Our nutritionist and nootropic expert James Dixon takes a look at Lion’s Mane Mushroom, examines its benefits and why you might considering consuming in daily.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are white mushrooms that look a lot like a lion’s head as they grow, their shaggy shape resembling a wild mane. They can be used in cooking, but are perhaps best known for their use in various traditional forms of medicine throughout South and Southeast Asia.
Their benefits largely come from the many bioactive substances they contain and deliver which bring about great benefits to the body, particularly to the heart, gut, and most notably, the brain. You will often find them in modern nootropics, included for their ability to improve brain health whilst fighting the damaging effects of stress and anxiety.
What can lion’s mane mushrooms do for you?
Lion’s mane mushroom is completely safe to use and can bring about a host of benefits. The following list is far from exhaustive – there is far more to gain from regularly supplementing with lion’s mane mushrooms – but it is demonstrative at least of some of the key benefits on offer.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are particularly well-known for their nootropic properties – their ability to influence and improve brain health and cognitive function.
This largely stems from their ability to stimulate brain cell growth. Lion’s mane mushrooms contain hericenones and erinacines, both of which bolster the brain’s ability to grow new cells. This is important, especially as we age. Our ability to grow new brain cell connections diminishes as we grow older, explaining to an extent age-related cognitive decline.
With this in mind, studies have highlighted lion’s mane mushrooms’ potential use in protecting older adults against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. It has been shown to mitigate memory loss symptoms in animal trials whilst also protecting against amyloid-beta plaque damage (plaque which accumulates on the brain in conjunction with Alzheimer’s disease).
A study published in 2020 showed that as little as a single gram of lion’s mane mushroom taken daily can improve cognitive test scores in those suffering with milder cases of Alzheimer’s disease in just under a year compared to a control group taking a placebo.
Most research to date has been conducted on animals or in test tubes, however. More data, especially collected from human studies, are needed. However, for the moment, things look promising – lion’s mane mushroom certainly seems to have the potential to stimulate new nerve growth whilst ringfencing the brain’s long-term health, warding off neuro-degeneration.
It also serves another common nootropic role. Lion’s mane mushroom can help to combat the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression, which combined affect around a third of us.
Of course, anxiety and depression are incredibly complex. Their causes are complex. However, it is thought that chronic inflammation may play a major part. Research – again, predominantly on animals – has found that lion’s mane mushroom extract can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms due to its anti-inflammatory benefits.
Lion’s mane mushroom’s ability to promote brain cell regeneration can also improve hippocampus function. The hippocampus enables memory and emotional response processing. Improving its function has been theorized to lead to a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression, though this too is largely based on animal research.
Nervous system recovery
The improved growth and repair of nerve cells that lion’s mane mushrooms can elicit can have quite drastic consequences on recovery after brain or spinal cord injuries. These kinds of injuries often take a long time to recover from. That recovery may never be full, with paralysis and/or loss of mental functioning often resulting.
In stimulating new nerve cell growth, lion’s mane mushrooms may play a large part in forging a more positive outcome. Research has shown that it can help you to more ably overcome and recover from these kinds of injuries. It may also lead to a fuller recovery after instances of stroke.
This is all conjecture, however. Much of it is based on animal research. More information is needed before we state lion’s mane mushroom’s therapeutic effects in these kinds of situation with any kind of certainty.
Heart disease risk reduction
There are several known risk factors surrounding heart disease, any of which may greatly increase your chances of suffering from it. They include obesity, high oxidized cholesterol levels, and high triglyceride levels, amongst others.
Research suggests that lion’s mane mushroom extract may help to mitigate the risks involved in each of these. Again, animal data suggest that lion’s mane mushroom extract may improve fat metabolism and diminish triglyceride levels. Rats fed high fat diets whilst being dosed with lion’s mane extract daily, gained 42% less weight and exhibited 27% lower triglyceride levels compared to a control group.
Additionally, test tube studies have found that lion’s mane extract may also help to limit cholesterol oxidation in the blood. As oxidized cholesterol molecules stick to artery walls, hardening them, they raise the risk of both heart attack and stroke. Minimizing their presence should help to reduce these risks.
