Maitake extract has been used in traditional Asian medicine to treat diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and bowel disorders, and to aid women in becoming pregnant, for centuries. It is also promoted as a weight-loss supplement. Recent research using animals and laboratory cultures shows maitake extract might be effective and also help with high cholesterol and the side effects of chemotherapy. The extract comes from the maitake mushroom, native to a mountainous region in Japan.
Tests on mice have been promising. The animal studies revealed the substance enhanced healthy cells that fight the spread of malignant tumors, and boosted the immune system in mice. Maitake extract, known as maitake D-fraction, slowed the spread of breast and liver cancer in animals while protecting healthy cells.
Researchers believe health benefits stem from polysaccharides, defined as numerous sugar molecules joining to create a single, large molecule called beta glucan or betaglycan. This chemical might produce antigens that enhance macrophages, T-cells, and other cells in the body that fight cancer and disease. In one Japanese study, about half of cancer patients improved when given maitake extract along with traditional cancer treatment. The research was deemed scientifically invalid, however, because scientists were unable to compare results with a control group.
Also called the cloud mushroom, king of mushrooms, hen of woods, and dancing mushroom, the maitake variety of the fungus is considered safe to eat. Asians use the mushroom in cooking, as a tea, and as a supplement to extend life and enhance health. Since the 1980s, the plant became the topic of increased research to explore its medicinal benefits.
It may lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. Doctors advise diabetes patients who use maitake mushroom while taking traditional prescription medication to keep a close watch on glucose levels. Maitake extract may interact with these drugs and cause unhealthy blood sugar levels. The same advice holds true for patients using the food or supplements to lower blood pressure.
Two studies in 2010 showed the extract might help treat inflammatory bowel disease and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS might begin ovulating, potentially leading to pregnancy, after ingesting beta glucan. Bowel inflammation decreased in studies of the substance for this condition, but all research involved animals.
The supplement is sold in tablets, capsules, and liquid form. The level of beta glucan might vary widely by manufacturer and is not regulated by consumer protection agencies in most areas. Recommended dosage of the extract ranges from 3 to 7 grams a day. Maitake mushrooms can also be purchased in some grocery stores and eaten whole or steeped in a tea.