As you can see from the picture, the lion’s mane mushroom is not your average looking mushroom. Its fruiting body consists of clusters of long strands that give it a “lion’s mane” appearance. This appearance also gives rise to other nicknames such as “pompom mushroom” or “monkey head.” Now let’s dig in to learn all about the wonderful health benefits of lion’s mane mushroom.
1. Improve Cognitive Function
Extracts from lion’s mane mushroom have been shown to improve congnitive function, or in other words it’s a brain booster (1)Pubmed Improvement of cognitive functions by oral intake of Hericium erinaceus. It can help you get more focused, get better clarity(less brain fog), and even be more creative.
Lion’s mane contains molecular compounds known as erinacines that have been shown to stimulate nerve growth factor proteins(NGF) in the brain (2)Pubmed Central Neurohealth Properties of Hericium erinaceus Mycelia Enriched with Erinacines. These NGF proteins play a role in regeneration and repair of neurons. NGF also appears to aid in repair of the myelin sheath which surrounds neurons to protect and maintain the conduction of signals in the nervous system. This means that lion’s mane may be very helpful in the treatment or prevention of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. In addition, the restorative effects from stimulation of NGF may also play a beneficial role in the recovery from brain injuries due to ischemic stroke or trauma.
One more way lion’s mane may positively affect our brain health is in the area of mental health. Due to the neurotrophic and neurogenic pathophysiology of depression(reduced nerve function in certain areas of the brain), lion’s mane may help as an alternative treatment for depression (3)Pubmed Therapeutic Potential of Hericium erinaceus for Depressive Disorder.
2. Reduce Chronic Inflammation
Studies show that lion’s mane also contains polysaccharides which have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which help suppress inflammation (4)Pubmed Polysaccharide of Hericium erinaceus attenuates colitis in C57BL/6 mice via regulation of oxidative stress, inflammation-related signaling pathways and modulating the composition of the gut microbiota. The results of these findings suggest that lion’s mane may be helpful in managing conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease(IBS) and Chron’s disease. The compounds derived from lion’s mane in this research was found to inhibit many markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, including cyclooxygenase-2(COX-2).
Let me diverge a moment and explain why I just noted COX-2. The cyclooxygenase pathway is what is primarily affected by NSAIDS such as ibuprofen. There are two enzymes COX-1 and COX-2 that make up the cyclooxygenase pathway. The primary function of NSAIDS is to block the cyclooxygenase pathway, which results in blocking COX-1 and COX-2. However, COX-1 is a “good” enzyme which is responsible for maintaining the lining of the stomach and intestine. The risk of GI ulcer and bleeding due to use of traditional NSAIDs is a result of also blocking COX-1. The “holy grail” of NSAIDS has been to develop a safe, selective COX-2 blocker. VIOXX and Bextra were pulled from the market after enough people died from heart attacks as a “side effect” of these drugs. Here we see that we have a potential natural treatment for inflammation that already selectively blocks COX-2. Even better, lion’s mane actually shows to promote gut health, rather than harm it!
3. Provide Relief from Stomach Ulcers
For centuries, Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) has been using lion’s mane mushroom as a treatment for gastritis(stomach inflammation). Scientific research confirms that lion’s mane has a beneficial effect in the treatment of stomach disorders such as gastritis, although the mechanism of action is still unclear (5)Pubmed Anti-Gastric Ulcer Activity of Polysaccharide Fraction Isolated from Mycelium Culture of Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes).
Stomach ulcer, or peptic ulcer, is a wound or lesion in the stomach lining that results from chronic inflammation of the stomach lining. A very common association with stomach ulcer is an infection caused by the bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori. In fact, there is much evidence that suggests that the majority of stomach ulcers are caused by H. pylori.
So when studies show that lion’s mane extracts significantly inhibits the growth of H. pylori, it seems reasonable to predict that it may be helpful in the treatment of stomach inflammation disorders (6)Pubmed In vitro anti-Helicobacter pylori effects of medicinal mushroom extracts, with special emphasis on the Lion’s Mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (higher Basidiomycetes). The proven effects on H. pylori coupled with the anti-inflammatory effects of lion’s mane, provides evidence that it may help in the treatment of gastritis and stomach ulcer.
Summary of Lion’s Mane Mushroom Health Benefits
Like many other mushrooms, lion’s mane has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and specifically for its ability to treat stomach and digestive problems. It is even believed to aid in suppressing cancer in the GI tract as well. Lion’s mane was also used for general health due its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and immunomudulating properties. But the most exciting of all it’s superpowers is the ability for lion’s mane to have a positive effect on neurological health. The neurogenic and neuroprotective effects of lion’s mane may help us stay alert, focused, and mentally healthy far into our golden years.