Lion's Mane Mushrooms and Their Untapped Potential
If you ever cook with mushrooms, you may be familiar with several types, such as white button, crimini, portobello, and shiitake mushrooms. Chances are, though, you have never heard of lion’s mane, and that is because lion’s mane mushrooms, or Hericium erinaceus, play more of a supplemental and nutrient function than a cooking and culinary purpose.
The lion’s mane mushroom is one of the best wholefoods for neurological health because it possesses two potent nerve growth factors. As a result, this mushroom has shown promise for patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment disorders, depression, anxiety, and more.
This mushroom has a long history of usage in traditional Chinese medicine ; however, for some reason, it is widely unknown in the United States.
In Asia, it is said that lion’s mane will give you nerves of steel and the memory of a lion, and through reviewing current published research, that statement is not far from the truth.
Here are some of the noted properties: *
- Improved cognitive function; dementia, memory, concentration, creativity [2-5]
- Nerve regeneration, remyelination, and increased Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) [6-15]
- Improved digestive function; relief from gastritis [16-18]
- Improvements in mood; anxiety, depression [19-20]
- Immunosupportive, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant [18, 21-24]
- Anticoagulant; mild angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, improved lipid profile 
While there is a decent amount of research about lion’s mane, scientists have only just begun researching this mushroom. Most of these studies are in vivo or animal studies, so there is much more to be discovered.
Further, because most of the research indicated that lion’s mane is an exceptional neuro-supporting compound, it may offer therapeutic benefits for diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system.
These diseases include dementia and mild cognitive impairment, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke recovery, peripheral neuropathy, seizures, muscle cramps, muscle spasms, anxiety, and depression.
According to Paul Stamets, a mycologist at the National Institute of Health claimed lion’s mane is a smart mushroom that fits in between traditional cooking mushrooms and psychoactive mushrooms that contain psilocybin . Stamets supports researching the benefits of lion’s mane and believes it may genuinely help people with a wide array of neuro-related conditions.
In a 2016 animal study, researchers investigated the nerve-supporting effects of lion’s mane . The scientists injected mice with a neuro-toxic brain poison that was explicitly designed to deteriorate their neuropathic health. When the mice had fully developed neuropathy and had severely damaged memory capabilities, half of them were given a regiment of lion’s mane. Within a short time, the lion’s mane mice began to get their brain power back. By the end of the study, they had almost fully regained their cognitive functions, and their brains even showed signs of new growth .
In a 2009 double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, researchers investigated the effects lion’s mane had in patients with mild cognitive impairment . The lion’s mane group was given 250 mg of powdered lion’s mane three times a day for sixteen weeks and compared with another group receiving a placebo. The researchers found that the lion’s mane group scored significantly higher on the cognitive function scale when compared to the placebo scores. The researchers also noted that there were no adverse effects in the lion’s mane group .
Nerve Regeneration and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) *
One of the main reasons why lion’s mane seems to be so effective at promoting nerve growth and supporting neuroprotective health is its ability to stimulate the synthesis of NGF, which is a protein that plays a predominant role in the maintenance, survival, and regeneration of nerves and neurons in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Better yet, lion’s mane contains two compounds that stimulate NGF: hericenones and erinacines.
Researchers have noted that the erinacines found in lion’s mane is one of the most powerful NGF inducers worldwide and can cross the blood-brain barrier and stimulate the productions of neurons within the brain itself.
People with certain neurological disorders are unable to product NGF internally, and this is believed to be one of the main factors in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. Further, the blood-brain barrier and myelin sheaths [the protective sheath around nerves] prevent the brain from utilizing NGF from external sources, but since erinacines can pass through the blood-brain barrier and promote NGF within the brain, this is not an issue.
Researchers first discovered the peripheral nerve-regenerating effects of lion’s mane extract in 2014 when they found the mushroom promoted peripheral nerve regeneration in surgically-induced crush-injuries in rats .
NGF also plays a role in myelination, which is a sheath around nerves that speeds up their actions .
Alzheimer’s, Anxiety, and Depression *
Lion’s mane has also been shown to reduce beta-amyloid plaques, which are proteins that form within the fatty membranes surrounding nerve cells that interfere with neurotransmission. Beta-amyloid plaques are thought to play roles in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In a 2001 animal study, researchers investigated the effects lion’s mane would have on amyloid plaques in mice . The mice were injected with neurotoxic peptides to induce plaque formation, and as the plaque developed, the mice began to lose their ability to memorize a maze. However, when they were fed a diet that contained lion’s mane, their performance improved to where it was. The researchers even noted that they gained new cognitive skills, something similar to curiosity . These effects may prove to be significantly beneficial in patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In a 2010 animal study, researchers investigated the effects of lion’s mane in mice with anxiety and depression . The researchers noted depression and anxiety levels were reduced in four weeks, and the results were more significant than the placebo group .
In this article, we reviewed some of the benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms, including its neuroregenerative, neuroprotective, and mood-enhancing effects. As scientists continue to research lion’s mane, perhaps this smart mushroom will unlock another door in alternative, natural medicine and help people naturally without any adverse effects that are associated with pharmaceutical medications.
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* This article is for informational purposes only. By providing the information herein, Healthmasters and its associates are not diagnosing, treating, curing, mitigating, or preventing any disease or medical condition. Before beginning any natural, integrative, or conventional treatment or regime, it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.