You may know mushrooms are good for you, but did you know that certain mushrooms are medicinal? Maitake mushrooms have been used in folk medicine traditions for centuries, and have traditionally been associated with longevity and vitality. Only recently is scientific research catching up with all the benefits they can provide. They have hormone-balancing effects that can help women dealing with a wide range of reproductive ailments. As an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich food, maitake mushrooms help prevent diseases. They also stimulate the immune system, fight cancer and help manage diabetes. They promote better energy levels and cognitive function and are a rich source of many vital nutrients.
To reap the health benefits of maitake mushrooms, you can cook fresh or dried maitake mushrooms, or find a maitake mushroom supplement. There are liquid extracts and powdered capsules available, which make it easy to incorporate maitake mushrooms into your diet. The scientific name for maitake mushrooms is Grifola frondosa, and they’re nicknamed “hen of the woods” because they look like the fluffy tail feathers of a nesting hen. They grow naturally in China, Japan and throughout North America at the bottoms of maple, oak and elm trees, typically in the autumn months. While you can grow them at home, they’re known to grow better in the wild.
Maitake mushrooms contain beta-glucans, B vitamins, vitamin C, copper, potassium and other minerals, and they’re a good source of fiber and amino acids. Here are 10 reasons maitake mushrooms have a lot going for them and should be considered a superfood:
1. Helps the Body Recover from Stress
Maitake mushrooms are adaptogenic herbs, which are like nature’s pharmaceuticals. They help your body recover from mental or physical stress of any sort. They regulate the body’s major systems, promoting homeostasis whenever there’s an imbalance. For example, when cortisol (a stress hormone) levels remain high from chronic stress, maitake mushrooms can help bring your hormones into balance, in turn promoting balance throughout the body. Mental and emotional stress can do real damage to your body, as they affect your brain, endocrine system, circulatory system, immune system and more. Adaptogenic herbs are able to counteract the harmful effects of stress and help lower stress levels.
Maitake mushrooms and other adaptogenic herbs have a mildly stimulating effect when systems in the body are depressed and weakened, and they have a calming effect when the nervous system is hyperactive from being in “fight or flight” mode. If you suffer from chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue or have a high-stress job, you might consider supplementing with maitake mushrooms on a regular basis to help prevent long-term damage caused by chronic stress.
2. May Prevent and Help Treat Cancer
Maitake mushrooms are an excellent source of beta-D-glucans, which help your immune system fight cancer. Cancer cells pop up in people all the time, but someone only has cancer as a disease when the immune system is too weak to nip it in the bud and stop the spread of cancerous cells. Beta-D-glucans are shown in test tube studies to activate the immune cells that kill cancer cells, suggesting they could play a role in preventing and treating cancer .
In studies, the beta-D-glucans from maitake mushrooms have been shown to have anti-cancer effects against human breast cancer cells. They’ve also been found to suppress tumor growth and boost the number of immune cells activated to fight tumors .
The antioxidant power in maitake mushrooms neutralize free radicals, which cause DNA and cell damage when unchecked by antioxidants. This damage, known as oxidative damage or free radical damage, is known to elevate your risk for cancer. The antioxidant power maitake mushrooms offer, alongside their ability to bolster your immune system’s own anticancer actions, makes it a great supplement for strengthening and protecting your health against cancer.
In cancer patients receiving chemotherapy treatment, the immunostimulant effects of maitake mushrooms could help improve their immune function after receiving radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs, which are treatments known to depress the immune system.
3. Lowers Cholesterol Levels
In a study on mice, maitake mushroom powder was shown to lower cholesterol levels. Maitake mushrooms are a source of fatty acids known to improve arterial health and help clear out plaque from clogged arteries. By keeping your arteries healthy and reducing the cholesterol in your bloodstream, maitake mushrooms can help lower your risk for heart disease, atherosclerosis and stroke.
