What Does Lion’s Mane Do To The Body?
Fungi are curious organisms, and by far the least studied. While medicinal mushrooms have been cherished in ancient cultures for centuries, scientists and researchers are just scratching the surface of how mushrooms can promote human health. One of the most well-known and most studied medicinal mushrooms is the lion’s mane mushroom. Whether you’re looking for a lion’s mane supplement or are just curious about what this strange-looking fungus does to the body, I’m sure you’ll be nothing but impressed.
What is Lion’s Mane?
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a type of edible and medicinal mushroom native to North America, Asia and Europe. It is appropriately named, as it truly resembles the mane of a lion with its long, shaggy, cascading spines. Like many other mushrooms, lion’s mane has been used for centuries in traditional Asian cuisine and medicine. Today, this mushroom is associated with various health benefits and is undergoing research on dozens of other potential health benefits.
What Does Lion’s Mane Do To The Body?
Many clinical studies have found that lion’s mane has a wide range of health benefits that promote brain, gut, heart and immune health. Below detail some of the more well-known medicinal uses of lion’s mane mushrooms.
- Boosts Cognitive Function
While lion’s mane has many potential health benefits, probably its most well-known superpower is its ability to improve cognitive and neurological function. Studies found that lion’s mane mushrooms contain two notable compounds that stimulate the growth of brain cells: hericenones and erinacines. These compounds play an important role in increasing levels of nerve growth factor (NGF)—a protein that regulates growth, development and the regeneration of neurons. The production of NGF is vital to keeping neurons strong and healthy, and when that brain is unable to produce its own source of NGF, it oftentimes leads to various degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
Due to its significant anti-inflammatory properties, studies have found that lion’s mane can also improve focus and concentration. Reduced inflammation improves blood flow which provides the brain with more oxygen, thus allowing the brain to perform better cognitively. In fact, this mushroom’s ability to improve concentration appears to be so significant that it is gaining recognition for its capability to help those with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Relieves Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Lion’s mane impact on the brain doesn’t stop at its ability to improve memory and focus—it may also relieve mild symptoms of depression and anxiety. While there are many causes of depression and anxiety, researchers found that chronic inflammation may be a major contributing factor. Lion’s mane ability to decrease inflammation, as well as its means to regenerate brain cells and improve the functioning of the hippocampus—a region of the brain responsible for processing memories and emotional responses—may explain the reductions in anxious and depressive behaviors observed in both animal and human studies. One study in menopausal women found that self-reported feelings of irritation and anxiety were significantly reduced after eating cookies containing lion’s mane mushrooms daily for four weeks. While this study provides evidence that lion’s mane extracts possess potential in alleviating depression, the precise underlying mechanisms remain to be investigated.
- Repairs Nerve Damage
The nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord and the trillions of nerves that run throughout the body, working together to control almost every bodily function. Injuries to the nervous system can be quite harmful and can oftentimes lead to loss of motor and/or mental functions. Considering this mushroom’s capability to increase NGF levels, lion’s mane has been found to speed recovery and even reverse damage from these types of injuries. One study in rats with nervous system injuries showed that lion’s mane extract reduced recovery time by 23-41%. A similar study found that high doses of lion’s mane extract given to rats immediately after a stroke helped to decrease inflammation and reduce the size of stroke-related brain injury by an outstanding 44%. While more human studies are needed, taking lion’s mane extracts may be a promising treatment for those experiencing nerve pain or nerve damage.
- Protects Against Ulcers
Ulcers are capable of forming anywhere in the digestive tract including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. Ulcers are sores that develop when stomach acid damages the lining of the digestive tract and are often caused by two main factors: overgrowth of a bacteria known as H. Pylori and the long-term use of anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as aspirin—both of which increase the production of gastric acid and, in turn, impair gastric mucus. Several studies found that lion’s mane extract can prevent the growth of H. Pylori in a test tube, but no animal or human studies have been conducted to test these effects. On the other hand, lion’s mane mushrooms can also reduce inflammation and prevent tissue damage in the digestive tract, which can help treat inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- Reduces Heart Disease Risk
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Some of the major risk factors for heart disease include obesity, high triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood), large amounts of oxidized cholesterol, and an increased tendency to develop blood clots. Animal studies show that lion’s mane extract may improve fat metabolism and lowers triglyceride levels. One study in particular showed the effects of lion’s mane extract to improve fat metabolism and lower triglyceride levels in rats that were fed a high-fat diet. After taking lion’s mane extract daily for 28 days, researchers observed 27% lower triglyceride levels and 42% less weight gain. Not only that, but test tube studies reveal that lion’s mane may also help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. A compound found in lion’s mane called hericenone B can also reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as decrease the rate of blood clotting.
- Fights and Protects Against Cancer
Lion’s mane mushrooms contain unique and powerful compounds that have been found to potentially slow the progression and/or reverse the spread of various types of cancers including:
- Stomach cancer
- Lung cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Liver cancer
- Colon cancer
- Breast cancer
The effectiveness of lion’s mane against human cancer cells has been conducted in various test tube studies. When mixed with lion’s mane extracts, cancer cells collected from the liver, colon, stomach, and blood all died at a faster rate. Not only has lion’s mane extracts been shown to kill cancer cells, but researchers have also observed its ability to slow the spread of cancer. One study in mice with colon cancer found that taking lion’s mane extracts reduced the spread of cancer to the lungs by 69%. Another study even observed that lion’s mane mushroom supplements outperformed traditional cancer medications at slowing tumor growth in mice, in addition to having showed fewer side effects.
In the last decade, lion’s mane mushroom has gained considerable attention due to its potential therapeutic capabilities. Research shows its undeniable effects on the brain and nervous system, and reveals very promising results in promoting gut, heart and immune health. While more human studies are needed, the power of lion’s mane mushrooms and other medicinal mushrooms is very exciting for the breakthrough of many of today’s common ailments, ranging from reducing anxiety, depression and inflammation to improving memory, endurance and overall health. Click here to learn more about lion’s mane mushroom supplements and other popular medicinal mushroom supplements.
Bing-Ji Ma, Jin-Wen Shen, Hai-You Yu, Yuan Ruan, Ting-Ting Wu & Xu Zhao (2010) Hericenones and erinacines: stimulators of nerve growth factor (NGF) biosynthesis in Hericium erinaceus, Mycology, 1:2, 92-98, DOI: 10.1080/21501201003735556
Hiwatashi K, Kosaka Y, Suzuki N, Hata K, Mukaiyama T, Sakamoto K, Shirakawa H, Komai M. Yamabushitake mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) improved lipid metabolism in mice fed a high-fat diet. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2010;74(7):1447-51. doi: 10.1271/bbb.100130. Epub 2010 Jul 7. PMID: 20622452.