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Lion’s Mane Mushroom: A Powerhouse For Your Brain

Medicinal mushrooms are becoming more mainstream as science continues to uncover and back up their age-old benefits. Mushrooms like lion’s mane have been around for thousands of years, but scientists are just beginning to delve into the health-promoting activity that these medicinal gems provide.

In this article, we’ll explore what lion’s mane is, its health-promoting qualities, and how you can incorporate it into your supplement regimen.

What Is Lion’s Mane?

Lion’s mane is a medicinal mushroom that’s been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. According to TCM, lion’s mane provides benefits to the brain and neurological system. However, scientists are uncovering a host of other potential benefits that this mushroom may impart in recent years.

Lion’s mane gets its name from the unique resemblance that the fruiting body of the mushrooms has (the above-ground part) to the mane of a lion. Other names for lion’s mane include its scientific name Hericium Erinaceus, Japanese yamabushitake, and bearded tooth mushroom.

This medicinal mushroom is native to Asia, Europe, and North America and can be found growing on beech and oak trees during late summer and fall.

Benefits of Lion’s Mane

People reach for lion’s mane mushroom for a variety of reasons. We’ll cover the most sought-after benefits of lion’s mane:

  • May have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Potential to calm depression and anxiety
  • Shows promise as a cognitive enhancer
  • May help level blood sugar and diabetes
  • May support a healthy heart
  • May support digestion
  • Potentially fights cancer cells
  • May support healthy Immunity

Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory

It’s fair to say that you’ll find inflammation and oxidative stress at the root of most modern diseases. In fact, the inflammatory theory of disease states that chronic inflammation is likely the catalyst for diseases like cancer, autoimmunity, diabetes, and heart disease.[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3492709/

Research shows that lion’s mane mushrooms are packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, which may help to combat the onset of these conditions. In animals, research shows that that lion’s mane supplementation can reduce markers for oxidative stress and inflammation, reducing the intensity of conditions like ulcerative colitis and liver damage.[2]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25960751/[3]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27481156/[4]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23000690/

It’s suggested that one way that lion’s mane helps to combat inflammation is by downregulating pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. Doing so diminishes the inflammatory response and prevents tissue damage associated with excess inflammation.[5]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26559695/

Depression and Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, with an estimated 40 million adults suffering from anxiety each year. Meanwhile, around 17 million adults in the US struggle with depression. And to make matters worse, these two conditions often go hand in hand.[6]https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics[7]https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression

Along with modern conditions like metabolic disease and autoimmunity, it is now believed that depression may also be rooted in inflammation.

Research shows that lion’s mane may be useful in conditions like anxiety and depression, likely due to its anti-inflammatory properties. In this way, anti-inflammatory compounds may work as antidepressants for some people.

In one study, extracts of lion’s mane were given to mice exhibiting high inflammation and depressive behaviors. After administration of lion’s mane, the mice showed reduced blood markers for inflammation, along with behavioral changes that indicated improved mood.[8]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26150007/

In another study, a group of menopausal women suffering from depression and anxiety were given lion’s mane (baked into a cookie) for four weeks. After the trial, the women that received the lion’s mane reported better concentration, along with less irritation and anxiousness compared to the placebo group.[9]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20834180/

In addition to its anti-inflammatory activity, researchers suggest that lion’s mane may have a targeted impact on the brain’s hippocampus. Hippocampal injury has been associated with depression and anxiety as this area of the brain is related to emotional memory.[10]https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00242/full[11]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524959/

Animal studies have found that lion’s mane can specifically promote the generation of new neurons in this area of the brain, resulting in a reduction in anxiety and depressive-like symptoms.[12]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29091526/

 

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Cognitive Health

Neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Parkinson’s disease are on the rise in the US and globally. These conditions result in cognitive impairment, making activities of daily life challenging to those affected.[13]https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/2772579

Alzheimer’s disease is marked by the presence of amyloid plaques which cause damage to brain cells. Research shows that lion’s mane may assist in protecting brain cells from damage due to the presence of compounds that help neurons regenerate.[14]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24266378/

Animal studies have shown that the protective effect of lion’s mane may assist in combating amyloid-induced issues with memory and learning. In a mouse study, cognitively impaired mice scored better on memory and maze tests after being administered lion’s mane, indicating improvements in memory and learning functions.[15]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21383512/

Other studies suggest that the antioxidant activity of lion’s mane may also play a role in protection from cognitive impairment.[16]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4895996/

Although clinical trials are still lacking to confirm these results in humans, studies indicate that lion’s mane may also prove helpful in human neurological disease. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial out of Japan, participants diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment scored higher on cognitive tests after 16 weeks of lion’s mane supplementation when compared to the placebo group. Moreover, once the trial was over and the supplementation ended, the scores decreased again, indicating the role that lion’s mane played in cognitive improvements.[17]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18844328/

Blood Sugar and Diabetes

Diabetes is another condition that’s been on the rise in the US for a number of years, affecting more than 30 million Americans (young and old).[18]https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf

The key player in diabetes is the hormone insulin. When your body can’t make enough insulin or won’t respond to insulin’s signal, your blood sugar builds up and becomes too high. This can lead to a number of issues, including damaged blood vessels, kidney disease, heart disease, and vision and nerve problems.[19]https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes

Lion’s mane is a supplement of interest when it comes to blood sugar regulation due to its potential impact on carbohydrate metabolism. Specifically, lion’s mane contains active compounds that block the activity of the enzyme alpha-glucosidase.

