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MUSHROOMS have been used throughout the Orient for centuries to preserve youth, longevity and overall health. Maitake (Grifola frondosa), pronounced my-tah-keh, is one of the mushrooms that have significant properties for good health.
During the last 20 years, research has finally confirmed what practitioners of traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine have known for centuries - that certain mushrooms are medicinal powerhouses.
Maitake mushroom is indigenous to the north-eastern part of Japan and is prized in traditional Japanese herbology as an adaptogen, which, means as an aid to balance-out altered body systems to a normal level. Researchers have indicated that whole Maitake has the ability to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin and both serum and liver lipids, such as cholesterol, triglyceride and phospholipids; and may even be useful for weight loss.
Aside from the adaptogenic applications, a number of researchers and clinical experiences have identified Maitake's potent stimulatory effect on the immune system. Today's science has made it possible to successfully isolate the particular active constituents for enhancing immune activity, which is the protein-bound beta-glucan.
In the last two decades or so, a lot of attention has turned to the body's immune (defence) system as the foundation of health. Researchers today know more about how our immune system works, and this has led to the realisation that our immune system is the ultimate basis of how we feel and how we respond to health challenges.
Take the case of a husband and wife living together and who are exposed to the same viruses. One falls sick and the other does not. The one that did not fall sick - has it to do with the effectiveness of the immune system?
The immune system
The human immune system is the most amasing defensive arsenal and is made up of a network of specialised cells and organs. The most important immune function however occurs on a cellular level in the blood and tissue.
The lymphatic and blood circulating system are 'highways' for specialised white blood cells to travel throughout the body. White blood cells include B cells, T cells, natural killer cells and macrophages.
Each has a different responsibility but all function together with the primary objective of recognising, attacking and destroying bacteria, viruses, cancer cells and all substances seen as foreign. Without this coordinated effort, we would not be able to survive more than a few days before succumbing to overwhelming infection.
Infection sets off an 'alarm' that alerts the immune system to bring out its defensive weapons. Natural killer cells and macrophages rush to the scene to gobble up and digest infected cells. If the first line of defence fails to control the threat, antibodies, produced by the B cells upon the order of helper T cells, are custom-designed to hone in on the invader.
When the immune system is functioning properly it will protect the body against bacteria and viral infections, destroying cancer cells and substances that are foreign. Unfortunately, when the immune system weakens, its ability to defend the body also weakens. This allows pathogens, including viruses that cause common colds and flu, to grow and flourish in the body.
In the case of cancer, the cancer cells are sneaky - they constantly attack the body, trying to find a way to either overcome the immune system or to escape recognition and subsequent destruction by our natural defence mechanisms. Various types of immune cells are constantly watching out for cancer cells and mark them for destruction. If our immune system is compromised in any way, the risk of cancer cells developing into tumours also increases.
A strong and healthy immune system is fundamental to the body's ability to defend against all types of infection, chemical toxins and cancer. Therefore, anything that can strengthen the immune system will help to assure our wellbeing and longevity.
What weakens the immune system
Many factors can contribute to the general weakening of the immune system:
*Poor eating habits, alcohol abuse
*Drug use (particularly the use of anti-cancer drugs, corticosteroids and antibiotics)
*Exposure to environmental toxins, chemicals, cigarette smoke, polluted air.
*Stress (research show that psychological stress can greatly increase your susceptibility to colds and other viral diseases)
Unfortunately, the body's immunity also begins to wear down as we age. Our immune system can therefore use any help it can get to strengthen it.
Recent research has found that Maitake mushroom is one of nature's most powerful immune-boosting agents that can provide the edge.
Most research on Maitake has focused on the use of Maitake D-fraction for fighting malignancies.
The bioactive D-fraction that is extracted from Maitake is the protein-bound polysaccharide compound and is prepared by a standardised procedure developed by Maitake Products, Inc. (Ridgefield Park, New Jersey).
D-fraction consists of highly standardised and purified active beta-glucans (BOTH - 3 branched beta-1,6 glucan AND 6-branched beta- 1,3 glucan).
Active beta-glucans in D-fraction have unique polysaccharide structures and the degree of branching is greater than any beta-glucan found in any other medicinal mushroom that demonstrates this similar immune stimulatory properties.
Researchers theorise that the complexity of branching makes D-fraction most potent for enhancing the immune system via oral administration, leading to the highest tumour reduction in proliferation in several animal studies1, 2, 3. Most other mushroom extracts fail to show oral activity in pre-clinical studies.
Clinical trial on breast cancer patients using D-fraction
In the latest press release on May 9, 2005, a US government-funded cancer research in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre (MSKCC) in New York City has announced in its website4 that a phase I/II clinical study of Maitake Mushroom D-fraction is now underway for women who had stage I, II or III breast cancer that was surgically removed.
The study is being conducted at MSKCC in collaboration with the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weil Medical College of Cornell University, to determine if D-fraction can stimulate the immune system without causing any side effects or toxicity.