Astonishing in both its look and function, lion's mane mushroom has been used in Chinese culture for centuries due to its perceived medicinal and nutritional value. In the western world, we're a little late to the party, but strap yourselves in because this shaggy fungi really packs a punch.
Lion's mane (hericium erinaceus) can also be referred to as bear's head, Japanese yamabushitake, pom pom, hedgehog, or our personal favourite – old man's beard. Sure, it's a little shaggy and unkempt in appearance. But with its brain-boosting benefits, you won't want to judge this book by its cover.
And if you're a forager, you'll be pleased to know that lion’s mane is virtually impossible to confuse with any other mushroom. It bursts out of dead or decaying hardwood as a series drooping spines, looking like something straight outta Dr. Seuss. It's most commonly found across Asia, North America and parts of Europe, and now it's becoming famous all over the world for its wonderful benefits.
So, what are the lion's mane mushroom benefits?
Pop the kettle on as we dive in...
Lion's Mane Mushroom Can Have Neuroprotective Effects
As we age, our brains can struggle to grow and form new neural connections like they used to. And this decline can sometimes result in Dementia or Alzheimer's. In fact, 1 in 10 Australian's have dementia over the age of 65.
Lion's mane mushroom is a powerful nootropic, which means it may help to improve cognitive function. Lion's mane contains two unique compounds: hericenones and erinacines. And these fancy words have been found to possess neuroprotective activity, which can stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF). Put simply, Nerve Growth Factor is the development, maintenance and survival of neurons.
Now that's taking the term "brain food" to the next level.
It's important to note that many of the Alzheimer's studies on lion's mane have been done with mice, and further study needs to be done to make any definitive conclusions about Alzheimer's disease in humans. Although, let's just say the early signs are looking good.
One particular study from 2016 looked at a group of mice with Alzheimer's. The study set up a series of challenges (think survivor, but for mice), which they did before and after receiving lion's mane. Incredibly, after receiving lion's mane the mice had improved movement, autonomic activity and memory.
Another study from 2009 compared Japanese men and women between the ages of 50 and 80 with mild cognitive decline. Half of the group received lion's mane, while the other half didn't, and they were compared over 16 weeks. The results found that the subjects receiving lion's mane had drastically increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the other group!
Now, we don't want to alarm you, but that's kind of a big deal.
But, we need to add that the study's benefits disappeared once the subjects stopped taking lion's mane. So if you're looking for a long-term boost in brain function – perhaps S Club 7 says it best: "don't stop, never give up!"
Now, let's talk about the elephant in the room…
Lion's Mane Mushroom Can Relieve Depression And Anxiety
Let's look at the stats: around 1 million Australians have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety. They're sobering statistics, and it's no secret that more needs to be done to treat mental health conditions.
And while the cause of depression and anxiety varies from person to person, some studies suggest inflammation could play a significant role.
But here's the exciting part: studies suggest that lion's mane could exert potent anti-inflammatory effects. Not only that, but this mushy could also help to stimulate nerve growth, cell growth and cell renewal. This is believed to help enhance the hippocampus function (the brain's area responsible for managing emotions and memories). Isn't that phenomenal?
A recent study tested this theory by giving lion's mane to adult mice showing signs of anxiety and depression (yep, they're vulnerable too. Mental health does not discriminate).
The results suggested that lion's mane has anti-depressant-like effects in mice, most likely from the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus.
At this stage, few studies have been done on humans to look at the impact that lion's mane has on mood and mental health – however, animal studies are a step in the right direction.
Lion's Mane Mushroom Can Boost Immunity
Ah, immunity. It's been a hot topic all over the world in recent times. And naturally, humans are becoming more wary of bacteria and viruses.
So, did you know that lion's mane could also offer a boost of immunity?
A study in 2017 explored the immune response in mice after being treated with lion's mane (thank you once again, dear mice). The study found that lion's mane could boost immunity by increasing activity in the intestines, and encouraging the growth of good gut bacteria.
It could also aid immunity due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to increase white blood cells. lion's mane contains a polysaccharide called beta-glucans, which has become a hot topic between scientists and nutritionists.
Beta-glucans are believed to be "biological response modifiers" which is a fancy way of saying they make sure our immune cells are doing what they're supposed to.
Did we need another reason to cheer for these fluffy pom poms?
Probably not, but truth be told, we've only just scraped the surface.
Lions Mane Mushroom: The Ferocious Fungi
The benefits of this mighty mushy do not stop there, as recent studies also show it could:
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Aid digestion and protect against ulcers in the digestive tract
- Help to manage symptoms of diabetes
- Help to fight off or prevent cancer
- Assist in wound healing
Now, we thought it would be downright irresponsible of us if we didn't mention the side effects of lion's mane. But the truth is, studies to this date have recorded none. Zilch, zip, nada adverse effects.
Of course, if you're allergic to mushrooms then please steer clear of lion's mane. And you should always consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
We'd also like to make this perfectly clear: we’re not saying that lion's mane is the be-all and end-all cure for all of your ailments.
Although animal studies into its benefits are a giant leap in the right direction – and it's only a matter of time before more human studies begin to surface…
At Natura Mushrooms, we grow our own Lions Mane's Mushroom. Then, it undergoes an extraction process to draw out the medicinal qualities. Discover our range of Mushroom Extracts and Mushroom Powders today.
Written by Shane and Ash, the scientists, mushrooms farmers and garden enthusiasts behind Natura Mushrooms.