If you’ve been in the nootropics community for a while, then you’ve probably heard about the smart mushroom. Yep, that’s lion’s mane. But why all the rave about this weird-looking mushroom? Is it really worth your time?
Well, as it turns out, lion’s mane mushrooms do possess kickass benefits for your brain and entire body. And in this article, we’ll take a look at some of these benefits and answer pretty much every question you have about lion’s mane mushrooms.
So, sit back and relax as I take you through everything you need to know about this powerful nootropic supplement.
What are Lion’s Mane Mushrooms?
Okay… so, lion’s mane is a fungus by definition and it is scientifically known as Hericium erinaceus. There’s something weird about lion’s mane, though… unlike other regular mushrooms, it has no cap and stem. Instead it has long, flowing, white tendrils that look like the mane of a lion… hence its name.
Lion’s mane is a versatile parasite that grows off both living and dead trees. It is native to Europe, Southeast Asia and North America (so you could easily pick one in your backyard).
Although it grows naturally in many continents, the widespread popularity of lion’s mane is probably owed to its intense use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
However, lion’s mane isn’t only used as medicine in China and other Asian countries, it is also considered a delicacy. In fact, some liken its taste to that of seafoods like crab or lobster.
Although lion’s mane can be harvested and consumed raw, cooked, dried or added to tea and coffee, you’ll probably benefit most from it when you take it as a supplement… more on that in a moment.
Other common names for lion’s mane include monkey’s head, pom pom blanc, hedgehog mushroom, bearded tooth, and satyr’s beard.
Okay, now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s take a look at how lion’s mane works.
What Does Lion’s Mane Do to the Brain?
Although research is still ongoing to fully understand how lion’s mane influences the brain, we already know a couple of things about its activity.
It promotes the growth of NGF and BNDF:
The first activity of lion’s mane has to do with something called the nerve growth factor (NGF), and its counterpart, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). NGF and BNDF are proteins that help in the maintenance and regeneration of neurons.
The brain contains billions of neurons and it needs NGF and BNDF to keep every single one strong and healthy. This is where lion’s mane comes in.
Studies have shown that lion’s mane helps in the production of NGF and BNDF. For instance, in a 2013 study, researchers showed that lion’s mane extract induced the synthesis (production) of NGF and promoted neurite growth.
It improves the functioning of the hippocampus:
The second activity of lion’s mane has to do with a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for emotional responses (happiness, sadness, anger, anxiety, etc.) and processing of memories.
Although human studies are still very limited in this regard, animal studies have shown that lion’s mane promotes the functioning of the hippocampus. This improved functioning is believed to play a role in the reduction of anxiety and depression… more on that in a moment.
What Are the Benefits of Lion’s Mane?
Lion’s mane mushrooms come with a plethora of health benefits that go way beyond helping your brain function properly. Here’s a video exploring some of these benefits.
Okay, let’s take a closer look at these benefits.
It may protect against dementia
Remember NGF and NBDF? Great! Here’s the thing — the natural production of these growth factors decrease as we grow older, or in the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases. And consequently, brain function also reduces. This is why your grandpa’s brain isn’t quite as sharp as yours.
This condition is known as dementia and lion’s mane may be able to help with it. Research has shown that lion’s mane contains hericenones and erinacines — two compounds that help to stimulate brain cell growth. And an improvement in the growth and regeneration of brain cells ultimately helps to improve brain function.
In animal studies, lion’s mane has been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s disease — a condition that causes progressive memory loss. Although this hasn’t been directly replicated in human studies, other similar studies have shown that lion’s mane supplementation helps to promote mental functioning.
For instance, in one study involving seniors with mild cognitive impairment, the researchers reported that a daily supplementation of 3 grams of lion’s mane for four months significantly improved mental functioning. Interestingly, this benefit disappeared when they stopped taking lion’s mane.
It may help reduce anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are major problems these days. In fact, one out of every three people living in developed countries exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression at some point.
The good news? Lion’s mane can help!
