The name maitake means “dancing mushroom” in Japanese. It is also known as the “hen of the woods”. Its scientific name is Grifola frondosa.
Maitake is a mushroom that traditionally has been used in Japan and China as part of the diet and to treat diabetes and hypertension. Like other medicinal mushrooms, maitake contains a complex sugar called beta-glucan. In laboratory and human studies, maitake extract was able to stimulate various cells and factors in the immune system. Studies in animals show that it slows the growth of certain tumors and lowers blood sugar levels.
Preliminary evidence shows that maitake may help lower cholesterol levels, notes Cox Health Medical Center.
Maitake may help manage blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes, according to a study published in the April 2007 issue of the “Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology.
Immune benefits of maitake extract include modulation of cytokines, molecules produced by white blood cells that activate the immune response, according to the University of Wisconsin Botany Department. A study published in the Summer 2004 issue of the “Journal of Medicinal Food” found that extract of maitake, activated several types of immune cells and molecules, including T-helper cells, macrophages and interleukins. Researchers concluded that maitake may offer immune benefits that help protect against infection.
Maitake may inhibit cancer development and spread and also make chemotherapy drugs more effective. A study published in the June 2011 issue of the “Journal of Medicinal Food” found that maitake promotes apoptosis — programmed cell death — in breast cancer cells. Maitake extract interfered with energy production in cancer cells, a discovery which, researchers note, will help scientists target potential cancer prevention and treatment approaches.