4. Helps Fight Diabetes
In studies on diabetic rats, maitake mushrooms are shown to lower blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity . People with diabetes have chronically low insulin sensitivity, and are, in other words, resistant to insulin. Preliminary research on animals suggests that maitake mushrooms could potentially lower your risk for diabetes by promoting insulin sensitivity. It could also help diabetics and prediabetics keep their blood sugar levels in check by lowering high blood sugar.
5. Lowers High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure isn’t a huge risk on its own, but it is a contributing factor to raising your risk for heart disease. A study on hypertensive rats found that maitake mushrooms lowered blood pressure and reduced inflammation, suggesting it could lower risk factors for heart disease. In fact, the researchers noted in the study that maitake mushroom could increase life span due to its positive effects on arterial health .
6. Fights Inflammation
If you take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for an inflammatory condition, supplementing with maitake mushrooms could potentially reduce the amount of these drugs you have to take each day. Chronic inflammation is associated with depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, arthritis and autoimmune diseases. If you have any of these, maitake mushroom’s ability to reduce inflammation could potentially help alleviate some of your symptoms. Chronic inflammation is linked to diabetes, cancer, heart disease and more, so by keeping inflammation at bay, using maitake mushroom as a health supplement could help lower your risk for disease.
7. Acts as a Natural Multivitamin
Maitake mushrooms could be considered a “superfood” because they’re a very dense source of a wide variety of vital nutrients. They contain protein and amino acids, as well as nutrients that support muscle functioning, including B vitamins, vitamin D, copper and zinc. Because they’re a great source of copper, which is an essential mineral that acts as an antioxidant, maitake mushrooms support healthy skin, hair and nail growth. Copper not only increases the production of collagen, which gives skin, hair and nails their firm structure, but also neutralizes free radicals, which are linked to premature aging .
8. Helps Improve Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder associated with menstrual irregularity, acne, weight gain and hirsutism (abnormal hair growth). Amazingly, research suggests that maitake mushrooms can help normalize hormone levels in women with PCOS, and induce ovulation in those with absent periods. In a study involving 80 women with PCOS, researchers looked at a group given maitake mushroom extract. According to the results, 77 percent of the women who received maitake mushroom extract experienced ovulation and improved hormonal balance. The researchers concluded that maitake mushroom is a promising adjunctive therapy for women with PCOS, especially those who haven’t shown improvement from conventional pharmaceutical treatment .
9. Supports Weight Loss Efforts
Maitake mushrooms are nutrient powerhouses, but they’re very low in calories. By normalizing blood sugar levels, they can help prevent the spikes and dips in blood sugar that cause sugar and carbohydrate cravings. As adaptogenic herbs, they also nourish and soothe the adrenal glands, which can cause salt and sugar cravings when they become imbalanced by chronic or high stress levels. While they’re not known to cause weight loss, they can help prevent weight gain and reduce your caloric intake.
10. Helps Fight HIV/AIDS
There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but the ability of maitake mushrooms to regulate your immune system is shown to improve symptoms in people infected with HIV. Whereas the HIV virus causes the body’s own immune cells to die, maitake mushrooms have been shown to increase immune cell counts in people with HIV. In a study on 35 patients with HIV, 85 percent reported symptom improvement with maitake mushroom supplementation .
Maitake mushrooms are edible, medicinal mushrooms you can incorporate into your cooking if you’re able to get ahold of some. You can roast, sauté or pickle them and include them in recipes. Alternatively, you can take maitake mushrooms as a dietary supplement. Taken on a regular basis, they can improve your energy levels, boost your immune system, promote hormonal balance and provide essential vitamins and minerals. They can also help prevent serious diseases, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
If you’re taking medication, consult with your doctor before trying medicinal mushrooms, because they have powerful effects that could interact with prescription drugs. Maitake mushrooms are considered safe in normal amounts, so if you’re using a supplement, be sure to take no more than suggested on the label.
6. Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) extract induces ovulation in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome: a possible monotherapy and a combination therapy after failure with first-line clomiphene citrate