Lion’s Mane, also known as Hericium erinaceus and Hou Tou Gu in traditional Chinese Medicine is a saprophytic mushroom prized for its health benefits. It is white and fluffy in appearance and looks slightly like a puffball or the glorious head of a lion. It has been traditionally used to help digestive issues and promote gut health, but recent research has primarily been focused on its cognitive potential. Hericenones and Erinacines are two particularly interesting compounds found in Lion’s Mane mushrooms that are being evaluated for their ability to interact with nerve growth factor, a complex biological molecule that regulates growth and survival of neurons.
Human and mouse studies have been conducted and reviewed in many journals, and representatives from the US Department of Agriculture have performed an analysis and determined that Lion’s Mane may have therapeutic potential for treating cognitive impairment, depression, and fatigue. Lion’s Mane is considered a “nootropic” or a substance that can boost brain performance and is sought after by individuals looking to enhance their mental performance. The combination of Hericenones and Erinacines found in Lion’s Mane mushrooms has been shown to promote the growth of myelin on the axons of nerves to improve cognition. More study is needed, but one of the key areas that researchers hope to explore further is Lion’s Mane’s ability to improve the condition for people with Alzheimer’s Disease.
What Are the Benefits of Lion's Mane Mushrooms?
- They boost cognitive performance:
The two main active compounds of Lion’s Mane are proteins hericenones and diterpenoid erinacines. These proteins increase levels of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the brain. NGF stimulates the growth and regeneration of neurons and helps the brain to form new neural pathways. Both of which are essential for healthy cognitive function as we age.
NGF also improves synapse potentiation. How the neural pathways in your brain become stronger each time you use them, a process that’s essential for learning and memory. We get better at a skill the more you practice it, or we remember a song more easily the more we sing it - that’s synapse potentiation in a nutshell.
- They may increase immune response and decrease inflammation:
Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s immune response, but when it becomes chronic, it can lead to serious illnesses. These include heart disease, liver disease, stroke, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by oxidative stress from loads of free radicals in the body. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from damaging your cells and reduce the resulting inflammation.
Lion’s Mane is a potent source of antioxidants and can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
- They are antibacterial:
Ulcers are painful lesions in the digestive tract and are primarily found in the stomach. One major case if the overgrowth of of H. pylori bacteria, or by damage to the stomach or intestinal lining, often from long-term alcohol or painkiller abuse.
Lion’s Mane may help with both these issues. Multiple animal and in vitro studies have shown that Lion’s Mane extract has an antibacterial effect that prevents H. pylori growth. Furthermore, it may help more than antacid drugs to reduce alcohol-induced stomach ulcers, but more research is needed to confirm this.
- They help reduce heart disease:
High triglyceride levels, cholesterol levels, and obesity are some of the main risk factors for developing heart disease. Some studies show that Lion’s Mane has a positive influence on these factors in animal tests, suggesting that it can help reduce the chance of heart disease.
Lion’s Mane extract improved fat metabolism, lowered triglycerides, and reduced weight gain in two studies. Hericenones B compound found in Lion’s Mane had an anti-clotting effect on the blood in one small study, which can reduce the risk of heart attack.
- They help reduce stress and anxiety:
It’s thought that Lion’s Mane can help to relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety, although it’s not yet understood. In one study, menopausal women who took a Lion’s Mane extract reported lower anxiety and stress.
Multiple animal studies suggest that this effect is due to the anti-inflammatory effects of Lion’s Mane. Other studies suggest changes within the hippocampus, our emotional response center, where dysfunction is connected to mood swings and disorders. Lion’s Mane may help regenerate cells here and improve its function and health.
Why are Lion's Mane Mushrooms So Beneficial?
Lion's mane mushrooms have a ton of beneficial nutrients.
- Magnesium: Most people have significantly less magnesium in their diet than is recommended. Magnesium is vital for regulating both muscle and nerve function, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and maintaining a health blood pressure and is used in the production of proteins, bones, and DNA.
- Potassium: All cells require potassium to function properly. It controls the heartbeat, ensures the proper functioning of muscles and nerves, and participates in protein and carbohydrate metabolism.
- Beta-Glucans: Beta-glucans are a group of biologically active polysaccharides that are found in the cell walls of fungi. They are excellent for promoting stomach health, have potential for cancer treatment, and are one of the primary factors driving clinical interest in mushrooms.
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants are special molecules that offset free radicals in your body. Lion's Mane is particularly high in anti-oxidants, making it an excellent mushroom to include in your diet.
Final Words: Is Eating Lion's Mane Mushrooms Worth It?
It should be noted that these mushrooms are not new - they’ve been used in Asia for thousands of years, primarily as an ingredient in restorative broths and soups. One of the most popular recipes is known as “Hou Tou Gu Bao Jian Tang”, a mixture of dates, berries, yams, and other ingredients that is intended to function as an antioxidant and support gut health. Many people will also add pork or chicken to the recipe to make this a proper meal intended to be eaten on a regular basis, as opposed to a treatment for ill health. Clinical research studies have found that Lion’s Mane mushrooms may reduce inflammation, prevent tissue damage and prevent the growth of H. pylori, a bacteria that is primarily responsible for causing stomach ulcers.
There are many ways to take Lion’s Mane mushrooms, but one notable aspect discovered in the USDA analysis of the mushroom was that finely ground mushrooms had higher bioavailability, making them more effective at being absorbed by the body. It is important to consume actual ground Lion’s Mane when looking for the best results, as some extracts that claim to be “higher strength” are really missing quite a bit of what makes this mushroom so beneficial. The goal is not to consume a higher potency mushroom, but to maximize the ability of your own body to absorb the active compounds.