Ancient herbal remedies and supplements are becoming increasingly popular today as a complement to modern medicine and healthcare treatments, or as a stand alone supplement alongside a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle. For centuries, herbs, mushrooms, and other natural ingredients have been used to make medicinal treatments by people all around the world.
One such medicine that has been around since ancient times is Lion’s Mane. This is a type of medicinal mushroom that has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is available today in supplement form. Scientific research into Lions’ Mane has found that it has a number of health benefits for those who take it, including antioxidants.
What is Lion’s Mane?
Also known as Yamabushitake, Lion’s Mane mushrooms are white mushrooms that get their name from the fact that as they grow, they look like the mane of a lion. The mushroom grows throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, usually on hardwood trees that are decaying. In China, Japan, India, and Korea, they have a range of both medicinal and culinary uses.
You can consume these mushrooms cooked, raw, dried, or in a tea, and their extracts are often found in a range of herbal health supplements that you can purchase over the counter. They have a seafood-like flavor which has often been compared to lobster or crab.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms can be very beneficial for different parts of the body, particularly the heart, brain and gut, due to the bioactive substances that they contain. In Chinese medicine, lion’s mane has been used for centuries for a range of mind-affecting benefits such as helping to enhance memory and improving cognitive function.
So, how exactly could lion’s mane benefit your health?
Let’s discuss some of the many research-backed health benefits of this mushroom.
The Benefits of Lion’s Mane:
Lion’s mane can be used in cooking, but it is primarily used as a medicinal substance, particularly in Asian countries. It is often used as a supplement, in a tea, or in meals for its brain-boosting benefits, including better memory and cognitive function. However, that is not all that lion’s mane can help with if you are looking for a natural supplement to improve your health. Some of the main health benefits of lion’s mane to consider include:
1. Lion’s Mane Against Depression and Anxiety:
Recent studies show that lion’s mane has some anti-inflammatory effects that can help to reduce mild symptoms of depression and anxiety. Further research has shown that this mushroom may be effective in the regeneration of brain cells and can be useful in improving hippocampus health and function, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses and processing memories. Researchers believe that the fact lion’s mane can lead to improved hippocampus health and function is the reason why it can help to reduce anxious and depressive behavior. A study of menopausal women found that eating cookies that contained lion’s mane mushrooms on a daily basis led to reduced feelings of anxiety and irritation.
2. Lion’s Mane and Protection Against Dementia:
As we age, our mental functioning will typically get worse, which is due to the fact that the brain’s ability to grow and form new connections will typically decline with age. Studies have found that lion’s mane mushrooms contain erinacines and hericenones; two compounds that can stimulate the growth of brain cells. In addition, further animal studies have found that lion’s mane may be effective in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative brain disease where the main symptom is progressive memory loss.
Although there have not yet been any studies that point to whether or not lion’s mane is effective for protecting against dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in humans, the animal studies do suggest that it appears to be brain-boosting and will improve mental functioning.
One study in older adults found that consuming three grams of powdered lion’s mane on a daily basis for a four-month period significantly improved mental functioning. However, these benefits stopped with the supplementation, suggesting that it needs to be ongoing for the benefits to be seen. Lion’s mane’s ability to protect the brain from Alzheimer’s-related damage and promote nerve growth could explain some of the benefits that it has on brain health.
3. Lion’s Mane and Protection Against Cancer:
Preliminary studies have provided positive results to suggest that lion’s mane could offer some protection against cancer.
A 2011 study that was published in Food & Function tested human cells to reveal that lion’s mane could be effective in reducing or even getting rid of leukemia cells in the body. Another study carried out in 2011 found that lion’s mane extract was effective in decreasing the size of malignant colon tumors in mice. The findings of this study suggested that lion’s mane might be an effective treatment for reducing colon cancer tumors, by increasing the activity in certain cells that are involved in the immune response. In addition, further studies suggest that lion’s mane extract might be effective in reducing the spread of colon cancer cells to the lungs.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that these studies have been conducted on animals, and human trials are necessary to come to a definitive conclusion about whether or not lion’s mane can help to reduce or prevent cancer in humans.
4. Lion’s Mane and Recovery from Nervous System Injuries:
Your nervous system is made up of your brain, spinal cord, and other nerves that travel through the body. Together, they work to send and transmit signals that control all of your bodily functions. Because of this, any injuries to the brain or spinal cord can be devastating and life-changing; they might often lead to a loss of mental functions or paralysis and can take a long time to heal or in some cases lead to irreversible damage.
However, some studies of lion’s mane have found that this mushroom might be effective in speeding up the recovery time of these types of injuries since it can stimulate nerve cell growth and repair.
