Profiling: The Maitake Mushroom

The maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa), also called “sheep’s head” or “hen of the woods” is a polypore that grows at the base of oak trees specifically.  They are typically foraged for and found in Japan, North America and Europe.  Often found in clumps around the base of oak trees, these mushrooms can reach a weight of 50 pounds. Conveniently, this mushroom variety is easy to incorporate into your diet as it proves to be quite versatile depending upon your taste.

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Key Benefits

This mushroom has an extensive list of health benefits, most notably known for its blood sugar control and stabilizing cholesterol level capabilities.  Additionally, scientists have study the extract from the maitake and found it to be a powerhouse in improving immune function and in cancer treatment and prevention.

Cholesterol

Early studies show that this mushroom variety may help to lower cholesterol levels.  Supplementing with maitake extract lowered liver cholesterol levels in just four weeks, shown in a study published in October 2011 issue of “Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.”  Researches concluded that maitake exerts its affect on the genetic level by increasing genes in the liver that promote lipid transport.  Other mushrooms in this study, by contrast, have not shown the same cholesterol-lowering effects.

Blood Sugar

A polysacchardie molecule in maitake, call MT-alpha-glucan, decreased fasting blood sugar and insulin levels and helped to increase levels of glycogen, a short-term storage form of glucose in the liver.  Maitake also aided the body’s ability to bind insulin to liver cells and improved pancreatic function.  This shows that maitake may be helpful to prevent and mange diabetes by decreasing insulin resistance.

Cancer

The D-fraction in maitake may inhibit cancer development and spread.  It may also make chemotherapy drugs more effective, according to Dr. Shari Lieberman, author of the book “Maitake Mushroom and D-Fraction.”  D-fraction in maitake promotes apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in breast cancer cells.  Maitake extract has been studied to interfere with energy production in cancer cells, researches note this finding will help scientists to target potential cancer prevention and treatment approaches.

Immune Health

We’ve learned that many mushrooms have supreme Immune Health benefits and the maitake is no different.  Maitake extract specifically, includes modulation of cytokines, molecules produced by white blood cells that activate an immune response.  It exerts itself by binding to the cell membranes of white blood cells known as macrophages and either activating or inhibiting release of cytokines.  This mushroom may offer immune benefits that help to protect against infection.

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Nutrient Breakdown

Vitamin B6- Helps the immune system to function optimally.  It aides in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and amino acids while maintaining healthy lymph node function. Vitamin B6 also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.

Vitamin B9- Folate helps to strengthen and maintain healthy liver function.  Folate is also essential for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

Vitamin B12- Folic Acid helps to preserve our neurological function and DNA synthesis. It plays a key role in the health of red blood cells and helps our nervous system work optimally as well.

Vitamin D, Phosphorus and Calcium- Is a trifecta for overall oral health.  It helps to prevent tooth decay and gum disease by assisting the jaw-bone density, holding the teeth and enamel.  Calcium and phosphorus rich foods help children to develop and form a hard structure for adult teeth.  Vitamin D requires phosphorous to balance the calcium and enhance absorption in this formation of the tooth.  Vitamin D is also a great anti-inflammatory and can help with gum inflammation.

Dietary Fiber- Helps to stimulate digestion, relives indigestion, and constipation issues.

Potassium- An essential mineral for the body to help with fluid regulation, cardiovascular health and protein absorption. High levels of potassium have been associated with reduced risk for stroke, improved blood pressure, as well as improved bone health.

Zinc-Helps to promote proper immune function, controls blood sugar, energy metabolism, and aides in digestion.

Copper- Another essential mineral to help promote healthy connective tissue growth, proper heart rhythm, enzymatic reactions and proper growth overall.

Iron- Neurotransmitter function rely heavily on the adequate amount of iron to maintain a positive mood.  Therefore the lack of iron leads to poor sleep, energy, mood and could ultimately lead to anemia.

Selenium- A mineral that works as an antioxidant to protect body cells from damage that may lead to heart disease, some cancers and other diseases of aging.

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Where to find them

Your local supermarket likely carries this variety of mushroom.  As with most mushrooms make sure the flesh is firm to the touch and absent of rot, damage and pests.

They can be stored in the refrigeration for up to one week, in a sealed bag if possible. When prepping these mushrooms do not wash them, as they are quite porous and will become a soggy, waterlogged mess.  Rather wipe them gently with a damp paper towel or use a pastry brush to wipe away dirt.  Clean just prior to cooking, any sooner and the mushrooms will retain the water and become slimy.

Adding mushrooms to your diet is simple as they can be incorporated or become the star to any dish.  When cooked the nutrient content in the mushroom remains the same for this particular mushroom, while some nutrients lose between 5 and 20 percent of their value.

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