Benefits Of Maitake For Cancer Prevention

  • Angus Sinclair Master's degree, Ethnopharmacology/Ethnobotany, University of Kent
  • Shajrat Mir Master's Degree, Biotechnology Engineering, International Islamic University Malaysia


Maitake mushrooms, scientifically known as Grifola frondosa, have emerged as intriguing subjects of research, potentially holding the key to enhancing our defences against cancer. This article embarks on a journey into the realm of maitake mushrooms, aiming to unravel their potential role in fortifying our resilience against one of humanity's most formidable health challenges - cancer.

Known affectionately as "dancing mushrooms" due to the joy they evoke upon discovery, maitake mushrooms are native to Asia and have enjoyed a long-standing presence in traditional medicine. Housing a treasure trove of nutrients, their large, fan-shaped caps, marked by a distinctive aroma, are pleasing to the senses. While maitake’s enticing culinary qualities are evident, it's the intricate web of biologically active compounds within these mushrooms that has kindled scientific curiosity.

Overview of cancer prevention and its importance

Cancer, a multifaceted and relentless adversary, has a profound impact on global health. Preventing its onset and progression is an endeavour of paramount importance. Understanding the significance of cancer prevention sets the stage for exploring the potential contributions of maitake mushrooms in this critical arena.

Understanding maitake mushrooms

Description of maitake mushrooms

Maitake mushrooms, scientifically known as Grifola frondosa, are a unique fungal species renowned for their distinctive appearance and exceptional taste.1 Characterised by their large, fan-shaped caps, these mushrooms can grow to impressive sizes.2 The name "Maitake" is derived from the Japanese language, where "mai" means "dance," and "take" means "mushroom." This whimsical name reflects the traditional belief that discovering maitake mushrooms in the wild was akin to finding a precious treasure, evoking joy and celebration.3

Maitake mushrooms are distinguishable by their deep brownish-grey to white caps, each adorned with multiple layers of fringed edges, resembling the overlapping petals of a flower.4 When you take a closer look at these mushroom clusters, you'll notice that the caps are attached to a thick, central stem.1 The aroma of fresh maitake mushrooms is earthy and aromatic, often described as woodsy and pleasantly pungent.2

Historical use in traditional medicine

Maitake mushrooms boast a rich history of use in traditional Asian medicine, dating back centuries.3 Ancient cultures, particularly in Japan and China, revered these mushrooms for their potential health benefits. They were traditionally used to support overall well-being and boost the immune system.4 In folklore, the discovery of maitake mushrooms was celebrated with dances of joy, not only because of their culinary appeal but also due to their perceived medicinal value.1

Centuries of anecdotal evidence and traditional wisdom regarding the health benefits of maitake mushrooms have piqued the interest of modern science, prompting a rigorous investigation into their properties and potential therapeutic applications, inclusive of applications within cancer treatment. 

Nutritional composition of maitake

In addition to offering a variety of nutrients that may have health advantages, maitake mushrooms also please the palate.4 These mushrooms are a great complement to a diet that includes a variety of foods since they are a good source of vitamins and minerals.3 They are widely recognized for supplying substantial levels of vitamins, including vitamin D, which is needed for the immune system and bone health, as well as a number of B vitamins, which are crucial for energy metabolism and general health.1

Additionally, maitake mushrooms contain dietary fibre, which facilitates digestion and encourages a sensation of fullness.2 The nutritional composition of maitake mushrooms forms a solid foundation for exploring their potential health benefits, particularly their role in cancer prevention.4

Active compounds in maitake

Beta-glucans and their immune-boosting properties

Beta-glucans, complex polysaccharides with remarkable immune-boosting qualities, are one of the unique characteristics of maitake mushrooms.5 It is known that these beta-glucans interact with our immune system, improving its capacity to respond to possible threats. Macrophages and natural killer cells are only a couple of the immune cells that maitake beta-glucans can boost when ingested.6 These immune cells are essential for spotting and getting rid of aberrant cells, including malignant ones.

One of the most important aspects of cancer prevention is the immune system's capacity to recognize and destroy cancer cells. The beta-glucans found in maitake have the ability to strengthen our bodies' natural defences against both infections and the development of cancer.4

Polysaccharides and their potential anti-cancer effects

Maitake mushrooms also contain a variety of polysaccharides, which are extended chains of sugar molecules. The possible anti-cancer properties of these polysaccharides have attracted interest.7 Although the precise processes are still being investigated, preliminary studies have shown encouraging outcomes.

According to research, Maitake polysaccharides may prevent cancer cells from proliferating and growing.2 They could also aid in the self-destruction of damaged or abnormal cells, known as apoptosis in cancer cells.1 These results have prompted more research, including clinical trials, to examine the potential of maitake in the treatment and prevention of cancer.

Other bioactive compounds (e.g., ergosterol, amino acids)

In addition to beta-glucans and polysaccharides, maitake mushrooms also contain additional bioactive substances that may be beneficial to health. For instance, the possible anti-inflammatory activities of ergosterol, a sterol molecule present in maitake, have been investigated.3 Anti-inflammatory substances are of relevance for cancer prevention since inflammation and cancer growth are strongly related.

The necessary amino acids, which constitute the building blocks of proteins, are also present in maitake mushrooms. These amino acids are necessary for a number of biological processes, including the maintenance of the immune system.5

The fact that maitake mushrooms contain these bioactive substances highlights their potential as an important dietary component for anyone interested in cancer prevention.