Lion’s mane mushrooms also contain hericenone B, a compound that can minimize blood clotting whilst diminishing heart attack and stroke risk.
As ever, more robust human trial data are needed.
Inflammation and oxidative stress reduction
It’s startling how many modern diseases see chronic inflammation and oxidative stress as their main causes. Common, chronic, often life threatening conditions like cancer, heart disease, and various autoimmune diseases are all thought to be caused by them.
Anything that can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress may just save your life, reducing your risk of suffering from these chronic health concerns.
Lion’s mane mushroom contains abundant, potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds which should help to keep you safe in the long run. It has been found to have amongst the highest levels of antioxidant activity amongst known mushroom species.
Various animal studies have linked lion’s mane mushroom use with greatly diminished markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. This may be particularly useful in the prevention and/or management of liver damage, inflammatory bowel disease, and stroke.
Lion’s mane mushrooms have also been shown to help in decreasing inflammation caused by fat tissue release. This may help to allay some of the health risks we tend to associate with excess weight and obesity.
Immune function boost
Lion’s mane mushrooms may also help to bolster your immune health.
Your immune system collectively helps to defend your body against bacteria, viruses, and various other disease-causing pathogens. A weak immune system can leave you open to these. A strong one can keep you safe from them. Lion’s mane mushrooms can help you to keep yours strong.
Lion’s mane mushrooms can increase the intestinal immune system’s activity. This system protects you from pathogens that enter the gut via your nose or mouth.
Changes to gut bacteria associated with lion’s mane mushroom may be behind this, as these changes better stimulate your immune system. This is all based on animal studies, as is a lot of lion’s mane mushroom research, though it is nevertheless promising.
Risks of lion’s mane mushroom use
There are likely no risks to lion’s mane mushroom use, though its side effects in humans is under-studied. Nevertheless, it appears to be safe to consume in the long run.
Do bear in mind, however, that it is a mushroom species. This means that if you struggle to digest mushrooms, are allergic to them, or are sensitive to them, you will likely not get on well with lion’s mane mushrooms. It will stimulate the same adverse reactions as any other mushroom would. These reactions can include breathing difficulties and skin rashes.
Do note that there are at present no guidelines surrounding the safe and effective consumption of lion’s mane mushrooms. Always remember to consult your healthcare provider before beginning supplementation if you have any concerns about your health and wellbeing.
Supplementing with lion’s mane mushroom
Lion’s mane mushroom can be taken in a few forms. You can eat them raw, cooked, or dried. Cooked, they go particularly well in dishes like pasta, soup, and risotto. Alternatively, you can drink a tea made by steeping them in hot water. Whichever way you consume them, they taste a little like seafood – think crab or shrimp.
Alternatively, you can go for lion’s mane mushroom in supplement format.
You can also get it as a powder, which can be blended into anything or added to hot water, tea, or coffee, or used in soups, stews, stocks, and gravies. You can also get it in tablet, capsule, or tincture form, for a straight, pure dose without having to worry overmuch about preparation. These all come over the counter.
We don’t have too much data on dosing lion’s mane mushroom, meaning that there is no standard dosage recommended. There are plenty of variables that can affect your dosing needs, including your biometrics, age, overall health, and needs.
For example, anything from 2 to 5 grams per day might be useful for making the most of lion’s mane mushrooms’ nootropic properties in healthy adults. Older adults suffering with Alzheimer’s disease have seen benefits on around 1 gram per day, split across three daily 350-mg lion’s mane capsules. Three 400 mg capsules taken daily for two months has been shown to mitigate depression and anxiety symptoms in those who were overweight or obese.
As ever, talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a new supplement regime. They may be able to guide you as you seek a dose that works for you.
My final take
Lion’s mane mushroom is always good to see in a high-end nootropic supplement. It’s one of my favorite brain boosters going. Its potential ability to enhance cognition whilst fighting the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression make it a formidable ally in your search for your best self.
Long term potential effects are also promising. As we have seen, it has a range of potential uses, from keeping you safe from chronic health conditions to maintaining brain health as you age. More data are needed. Human trials are needed. At present, it’s all promising. I look forward to the day, not long from now, when we can speak with more certainty about this little mushroom’s health giving properties.