more than 95 percent of prostate cancer cells within 24 hours.

Two Japanese studies done on mice in the late 1980s found that maitake extract increased the power of T-cells and macrophages, two elements of the immune system. Although maitake’s ability to enhance the immune system suggests an ability to fight HIV, no clinical studies of maitake’s effect on HIV or AIDS have been published.

Findings in a study on rats published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin in 1997 suggest that maitake can lower cholesterol. Rats with high fat levels in their blood were fed high-cholesterol food; maitake powder made up 20 percent of one group’s feed. After 25 days, the maitake group’s cholesterol levels were 30 to 80 percent lower than the control group’s.

How to Take It

Maitake is available fresh or dried for cooking and as a supplement in powder, pill, and liquid forms.

To enhance health, take 3 to 5 g of powder or capsules, suggests Debra Brammer, N.D., naturopath and chair of the botanical department at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Ariz. For liquid extracts, she recommends 10 to 30 drops three times daily.

The price of culinary maitake varies. A month’s supply of maitake capsules or liquid extract costs about $30.


Scientific safety tests have not been performed on maitake, but no side effects have been reported.

Health Claims

PROPONENTS SAY MAITAKE (Grifola frondosa) kills cancer cells and helps fight HIV by boosting key components in the immune system. The mushroom may also lower cholesterol.

The Bottom Line

PRELIMINARY RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT MAITAKE CAN BOOST your immunity, fight cancer, and lower cholesterol. A benefit for HIV patients has not yet been proven. Although maitake has been used for more than 2,000 years, more research needs to be done on humans to confirm its ability to fight serious diseases.

Jaime Berry is a freelance writer based in Boston.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Weider Publications
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group