The maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) occupies a revered place in Traditional Oriental Medicine. It is also widely prized as a delicious edible fungus. It is most certainly a valuable health food in many ways.
Over the past few decades, scientists have begun to take notice of this delectable health food, in hopes of documenting its medicinal properties with a modern perspective. Studies focusing on maitake mushroom health benefits now reveal many potential applications for enhancing our well-being.
One focus of such research has been directed toward how the maitake mushroom influences blood sugar levels and diabetes.
Medicinal Polysaccharides vs. Diabetes
Polysaccharides are carbohydrates made from simple sugars linked together in complex arrays. Starch is an example of a polysaccharide. It is not normally thought of as having medicinal value, except as an easily digestible component of certain foods.
Starchy foods drive up blood sugar levels and cause spikes in insulin output. Chronic excess levels of blood sugar and insulin can lead to insulin resistance (i.e., diabetes).
In contrast, the polysaccharides of maitake mushrooms—called beta-glucans—do almost the opposite of dietary starch in every significant way. This is where research shows the value of maitake polysaccharides in preventing and treating diabetes.
At the top of the list of such properties, maitake polysaccharides are now known to significantly diminish levels of insulin and of sugar-bound (glycated) hemoglobin (2002). The latter measure, abbreviated HbA1C, indicates the three-month average of blood glucose concentration. It is a reliable measure of long-term blood sugar levels.
Extra Blood Sugar Reduction
The anti-diabetic properties of maitake polysaccharides are just one aspect of blood sugar regulation. It turns out that maitake also contains a disaccharide (“double sugar”) called trehalose. This small carbohydrate is known for its ability to inhibit the activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase (2002).
Inhibition of alpha-glucosidase activity leads to a lower rate of glucose absorption in the small intestine. Drug companies are now developing alpha-glucosidase inhibitors for regulating blood sugar levels in diabetics. New drugs seem to be an unnecessary approach, since trehalose is already known for such activity.
The Insulin Bonus
Regulating levels of blood glucose and insulin are only part of the story when it comes to fighting diabetes. Over time, chronic impairment of carbohydrate metabolism can cause insulin resistance. This condition is characterized as the failure of insulin to transport blood glucose into cells where it is needed for energy.
Restoring insulin sensitivity is therefore also crucial for healthy carbohydrate metabolism. This is where maitake mushroom nutrition can provide an anti-diabetic bonus. Studies show that a particular glycoprotein (“sugar-protein” combo) of maitake has the ability to improve insulin sensitivity (2007).
Maitake Side Effects
The main warning by medical professionals regarding maitake is to avoid consuming it with supplements or medications that can also lower blood sugar levels.
Supplementing with Maitake
Even if you could find a good source for whole maitake mushrooms, consuming enough of them for their health benefits can be inconvenient. This is where a good maitake mushroom supplement is important.
As with all dietary supplements, be sure to use only those made from USDA Certified Organic sources.