Studies have shown that lion’s mane has strong anti-depressant properties. For instance, in a study conducted on 30 Japanese women, the researchers reported that lion’s mane helped to significantly reduce depression and anxiety.
In another study published in Biomedical Research, it was reported that by eating cookies containing lion’s mane mushroom every day for a month, menopausal women enjoyed a reduction in depression and anxiety.
It may protect against ulcers
Okay, ulcers are never fun. If you’ve ever had one, then you understand what I mean.
Ulcers can be formed anywhere in the digestive tract, including the stomach and intestines and it is usually caused by a bacteria called H. pylori.
Interestingly, lion’s mane hinders the growth of H. pylori. It has also been shown to protect the lining of the stomach from damage. These attributes make it a very promising option for the prevention of stomach ulcers.
Although human studies are still on-going in this regard, animal studies have shown great promise. In one study conducted on rats, it was reported that lion’s mane extract was even more effective in preventing stomach ulcers than regular acid-reducing drugs.
It may help to manage diabetes
Diabetes occurs when the body is no longer able to control blood sugar levels, resulting in consistently high levels. Diabetes also causes nerve pain in the hands and feet and this makes it very unpleasant.
But the good news is that lion’s mane mushroom may be able to help. It has been shown to improve blood sugar control and this may help greatly with managing diabetes.
Although human studies are still limited for now, a few studies in mice reported that lion’s mane significantly lowered blood sugar levels in both diabetic and normal mice, even at low doses.
As if that wasn’t enough, lion’s mane may also reduce diabetic nerve pain in the limbs. According to a 2015 study in diabetic rats, the researchers reported that a daily supplementation of lion’s mane extract helped to reduce pain significantly.
Although more research is still required to further investigate the effect of lion’s mane on diabetes management, the initial evidence certainly shows promise.
It promotes proper heart functioning
Another perk of lion’s mane mushroom is that it helps to keep your heart in tip-top condition. One of the major things that predispose people to heart diseases is a high level of triglycerides in the blood. But lion’s mane can lower it.
According to a 2013 study published in Mycobiology, a daily supplementation of lion’s mane extracts resulted in lower levels of triglyceride and improved fat metabolism in rats that had been fed a high-fat diet.
As if this isn’t enough — lion’s mane also contains something called hericenone B. This is a compound that reduces the rate at which blood clots, while also helping to reduce the risk of developing a heart attack or stroke.
Sounds amazing? It really is.
It may help to fight cancer
I know this sounds like a bogus claim, but hear me out. Recent studies have suggested that lion’s mane extract may possess cancer-fighting abilities due to various unique compounds it contains.
According to a 2011 study published in Food & Function, lion’s mane extract caused human cancer cells to die faster in a test tube. Interestingly, this has been proven true for various types of cancer such as colon, stomach, liver and blood cancers.
Apart from killing cancer cells, lion’s mane also helps to prevent the spread of cancer cells… in mice, at least. And as research continues on this application, it’s just a matter of time before we figure out how to use it to treat human cancers as well.
It reduces inflammation and oxidative stress
Okay, listen up — inflammation and oxidative stress are a big deal. In fact, research has revealed that it is to blame for most chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders.
But here’s the thing — lion’s mane mushroom has very strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which makes it a potent remedy for these unwanted complications. In fact, one study of 14 mushrooms ranked it as the fourth most powerful source of antioxidants.
This has been proven by several studies, too. In one 2014 study, the researchers reported that lion’s mane extract helped to significantly lower inflammatory markers in rats when used at 300 mg/kg.
It promotes recovery from nervous system injuries
The nervous system comprises of the brain, the spinal cords and myriads of nerves, which work in harmony to control pretty much every bodily function. So, an injury to this system can be pretty are nasty… resulting in loss of mental coordination and sometimes, paralysis!
Nervous system injuries don’t heal quickly, too and that’s probably the most frustrating part.
