The lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), also known as yamabushitake or hou tou gu, is a big, shaggy, white edible mushroom that somewhat resembles a lion’s mane. Traditionally used for culinary and medicinal purposes in Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian cultures, lion’s mane mushrooms can be consumed raw, dried, cooked, or steeped in a tea (the lion’s mane mushroom taste is sometimes compared to the seafood-like flavor of lobster or crab). Extracts from this mushroom are often included in over-the-counter dietary supplements, but why? What are the lion’s mane mushroom benefits? Read on to find out how the bioactive substances in lion’s mane mushrooms can beneficially affect your gut, brain, heart, and overall bodily health.
The Top 8 Amazing Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits
Here are some of the top benefits that have been scientifically found in this amazing medicinal mushroom.
1. Lion’s Mane Mushroom May Protect Against Dementia
Our brain function declines as we age because the brain’s ability to form new connections flags over time, which is one of the contributing factors to dementia in older adults. Studies have shown that lion’s mane mushrooms have two unique compounds that stimulate the growth of brain cells: erinacines and hericenones.
Animal studies have revealed that lion’s mane may help guard against Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive degenerative brain disease that causes memory loss. Lion’s mane mushrooms have reduced symptoms of memory loss in mice and prevented neuronal damage caused by the amyloid-beta plaques that clog the brain during Alzheimer’s disease.
While studies have yet to be done on humans with Alzheimer’s, the existing data suggests that lion’s mane mushroom helps boost mental function. One human study done on adults with mild cognitive impairment showed that 3 grams of lion’s mane mushroom per day over a period of 4 months significantly improved their mental function, with the benefits disappearing once they stopped supplementation. The ability of lion’s mane mushroom to repair brain damage and protect brain health is just one aspect of its many benefits.
2. Helps Relieve Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression
As much as one-third of the population in developed countries has experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety, and chronic inflammation has been associated with these mood disorders as a major contributing factor. Animal studies have found that lion’s mane mushroom extract provides anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in mice.
Lion’s mane extract can also aid in regenerating brain cells and improving the function of the hippocampus, the region of the brain that processes memories and emotional response. Researchers suggest that improved hippocampus functioning may explain the reduction of depressive and anxious behaviors in the test subjects.
Though very little research has been done in this area on humans, one study of menopausal women revealed that eating cookies that contained lion’s mane mushrooms each day for a full month caused self-reported reductions in anxiety and irritability.
3. May Help Speed Post-Injury Nervous System Recovery
The body’s nervous system includes the brain, the spinal cord, and other various nerves that travel through the body, sending and transmitting signals that control nearly every bodily function. Injuries to the brain or spinal cord can result in a devastating loss of mental function or paralysis, and often take a considerable amount of time to recover from, assuming that the damage isn’t permanent. Researchers have found that lion’s mane mushroom extract may increase recovery speed from such nervous system injuries, stimulating growth and repairing the nerve cells.
Lion’s mane mushroom extract has been found to reduce recovery time in rats with nervous system damage by 23-41%. Lion’s mane extract may also mitigate the severity of stroke damage on the brain, as shown in one study in which high doses of lion’s mane mushroom extract were given to rats immediately after a stroke, decreasing the inflammation involved and reducing the size of stroke-related injury by 44%.
4. Provides Protection Against Ulcers in the Digestive Tract
Ulcers can arise anywhere within the digestive tract, from the stomach to the small and large intestines. Stomach ulcers are frequently caused by one of two major factors: an overgrowth of the bacteria H. pylori or damage to the mucous layer (which can be caused by long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs).
Lion’s mane extract is protective against ulcers due to its ability to inhibit the growth of H. pylori. Multiple studies have shown lion’s mane extract to be successful at preventing the growth of H. pylori in test tubes, though as of yet it has not been tested in humans. Animal studies have shown that lion’s mane extract is more successful at preventing alcohol-induced ulcers than traditional anti-acid drugs, without any negative side effects.
