Although Lions mane mushroom has been around for centuries, it is not uncommon to hear people asking “what is Lion's mane?”
Lion’s mane mushroom or Lion's head mushroom is a fuzzy-looking edible fungus. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine and is often found in East Asian cuisines. It is named after its long white shaggy spines that resemble the manes of a Lion.
The main benefit of Lions mane mushroom is that it boosts brain performance and positively impacts mental skills. It is also associated with the repair of the neurons that help in learning and memory. Similarly, Lion’s mane extract has a neuroprotective effect on oxidative stress, which is the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in our bodies.
Although Lions mane mushrooms are considered superfoods, caution should be exercised during consumption as there are published reports of Lions mane mushroom side effects.
In this article, we will give you insights into what the Lion's mane mushroom is, its health benefits, and its side effects.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Lion's Mane?
The Lion's mane benefits are numerous. The compounds in the mushroom Lions mane can help with the following conditions:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Depression and anxiety
- Memory and focus
- High cholesterol
- Hormone imbalance
In the following section, we will take a deeper look at the Lions mane benefits outlined above:
1. Works as a Powerful Brain Booster
Lion’s mane is popularly known as “Brain tonic” for its nootropic effects. Substances with nootropic effects, like Lion mane mushroom, improve cognitive performance. It regenerates the brain cells by stimulating the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). These are some of the benefits of Lion's mane on the brain:
Speedier Recovery from Nervous System Injuries
Lions main mushrooms provide neuroprotective effects following brain injury. NGF is a protein responsible for the proper growth, differentiation, survival, and repair of neurons. A Taiwanese study demonstrated the role of Lion’s mane extract in healing the nervous system.
Protection Against Alzheimer’s Disease
The absence of NGF has been linked to Alzheimer's in animal models. A small pilot study and preclinical evidence suggest the benefits of Lion's mane in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Lion's mane mushrooms reduce inflammation and biological markers associated with Alzheimer’s like amyloid plaques. Lion's mane is also found to improve cognitive function in individuals with mild cognitive impairment.
Improvement in Dementia Symptoms
Human research studies suggest the benefits of Lion’s mane mushroom in patients with dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Individuals with dementia have shown improvements in perceptual capacity with the use of Lion's mane.
One of the Lions mane mushroom benefits is that it enhances the growth of new neurons, which can potentially slow or reverse cell degeneration associated with dementia.
Helps Relieve Mild Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
The consumption of a Lion's mane supplement or fresh mycelium/fruiting body is also beneficial in relieving fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Some researchers suggest Lion’s mane to be a potential natural alternative for the treatment of depression.
The therapeutic potential and antidepressant-like response of Lions main mushroom for depressive disorders was explored in a 2019 study. This may be linked to the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus. This is an area of the brain that shrinks in people with depression.
Protective Role in Case of Stroke
The possible benefits of Lion’s mane in recovery following stroke are currently under evaluation. The erinacines and hericenones found in the mushroom have demonstrated such pharmacological benefits in rats.
Preliminary results suggest the role of erinacines in reducing the volume of dead brain tissues and aiding recovery following an ischemic stroke. Lion’s mane may be a promising agent of neuroprotection in brain damage following a stroke.
Enhances Memory and Learning
The Lion mushroom increases memory, learning, and mental sharpness by repairing the neurons. A decline in memory and mental sharpness is caused by damage to the neurons. One of the Lions mane mushrooms benefits is the stimulation of NGF. Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) ensures the proper growth and differentiation of the neurons, thereby restoring cognitive brain function.
Research conducted in mice showed protective effects against memory and learning deficits. Dietary supplements of Lions mane mushroom prevented short-term memory loss and improved visual recognition. Not only in mice but Hericium Erinaceus has also been shown to improve functions in people suffering from mild cognitive impairment.
2. Combats Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Our Body
Lion’s mane, like many other mushrooms, has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Oxidative stress is implicated in many degenerative diseases and syndromes along with cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases.
A Malaysian study conducted in 2012 evaluated the antioxidant potential of different medicinal mushrooms. Lions head mushroom—also known as Hericium Erinaceus—was found to have the fourth highest antioxidant activity.
Oxidant activity is also linked to the aging phenomenon and the use of Lions main mushroom may potentially have beneficial effects on aging. A significant antioxidant role of the mushroom polysaccharide has also been reported in renal oxidative damage that occurs due to the restoration of blood supply following an episode of ischemia.
Anti-inflammatory properties of the Lions mane supplement and fresh body/mycelium temper the immune responses. They are effective against inflammation in the brain, the misfolded protein response, and liver oxidative stress. They also help calm inflammation while alleviating symptoms of allergy.