When given to rats with nervous system injuries, lion’s mane has been shown to reduce the recovery time by 23-41%. Further studies suggest that it might also be effective in reducing the severity of brain damage that is experienced after a stroke. When given to rats immediately after a stroke, Lion’s Mane helped to decrease inflammation in the brain and reduced the size of related injury in the brain by over 40%.
But once again, although these results are hopeful, there have not yet been any studies conducted in humans to determine if the mushroom would have the same effect on human nervous system injuries.
5. Lion’s Mane and Reduced Risk of Heart Disease:
There are several risk factors for heart disease including large amounts of oxidized cholesterol, obesity, high triglycerides, and an increased tendency of developing blood clots. Research has been conducted into lion’s mane that suggests the extract can influence some of these risk factors and lead to a reduced risk of heart disease.
Studies conducted on rats and mice found that lion’s mane can be effective in lowering triglyceride levels and improving fat metabolism. A study of rats that were given a diet high in fat and subsequently given daily doses of lion’s mane found that their triglyceride levels were lowered to 27% and they gained over 40% less weight after a period of 28 days.
Further studies in test-tubes have produced results that suggest that lion’s mane extract may also help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream, further reducing the risk of heart disease. This is because oxidized cholesterol molecules will often attach to the walls of arteries, which leads to them hardening and increasing the risk of both stroke and heart attack.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms have also been found to contain a compound known as hericenone B, which can lower the risk of blood clots and further decrease the risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack.
6. Lion’s Mane and Reduced Inflammation and Oxidative Stress:
Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation are believed to be at the center of many modern illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, cancer, and heart disease. Research has found that lion’s mane contains powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that might be effective in reducing the impact of these conditions.
One study that examined the antioxidant benefits of fourteen different species of mushroom found that lion’s mane has the fourth-highest antioxidant activity and recommended it as a sound dietary antioxidant source. In addition, there have been several animal studies which found that rodents given lion’s mane extract had reduced markers or inflammation and oxidative stress, making it especially useful in the management of stroke, liver damage, or inflammatory bowel disease. Since lion’s mane has been shown to reduce the amount of inflammation that is released by fat tissue, they may also be effective in reducing some of the health risks that are commonly associated with obesity.
7. Lion’s Mane and Immune System Improvement:
A strong immune system is essential for protecting the body from viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that cause disease. Conversely, a weakened immune system will put your body at a higher risk of developing a range of infectious diseases.
Animal research has found that lion’s mane mushroom can improve immunity by increasing intestinal immune system activity, which protects the body from pathogens that enter the gut through the nose or mouth. Research suggests that these effects may be in part down to beneficial changes in the gut bacteria that stimulate the immune system. One study found that giving a lion’s mane extract supplement on a daily basis expanded the lifespan of mice that had been injected with a lethal dose of salmonella by almost four times.
8. Lion’s Mane and Management of Diabetes Symptoms:
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body no longer has the ability to control blood sugar levels correctly, which leads to consistently elevated blood sugar levels as a result. These chronically high blood sugar levels can often lead to a range of complications such as vision loss, nerve damage to the hands and feet, and kidney disease.
Research has suggested that lion’s mane mushroom may be beneficial for managing diabetes by improving the control of blood sugar in the body and reducing some of the side effects of the condition. There have been several animal studies conducted that have shown that lion’s mane can lead to significantly lower blood sugar levels in diabetic mice, even when given a low daily dose.
One of the ways that lion’s mane is effective in reducing blood sugar levels is by blocking the activity of the alpha-glucosidase enzyme, which breaks down carbohydrates in the small intestine. When this enzyme is blocked, the body will no longer be able to digest and absorb carbohydrates as efficiently, which can lead to lower blood sugar levels.
Studies have also found that lion’s mane may also be effective in reducing diabetic nerve pain in the feet and hands. Mice with diabetic nerve damage were given daily extracts of lion’s mane for a six-week period, which lowered the blood sugar levels, decreased pain levels significantly, and increased levels of antioxidants.
9. Lion’s Mane and Digestive Tract Ulcer Protection:
Ulcers can be formed anywhere along the digestive tract, including the small and large intestine and the stomach. Stomach ulcers are usually the result of two major factors: damage to the mucous layer of the stomach and overgrowth of a bacteria known as H. pylori. Damage to the stomach’s mucous layer can often be the result of long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
Studies have suggested that lion’s mane could be an effective supplement taken to prevent the development of stomach ulcers by reducing H. pylori growth and offering extra protection to the stomach lining against damage.
