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Maitake 104: Maitake(Grifola frondosa) and Bacterial Infection


Years ago, when I had a clinic in London, I ran this herbal think tank called, “The Herbalists of Columbia Road”. One of the projects we worked on was the Maitake(Grifola fronds) project. We did a lot of work on this particular mushroom. The most important thing to know about it is that the mushroom is an immune stimulant. It stimulates the immune system. Our thinking at the time was that if had a role in all infections, because the immune system is responsible for getting infections under control. We thought it had a role in fungal, bacterial, and viral infections. We tested it out in all of those infections and found that it really did make a difference.

When I think back on all the work we did with this particular mushroom, this is what comes to mind. The real future of medicine is in learning how to harness the bodies own intrinsic healing mechanisms. Rather than using bug killer(antibiotics) it would be better to encourage the body to clean out infection. Substances like maitake, with their proven ability to jump start the immune system, need to be studied. We need to be looking at any and all substances that get the body to do what it does, better. And, that is what maitake does.

If you want to know more about its role in bacterial infection, read on!

Maitake: the non-Antibiotic Antibiotic.

It would be fair to say that most people are sick of going to the doctor and being handed a prescription for antibiotics. People stream in through “The Herbalists” clinic in search of a non-antibiotic solution to bacterial infection on a daily basis. Mothers are sick of giving their children liquid antibiotics and grown- ups are equally disgusted with taking antibiotics.

Antibiotics represent a medical philosophy that is on the way out. The ideology in question is the symptomatic treatment of disease. In this ideology practitioners treat symptoms rather than the fundamental problems. If you were trying to visualize this practice the following example might be of assistance. Imagine you are rowing in a small boat that has holes in the bottom. Every half an hour or so you have to use a bucket to empty the water that has collected to avoid sinking. This is a symptomatic treatment. It treats the symptom of the problem, ie water coming in through the holes, rather than the fundamental problem, which would be the holes themselves. The dominant ideology in the medical community involves using the bucket. The new ideology, that is treating the fundamental problem, involves lifting the boat out of the water and patching the holes. More often than not, when antibiotics are used, they are used to bail out the boat rather than patch the hole.

Here are some common examples of symptomatic treatment of disease.

1. Women under enormous stress often come down with urinary tract infection. The supressed immune function associated with high stress levels results in urinary tract infections in these women. Allopathic medicine treats the bacteria. The real issue is not the bacteria but rather the suppressed immune system.

2. Children with poor diets, poor sleeping habits, and households filled with domestic problems come down with a lot of bacterial infections. Their immune systems are depressed and they are unable to fight off the bacteria so common in primary schools. Allopathic medicine treats these infections with antibiotics. The fundamental issue is the poor lifestyle is depressing the immune system.

3. The Herbalists Think Tank see a large number of city workers suffering from chronic respiratory infections. They get over one and are beset by another. These individuals live with a tremendous amount of stress, have notoriously bad diets, and sleep erradicatly. The allopathic medical tradition treats these individuals with antibiotics. Once again, the real problem lies with the immune system.

We at the HTT team feel that in these cases, prescribing antibiotics is a waste of time because it is only scratching the surface. The problem is not the bacteria, the problem is poor immune function. Patients treated for chronic infections with antibiotics all say the same thing. As soon as the antibiotics stop, infection recurr. This is down to the fact that the real problem is left in place and is untouched by the antibiotics. Until you deal with the immune problem, you can expect one infection to follow on from the last.

For one reason or the other, the general public is sick of symptomatic treatments and they themselves are interested attacking the fundamental problems that lie behind the infections. When we discuss tonic plants, and specifically immune system tonics, we have in our hands a tool that can undermine the fundamental problem. This is not a theoretic solution, it is one that has been born out in clinical practice. Women suffering from chronic urinary tract infections have been able to live infection for months using maitake. Children that were formerly plagued with one case of tonsilitis after the next have been sore throat free for long periods of time. Immune tonics work. As ever, they work in bacterial infection in a complex manner. In the case of maitake, on one level it works in a manner similar to antibiotics, it contains substances that kill bacteria. One a second level, they stimulate the immune system which addresses the fundamental problem. Let’s look at these actions seperatly.

Antibiotic Action

Like many fungi, mushrooms contain substances that inhibit and kill bacteria. As compared to the work done on the lower fungi, research into the antibiotic capacity of mushrooms is in its infancy. As the old school antibiotics fail to produce the results they once did, new antibiotics are much needed. It is likely that the research community will focus more attention on trying to find new antibiotics in mushrooms.

Benedict and Brady(1972) documented antibiotic substances in higher fungi. They found certain compounds in mushrooms which have proven to have an antimicrobial action. The list included polyacetylenes, phenolic compounds, purines, and pyrimidines, quinones, and terpenoids. Researchers (Vogel et al., 1974) isolated phenolic and quinoid compounds from the common mushroom which proved to have antimicrobial action.

When you examine the natural world, you will find that most organisms have built in mechanisms to aid their survival. The cactus covers itself with thorns to dissuade browsers from eating their delicate flesh. Clams have hard shells to keep fish at a safe distance. Bees have stingers filled with venom to keep invaders away from the honey pot. Every organism has its own private predator and its own strategy for keeping that predator at bay. In the case of mushrooms, the predators are largely microbial. The mushrooms survival technique seems to filling itself with antimicrobial substances.