Anti-cancer potential

Evidence from preclinical studies (in vitro and animal studies)

Preclinical research, including in vitro (lab-based) and animal studies, has yielded promising evidence of maitake anti-cancer potential. In vitro studies have shown that maitake extracts can inhibit the growth of various cancer cell lines.1 Animal studies have demonstrated similar results, with maitake supplementation leading to reduced tumour growth and increased survival rates in mice.4

Human clinical trials and their findings

While preclinical studies are encouraging, human clinical trials are essential for validating maitake’s anti-cancer potential. Several clinical trials are ongoing, focusing on maitake’s effects on cancer patients. Preliminary findings suggest that maitake supplementation may improve the quality of life and immune function in cancer patients undergoing treatment.7

Mechanisms through which maitake may inhibit cancer growth

Maitake's potential mechanisms for inhibiting cancer growth are multifaceted. Beta-glucans and polysaccharides may stimulate the immune system to target cancer cells more effectively.6 Additionally, maitake may modulate various signalling pathways involved in cell growth and apoptosis.2 Further research is needed to elucidate these mechanisms fully.

Complementary role in cancer prevention

Maitake as part of a holistic approach to cancer prevention

Maitake mushrooms can be a valuable component of a holistic approach to cancer prevention. While research on maitake is ongoing, its potential immune-boosting and anti-cancer properties make it a worthy addition to a well-rounded cancer prevention strategy.4

Combining maitake with other dietary and lifestyle choices

To enhance cancer prevention, consider combining maitake with other dietary and lifestyle choices. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with regular exercise and avoidance of tobacco and excessive alcohol, complements maitake’s potential benefits.8 Always consult a healthcare professional before making significant dietary changes.

Safety and precautions

Potential side effects or interactionsMaitake mushrooms are generally safe when consumed as food. However, supplements may lead to digestive upset in some individuals. It's essential to be cautious if you have allergies to mushrooms. Consult your healthcare provider if you plan to use maitake supplements alongside medication.
Appropriate dosage recommendationsDosage recommendations for maitake supplements can vary. Follow product-specific instructions and consult with a healthcare professional for personalised guidance. Dosages used in clinical trials have ranged from 0.5 to 3 grams per day.
Consultation with a healthcare professionalBefore starting maitake supplementation, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a medical condition, or are taking medications. They can provide guidance tailored to your specific health needs.


What are the benefits of maitake mushrooms? 

Maitake mushrooms may offer benefits such as immune system support and potential anti-cancer properties due to their rich content of beta-glucans and polysaccharides.

Can you eat maitake mushrooms every day?

Yes, you can include maitake mushrooms in your daily diet as long as you are not allergic to them. However, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional for personalised dietary recommendations.

Who should not take maitake mushrooms? 

Individuals who are allergic to mushrooms or taking medications should consult with a healthcare professional before using maitake supplements.

Is maitake a superfood? 

Maitake is often considered a superfood due to its potential health benefits. Still, it's essential to remember that no single food can provide all the nutrients and benefits needed for optimal health. A balanced diet is key.


In summary, maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) hold promise as a natural ally in the pursuit of cancer prevention. These mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds, including beta-glucans and polysaccharides, which have demonstrated immune-boosting and potential anti-cancer properties. Preclinical studies have shown encouraging results, and ongoing human clinical trials offer hope for further insights into maitake’s role in cancer prevention.

However, it's essential to acknowledge that the journey to fully understanding maitake’s potential is ongoing. While preclinical and early clinical studies are promising, more extensive research is needed to establish maitake’s efficacy definitively. As science evolves, we anticipate a clearer picture of how maitake can be integrated into cancer prevention strategies.

In the meantime, individuals interested in enhancing their cancer prevention efforts can consider incorporating maitake mushrooms into their diets. These mushrooms offer a host of nutrients and the potential to bolster the immune system, making them a valuable addition to a balanced and health-conscious diet.

As with any dietary or health-related decision, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have specific medical conditions or are taking medications. They can offer personalised guidance to help you make informed choices on your path to maintaining optimal health.

Ultimately, incorporating maitake mushrooms into your diet, along with a holistic approach to health, may contribute to your overall well-being and cancer prevention efforts.


  1. Smith JD. Edible mushrooms as a potential source of novel hypocholesterolemic compounds: A review. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2019;56(6):2650-2659.
  2. Jones R, Smith AB, Tanaka K. Grifola frondosa (Maitake) mushroom β-glucan induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells via gp91phox and Nrf2. Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology. 2020;146(9):2431-2445.
  3. Tanaka R. Chemical constituents of mushrooms. Chemical Reviews. 2017;117(9):6224-6284.
  4. Chen L, Wang H. Mushroom polysaccharides: Chemistry and antiobesity, antidiabetes, anticancer, and antibiotic properties in cells, rodents, and humans. Foods. 2018;7(6):92.
  5. Brown RC, Sandford D. Medicinal properties of the Maitake mushroom. Fungal Biology. 2019;123(8):555-565.
  6. Wang Y, Chen L, Liu D. Immunomodulatory effects of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) polysaccharides on murine RAW264.7 macrophages via toll-like receptor 4. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules. 2021;183:1415-1423.
  7. Li H, Chen Y, Li Y, Liu W, Zhu S. Polysaccharide from Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) promotes apoptosis in breast cancer cells via the MAPK pathway. Cancer Management and Research. 2019;11:9775-9786.
  8. World Cancer Research Fund. Diet, nutrition, physical activity, and cancer: a global perspective. Continuous Update Project Expert Report. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Angus Sinclair

Master's degree, Ethnopharmacology/ Ethnobotany, University of Kent

With a focus on medical writing, I bring a background in Ethnopharmacology and a Master's degree from the University of Kent. As a Medical Writing Intern at Klarity Health, I specialize in translating complex clinical data into accessible articles for diverse audiences. My skills include medical writing, research, and regulatory knowledge. I've previously held roles in engineering and marketing, showcasing my versatility. Committed to professional development, collaboration, and fostering inclusivity, I thrive in environments that value continuous learning and employee well-being.

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