Lion’s mane mushroom also reduces the number of inflammatory substances released by fat tissue. This is beneficial in reducing the health risks associated with obesity.
3. Protects Against Gastrointestinal Issues and Ulcers
Lion’s mane mushroom has protective actions on the gastric mucosa. It is associated with the repair and restoration of the gastric mucosal barrier resulting in a reduction in the edema and ulcer area in the gastric wall.
Gastric ulcers are associated with the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes gastritis. A Lion's mane mushroom supplement has been shown to inhibit the growth of the bacteria.
The benefits of the mushroom for Chronic Atrophic Gastritis were reported in a double-blind study over four decades ago. The study showed improvements in inflammation and upper abdominal pain associated with gastritis.
4. Helps Maintain Healthy Liver and Intestines
The Lion's mane mushroom extract also has hepatoprotective actions. This can be attributed to the strong antioxidant activity of Lion’s mane and can be potentially utilized as a supplement in the prevention of hepatic diseases.
Polysaccharides of Lion’s mane mushroom play the role of probiotics. Among the benefits of Lions mane is that the fungus promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria and improves host immunity. These findings have been demonstrated in animal models of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), where the mushroom extracts have resulted in clinical improvements.
The use of the mushroom’s extract is also associated with decreased incidence of colitis, and indigestion. Overall improvements in digestive health can be seen with the regular use of the Lion’s mane.
5. Makes our Immune System Stronger
Hericium Erinaceus boosts the immune system with its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Lions mane mushroom also improves the activity of particular kinds of white blood cells (NK cells) which play an active role in strengthening immunity. It enhances the killing of foreign particles and microbes by increasing the number of macrophages, a Pac-man-like cell that eats and destroys intruders in the body.
Lion's mane contains digestive enzymes and phytochemicals such as beta-glucans. These are prebiotic fibers that are responsible for modulating the immune system. They promote healthy gut flora and promote a healthy immune system. The Lions mane mushrooms polysaccharide also helps protect against various respiratory viruses that cause cold and flu.
6. Potential to Fight Cancer
Lion's main mushrooms possess anti-cancer properties. Studies have linked this fungus with a reduction in tumor size and weight. It also prevented the spread of tumors to the lungs in colon cancer by 69%.
The polysaccharide from the mushroom has anticancer activity against cancers like sarcomas and leukemia. These polysaccharides are responsible for increasing the cells of the immune system (e.g. T lymphocytes and macrophages) that help fight cancer cells. Lion’s mane extract is also found to have inhibitory effects on cancer cells of the liver, colon, and stomach.
7. Reduces the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
One of the most vital Lion's mane benefits is that it has properties that work against several cardiovascular complications.
Unregulated lipid metabolism is linked with heart diseases. High levels of oxidized fat in your blood eventually lead to its deposition in the walls of the blood vessels. Over time, it causes hardening and narrowing of the vessel lumen. This increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Studies have found that the extract of Lion’s mane prevents the oxidation of fat in the bloodstream. Hericenone present in Lion’s mane mushroom also inhibits the formation of blood clots. Both of these factors lower the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Another one of Lions mane benefits is that it is linked with a blood pressure-lowering effect. The mushroom showed activity similar to the angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor group of drugs, which are one of the commonly used antihypertensives.
8. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
The Lion's mane mushroom is beneficial in individuals with lifestyle diseases like diabetes. Lion's mane mushrooms reduce the levels of glucose in the body by inhibiting the activity of alpha-glucosidase. This enzyme is responsible for breaking down carbohydrates in the small intestine.
The anti-diabetic property of the mushroom is also achieved by increasing the levels of insulin. A minimal daily amount (6 mg per kg of body weight) of the mushroom is effective against diabetes. Animal models also show some evidence of a reduction in the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy. It is unclear if this is linked to the antioxidant activity of the mushroom.
9. Helps Lower Blood Lipid Levels
This adaptogenic mushroom has a lipid-lowering effect. The Lion maine has been shown to reduce blood levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglyceride. The Lion mushroom use is also associated with an increase in high-density lipoprotein which is known as the “good cholesterol”.
In a 2010 Japanese study, rats were fed a high-fat diet. They were then given extracts of Lion’s mane mushroom every day for 28 days. At the end of the study period, researchers found that the mushroom resulted in a significant decrease in body fat gain, weight gain, and levels of fat in the blood. This suggests that one of the Lions mane mushrooms' benefits is improving lipid metabolism and lowering blood lipid levels.
10. Beneficial in Regulating Hormones and Improving Women’s Health
Many medicinal mushrooms benefit women’s health, of which Lions mane mushroom is found to be particularly significant in improving menopausal symptoms.