Alpha-glucosidase is responsible for breaking down carbohydrates in the small intestine. When this enzyme is inhibited, the carbs you consume aren’t broken down fully, which means less glucose entering your blood, resulting in lower blood sugar.[20]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874120330798

Animal studies back up the claim, showing that lion’s mane extract decreased blood sugar and increased insulin activity.[21]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3852124/

What’s more, additional research suggests that lion’s mane may protect against nerve pain and damage caused by high blood sugar in diabetes.[22]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4415746/ May Support a Healthy Heart
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming around 659,000 lives each year.[23]https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm A handful of contributing factors come into play with heart disease, including inflammation, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides. Obesity, poor diet, and an inactive lifestyle are all contributing risk factors.

Research shows that taking lion’s mane may have cardioprotective effects due to its impact on fat metabolism. In one study, rats were fed a high-fat diet and then divided into two groups, one control and the other receiving lion’s mane extract.

While the control group saw increases in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, the lion’s mane group showed lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and higher HDL cholesterol (the good kind).[24]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3714447/

While high LDL cholesterol is a common marker for heart disease, the real issue with cholesterol isn’t its mere presence but rather its susceptibility to becoming oxidized. When LDL cholesterol is oxidized, it is more likely to stick to artery walls and create plaques.

In a test-tube study, lion’s mane extract prevented the oxidation of LDL cholesterol via its antioxidant properties. Of course, studies in living animals and humans would be needed to confirm this activity in the bloodstream.[25]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24959591/

Digestive Health

Lion’s mane has been studied for its potential therapeutic value in a range of digestive disorders.

Its anti-inflammatory activity has shown to be helpful in animal models of ulcerative colitis, which is marked by ulcers and inflammation in the colon. In a mouse model, lion’s mane not only calmed inflammatory markers but also combated oxidative damage of the intestinal lining by upregulating antioxidant activity.[26]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27481156/

Lion’s mane may also regulate gut bacteria, which is crucial for healthy gut activity. In one study, rats with IBD (irritable bowel disease) that were given lion’s mane extracts showed improvements in inflammatory markers, tissue health, and gut bacteria. It’s believed that the impact on bacteria came from the mushrooms’ prebiotic effects, helping the beneficial bacteria to flourish.[27]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29156761/

In another study, lion’s mane extract prevented the growth of the bacteria H. pylori, which is one of the leading causes of stomach ulcers.[28]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26853960/ [29]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26364939/

Cancer

Lion’s mane has been studied for its potential to slow growth and potentially kill off cancer cells.

In a cell culture study, lion’s mane extract was able to upregulate immune cells such as macrophages and natural killer cells (which help to fight cancer) while inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels to supply the tumor cells.[30]https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf201944n

In another study, lion’s mane extract effectively reduced the spread of lung cancer cells in mice by 55%.[31]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23668749/

The constituents in lion’s mane also show to be effective in fighting colon, liver, and gastrointestinal cancer.[32]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24631140/

At this time, more clinical evidence is needed to confirm that these anti-cancer activities would translate to human forms of cancer.

Immunity

Lion’s mane may promote overall immunity by supporting the intestinal immune system and its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.

Your gut plays a crucial role in immunity, acting as one of your first lines of defense against outside invaders. Research shows the lion’s mane may increase the immune activity of your gut by enhancing protective activity against pathogens and toxins coming from outside your body, as well as internally generated threats.[33]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28266682/

Furthermore, lion’s mane may also impact your gut immunity by supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria via prebiotic activity.[34]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28713364/

How To Incorporate Lion’s Mane Into Your Daily Routine

While lion’s mane is an edible mushroom, the option to consume it whole isn’t always available. This mushroom grows for only a short period of time during the year, making it hard to come by in local markets.

Luckily, finding lion’s mane as a supplement (either pill or powder) has become pretty easy. Some people prefer the powder so they can add it to a morning smoothie or even a coffee drink. Others like to take the capsule form as a matter of ease and consistency. Either way, you’ll be reaping the many benefits that this medicinal powerhouse has to offer.

If you’re specifically looking to get more lion’s mane into your routine for neurological benefits, you may want to consider pairing it with other nootropic nutrients. It can be tricky trying to find the perfect brain-supportive blend, so take this quiz to find the right formula for you.

Takeaway

As scientists continue to uncover the treasures that the natural world has to offer, medicinal mushrooms are taking place in the spotlight. Lion’s mane is one of the most well-researched mushrooms for neurological health due to its protective and regenerative impact on brain cells.

Furthermore, lion’s mane may also support vital systems in your body like immunity, gut health, heart health, and blood sugar regulation. Since this mushroom comes from nature, there is very little concern around side effects or contraindications. With that being said, if you’re taking any medication, it’s always important to consult with your physician before starting with any new supplements.

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