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Posts Tagged ‘Maitake’
Mushrooms have been valued throughout the world as both food and medicine for thousands of years. In virtually every culture people enjoy hunting for wild mushrooms. Europeans have always appreciated their gastronomic value. In Japan, pushcart vendors on the streets still sell medicinal mushrooms to the average citizen who uses them to maintain health and promote longevity.
Common dietary advice almost always includes some variation of the phrase, “Eat more fruits and vegetables for good health.” Pick up most diet books, talk to the health professionals, and look at the research: fruits and vegetables are nutritional superstars.
Less often do we hear the phrase, “Eat more mushrooms for good health,” and if we look at the research, one may wonder why we neglect to include our fungal friends in the dietary limelight.
At TEDMED, TEDTalks favorite Paul Stamets gave an emotional talk about new medical uses for mushrooms — including a variety that, he says, helped treat his mother’s cancer. Stamets spoke about powerful medical uses for mushrooms and their extracts, from anti-tuberculosis effects (Agarikon) to Cordyceps, a treasure trove of potential medicines, such as cyclosporine, which prevents organ rejection in transplant patients, and the recently FDA-approved drug Gilenya, from Novartis, for treating multiple sclerosis (MS).
In Europe and the United States, this mushroom (Grifola frondosa) is commonly called “hen of the woods,” since its frond-like growths resemble the feathers of a fluffed chicken. Maitake is the name I prefer, in a bow to the Japanese who pioneered its cultivation. Maitake mushrooms are known in Japan as “the dancing mushroom.” According to a Japanese legend, a group of Buddhist nuns and woodcutters met on a mountain trail, where they discovered a fruiting of maitake mushrooms emerging from the forest floor. Rejoicing at their discovery of this delicious mushroom, they danced to celebrate. In Italy, this species is known as signorina, or “the unmarried woman.” Today these two common names, bestowed long ago on the opposite sides of the planet, seem especially deserving and perhaps foretelling recent research findings.
Maitake is a mushroom that traditionally has been used in Japan and China as part of the diet and to treat diabetes and hypertension. Like other medicinal mushrooms, maitake contains a complex sugar called beta-glucan. In laboratory and human studies, maitake extract was able to stimulate various cells and factors in the immune system. Studies in animals show that it slows the growth of certain tumors and lowers blood sugar levels. More studies are being conducted to determine if maitake has the same effects in humans.
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Native to northeastern Japan, these fungi owe their healing powers to a large molecule called beta-glucan (or beta-glycan) contained inside the mushroom. A Japanese study performed in 2010 administered beta-glucan from the mushroom along with paclitaxel, a chemotherapy drug, to mice with cancerous cells. Compared with those mice that did not receive the treatment, researchers discovered that the mice given the beta-glucan had an increase in immunity and that the cancer growth was inhibited. Previous studies were not performed on people, but this year scientists are conducting a clinical trial on the effects beta-glucans (combined with other cancer-fighting drugs) have on the human immune system.