There have been several test-tube studies that have shown the effectiveness of lion’s mane against preventing the growth of H. pylori, but it’s worth noting that there have not yet been any studies to show whether or not it will have the same effects inside the stomach. In addition, one animal study found that lion’s mane extract was effective at preventing stomach ulcers that are caused by alcohol without any side effects compared to other treatments.
It has also been found to be effective as reducing inflammation and preventing damage to the tissues in other areas of the intestines, making it a treatment worth considering for inflammatory bowel diseases. One human study of people with ulcerative colitis found that taking a mushroom supplement that contained 14% lion’s mane on a daily basis significantly improved symptoms and quality of life after just three weeks. However, lion’s mane did not have the same effect on patients with Crohn’s disease.
Additional Benefits of Lion’s Mane:
In addition to the above, there have been further studies to suggest that lion’s mane can be effective in reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease, and can reduce high cholesterol in the body. Along with being an effective supplement to take for improved cognitive function, memory and mental health, lion’s mane has been shown to improve several risk factors for serious diseases such as stroke, cancer, and heart disease.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that many of the studies conducted so far have been animal studies, and more research is needed to determine whether or not the supplement will have the same positive effects in humans.
How to Take Lion’s Mane:
Lion’s mane is available to take in a range of different forms. It is most commonly dried and turns into a dietary supplement, but it can be consumed in its whole form or steeped in a tea. There is no recommended serving size for lion’s mane since dosages will vary depending on why you are taking it. Most experts will recommend taking lions mane once or twice daily, although this can vary depending on how you are taking the supplement and what you are taking it for.
If you are taking lion’s mane for increased cognitive functions, 3-5mg per day is considered to be safe and effective. For increasing Neural Growth Factor production, studies have also shown 3-5mg per day to be effective. 2.0g per day of lion’s mane over a period of four weeks has been found to be safe and effective for those looking to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress.
Potential Side Effects of Lion’s Mane:
Lion’s Mane is recognized as a safe dietary supplement that is typically well-tolerated by the body. There have been several studies that have found it to be a non-toxic supplement and food source. One study tested the toxicity of lion’s mane by analysis of an aqueous solution containing lion’s mane extract, which indicated a lack of cytotoxicity. There have been various clinical trials that found lion’s mane to have no toxic side effects in rats, even when given at high doses.
However, it is worth considering that individuals who have mushroom allergies might experience some side effects of lion’s mane. There have been some isolated instances where some individuals have reported experiencing side effects, including one man who had an allergic reaction with acute respiratory failure while taking the supplement for four months. In another case, a male reported contact dermatitis as a result of occupational exposure to lion’s mane, which cleared up after the contact with the mushroom ceased.
It is important to cease use immediately and contact your healthcare provider if you experience any allergic reactions such as breathlessness or itchy and burning skin when using lion’s mane products and supplements.
It is also important to be aware of any possible interactions that lion’s mane might have with other medications. Speak to your doctor if you are currently prescribed any medications and are considering taking lion’s mane supplements. Some medications that lion’s mane may interact with include blood sugar lowering medications and anticoagulants. It is also recommended to avoid taking lion’s mane supplements if you are pregnant or breastfeeding since there is not enough information available regarding its use.
Why Take Lion’s Mane?
With so many proven and potential health benefits, along few little side effects in those who do not already have an existing mushroom allergy, it is easy to see why lion’s mane is becoming more and more popular as a supplement.
If you are considering taking this supplement, there are many reasons to do so including reduced inflammation in the body leading to increased overall health, lowering the risk of serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke, improved brain function and mental health, including lowering the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and reducing the adverse health effects on the body that are caused by obesity.
Patients with cancer might also benefit from taking lion’s mane supplements due to its ability to reduce tumors, however, it is important to discuss the option with your primary care provider since there is a possibility that lion’s mane may interact with other cancer medications.
While lion’s mane has been used as a health supplement for centuries and there are several promising animal and test-tube studies to suggest that it may be effective in helping to reduce the symptoms and improve a range of health conditions, it is still considered too soon to recommend it as a stand-alone treatment for any particular health condition.
If you are considering trying the use of lion’s mane for any chronic health condition, it is important to consult your physician before you start taking the supplement since self-treating a chronic condition with lion’s mane could involve delaying or avoiding standard care or taking the supplement alongside other medication that it may interact with, could have serious consequences.
When looking for the right Lion’s Mane supplement for you, avoid anything that has unsupported claims such as the promise of weight loss or improved brain health since while the majority of research is promising, it has been limited to animal studies and there is still the need for more research in humans to be conducted.