The Health Benefits of Lion's Mane

Brain Health, Anti-Cancer, Anti-Diabetic

Lion's mane mushrooms
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Lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a type of edible mushroom that grows on the dead trunks of hardwood trees. It belongs to the hydnoid fungi group, also called the tooth fungus group because these mushrooms grow long tooth-like projections. The projections on a lion's mane mushroom are fine and thin, resembling the mane of a lion.

Lion's mane mushrooms can be consumed raw or cooked. They can also be steeped and consumed in tea or other beverages. Lion's mane supplements are also widely available.

Lion's mane is sometimes called the “smart mushroom,” because they are believed to help support cognitive function, memory, and attention span. There is some limited evidence to support these benefits, but very little of it has involved humans.

Health Benefits

Lion's mane has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. The benefits associated with it are wide-ranging—including everything from cancer prevention to boosting energy, weight loss, and improving symptoms of depression. The majority of the most widely purported benefits are related to possible neuroprotective benefits. You're likely to see these claims promoted on lion's mane supplement labels.

Unfortunately, there is not much concrete evidence to support the use of these mushrooms or supplements for most of these benefits. Most of the evidence that does exist has been performed on rodents or in test tubes. More research needs to be conducted with humans. However, some studies suggest a few interesting benefits,

May Provide Benefits After Stroke

Researchers are investigating the role of erinacines that are found in lion's mane mushrooms. Erinacines and hericenones are natural substances found in the mushrooms that have demonstrated pharmacological benefits in the central nervous system in rats. Some researchers are also studying lion's mane mushrooms that are enriched with different types of erinacines that may provide further benefits.

Very preliminary research suggests that certain key erinacines may play a role in recovery after an ischemic stroke. But so far, the studies have only been conducted on rats. Much more research is needed to understand how lion's mane or erinacines can play a role in stroke recovery in humans.

May Help Treat Depression

Some research suggests that lion's mane may be a potential alternative medicine for the treatment of depression. One research review published in 2019 critically reviewed literature on the potential antidepressant effects of lion's mane as a treatment for depressive disorder as well as its potential to provide an antidepressant-like response.

When the study authors reviewed the existing evidence, they noted that much of it was performed on mice or had other methodological issues (such as small study size or confounding factors). Some studies were so limited in scope that it would be hard to draw conclusions for the general population.

However, the study authors were able to suggest that lion's mane may have anti-depressant effects in female patients with symptoms of menopause and in obese patients. They also said that research is still in the early stages and more high-quality studies need to be conducted in the general depression population.

May Protect Brain Health

Several in vitro (test tube) studies have suggested that polysaccharides in lion's mane may protect neurons or make them function better. Other fatty acids in the mushrooms may reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease-induced cell death. However, most of the research supporting these benefits has been done in a lab and did not involve humans.

Beneficial effects in humans were observed in one widely cited (but small) study from 2009. The study involved 30 Japanese men and women (ages 50 to 80) diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. They were given either a lion's mane supplement (four 250mg tablets containing 96% lion's mane dry powder) or a placebo three times a day for 16 weeks.

At the end of the study, those who took the lion's mane supplement showed improved cognitive function scale scores as compared to the placebo group and the scores increased with the duration of intake. When supplement use was discontinued at the end of the study, the cognitive scores decreased again.

Other more recent studies have suggested that erinacines in lion's mane may be protective against Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. But so far, studies have only been conducted on rats.

May Protect Against Cancer

A few studies have suggested that compounds in lion's mane may help prevent certain types of cancers. But again, studies have been limited to rodent research and in vitro studies. Still, scientists continue to investigate the role that lion's mane may provide.

For example, a study conducted in 2011 demonstrated that extracts of freeze-dried lion's mane mushrooms reduced the tumor size of tumors in mice. And another study published in 2013 found that lion's mane mushroom extract helped prevent lung metastasis when administered to mice that had colon cancer.

Lastly, a study suggested that lion's mane extracts are active against liver cancer cells, colon cancer cells, and gastric cancer cells when isolated in a test tube. Scientists suspected this activity because the mushrooms have been used for the treatment of digestive diseases for over 2000 years in China. Human studies are needed to understand this benefit fully.

May Have Anti-Diabetic Properties

Some research suggests that lion's mane extracts may be beneficial for those who are trying to manage diabetes. But again, studies in humans are lacking.

A study published in 2013 found that lion's mane extract not only reduced glucose levels but also increased insulin levels in diabetic rats when they were administered the extract for 28 days. The rats also showed increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and reduced total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides.

There is some limited evidence that lion's mane extract may help reduce pain symptoms associated with diabetic neuropathy. This study was done in rats, so more evidence is needed, but researchers believe that the reduction in pain sensitivity may be due to antioxidant activity in lion's mane.

Possible Side Effects

There is very little evidence about the adverse effects of lion's mane supplements. The limited toxicology studies investigating possible adverse effects have found that it is likely safe. However, it is unclear if that is true because the supplements have not been studied extensively in humans or because it is safe to consume.

At least one dated study indicates the possibility of experiencing mild gastrointestinal discomfort as a result of consuming the supplement. In this study, participants took four 250mg tablets containing 96% of lion's mane dry powder three times a day for 16 weeks. Other lab studies indicate that it should provide no adverse effects.

It should be noted that there is also a type of jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) that is sometimes called lion's mane. In limited reports, stings from this jellyfish have been associated with severe allergic reactions, but this is not the same as the lion's mane mushroom.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough information about lion's mane use in humans to provide a recommended dose. The limited studies in humans can provide some guidance about dosing. In the 2009 study conducted in Japan, participants consumed four 250 mg tablets containing 96% lion's mane dry powder. Few side effects were reported.

What to Look For

Lion's mane mushrooms can be consumed in food or supplement form. Most people looking for health benefits will purchase lion's mane supplements. However, at least one researcher notes that it may be better to consume the fresh mushrooms because other preparations are not regulated "to ensure safety, efficacy, and other parameters." In the U.S., however, fresh lion's mane mushrooms can be hard to find.

If you choose lion's mane supplements, you'll find that they are widely available, usually in capsule form. You might see supplements containing only lion's mane or products that combine lion's mane with other medicinal mushrooms. Be sure to read labels carefully to know what you are buying.

The FDA does not regulate supplements for safety or effectiveness in the same way that they regulate drugs. Also, the contents of some supplement products may differ from what is indicated on the label. So when choosing any supplement, it is a good idea to look for products that have been verified by a third-party organization such as USP or NSF. While this is not a guarantee of safety, it provides at least some level of protection that what is in the bottle is what is stated on the label.

Lastly, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. Always speak to your healthcare provider before taking supplements to ensure that they do not interfere with a medication or medical condition.

Other Questions

Where can I find Lion's mane mushrooms and what should I look for?

Some online vendors sell whole fresh lion's mane mushrooms. You may be able to find them in your local specialty market and some larger grocery stores like Whole Foods Markets may also carry them. When purchasing, look for firm mushrooms without blemishes. You may also be able to find dried lion's mane mushrooms in stores or online. You may also want to buy slightly more than you plan to consume as they lose volume when cooked.

How do I prepare lion's mane mushrooms and incorporate them into a meal?

These mushrooms have a mild taste so you can pair them with a wide variety of foods. Many people describe the taste as similar to lobster or scallops. In fact, some people use them as a substitute for seafood in recipes. For example, you can chop them up and use them instead of crab meat in crab cakes.

You can also simply slice the mushrooms and sauté them in olive oil or butter. When preparing lion's mane mushrooms, it is generally recommended that you cook them quickly over high heat, but you can also try drizzling them with olive oil and roasting them. Serve them with fish, meat, or poultry, or enjoy a meat-free meal and serve them with a grain such as brown rice or quinoa.

What is the nutritional content of lion's mane mushrooms?

According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of lion's mane mushrooms provides about 43 calories, 2.5g protein, 7.6g carbohydrate, and 0.3g fat. A 100-grams serving is about one-half cup.

Vitamins include small amounts of thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, biotin, and folate. Minerals in the mushrooms include small amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.

How do I make lion's mane tea?

You can consume lion's mane tea just like you consume other types of mushroom tea. Many people believe that this is the best way to release the mushroom's beneficial extracts (although there is no evidence to support this belief).

To make your own cup of tea at home, you'll want to use dried mushrooms. Then follow these instructions:

  • Boil two cups of filtered water.
  • Add about one teaspoon (3-4g) of dried mushrooms to the water.
  • Lower heat and allow the mushrooms to soften.
  • Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Remove or strain the mushrooms and enjoy your tea.

Once your tea is ready, you have a few options. Of course, you can consume as-is. But since lion's mane has a very mild taste, you may prefer to add ingredients to enhance the flavor. For example, some prefer a chai tea variation of mushroom tea.

To make this version add one or two black tea bags, a tablespoon of cinnamon, a tablespoon of cardamom, and a tablespoon of ground ginger. You'll want to steep the mixture for about five minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Then add a bit of honey or lemon and enjoy.

Can I grow lion's mane mushrooms?

Yes. There are growing kits available and sources say that they are one of the easier mushrooms to grow. In fact, you can grow them inside your home in a humid area away from sunlight so that you have mushrooms all year long.

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