Delicate, tender, juicy, and meaty… these are but a few words used to describe the taste of Lion’s Mane mushrooms. But its benefits go beyond the palate. As you’ll soon learn in this article, these mushrooms also have scientifically backed cognitive health benefits! Here are a few highlights from our research:
- Lion’s Mane may help increase levels of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the brain and central nervous system. NGF stimulates the growth and repair of the neurons which are the cells of the brain and nervous system.
- Lion’s Mane supplementation may help improve memory function.
- Lions Mane supplementation may also help improve mood and reduce anxiety, as well as stimulate the immune system response, but at the same time reduce chronic inflammation.
What is Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
Lion’s Mane, aka Hericium Erinaceus, must win the prize for the coolest looking medicinal plant. It has flowing ‘locks’ that can be said to look like a lion’s mane, which is where the name comes from. It is edible, grows on trees, and belongs to the tooth fungus group. It’s actually known as Monkey Head Mushroom in China and Yamabushitake in Japan.
A number of bioactive compounds have been found in Lions Mane, including hericenone A, hericenone B, xylan, glucoxylan, and heteroxyloglucan. These compounds can act as nootropics, as immune system modulators, and can even help stimulate the growth of neurons.
What are the health benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
1) Cognitive health and neural protection
The first studies that showed that Lion’s Mane had the potential to stimulate the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) were led by Dr Hirokazu Kawagishi in the early to mid 1990’s (1-5). NGF supports the growth and repair of cells in the brain. It is essential for learning and brain plasticity (i.e when brain cells form new connections) (6). It’s also too big a molecule to pass the blood-brain barrier, meaning that it can’t be taken orally, it has to be produced in the brain to have its positive effects.
The results of these experiments were then repeated 15 years later by Mori et al (7, 8) with the same results. Another study by Kolotushkina et al showed that Lion’s Mane could stimulate the growth of the Myelin Sheaths which surround the axons of neurons (9). The myelin sheaths provide insulation to neurons which allows the electrical signals to travel at very high speeds down a neuron jumping between one myelin sheath and another. Damage to these myelin sheaths is associated with the development of Multiple Sclerosis.
All of these experiments were conducted ‘in Vitro’ which means the studies were conducted with cells grown in labs outside their normal environment in people, plants or animals. However, ‘in Vivo’ studies (i.e in humans, plants or animals) have shown that these theoretical in vitro studies were correct.
2) Improved memory, neuronal repair and recovery from cognitive decline
For example, Mori et al also studied mice by injecting Amyloid beta peptides which are the main component of Amyloid plaques into the brains of mice. Amyloid plaques are found in large numbers in Alzheimer’s patients and they are known to impair learning and memory. The researchers found that the mice who were fed Lion’s Mane daily scored better on memory tests than control mice who were not given Lion’s Mane (10).
A further study by Wong et al in Malaysia on rats who had part of their Sciatic nerves damaged found that daily supplementation with Lion’s Mane led to the earlier recovery of the rats’ back leg function and their ability to spread their toes. This led the researchers to conclude that Lion’s Mane has the ability to regenerate nerve cells (11).
Brandalise et al studied healthy mice and found that supplementation with Lion’s Mane actually increased performance on memory tasks. After dissection, the scientists found significantly more brain cells in the hippocampus of the mice given Lion’s Mane over the control mice. The hippocampus is associated with many areas of cognitive function especially memory (12).
Mori et al also went on to study the effects of Lion’s Mane in humans. In a study on men and women between 50 and 80 with mild cognitive impairment, the beginning stage of the development of dementia, subjects were either given 1 gram of a 96% pure Lion’s Mane powder 3 times a day for 16 weeks or a placebo. The subjects underwent cognitive testing at 4, 8, 12, and 16 weeks and the researchers found that at each point the subjects who had supplemented with Lion’s Mane had significantly better scores on cognitive tests.
