Therapeutic properties of Maitake
Approximately 2000 years ago, Maitake was used in a Chinese medicine called “Keisho”. Keisho was supposed to be improving the health of the spleen and stomach, calming nerves and treating hemorrhoids.
The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (the worlds oldest Materia Medica – published around 2000 years ago) describes the use of Maitake as follows: “It is sweet and balanced. It mainly treats malaria, resolves toxins, gu toxins, gu influx, and ill matters and disinhibits the water passageways (= diuretic use). Protracted taking may make the body light and slow aging.“
In more recent animal experiments and human clinical trials, Maitake was found to have promising anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. Other therapeutic uses of this mushroom include blood pressure regulation, control of diabetes, normalizing cholesterol levels, treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and anti-HIV activity.
Over 20 bioactive beta-glucans (polysaccharides) have been isolated and purified from Maitake since 1980. Each of these bioactives has a basic structure of either a (1>6)(1>3)Beta-D-glucan or vice versa; and a heteroglycan or heteroglycan-protein complex (proteoglycan) as the major component.
Bioactive polysaccharides (mainly beta-glucans) are found in all medicinal mushrooms. Beta-glucans are increasingly being recognized for their non-specific immunomodulatory effects. These so-called natural ‘biological response modifiers (BRM)’ can be potent anti-viral and anti-tumor agents, not by killing viruses or cancer cells directly but because of their ability to activate the immune system. They do not kill pathogens, but help the body to kill pathogens, a much more efficient and natural process, which does not disturb the chemical balance of the body by subjecting it to ‘chemical leverage’ as used by most pharmaceuticals.
Augmenting what Japanese cancer researchers have termed 'intrinsic host defense mechanisms’ is particularly promising because it is a property generally lacking in conventional anticancer drugs. Immunologists have discovered that receptors on the surface of innate immune cells called dectin-1 and complement receptor 3 (CR3 or CD11b/CD18) are responsible for binding to beta-glucans, allowing the immune cells to recognize them.
Research has shown Maitake also has a hypoglycemic (lowering blood sugar) effect, and therefore may be beneficial for the management of diabetes. The reason Maitake lowers blood sugar is due to the fact the mushroom contains a natural alpha glucosidase inhibitor. Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors are saccharides that act as competitive inhibitors of enzymes needed to digest carbohydrates.
Since cancer cells appear to have a preference for glucose, lowering blood sugar levels in cancer patients might produce beneficial effects for the patient. Clinical studies in cancer patients with Metformin, a common anti-diabetic drug, show similar beneficial effects.
Several beta-glucans isolated from Maitake have been patented in Japan as potential anti-tumor, anti-cancer and immuno-modulating agents. Scientists have been focussing on how these glucans stimulate the immune system. They appear to enhance the cytolytic and interleukin-1 (IL-1) and IL-2 productivity of macrophages or T-cells and to potentiate the delayed-type hypersensitivity response associated with tumor growth suppression. However, the relationship between these beta-glucans and the therapeutic effects is not yet fully elucidated and research is still on-going.
Summary of therapeutic properties
Normalizing the immune function:
Maitake is known in SE-Asia as the King of Immunity. The purified beta-glucan/proteoglycan high molecular weight fractions in particular have promising anti-cancer and anti-viral properties, achieved by stimulating the production of cytokines, macrophages, NK-cells and cytotoxic T-cells. It stimulates the production of IL-1, IL-2 and others.
In combination with regular therapy (chemo, radiation) Maitake can lessen the side effects of these treatments and improves the quality of life.
The high molecular weight fractions show an enhancing effect on helper T-cells (CD4+), the target cells of HIV. Viral load decreased.
Positive effect on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome