The Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa), also known as "hen of the woods", "sheep’s head" or "cloud mushroom", is a soft polypore that grows at the bases of oak trees.
In addition to its culinary versatility, the Maitake mushroom has been researched extensively for its nutritional and medicinal benefits.
All mushrooms contain a fungal cell membrane molecule known as ergosterol. Upon ultra violet exposure, this compound is converted into vitamin D2. In fact mushrooms are the only "vegetable" that contain vitamin D naturally. Vitamin D is fat soluble, helps maintain and build strong bones, development of the brain and plasticity, immunity and autoimmunity by assisting the body in absorbing calcium.
There is extensive research suggesting that Maitake mushrooms may play a role in the protection against various cancers. One of the key compounds are polysaccharides. They have the ability to enhance certain immune system cells which all work together to attack tumor cells. There where several studies that have shown D- Fraction polysaccharides reduce cancer cell growth.
For many of the same reasons that the Maitake may help protect against cancer, it also plays a critical role in supporting immune system health. Maitakes contain important polysaccharides which, as mentioned previously, help to enhance the activity of certain immune system cells, such as T cells, B cells, macrophages, and natural killer cells. Ultimately, polysaccharides from the Maitake mushroom act as immune system regulators.
Oxidation is a natural process in the human body that, if left unchecked, can result in conditions such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease (just to name a few). Antioxidants combat the process of oxidation, and can be produced internally as well as provided externally through the consumption of antioxidant-rich foods.
Antioxidants isolated from the Maitake mushroom have been shown to be effective against other reactive molecules found in our bodies. Consumption of Maitake mushrooms with its naturally occurring antioxidants, including its phenols, flavonoids, ascorbic acid, and a-tocopherol may be a wise strategy in protecting the body against diseases associated with oxidation.
Maitake mushroom extracts have been shown to demonstrate protection against diabetes in several studies. For example, research has looked at the ability of Maitake mushroom extracts to inhibit alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme that breaks down starch and simple sugars to glucose. By inhibiting this enzyme, glucose absorption slows down in the body. Not surprisingly, many oral anti-diabetic drugs are alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. Because the Maitake mushroom naturally contains alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, this information may be of importance for individuals seeking to bypass conventional diabetic medications, which usually present a host of unwanted side effects like severe stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, and jaundice.