Mushrooms, though commonly mistaken as a vegetable, actually belong to a category called macrofungi (large fungi). These nutritional powerhouses have been honoured as valuable food for ages. For instance, in Greece, mushrooms were specially reserved for the soldiers to give them strength in the battlefield. In Rome, mushrooms were considered to be divine food and reserved for the gods during festivals.

The Chinese have for long used mushrooms in health foods, as well as in their Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat various ailments. They are revered as ‘spirit plants’ that promote longevity and good health.

Even today, mushrooms are rather popular, known for their excellent protein, fibre, and mineral content. Medical science has now started looking beyond the mere antimicrobial properties of mushrooms and is investigating their usage for other medical applications as well.

Amongst these, the Lion’s Mane mushroom has achieved tremendous popularity in recent times. This is mainly because of its numerous health benefits in treating Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and various neurodegenerative diseases, as well as in stimulating brain health.

What Exactly is Lion’s Mane Mushroom, and why is it called So?

Lion’s Mane mushroom, scientifically termed as Hericium Erinaceus, belongs to the parasite ecology and mainly grows on old and dead trees. The mushroom is popularly called as Lion’s Mane because of its colourful bristles that look like an unkempt lion’s or horse’s hair. It has several other names too – the bearded tooth fungus, hedgehog mushroom, bear’s head etc.

This mushroom is one of the endangered and protected species in England. Given its therapeutic properties, Lion’s Mane has been used in various food supplements as well as in alternative medicines.

What is Lion’s Mane Made of?

This wonder mushroom has been found to contain numerous biologically active compounds like hericenones, erinacines, lectins, terpenoids, peptides, proteins, and various other antioxidants. Hericenones are located in the fruiting bodies (the portion above the soil, namely the stem and cap) of the mushroom while erinacines are sourced from the mycelia portion (vegetative structure under the soil).

These numerous compounds affect the synthesis of neurotrophic factors. Neurotrophic factors, also known as neurotrophins, include various nerve growth factor (NGF). They belong to the family of biomolecules like peptides and proteins. Neurotrophic factors play a vital role in the regeneration and development of the peripheral and central nervous system.

Various human neurodegenerative disorders occur due to the alteration of these neurotrophic factors and their receptors. Hence, neurotrophic factors have found novel use in medicine in the form of therapeutic agents that help to restore as well as maintain the neuronal function in various neurodegenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis and the like.  [1]

However, an inherent property in the neurotrophic factor is that it cannot cross the blood-brain barricade, and hence, this property makes it difficult for it to be applied in medicine to treat various neurodegenerative disorders.

Also, the gastrointestinal tract enzymes do not quickly metabolize such neurotrophic factors. Alternatively, the compounds with low molecular weight found in Lion’s Mane, like hericenones, erinacines, etc. are petite enough to traverse through the blood-brain barrier and thereby promote the biosynthesis of various NGF making the neurotrophic factors amicable for treating many neurodegenerative and other medical disorders.

Benefits Of Lion’s Mane For The Mind and Body

Here’s how Lion’s Mane can help protect the mind and the body…

1. Alzheimer’s  and Parkinson’s

Based on various animal studies and given the bioactive compounds present in Lion’s Mane that have neuro-regenerative and anti-inflammatory properties, Lion’s Mane shows promising results in the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that affect the cognitive performance of the brain. For instance, the oral administration of Hericium erinaceus helped in improving the cognitive impairment among Japanese patients in the 50-80 year age group. [2]

Findings from various animal studies have raised the possibility of erinacine A-enriched Hericium erinaceus mycelium or Lion’s Mane playing an effective therapeutic role in managing Alzheimer’s. [3]

Parkinson’s disease, a very common neurodegenerative disorder, is categorized by the progressive loss of dopaminergic cells of the brain, which leads to motor problems like resting tremor, stiffness, inflexibility, and postural instability. [4]

The use of  Hericium erinaceus mycelium (Lion’s Mane) enhanced with erinacines is found to help patients suffering from Parkinson’s in terms of both prevention and treatment of the disease provided they are regularly included in the daily meals. [5]

2. Cerebral Ischemia

Hericenones and erinacines, derived from Lion’s Mane mushroom (these are obtained by isolating the fruiting body and mycelium of Hericium erinaceus), have been found to promote nerve growth factor in animal studies and thereby prove promising and beneficial in treating cerebral ischemia in humans. [6]