Women nearing menopause reported reductions in anxiety and irritation following consumption of cookies containing Lion’s mane mushroom powder. The Lions head mushroom is also beneficial for pre-menopausal symptoms (PMS) like mood swings, irritability, and fatigue.
One of the lesser-known Lion’s mane mushroom benefits is that it combats infertility. It helps to calm the nerves and relieve stress, both of which are associated with difficulty in conceiving. Infertility is also related to imbalances in the body caused by inflammation, and the potent anti-inflammatory property of Hericium Erinaceus is well documented.
11. Other Therapeutic Benefits
Several smaller studies have investigated the beneficial role of the Lion’s mane mushroom in improving sleep quality and speeding up wound healing.
Lions main mushroom promotes REM sleep and supports a healthy sleep-wake cycle. It improves your sleep quality without making you drowsy.
A study on rats found accelerated wound healing with the topical application of the Lion’s mane extract. The Lions mane supplement increases the formation of new blood vessels at the wound site, thereby delivering more blood and nutrients required for the reparative process.
The phenol, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid found in Lion’s mane mushroom have also demonstrated antimicrobial activity against both gram-positive and negative bacteria.
What Are Lion’s Mane Side Effects?
Lion’s mane mushroom appears to be quite safe. However, when it comes to the side effects of Lion's mane mushroom, limited information is available.
It is unclear if this is due to inadequate studies on humans or because dietary supplements lack the same regulation as other food and drugs. Most of the studies on the safety profile of the mushroom have been in animal models and there have been no reports of toxicity, even in higher dosages.
To date, all experimental studies have suggested that the Lion’s mane mushroom is safe and devoid of adverse effects. It has been a part of Asian cuisines for centuries and has a long history of usage in traditional Chinese medicine. A clinical trial demonstrated a good safety profile and clinical efficacy of Lion’s mane in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
Some studies have indicated the possibility of mild gastrointestinal discomfort with the use of the Lions mane mushroom supplement. The side effects of Lion's mane mushroom were observed in the study when 300 mg of mushroom extract was taken daily for 16 weeks.
Other Lion's mane mushroom side effects include:
- Some individuals have reported itchy skin from higher doses which may be attributable to a boost in NGF.
- Others have complained of mild nausea.
Individuals who need to avoid Lion’s mane mushroom are those:
- With Mushroom Allergies
Lion’s mane mushroom can trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. This may lead to the development of mild to severe skin rash. People with mushroom allergies may also develop difficulty in breathing. Lion’s mane-induced acute respiratory distress syndrome has been reported.
- Taking Other Medications or Supplements
The side effects and potential drug interaction of Lion's mane mushroom supplement have not been studied extensively in humans. It should, therefore, be avoided in individuals taking other medications or supplements especially if it is related to cognition or mental health.
- Pregnant and Lactating Women
Lion’s mane, like many other herbs and supplements, should be avoided in pregnancy and breastfeeding. The effect on pregnancy has not been studied adequately. Similarly, the excretion of the mushroom in human breast milk is unknown.
It is not known if the Lion’s mane mushroom is safe and effective in children.
If you have a history of allergies and/or asthma or any other medical condition, it is important to consult your health care provider before using Lion's mane.
How To Use Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
Lion’s mane can be consumed in its natural form or used as a health supplement. The powdered form of the mushroom is the easiest way for consumption. The general recommended dose of Lion’s mane powder is 250 to 1000 mg per day.
However, proper Lion’s mane dosage should be determined according to the issue you want to tackle. Therefore, before consuming Lion’s mane mushrooms, you should check the recommended dosage and guidelines.
Where To Buy Lion’s Mane Mushrooms?
You can buy your favorite Lions mane supplement online. Look for brands that mention the quality and purity of the products. Choose a Lion's mane mushroom supplement that is extracted exclusively from the fruiting bodies.
Read and check the labels to see if the supplement is of the highest quality and is certified. Mushroom supplements containing high levels of beta-glucans and low levels of starch are the ones with the best quality. Ensure the supplements are analytically tested.
Fresh Lion's mane can also be bought from reputed organic sellers. You can also buy The Lion's mane mushroom grow kit and can grow your medicinal mushroom at home. These kits come with step-by-step instructions and easy-to-grow mushroom blocks that can be put up on your kitchen counter.
Lion’s mane mushroom is a delicious culinary and medicinal fungus that has been in use for centuries. Lion’s mane benefits can be extracted by the daily consumption of the mushroom. More clinical studies should be carried out to establish the therapeutic potential.
While there are some recognized Lion’s mane side effects, this mushroom is undeniably an amazing superfood supplement. If you are looking to improve your mood, energy, digestive health, and immune function, Lion's mane mushrooms are a great option. However, if you want to start on Lion's mane supplements, consult with your physician before use.