Lion’s mane mushroom is a medicinal mushroom that resembles a lion’s mane as it grows. It has been used for centuries in Japanese and Chinese traditional medicine. Recent studies have shown that this mushroom enhances cognitive abilities and even reduces the incidence of cancer.
Let us learn more about this unique mushroom, its health benefits, and its side effects.
What is lion’s mane mushroom?
Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is an edible, medicinal mushroom belonging to the tooth fungus group. Also known as monkey head mushroom, yamabushitake, houtou, bearded tooth mushroom, satyr’s beard, bearded hedgehog mushroom, pom pom mushroom and bearded tooth mushroom, this mushroom is native to Asia, Europe, and North America.
Lion’s mane mushroom is a nootropic food that has been used in Japanese and Chinese medicine for centuries. In fact, in Japan, it is revered by Buddhist monks. The extracts of these mushrooms are used in many health supplements.
This mushroom looks like a clump of long spines that resemble thick strands of hair. They grow in late summer or fall on hardwood trees.
Health benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms
1. Improves brain function
Lion’s mane mushroom is called nature’s most potent brain foods because it has a revolutionary impact on neurodegenerative diseases.
As we grow old, the ability of our brain to develop and form new connections also declines. This decline leads to loss of memory and executive function (1).
According to a study in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, Lion’s mane mushroom enhances neurite growth and improves neuronal health, (2).
According to the researchers, the extracts from lion’s mane mushrooms contain neuroactive compounds which induce nerve growth factor synthesis and promote neurite outgrowth (3).
A 2003 study also showed that consuming lion’s mane extract can help promote the regeneration of peroneal nerve in of an injured rat (4).
There have also been many studies to see how extracts from this mushroom may affect brain diseases. The reviews have found that these extracts protect nerve cells from damage and delay their death (5, 6).
A study on 50 to 80-year-old Japanese men with mild cognitive impairment found that consuming 3 grams of dry powder of lion’s mane mushroom daily for four months improved mental functioning significantly.
However, these benefits disappeared when the supplementation stopped (7).
Lion’s mane mushrooms also help protect against neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease, according to an animal-based study in the Journal of Translational Medicine (8).
Most of these studies are animal-based or test tube based. We need more human studies should on this subject.
2. Reduces risk of heart disease
Lion’s mane mushroom can also reduce the risk of heart disease. Research has found that extracts from these mushrooms help lower LDL cholesterol, increased HDL cholesterol and lowers triglycerides in the blood, all of which help improve heart health (9).
According to one study, when rats were fed a high-fat diet along with daily doses of lion’s mane extract for 28 days, their triglyceride levels came down by 27 percent(10).
The extract from the lion’s mane mushroom is also helpful in preventing clots, and this helps prevent heart attacks and strokes (11).
3. Helps fight cancer
Lion’s mane mushrooms contain some unique compounds that may have cancer-fighting abilities. According to several studies, lion’s mane mushrooms can slow down the progression and even reverse the spread of leukemia, gastric cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer.
According to a Korean study, lion’s mane mushrooms may have therapeutic potential against human leukemia (12).
Another study published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules found that lion’s mane is a potential candidate for treating gastric cancer (13).
Lion’s mane extracts are also helpful in preventing the spread of cancer. According to one study from Korea, when researchers gave mice with colon cancer lion’s mane extracts, it reduced the spread of cancer to the lungs by 69 percent (16).
Another study found lion’s mane extracts to be more effective and less toxic than traditional medicine in slowing down tumor growth in mice (17).
More human studies must be done to confirm the anti-cancer effects of lion’s mane mushrooms in humans.
4. Reduces depression and anxiety
Consuming lion’s mane mushrooms is a natural remedy for depression and anxiety. While there are many causes for depression and anxiety, chronic inflammation is also one of them.
According to some other studies, lion’s mane extract helps regenerate brain cells which improve the functioning of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses and memories.
These results suggest that enhanced functioning of the hippocampus can help reduce the symptoms of depression (20).
One study on 30 post-menopausal women found that lion’s mane mushroom intake can reduce depression and anxiety (21).
5. Improves digestive health
Lion’s mane mushroom’s ability to promote digestive health is attributed to its anti-inflammatory properties. Many studies have shown that lion’s mane extract can protect from and shrink gastric ulcers by inhibiting the growth of H. pylori and protecting the stomach lining from damage (22, 23).
One study found that lion’s mane extract is exceptionally effective against ethanol-induced ulcers in rats (24).
Lion’s mane mushrooms also help promote the growth of helpful gut bacteria which is useful in alleviating inflammatory bowel disease (25).
6. Reduces inflammation and oxidative stress
Chronic inflammation can cause many serious illnesses like autoimmune disorders, heart disease, and even cancer. Lion’s mane mushrooms help contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that help protect against these illnesses.
According to a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, lion’s mane mushrooms can reduce inflammation in adipose tissue, which is associated with obesity (26).
Lion’s mane also inhibits the growth of H. pylori. These bacteria can cause ulcers in the stomach and intestines.
This mushroom is also rich in antioxidants. When 14 different species of mushrooms were examined for their antioxidant content, lion’s mane mushroom had the fourth highest antioxidant activity (27).
7. Boosts immunity
Eating lion’s mane mushroom helps boost immunity so that the body can fight infection better. This mushroom can promote the activity of the intestinal immune system, which helps protect the body from pathogens (28).
Lion’s mane mushroom boosts the action of the gut bacteria, and this helps in stimulating the intestinal immune system.
During another study, when rats infected with salmonella bacteria were given lion’s mane extract, it nearly quadrupled their lifespan (29).
8. Helps manage diabetes
Lion’s mane mushroom helps improve blood sugar control. Chronically high sugar levels can cause kidney disease, vision loss and damage to hands and feet.
According to a 2013 study, when rats with diabetes were given Lion’s mane extract, it improved their blood glucose levels, insulin sensitivity and other symptoms (30).
Lion’s mane mushrooms lower blood sugar by blocking the activity of enzyme alpha-glucosidase, which plays the vital role of breaking down carbs in the small intestines (31). When the body is unable to digest and absorb carbs, the blood glucose levels do not rise.
The antioxidant properties of these mushrooms also help in relieving pain caused by diabetic neuropathy (32).
More research is needed to confirm its antidiabetic effects in humans.
How to use Lion’s mane mushrooms?
Lion’s mane mushrooms are not readily available in the US, though you can find them in some Asian grocery shops. You can cook these mushrooms in butter or boil them in water.
They taste like seafood and are chewy in texture. You can have them with brown rice or quinoa. You can also add them to bone broth and some extra flavor and nutrition.
Lion’s mane extract is also available in many health food stores as a nutritional supplement in the form of capsules, tablet, tincture, and powder.
Side effects of lion’s mane mushroom
However, there has been no human study on the adverse effects of lion’s mane mushrooms.
People, who are allergic to mushrooms, should avoid lion’s mane mushrooms. There have been some cases where people have developed breathing difficulty and rashes on the consumption of these mushrooms (34, 35).
Lion’s mane mushroom is a medicinal mushroom that has been used for centuries in Japanese and Chinese traditional medicine. It looks like a clump of long spines that resemble thick strands of hair.
This mushroom is highly beneficial for health as it improves brain function, prevents cancer, boosts immunity and also helps manage diabetes.
You can cook them with butter or boil them and add them to broths. Its supplements are also available in health food stores in the form of capsules, powder, and tablets.