Lion’s mane, one of the coolest looking mushrooms around (besides that of chaga mushrooms), has some very impressive health benefits. Asia has been using it for its medicinal properties for centuries, but it’s gained some light in the Western world of late as new scientific data reveals its powerful health effects.
What are Lion’s Mane Mushrooms?
Lion’s mane (a.k.a. Hericium erinaceus) is native to North America, Europe, and Asia, but is not widely cultivated outside of Asia. It’s quite distinctive in appearance, with its white pom-pom, shaggy-looking appearance. Because of its unique look, there are quite a few different (and creative) names for it, some of which include: hedgehog mushroom, yamabushitake, bearded tooth mushroom, and an array of others (these were just my favourites).
Lion’s Mane Benefits
Lion’s mane is well-known for its benefits on the central nervous system. Its been used for thousands of years by Chinese medicine practitioners to:
- Promote healthy digestion
- Improve gut health
- Increase strength and promote good health
- Improve ulcers, chronic gastritis, and inflammatory bowel disease
- Protect against cancer
- Support heart and circulatory system health
It’s also believed to be helpful at improving immune function, reducing inflammation, helping with insomnia, and low strength or energy (with many more benefits being uncovered by researchers).
Lion’s mane mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, which are wonderful for fighting oxidative stress and inflammation that can occur from things like poor nutrition and exposure to chemicals in the environment.
A 2015 study found that lion’s mane mushroom was able to reduce inflammation in fatty tissue. This is significant as fatty tissue inflammation plays a role in the development of metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Improves Brain Function and Mental Health
Research has shown that lion’s mane may help to improve focus by encouraging nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is a neuropeptide that helps to control growth, maintenance, reproduction, and survival of neurons or nerve cells. These neurons are similar to messengers, where they send and process information being sent from the brain to the rest of the body.
A study conducted in older adults who had mild cognitive impairment found that consuming 3 g of powdered lion’s mane mushroom daily for 4 months significantly improved mental functioning. However, these benefits vanished when they stopped the supplementation. So it works best when taken continuously.
Lion’s mane has also been thought to help reduce anxiety and depression. This mushroom possibly has an effect on the autonomic nervous system (part of the nervous system that controls automatic processes in the body, such as breathing, heartbeat, digestive processes, etc.) due to its ability to stimulate NGF.
The sympathetic nervous system falls under this system and it controls the fight or flight response. When someone has anxiety or depression, the sympathetic nervous system is working on overdrive, while the parasympathetic nervous system (sometimes called the rest and digest system) is lowered. NGF may help to restore balance between the autonomic nervous system which may in turn help to reduce depression and anxiety.
Note: This is likely only one factor as to why it may help improve mental state, and more research is required to further understand why it works.
May Help to Prevent or Reverse Neurodegenerative Disease
The ability of lion’s mane to stimulate NGF may also be beneficial for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. Studies found that the polysaccharides in these mushrooms were neuroprotective. What’s more, neurite outgrowth (the growth of axons and dendrites from neurons, which essentially is the process of neurons growing and learning in their position as messengers) also enhanced. By increasing this growth, it potentially could slow or reverse cell degeneration in the brain (which is the main characteristic of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s).
While neuroprotection is essential, regeneration of cells is even better! A 2012 study found that consuming lion’s mane mushroom could help regenerate damaged neurons from peripheral nerve injury (an injury affecting the tissue linking the brain and the spinal cord). This is also one of the reason’s why lion’s mane may help protect against the spread of Parkinson’s disease.
- Promotes heart health: Consuming lion’s mane may help improve levels of good cholesterol while decrease those of bad cholesterol. It may also help to lower triglycerides in the blood which can in turn reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Improves digestive health: Polysaccharides in lion’s mane may help to improve gastric issues.
- Anticancer properties: Lion’s mane may help fight against certain cancer cells like leukaemia, gastric (stomach) cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer. (More research however is required in this area).
Ways to Use It
Lion’s mane isn’t a common food you’ll find at your local grocery store, but an Asian market might have some available locally. You can also find many different kits to start growing your own! (Which is super useful as you’ll have it on hand for when you need it).
I haven’t yet tried growing or preparing lion’s mane myself (it’s one of my goals for this year though!). If you’re in a similar boat to me and don’t have any fresh lion’s mane lying around, consider trying dried lion’s mane in tea form. Alternatives to this could be capsules or extracts, but if you’re interested in having it in tea/elixir form, Four Sigmatic do great elixirs and coffee.
Just ensure that you back up this supplementation with a healthy diet.
Word of caution: While there are no known side effects and it’s generally considered safe to consume, funguses have been known to cause allergic reactions such as skin rashes or breathing difficulties. So always check with your doctor before consuming lion’s mane, particularly if you have allergies to other mushrooms.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products.
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Have you tried lion’s mane mushrooms before? How did you have it? Fresh, in tea, coffee, capsule, or extract form?
Wells, Katie. (January 23, 2019). Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits for Cognition, Memory & More. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/395498/lions-mane/
Axe, Josh, Dr., DC, DMN, CNS. (September 21, 2018). Lion’s Mane Mushroom: The Potential Brain-Boosting, Cancer-Fighting Powerhouse. Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/lions-mane-mushroom/
9 Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Plus Side Effects). (May 19, 2018). Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lions-mane-mushroom