At the end of the 16 weeks, the subjects stopped taking the Lion’s Mane but returned for further cognitive testing 4 weeks later. It was found that after the 4-week break from Lions Mane, the subjects’ scores had all decreased (13).
3) Anti-inflammatory, depression and anxiety
The immune system produces signaling molecules called cytokines that tell immune cells to either increase or decrease their activity. TNF-α is one of the major pro-inflammatory cytokines and IL-10 is perhaps the biggest anti-inflammatory cytokine. It helps to turn off the immune system when the immune reaction has finished dealing with invaders preventing unnecessary collateral damage.
A study by Yao et al on mice in 2015, found that supplementation with Lion’s Mane significantly increased levels of IL-10 and significantly reduced levels of TNF-α when the mice were treated with a highly inflammatory molecule known as LPS (which is part of the cell wall of bacteria) (14).
The mice that supplemented with Lion’s Mane also exhibited much less depression-like behavior, when they underwent a tail-suspension test and a forced swimming test, which are often used in mice and rat studies because they tell the researchers if the mice/rats are feeling happy or are feeling anxious.
Another study that looked at stressed mice found fewer TNF-α and IL-6 (also a major inflammatory cytokine) cytokines and less NF-κB signaling in the group supplementing with Lion’s Mane. NF-κB is a gene transcription factor that ‘turns on’ inflammatory genes (15).
Also, a study in humans by Nagano et al showed that 4 weeks of supplementation with Lion’s Mane could reduce symptoms of depressions and anxiety in a group of 30 menopausal women (16).
Related article: What are nootropics and cognitive enhancing supplements?
4) Immune system modulation
The strong anti-inflammatory effect of Lion’s Mane seems to be a full immune modulation effect, meaning that Lion’s Mane can reduce immune activity when it’s too high, but also stimulate it when it’s too low and the body needs more activity to deal with invaders.
For example, a 2017 study found Lion’s Mane could increase Lymphocyte, Macrophage, and Natural Killer Cell activity as well as the secretion of immunoglobulin A (the main antibody in the gut) in the intestines of mice (17).
5) Lion’s Mane may help with cardiovascular health
Studies on rats and mice have also shown that Lion’s Mane can potentially improve cardiovascular markers. A study by Choi et al published in the journal Mycobiology found rats fed a high-fat diet had lower Triglycerides, lower total cholesterol, and higher HDL when they were supplemented with Lion’s Mane, than controls (18).
A second study again by Mori et al, found that rabbit platelet cells (which are the cells involved in forming blood clots), showed less clumping or clot-forming behavior when they were treated with Lion’s Mane (19).
6) Management of diabetes
Lion’s Mane has also shown potential in helping people with diabetes manage their condition. One study by Liang et al found that diabetic rats treated for 28 days with Lion’s Mane had reduced blood glucose levels and increased insulin levels, suggesting that this mushroom can help improving insulin resistance and insulin production in the pancreas (20).
Peripheral Neuropathy is the gradual damage to nerves in the body in peripheral areas such as in the arms, legs, hands, and feet. It can be a common side effect of diabetes, especially the longer that patients have suffered from diabetes, and can cause pain and numbness. However, in a study by Yi et al, they found that diabetic rats treated for 6 weeks with Lion’s Mane had reduced nerve pain as well as lower blood and urine glucose levels than control rats who were not given Lion’s Mane (21).
Lion’s Mane has shown great promise in its ability to stimulate Nerve Growth Factor, help cognitive decline, as a nootropic, an immune system modulator, and even in diabetes management. However, so far, most of the research has been conducted on animals, with the first human study using a dose of 3000mg of Lions Mane per day (13), but the second one unfortunately not recording the dose of Lion’s Mane used (16).
We look forward to the future when hopefully we will see more Lion’s Mane studies on humans to get a greater understanding of its effects and the dosages required. However, Lion’s Mane seems to be well tolerated for people with few side effects seen.
Check out our Lion’s Mane supplement here and try it for yourself!
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