One human study showed that those with ulcerative colitis taking a lion’s mane supplement significantly reduced their symptoms and improved their quality of life in just 3 weeks.
5. Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease
Risk factors for heart disease include high triglycerides, high cholesterol, and obesity, and lion’s mane extract has been shown to reduce these risk factors. Mice and rats have exhibited lower triglyceride levels and improved fat metabolism with lion’s mane mushroom extract. Another study found that rats on a high-fat diet who were given lion’s mane extract in daily doses had 42% less weight gain and 27% lower triglyceride levels after 28 days.
Lion’s mane mushrooms also contribute to heart health by preventing the oxidation of cholesterol within the bloodstream, and contain a compound called hericenone B, which decreases the rate of blood clotting, thus lowering the risk of stroke or heart attack.
6. Helps Manage the Symptoms of Diabetes
Diabetes is a condition characterized by the body’s inability to control blood sugar levels, and chronically high blood sugar can lead to serious complications like peripheral nerve damage, vision loss, and kidney disease. Lion’s mane mushroom may be beneficial for the management of diabetes thanks to its ability to improve blood sugar control and reduce the risk of these dangerous side effects.
Multiple animal studies have found that lion’s mane can significantly lower blood sugar levels in diabetic mice even in low doses, as well as inhibit the enzyme alpha-glucosidase, which breaks down carbohydrates in the small intestine. Blocking alpha-glucosidase disrupts carb absorption and helps lower blood sugar levels.
Lion’s mane extract may reduce diabetic nerve pain in the feet and hands, as shown in one 6-week study of diabetic mice. Daily doses of lion’s mane mushroom extract led to increased antioxidant levels, lowered blood pressure, and significantly reduced pain.
7. May Help Fight Cancer
Cancer is a disease that proliferates when DNA becomes damaged and causes cells to replicate out of control, causing abnormal tumors and growths in the body. Some research has found that lion’s mane mushrooms may have anti-cancer properties thanks to some of the unique compounds contained within. When lion’s mane extract mixes with human cancer cells in a test tube setting, the extract causes a faster rate of cell death, an amazing reaction that has been replicated with several types of cancer cells, including colon, liver, stomach, and blood cancer cells.
Lion’s mane extract has also been found to slow cancer’s spread, particularly in one mouse study that showed a 69% reduction in the spread of lung cancer. While the anti-cancer effects of lion’s mane mushroom have not been tested in humans, these early results are promising.
8. Provides Immune System Support
A strong immune system protects us from opportunistic viruses, bacteria, and disease-causing pathogens, while a weak immune system leaves us vulnerable. Animal studies have shown that lion’s mane mushroom can boost immunity by increasing intestinal immune system activity, which protects against any ingested pathogens. Another study found that lion’s mane supplements managed to nearly quadruple the lifespan of mice injected with lethal doses of the salmonella bacteria, all thanks to its influence on healthy gut bacteria and intestinal flora.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Side Effects
There have been no studies examining the side effects of lion’s mane mushroom or its extract on human participants, but this mushroom nevertheless appears to be safe. No adverse side effects were reportedly seen in animal studies, even at such high doses as 3 grams per kilogram (~2.2 pounds) of body weight per day. However, because the lion’s mane mushroom is still a fungus, some people may be unknowingly sensitive or even allergic to it, and certainly in any instance where taking a supplement causes symptoms like skin rash or difficulty breathing, its use should be discontinued immediately.
The Main Takeaway from Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Clinical trials have shown that this mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine has beneficial and protective effects on many areas of health, from the nerves of the brain, to the beat of the heart, to the depths of the gut. Lion’s mane may help reduce anxiety, repair neurological damage, boost the immune response, and guard against various kinds of cancer.
The benefits of lion’s mane mushroom are startlingly positive, while the side effects are virtually nonexistent. If you’re interested in its potential, you can concoct a lion’s mane mushroom elixir by mixing it with hot water, disguise its seafood-like taste in some lion’s mane mushroom coffee, or take a lion’s mane supplement. Find out what this medicinal mushroom can do for you!