But here’s good news — lion mane can help. Studies have shown that lion’s mane extract can help to speed up recovery time by fast-tracking the repair of the damaged nerve cells. In fact, one study showed that it can help to shorten recovery time by as much as 41 percent.
But that’s not all — some studies have also shown that it can help to reduce stroke-induced brain damage by up to 44 percent. Although the bulk of these results have been from animal studies, it certainly shows a lot of promise for human application. So, it doesn’t hurt to try, does it?
It boosts the immune system
Okay, listen up — if you want to live a healthy and disease-free life, then you need to take care of your immune system. The immune system is your body’s defense mechanism against pathogens (disease-causing organisms) like viruses and bacteria.
Now, listen to this — lion’s mane can boost your immune system. Various studies have shown that lion’s mane helps to increase the activity of the intestinal immune system, which protects against pathogens that enter the body through the mouth or nostrils.
So, if you’re looking to super-charge your immune system, lion’s mane mushroom might just be all you need.
Alright… now that it’s crystal clear that lion’s mane does your body a world of good, let’s check out how safe it is.
Is Lion’s Mane Safe?
Short answer — yes!
Lion’s mane has been reported to be very safe by various research studies… even at high doses. And although most of these studies were on animals, the same should be true for humans. People have been eating lion’s mane mushrooms in Asia for decades and have reported no issues.
However, due to limited human studies involving lion’s mane supplements, you should probably exercise caution when taking it as a supplement. Even the good stuff can be abused sometimes.
Also, if you have a history of allergic reactions to mushrooms, then you should definitely proceed with caution. So, start small and see how your body responds.
Does Lion’s Mane Have Side Effects?
Well, a little… yes.
Lion’s mane is largely considered safe and non-toxic. However, there have been reports of itchy skin when it’s used at very high dosages. But in most cases, side effects are just the product of an allergic reaction.
So, if you notice symptoms like digestive problems, breathing difficulty and itchiness after taking the supplement, stop taking it and seek help. If you’re unsure whether lion’s mane is okay for you, please consult your doctor. Better safe than sorry.
How To Take Lion’s Mane
Okay, listen — lion’s mane is a mushroom, which means you can pick one on your adventure through the woods or literally just grown some in your backyard. So, you eat it raw or cooked. You could even dry it and add it to your coffee or tea.
But there’s a drawback with these methods — you can’t regulate the dosage or determine how much nutrient you’re actually getting. This is why it’s best to take lion’s mane as a supplement.
Lion’s mane supplements are usually made from its extracts, which makes it more potent and reliable. These may be sold as capsules, powders or tablets, depending on the manufacturer.
How Much Lion’s Mane Should I Take?
Okay, when it comes to supplements, less is always more, so try to start with the lowest dose. That said, the dosage can vary wildly, depending on the concentration of the extract.
Some manufacturers recommend taking 500-1000 mg, 1-3 times daily. Other manufacturer recommendations can range from 300 – 3000 mg, taken 1-3 times per day. So, check the recommended dose the manufacturer stated on the label and start with the lower limit. See how your body reacts and adjust accordingly.
When Should I Take Lion’s Mane
You can take lion’s mane at any time of the day. However, since it’s a nootropic (brain-boosting) supplement, it’s probably best to take it early in the morning.
That said, everyone is different. So, feel free to experiment with different times of the day to see what works best for you.
The Bottom Line
Lion’s mane is amazing! Not only does it help to supercharge your brain, it also benefits your heart, gut and pretty much every system in your body. And to top it all, it has little-to-no side effects.
But before you gobble down the supplement, be sure you’re not allergic to mushrooms. Also, remember to start off at a lower dosage and work your way up until you find the dosage that works best for you.
Bottom line? Lion’s mane will make your brain and body roar with energy and vitality. So, what are you waiting for?
Richard is a freelance writer with a unique passion for health and fitness. His work has appeared on Lifehack, Livestrong, ThriveGlobal and other popular publications. When he’s not helping clients grow their businesses, he works out, plays the violin and has fun by all means necessary. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.