3. Digestive Tract Ulcers 

Digestive tract and stomach ulcers are predominantly caused by the overgrowth of H. pylori bacteria as well as damage done to the mucous layer in the stomach due to long term usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). [7]

Lion’s Mane extract helps in preventing digestive tract and stomach ulcers by impeding the growth of H. pylori bacteria and also protecting the lining within the stomach from damage.[8][9]

Additionally, animal studies have proven the enhanced efficacy of Lion’s Mane in the prevention of alcohol-induced ulcers as against conventional acid-lowering drugs, and that too without any side effects.[10]

4. Inflammatory Bowel Disease Treatment

Lion’s Mane helps in controlling inflammation of the gut, and various animal studies have shown that it is useful in treating inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and the like. [11][12][13]

In fact, a study conducted on people who have ulcerative colitis found that consuming a mushroom supplement that contained 14% Lion’s Mane extract led to a significant reduction of the symptoms of the disease and greatly enhanced the quality of life of the patients post three weeks of consumption. [14]

These studies prove the efficacy of Lion’s Mane in inhibiting the growth of ulcers.

5. Depression and Anxiety

Depression is prevalent among people suffering from conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke with the incidence of depression going as high as 87%, 75%, and 79%, respectively in that order. [15]

Though there are various causes of depression, chronic inflammation is one primary marker. Studies have proved that Lion’s Mane possesses anti-inflammatory effects that help to minimize anxiety and depression. [15]

Lion’s Mane can also help in regenerating the brain cells and improving the function of a particular section of the brain called the hippocampus. The Hippocampus plays a vital role in processing emotional responses as well as the memory of a person. [16][17]

Menopausal Anxiety:

As per studies conducted on menopausal women, it has been found that regular consumption of Lion’s Mane for a month helped in the reduction of symptoms of anxiety and irritation. [18]

6. Peripheral Nerve Injury

Lion’s Mane, through its neuro-regenerative property embedded in its bioactive compound, namely polysaccharide, helps in treating peripheral nerve injury by speeding up the restoration of sensory dysfunction.

Various studies have shown the efficacy of the same. [19] This property dramatically helps patients suffering from peripheral nerve injuries.

7. Anti-Cancer Properties

The Lion’s mushroom also helps in tackling cancer in many ways by acting as an anti-cancer agent. The protein extracts from Lion’s Mane have shown cytotoxicity on human cervical cancer cells, and it also demonstrates antiproliferative activity towards breast cancer and hepatoma cells. [20]

Mixing of Lion’s Mane with human cancer cells in a test tube has caused the cancer cells to die at a rapid rate. [21][22][23]

8. Improves Heart Function

Some of the major factors leading to heart diseases are obesity, oxidized cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides, the formation of blood clots, and the like. Lion’s Mane has proven to be effective in influencing many of these factors and thereby promoting heart health. Various animal studies have proven the efficacy of Lion’s Mane in lowering triglyceride levels. [24]

Lion’s Mane also helps to prevent oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream.[25]

Oxidized cholesterol results in hardened arteries as it tends to attach itself to the artery walls resulting in a higher incidence of stroke and heart attacks. By preventing oxidation Lion’s Mane helps in promoting heart health. Furthermore, the hericenone B compound found in Lion’s Mane has an excellent antiplatelet activity thereby preventing the formation of clots. [25]

9. Manage Diabetes

Lion’s Mane helps in lowering the blood sugar levels by blocking the activity of the alpha-glucosidase enzyme. This enzyme helps in breaking down the carbohydrates in the small intestine. When this enzyme has been blocked, the body is not able to absorb carbs effectively, thereby resulting in lower blood sugar levels.[26]

Lion’s Mane also helps to relieve diabetic nerve pain that arises in the hands and feet.

The Ideal Way To Consume Lion’s Mane… 

Lion’s Mane can be consumed in the powdered form by mixing into tea, coffee, health drinks, smoothies or protein shakes during workouts. It is also available in capsule and tonic form. This superfood that promotes cellular health and boosts the immune system and brain health can be incorporated in soups and other savoury applications as well. One can also consume it whole by cooking it in butter or boiling it and taking the extract.

No matter in what form you want to take, do incorporate a lion’s share of this incredible mushroom in your daily dietary regimen and see how your health improves by leaps and bounds!