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Unlocking the Health Benefits of Lion's Mane Mushroom: A Comprehensive Guide

Originally native to Brazil and widely used throughout Asian countries, lion’s mane mushroom also known as Hericium Erinaceus or yamabushitake has been touted for its medicinal properties for centuries. With a white and shaggy appearance, they have been given their name because of the resemblance to a lion’s mane as they grow. Lion’s mane mushrooms are often consumed raw, cooked, dried, or drunk as tea. Many vegan recipes use lion’s mane mushrooms as well, describing their flavor as “seafood-like,” comparing it to crab or lobster.

"A healthy brain in the palm of your hand, showcasing the power of Lion's Mane Mushroom for supporting brain function
"A healthy brain is. a powerful thing. Lion's Mane Mushroom for supporting brain function

However, aside from many culinary uses, there are also nutritional and health benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms. While mushrooms have been used throughout history, over the past decade substances like lion’s mane have gained considerable attention for their effects on human physiology ranging from boosting the immune system, improving cognitive function and mood, and managing neurodegenerative diseases, among other medicinal applications.

The key to the health benefits associated with lion’s mane is the polysaccharides and secondary metabolites found in the cell walls. These bioactive compounds help to unlock these mushrooms’ incredible nutritional and health-promoting capabilities.

Health and Nutritional Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Let’s explore some of the amazing benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms, their effects on the body and mind, and how researchers continue to uncover more ways they can be used to promote healing and overall well-being.

Protects Against Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Dementia is a brain disease characterized by a loss of cognitive functioning. There have been multiple studies showing that hericenones and erinacines (two compounds found in lion’s mane mushrooms) may be able to stimulate the development of brain cells.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common causes of dementia. Although there are no current studies analyzing lion’s mane mushrooms for helping Alzheimer’s disease in humans, it has shown the potential to boost mental functioning. Additionally. in mice subjects, it was found that lion’s mane mushroom reduced symptoms of memory loss and might prevent neuronal damage caused by amyloid plaques, which accumulate in the brain and disrupt cell function in those struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition to its cognitive benefits, possibly the most promising effect of lion’s mane is its ability to stimulate the expression of nerve growth factor (NGF), which supports the regrowth of neurons and the overall health of the nervous system. According to one study, Hericium Erinaceus encouraged nerve cells in dissociated cells of the brain, spinal cord, and retina to grow and repair more quickly.

Another study on mice further confirmed the above, stating that the evidence suggests “that daily oral administration of aqueous extract of H. erinaceus fresh fruiting bodies could promote the regeneration of injured rat peroneal nerve in the early stage of recovery.”

"The beauty of Lion's Mane Mushroom in the palm of your hand, showcasing its unique and delicate form
The beauty of Lion's Mane Mushroom in the palm of your hand, showcasing its unique and delicate form

Reduces Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are what many doctors believe to be the cause of many modern illnesses. In fact, they believe that it may be at the root of heart disease, cancer, as well as different autoimmune disorders.

Because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties found in lion’s mane mushrooms, it can potentially reduce the impact of inflammation and stress. In addition, because lion’s mane mushrooms have been shown to help decrease the amount of inflammation released by fat tissue, it may reduce some of the health risks associated with obesity.

Relieves Mild Depression and Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety and depression can be caused by a wide range of factors, but according to a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Immunology, chronic inflammation is a main contributor to these common disorders. Findings in mice studies have uncovered that due to lion’s mane’s anti-inflammatory properties and the antidepressant effects of amycenone (commonly found in its extracts) that it could represent “a potential supplement to prevent inflammation-related depression”.

In other animal studies, mice that were given lion’s mane extract experienced an improvement in hippocampus functioning. Because the hippocampus plays a major role in learning and memory; this may explain the reductions in anxiety or depressive tendencies.

Management of Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes occurs when the body can no longer control blood sugar levels. If left unchecked, the disease can result in a number of serious complications such as kidney disease and nerve damage.

According to numerous studies, lion’s mane mushroom can improve control of blood sugar levels and might even help reduce some of the side effects commonly associated with diabetes. Due to these effects, lion’s mane could be another option in helping people manage diabetes.

Boost the Immune System

Strong immune systems protect the body from bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing pathogens. When your immune system is weak, you have a higher chance of developing diseases or sickness in general.

One 2017 study investigating the immunomodulating activity of lion’s mane found that its ability to boost the immune system is most likely due to its effect on the intestinal immune system. This protects the body from pathogens that enter the gut through the mouth or nose.

This was further supported by another study that analyzed a single-band protein from lion’s mane mushroom. Researchers uncovered that the protein found within it can improve the immune system through “regulating the composition and metabolism of gut microbiota”. They went on to note that the results of the study highlight the nutritional and medicinal value of lion’s mane and suggest it could be used “as a drug or functional food ingredient for immunotherapy” as well as to treat “inflammatory bowel disease hypoimmunity, or even tumors”.

Cancer Prevention and Treatment

Additionally, there is evidence to support that due to its antioxidant properties lion’s mane could be helpful in the prevention and treatment of some cancers. Cancer occurs when DNA becomes damaged. This then causes the cancer cells to divide and replicate. In laboratories when lion’s mane extract was mixed with human cancer cells, the cancer cells died at a faster rate.

As reported by the US Department of Veterans AffairsOral administration {of Hericium erinaceus] to mice shows tumor suppressing activity similar to 5-fluorouracil. It also has antimetastatic activity and has shown a 50% reduction in lung metastases of colorectal cancer in mouse models.”

Another study went on to find evidence that while more research is needed, the compounds extracted from lion’s mane could contain anticancer agents which could help with liver, colon, and gastrointestinal cancer.

Dosage and Preparation of Lion’s Mane

While there are a number of studies that support lion’s mane’s mental benefits because research into its effects on humans is still in its early stages it is difficult to say what recommended dosage to take in order to take full advantage of its benefits. Additionally, it’s important to note that it’s best for pregnant women to avoid using lion's mane products because there is no information to determine if the dose is safe during pregnancy.

Getting Started with Lion’s Mane

When it comes to buying or using lion’s mane, it’s important to look for products that only claim health benefits that are supported and backed by studies and evidence. In some cases, lion's mane supplements have been marketed with unsupported claims. While it’s not clear whether these benefits are true or not, there isn’t sufficient factual proof to support it and could be a red flag.

While there haven’t been many studies into potential side effects, the evidence suggests that lion’s mane as well as its extracts are safe for most people and host a wide range of health benefits. In fact, scientists found no adverse effects in the animal studies conducted. That said, there have been some concerns that lion's mane may aggravate symptoms in people who have allergies or asthma. That is why it is important to always consult your physician before using lion’s mane as a supplement (especially if you have a history of allergies or asthma).