Written by Markus Horneber and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated February 8, 2017

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

What is it ?

Scientific Name

Grifola frondosa (Dicks.) Gray 1

The scientific name Grifola frondosa is derived from the griffin, the beast from Greek mythology with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, and frondosa, meaning leaflike.

History and providers

Maitake is growing wild in north eastern Japan and in temperate forests of Asia, Europe, and eastern North America. This mushroom has been consumed in Asia for hundreds of years and has an exceptional position in traditional Japanese herbology. Because of its valuable nutrients, maitake has also been cultivated in laboratories within the past two decades for use as a dietary supplement. Commercial maitake production worldwide may now be in excess of several ten-thousands tons with Japan being the main producer and consumer.2,3 Commercial preparations are available as cultivated whole fruiting bodies, pulverized fruiting bodies or spora, extracts from mycelium cultures or fractions from certain compounds.4

Ingredients

As other species from this phylum, extracts from maitake contain polysaccharides (alpha-/beta-homo- and heteroglycans), proteins, nucleic and amino acids, minerals, organic selenium and other trace elements, ergosterin, vitamin C, E, B1, and B2, phenols and flavonoids.5-9

In the 1980s, Japanese pharmacists derived a polysaccharide compound from the fruit bodies, called D-fraction, with a molecular weight of about 106 Daltons which was patented in 1984 (cited in 2). Further purification of this fraction yielded the so-called MD-fraction, and was patented in the USA (cited in 2). Both fractions contain proteoglucans having beta-glucans as major and proteins as minor components.

The beta-glucans in maitake include 1,6 main chains with 1,3 or 1,6 side branches as well as 1,3 main chain with 1,6 side branching.10-12 Recently heteropolysaccharides, called Z-fraction13 and GFPS1b14 were isolated from maitake mycelia, which in addition to glucose contain other sugars like arabinose, fucose, galactose and mannose connected with alpha- and beta-linkages. The majority of proteins found in maitake have a molecular weight range of 12–17 kDa, which is the typical range of proteins that regulate distinct membrane traffic pathways (FIPs).

Dosage/administration

In a phase I/II study with breast cancer patients, maitake liquid extract has been given orally at 0.1- 5 mg/kg twice daily.11 Capsules or tablets available in stores or via the internet usually contain 200-400mg of extracts from mycelium cultures or 400-500mg pulverized fruiting bodies or spora. The manufacturers recommend doses of 1-2 capsules/tablets twice daily.

Claims of efficacy/alleged indications

Extracts from maitake are claimed to have various beneficial health effects, ranging from cancer treatment and prevention to activities against hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus infec¬tions. Other claimed benefits relate to the treatment of hyperlipidaemia, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.15,16

Chen et al found evidence that maitake extracts induce ovulation in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome.17

In traditional Chinese medicine maitake is used to improve ailments of the upper gastrointestinal tract, calming nerves and treating haemorrhoids.18,19

Mechanisms of action

One of the hypothesized mode of action of extracts from maitake is an indirect one via activation of the host’s immunological defence mechanisms. The suggested key components for the immunological effects are the beta-glucans which are found in the cell walls of the fruiting bo-dies and mycelia of maitake.20 Beta-glucans are naturally occurring polysaccharides, often linked to proteins and widely found in fungi, plants and several bacteria. Beta-glucans belong to a group of unique microbial structures, the pathogen associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) which can trigger immune responses via so-called pattern-recognition receptors, like Toll-like and C-type lectin receptors (CLR). Dectin-1, a member of CLR, is thought to be the main beta-glucan receptor and is expressed in humans on macrophages, most subsets of dendritic cells, subpopulations of T cells, B cells, mast cells, and eosinophils.21-24

There is evidence from in vitro and animal studies that maitake extracts are capable of

  • inducing the proliferation and differentiation of human umbilical cord blood progenitor cells25 and cytokine release from various immune cells among them murine splenocytes and macrophages12,26,27
  • increasing phagocytosis of human polymorphonuclear neutrophils8,
  • stimulating the production and secretion of G-CSF of human cord blood monocytes25,
  • enhancing the recovery of mouse28, and human25 bone marrow cells from chemotherapy toxicity, and
  • inhibiting metastasis,29
  • inducing systemic antitumor immune response and to decreases immunosuppression,30 31
  • increasing cytotoxic effects of e.g. Carmustine (BCNU) through enhanced  inhibition of the glutathione-dependent detoxifying enzyme, glyoxalase I.32

Prevalence of use

Prevalence data specifically for maitake are not available. One survey with cancer patients from Israel mentioned the use of “Chinese mushrooms” in a sample of 368 complementary medicine users to be around 4% 33 and a nationwide survey in Japan reported that about 40% of cancer patients used indigenous Asian mushrooms or herbs.34

Legal issues

Several US companies have received the IND (investigational new drug) approval from the FDA for maitake fraction for Phase I/II clinical studies in cancer patients.35

Costs and expenditures

If capsules or tablets with extracts from mycelium cultures or pulverized fruiting bodies are used at doses recommended by the manufacturers, costs per day are about € 1 to 2.

If the polysaccharide fraction is applied at 1mg/kg as used in the phase I/II study, costs per day for a 70kg patient are about € 3 to 4.

Citation

Markus Horneber, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Maitake (Grifola frondosa) [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Dietary-approaches/Maitake-Grifola-frondosa. February 8, 2017.

Document history

Assessed as up to date in February 2017 by Barbara Wider.
Summary first published in November 2011, authored by Markus Horneber.

Summary revised and updated in May 2015 by Markus Horneber.

References

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