Lion’s mane is a shaggy, white mushroom that resembles a lion’s mane as it grows. A culinary and medicinal mushroom, lion’s mane can be enjoyed raw, cooked, dried, or steeped as a tea. Lion’s mane mushrooms contain bioactive substances that have beneficial effects on the body, especially the brain, heart and gut.
Two substances found in lion’s mane, hericenones and erinacines, have been found to stimulate the growth of brain cells in animals. Mouse studies have shown that lion’s mane reduces the symptoms of memory loss while preventing neuronal damage caused by amyloid plaques, which accumulate in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. While no studies have demonstrated the same efficacy in humans, lion’s mane is generally thought to boost mental functioning. A study in older adults with mild cognitive impairment found that consuming 3 grams of powdered lion’s mane daily for four months improved mental functioning. Interestingly, the Japanese name for lion’s mane, “mountain priest mushroom,” refers to the Buddhist monks who use lion’s mane to help improve focus during meditation.
In addition to its brain-boosting abilities, lion’s mane has been shown to reduce inflammatory effects related to anxiety in mice. The hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for emotional responses, appears to benefit from lion’s mane extract. This may help to explain the overall reduction in anxiety observed in the mouse study.
Injuries to the brain, spinal cord and other nerves can be devastating. However, research has found that lion’s mane extract may help speed recovery from these types of injuries by stimulating the growth and repair of nerve cells. Amazingly, lion’s mane has been found to reduce recovery time by 23-41 percent in rats with nervous system injuries. Lion’s mane may also help reduce the severity of brain damage after a stroke. In one study, high doses of lion’s mane extract given to rats immediately after a stroke helped decrease inflammation and reduce the size of stroke-related brain injury by 44 percent.
Lion’s mane may also help reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies in rats and mice have found that lion’s mane extract improves fat metabolism and lowers triglyceride levels. In another study, rats were fed a high-fat diet and given daily doses of lion’s mane extract. A 27 percent reduction in triglyceride levels and a 42 percent reduction in weight gain were observed after 28 days. Additionally, lion’s mane mushrooms contain a compound that decreases the rate of blood clotting, thus potentially lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Diabetes, a disease characterized by high and unstable blood sugar levels, may also benefit from lion’s mane. Several animal studies have shown that lion’s mane can lower blood sugar levels in both normal and diabetic mice, even at daily doses as low as 2.7 mg per pound of body weight. One way lion’s mane does this is by blocking the activity of the enzyme alphaglucosidase, which breaks down carbohydrates in the small intestine. In addition to lowering blood sugars, lion’s mane extract may reduce diabetic nerve pain in the hands and feet. In mice with diabetic nerve damage, six weeks of daily lion’s mane extract significantly reduced pain, lowered blood sugar levels, and even increased antioxidant levels.
Like other medicinal mushrooms, lion’s mane may have the ability to fight certain cancers. When lion’s mane extract was mixed with cancer cells in vitro, the cancer cells died at a faster rate. This has been demonstrated on several types of cancer, including liver, colon, stomach, and blood cancer cells. Lion’s mane has also been shown to help slow the spread of colon cancer to the lungs by 69 percent. Another study, in mice, found that lion’s mane was more effective than traditional cancer medications at slowing tumor growth, while having fewer side effects.
Lion’s mane also fights inflammation and oxidative stress. One study examining the antioxidant abilities of 14 different mushroom species found that lion’s mane had the fourth highest antioxidant activity. In addition to being highly anti-inflammatory, lion’s mane has been shown to boost immunity by increasing activity of the intestinal immune system, which protects the body from pathogens that enter the gut through the mouth or the nose. This may be due to beneficial changes in gut bacteria, suggesting lion’s mane may have probiotic value in humans. ?
—Adapted from “9 Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Plus Side Effects)” by Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT on May 19, 2018, www.healthline.com