The question is often asked, “why are mushrooms filled with so many anti-microbial substances?” The answer is simple and logical. Mushrooms live on the forest floor, covered with rotting leaves and decaying matter of all sorts. The forest floor is jam packed with microbes, and not just any microbes. These microbes concern themselves with decomposing material. A mushroom is filled with antimicrobial substances as without them, they would be killed off by the microbial neighbours in an instant. Why does the bee have a stinger? To keep you away!

Remember, Ian Fleming discovered Penicillin killed bacteria. His discovery had everything to do with the survival tactics of fungi as Penicillin is a simple fungus. Being territorial is a trait found amongst all organisms on the planet. They stake out their patch and do not like competing organisms encroaching upon their turf. Lions attack outsiders when they wander into their territory. Male rattle snakes strike out at other male rattle snakes wondering into their back yard. Ian Flemming discovered that fungi do the same thing. They attack bacteria, virus, and other fungi that stray into their territory. The penicillin fungus produces chemicals that kill microbes that have the nerve to approach them.

Fungi need to make their private territory unpleasant to microbes that happen into their domain. They do this by producing substances that either kill or retard the growth of other microbes. These anti-microbial substances are what we call anti-biotics. They are anti-life. Ian Flemming was one of the first people to notice the survival technique of fungi. Later, researchers came up with a clever idea. If Penicillin killed bacteria invading a lab dish, maybe it would kill bacteria invading the body. The answer was yes, penicillin, introduced into the human body, does kill microbes. History changed when this thought was put into action.

In a textbook published in 1994 we can see the standard definition of antibiotics in the modern world. “Antibiotics are those compound produced by microorganisms that, at thigh dilutions, are inhibitory other microorganisms. Two groups of microorganisms, the bacteria and fungi, produce antibiotics, although many are now produced semisynthetically by chemical modifications of the naturally occurring compound.”

It would pay to note that drugs such as Penicillin, Tetracycline, Streptomycin, Neomycin, and Cephalasporin, all are derived from fungi. Fungi know how to take care of their neighbours and we have learned to take advantage of this fact. (Craig and Stitzel,1994)

In the books “Icons of Medicinal Fungi from China” we can find a nice summary of the antibiotic actions of fungi, “The antibiotic effect produced by fungi covers a wide area, it tends to inhibit growth of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and cancerous cells. The researches undertaken for the activity of fungous antibiotics, therefore, have laid emphasis on their inhibitory effect upon the activity of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, virus, and tumors.”

Though the discovery of antibiotics was an amazing event, there have been a few surprises along the way. The early researchers never dreamed that the bacteria would fight back, and they would do it by becoming immune to the effects of the antibiotics. What we now know is that eventually a bacteria will be unaffected by an antibiotic. This has lead to the widening search for new antibiotics that the bacteria may not have come across before.

Because the whole fungi tribe have been known to contain antimicrobial substances, they have been reviewed as sources of new antibiotics. Our friends, the medicinal mushrooms, have not escaped the scrutiny of the antibiotic searching teams. The Basidiomycetes clan has been well looked at for substances that can kill bacteria and the antimicrobial nature of mushrooms has been described, to an extent. In a book entitled Mushrooms and Truffles we find an interesting quote,

“A further possibility is the growing of mushrooms for medical and pharmaceutical purposes. This is at present time merely a prospect whereby certain lines of investigation are anticipated to lead to practical application as far as the known antibiotic properties of some Basidiomycetes are concerned. It is well known that modern work on bacterio-static fungi revealed the existence of numerous species of mushrooms with marked and versatile anti-biotic substances either in the fruiting bodies themselves or in the medium in which mycelium is cultured. One of the difficulties of basidiomycetes antibiotics has been their toxicity. It is now known that this very toxicity may be of practical interest in other lines of medical research.” (Singer, 1956)

When we talk about medicinal mushrooms it is impossible to ignore the fact that for centuries they have been used to treat infections of all sorts, from those starting with the bite of a dog, onto sore throats, and from there onto chicken pox and hepatitis. It would pay to have a look at the antimicrobial actions of the medicinal mushrooms that we are discussing.

A number of medicinal mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine to treat bacterial infections. In the last century diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and malaria were dosed with any one of a number of mushrooms. As an example, the Europeans used the white agaric(Fomes officinalis) to treat both malaria and tuberculosis. Several relatives of Grifola frondosa have been shown to contain chemicals that kill bacteria. Here are a few examples.

