What is Lion’s Mane?
Lion’s mane mushroom is a hearty edible medicinal mushroom that contains protein, complex carbohydrates, as well as a multitude of vitamins and minerals that all support your health. Lion’s mane, like all medicinal mushrooms, contains a wide array of important compounds that can help support our health and longevity. This is why lion’s mane has long been incorporated into herbal medicine formulations within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Learn all about lion’s mane benefits below, as well as learn how to use lion’s mane supplements.
Lion’s mane mushroom grows natively in Asia as well as North America and Europe, and it has a growth cycle that begins in summer, and is typically harvested in the fall. Instead of a typical “cap and stem” appearance like most mushrooms, it has a unique hairy appearance, with long “spines” hanging from a dome, hence inspiring the name “lion’s mane”. It is sometimes also called the hedgehog mushroom, due to its similarity in appearance to the animal. The part of the mushroom that is edible and medicinal is the fruiting body-this is the part that we see typically growing out trees or fallen logs.
Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane
1. Improves Cognitive Function
One of the most well-known and currently researched benefits of lion’s mane supplements and mushrooms is the ability to improve brain health. Lion’s mane mushrooms have naturally occurring compounds called nootropics that are known for supporting cognitive function, and have a protective effect on the brain against oxidation. These compounds have also been shown to stimulate nerve growth factor, some of the building blocks of our brain and nervous system, and help encourage normal functioning of nerves.
2. Protects Against Memory Loss
Another lion’s mane benefit is its impact on memory. Some studies have also suggested that lion’s mane can help protect against both common memory loss, as well Alzheimer’s-specific progressive memory loss. As we know, our brain function slows down over time as we age. There are many factors, like environment and illness among others, that can affect the pace at which our brain functioning slows. This results in symptoms that we are familiar with such as memory loss, forgetfulness, and lack of focus.
Lion’s mane mushrooms have long been used to slow down these processes. Specifically, lion’s mane can help stimulate the growth of brain cells, which slows down the decline of mental functioning that we typically see in older adults. Indeed, one study of men and women aged 50-80 showed that those taking lion’s mane consistently had more mental clarity and focus and showed higher scores on cognitive function tests at various points in the study.
As a large part of our population ages, research has focused on how to reduce the occurrence of Alzheimer’s and other dementia related illnesses. One of the leading causes of these diseases is the growth of amyloid plaques. These plaques cause severe inflammation in the brain, interfere with neurotransmission in the nervous system, and degrade the integrity of the nerves. In studies of memory loss conducted with mice, lion’s mane supplementation has been shown to prevent neuron damage caused by amyloid-beta plaques, which accumulate in an Alzheimer’s affected brain. One small trial in humans showed that lion’s mane was helpful in Alzheimer’s patients in improving the successful completion of activities of daily living such as dressing and bathing.
3. May help in recovery from injuries to the nervous system
Nerve damage often occurs when there is illness or injury to the brain and spinal cord. When the myelin sheath (the protective coating around the nerves) is damaged, it can result in misfires among the nerve cells, as seen in illnesses like multiple sclerosis. Recent findings have shown that lion’s mane benefits include helping to stimulate the regeneration of the myelin sheath, and has a regulatory effect on the myelin with continued supplementation. In the case of cerebral nerve damage due to injury, lion’s mane has been studied in animals and shown to help protect nerve and cell damage in the brain post-acute injuries like concussion. Additionally, research has found that lion’s mane supplements can help speed recovery from injury and reduce recovery time. In the case of nerve damage due to stroke, animal studies show supplementation helped lower inflammation and reduce the size of brain injury.
4. May help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
Lion’s mane mushroom benefits have also been shown to include a reduction in symptoms of depression in some studies, and helping to lower inflammatory responses as seen in both depression and anxiety. Additionally, this special mushroom helps to stimulate the regeneration of the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that helps to transfer short term memory into long term memory, and is also where we process complex emotions and their responses. Recent animal trials are exploring the biochemical pathways that regulate mood, and lion’s mane is showing promise as a good supplement to help stabilize emotions and mood due to its effectiveness at stimulating that specific growth of nerves within the hippocampus.
Some research suggests that lion’s mane can also help reduce fatigue. Some trial results show that lion’s mane can help increase tissue glycogen content, and antioxidant enzyme activity thus resulting in sustained energy levels over time.
5. May Improve Digestive Health
These days, digestive disorders like IBS and Crohn’s Disease, among others, are incredibly common. The causes of these disorders can be vast with everything from genetics, to diet, stress, and bacteria being factors. TCM has incorporated medicinal mushrooms like lion’s mane for generations to help ease GI upset. This is because lion’s mane extract can help inhibit the growth of a certain type of intestinal bacteria called H. pylori. This bacterium commonly leads to ulcers of the stomach. A recent study showed that not only does lion’s mane help to slow the growth of this bacteria, but lion’s mane anti-inflammatory effects can help protect against the development of the ulcers themselves.
6. Provides Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Benefits
That anti-inflammatory action seen in the digestive system extends to other organs in the body as well. The incidence of heart related illness like atherosclerosis and high blood pressure has been on the rise over the past couple of decades. Allopathic treatment like statins can have undesired side effects, so researchers are on the hunt for alternatives. There is promise in recent studies showing that lion’s mane has a positive effect on heart health. Trials are showing that lion’s mane benefits include helping to lower triglycerides, and improving fat metabolism which helps to counter inflammation related weight gain.
Additionally, this powerhouse mushroom contains strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant constituents that can help reduce the inflammation that contributes to diseases like cancer and diabetes.. One study of several medicinal mushrooms reported that lion’s mane mushroom had one of the highest antioxidant activity, making it one of the best choices when it comes to managing general inflammation.
7. Supports the Immune System
We’re currently living in a time where immune health has taken precedence in our everyday lives, and for good reason! We’re taking the time to do all the things that support our immune system, like sleeping, eating nutritious foods, and looking for herbs and supplements to give us an extra boost. Lion’s mane can actually be quite helpful here as well! Like many of the other medicinal mushrooms, lion’s mane has been shown to have an immune modulating effect. The polysaccharides in these mushrooms help to support our own innate immune system, giving us an added protection against respiratory viruses like the cold and flu. These anti-inflammatory properties help to calm autoimmune reactions as well, which make this mushroom excellent for both depleted and overactive immune systems.
8. Adaptogenic Stress-Reducing Benefits
By now, you’ve likely heard of adaptogens, the class of herbs that help our body regulate and respond to stressors. Stress can come in many forms, like work, family, and even lack of sleep. We’re all familiar with the vicious cycle of staying up too late, having to wake up before we’re rested, which leads us into a wired type of exhaustion where it’s difficult to fall asleep even though we’re tired. Lion’s mane won’t put us to sleep necessarily, but there’s been research on how it can help regulate our sleep cycles. This coupled with the nervous system support mentioned above can help lower stress levels.
How to use/take lion’s mane
First and foremost, lion’s mane is a wild growing mushroom, and can absolutely be eaten as food! Use it in place of button mushrooms to supercharge your pizza, or grill them up at your next cookout. . Lion’s mane also extracts well into water, so steeping a tea or making a soup can be an excellent way to incorporate these mushrooms into your day. Also consider lion’s mane supplementation, which can be via capsule or in a powdered blend. Because most studies show that the most benefits come from sustained use, a quality supplement can be the easiest way to ensure that you’re incorporating lion’s mane on a regular basis. Lion’s mane is considered a safe mushroom, and can be consumed in conjunction with other medications and supplements.