Fomitopsis annosa was found to contain Fomannosin, a toxic substance to certain bacteria. (Kelpler et al. 1967)

Fomes officinalis has been found to contain agaric acid, agaric acid resin, agaritine, and agaricin. Agaritine has an inhibitory effect on bacteria.(Ying et al,1992)

Piptoporus betulinus(Polyporus betulinus) has been found to contain ungalinic acid which inhibits Micrococcus pyogenes. It also contains Polyporenic acid A,B,C. Polyporenic C inhibits the growth of Bacterium racemosum. B is a mixture of Tumulosic acid and dehydrogenated substances. The mushroom inhibits poliomyelitis in white mice and monkeys.(Ying et al, 1992)

Poria corticola contains nemotinic,nemotinic acid which are antibiotic to fungi and bacteria. (Ying et al, 1992)

Trametes cinnabarina contains polyporin which is active against Gram negative and positive bacteria. Ying et al, 1992)

Lentinus edodes contains a substance known as Lentinan which has prevented relapse in tuberculosis and had a 100% cure rate in Listeria. (Ying et al.,1992)

Up to this point, the specifically antibacterial components of Maitake(Grifola frondosa) have not been well investigated. We do know this particular Polypore contains organic acids, saponins, lectins, and enzymes.(Mizuno and Zhuang, 1995). These substances have an established antibacterial activity and it is likely that these substances, along with polyacetylenes offer some degree of protection from bacterial infection. An independent laboratory is now working on determining the specific antibacterial activity of Maitake.

Activation of Immune Cells Which Attack Bacteria

As was mentioned, “The Herbalists” believe that Maitake(Grifola frondosa) offers a double protection against bacterial infection. The second mode of protection is that of stimulating the specific immune cells responsible for killing bacteria, the macrophages. Maitake(Grifola frondosa) has been shown to boost the activity of macrophages in animal studies.

1. Animal studies have shown that Maitake(Grifola frondosa) stimulates the activity and killing ability of monocytes and macrophages. (The immune cells responsible for destroying bacteria.) These non-specific immune cells move more rapidly and contain more killing substances under its influence. (Adachi et al. 1990.)

2. Animal studies revealed that Maitake(Grifola frondosa) stimulated the Alternative Complement System. (Suzuki et al.,1989.) Complements B,P,and D are stimulated under its influence. These complements attach to the bacterial cell wall and accomplish two things. They puncture holes in the bacterial cell wall and allow the contents leak out. The bacteria becomes like a tire with a puncture. These complements also create “handles” with which macrophages use to catch the bacteria.

3. In animal studies, Maitake(Grifola frondosa) stimulated the production of interleukin 1 by macrophages. (Adachi et al. 1990.) Interleukin stimulates T cells to divide. The increased number of T cells means an increased antibacterial task force on the prowl.

Animals studies have shown that Maitake(Grifola frondosa) stimulates macrophage activity and their production of killer substances, the activity of the Alternative Complement System, and the production of T cells. These facts combined with the knowledge Maitake(Grifola frondosa) contains antibacterial substances may explain why people that take Maitake(Grifola frondosa) find they come down with fewer infections.

Case Studies

Case Study One

A 28 year old male presented at the clinic suffering from recurrent tonsilitis. This patient is a proffessional singer and spend a great deal of time singing in smoke filled clubs which resulted in a chronically irritated throat. In addition, the life style, long nights and stressful schedule resulted in depressed immune function. The end consequence was regular and frequent bouts with tonsilitis. His general practitioner had recomended a tonsilectomy which was not agreeable to the patient. He came to the clinic hoping to be able to find a non-antibiotic solution to his recurrent tonsilitis. The patient was prescribed 2 grams of maitake per day and was given licorice, a long used anti-inflammatory to the throat. He has not had a case of tonsilitis since starting the treatment six months ago.

Case Study Two

A 38 year old female presented at the clinic suffering from recurrent respiratory tract infections. She had spent 10 years working in a competitive consulting field and had lead a high stress poor body maintenance life style throughout. On average she was using antibiotics to treat the recurrent respiratory tract infections 4-6 times a year. Poor health had neccessitated leaving the stressful occupation. Despite this move, her health did not improve substantially. She was prescribed 6 grams of maitake per day. In the year she has been taking maitake, she has had to use antibiotics only once.

Case Study Three

A twenty four year old woman presented at the clinic suffering from recurrent urinary tract infections. A full time student, the patient found that at exam time she was garunteed to develop a urinary tract infection that would only clear with several different courses of antibiotics. The infections were causing great discomfort and the antibiotic treatment was leading to ongoing problems with thrush. She came to the clinic looking for a non-antibiotic solution to the infections. She was given 6 grams of maitake per day in conjunction with buchu(Barosma betulina) tea as treatment for the condition. Using this treatment she was able to pass through 2 sets of exams without a urinary tract infection.

Using Maitake in Chronic Infection

Work at the clinic has shown that maitake is effective in ending chronic bacterial infections. We have found that poor immunity will result in bacterial infections in the weak link in a persons constitution. In some cases this means urinary tract infections and in other sinus infections. We have found that maitake, in conjunction with an herbal agent addressing the specific weak area, makes it possible for people to become infection free.

Using Maitake in Acute Infection

Maitake has a role to play in the occasional infection that occurs. Many people use maitake in cases of acute urinary tract infections and respiratory tract infections. In many cases, this has been found effective and people have been able to avoid using antibiotics. Maitake is definetly worth a try when such an infection takes hold. However, if the infection lasts more than five days, proffessional medical attention should be sought. Whenever temperatures over 100 occur, medical attention must be sought.

Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.