Lion’s mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus) are big, white mushrooms that resemble a lion’s mane (hence the name). Although they’re generally thought of as a single type of mushroom, there are three different species, with Hericium erinaceus being the one that’s most widely available.
Lion’s mane mushrooms usually look like white pom-poms and have culinary, as well as medicinal, applications. They are extensively used in Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, India, and China. The demand for these mushrooms is growing quickly since it has several applications in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics industries.
Now, lion’s mane mushrooms are found in grocery stores, your favorite restaurants, supplement shops, and even some of the most popular coffee varieties. You can get your fix of lion’s mane in the form of powders you can add to your morning cup of coffee or find in capsules.
Lion’s mane mushrooms have a flavor that many describe as similar to seafood, and it’s enjoyed either raw, dried, or cooked.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are also very nutritious and are rich in vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. It’s also a good source of essential minerals such as manganese, zinc, and potassium.
Research shows that lion's mane has many health-promoting ingredients that come with several benefits.
Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties
Many health conditions such as heart diseases and autoimmune disorders such as arthritis are due to chronic inflammation. Lion’s mane mushrooms are rich in a specific type of carbohydrate called oligosaccharides that have many critical biological functions including antioxidative and antitumor activities.
They also exhibit immune-stimulating functions, all of which combine to lower the inflammatory fallout of such conditions. Research conducted to understand the antioxidant qualities of several types of mushrooms found that lion’s mane mushrooms show the fourth most potent antioxidant activity. Some studies also indicate the benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms to fight obesity by lowering the impact of fat tissue inflammation.
May Help Overcome Dementia
As you age, the ability of your brain to form connections reduces along with its capacity to form new brain cells called neurons, and this leads to diminished mental functioning in elderly people. Studies have found that lion’s mane mushrooms, though, are a good source of hericenones and erinacines, two chemicals that accelerate the growth of brain cells.
A chemical called the nerve growth factor (NGF) is similarly essential for the normal functioning of the part of the brain (called the basal forebrain) that produces acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is one of the most common neurotransmitters that is used by neurons (brain cells) to transmit information and is also the chemical responsible for your waking state. Stimulating the basal forebrain leads to the release of this chemical in your brain that in turn causes you to wake up.
Studies have shown that NGF enables prolonged acetylcholine release, and chemicals such as hericenones and erinacines help induce NGF production in nerve cells. The presence of NGF is directly proportional to acetylcholine activity.
Other studies, meanwhile, found that when older adults who had cognitive impairments ate three grams of lion’s mane mushroom every day for four months, it led to considerably enhanced mental functioning. Moreover, their functioning reduced when they stopped taking the supplements.
Lion’s mane is also a very good source of neurotrophic compounds, a family of biomolecules (most of which are protein-based) that promote the growth, survival, and several physiological functions of both new and mature neurons. These neurotrophic compounds have a positive impact on human nerve cells that may help overcome many neurodegenerative conditions such as:
Could Reduce Anxiety and Depression
Lion’s mane extracts could have possible benefits in treating depression and anxiety. To test this possibility, a study was carried out on Japanese women with many health conditions, including menopausal symptoms and poor sleep. Some of these women were given lion’s mane extracts while others were given placebo cookies for four weeks.
The women who were given extracts of lion’s mane reported lower levels of stress and anxiety compared to the placebo group.
Of course, further research needs to be done to determine the impact of lion’s mane on anxiety and depression. Also, since not many studies have been done to determine the benefits of lion’s mane, there is not much information about the recommended dosage.
Possible Side Effects of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
There’s not much research currently available assessing whether it’s safe to eat lion’s mane for a prolonged period or about its side effects. Since it’s a species of mushroom, though, it’s better to be cautious. If you have a history of allergies, asthma, or any other medical condition, you would be better off checking with your doctor whether it’s safe for you to eat lion’s mane mushrooms in any form – in your food or as a supplement.
There have also been reports of individuals who have had difficulty breathing and skin rashes that have been linked to eating lion’s mane mushrooms.
While there are some advantages of lion’s mane mushrooms, you should keep in mind that there’s much research still being done to find evidence of its exact benefits. This is one of the main reasons why it’s too early to make conclusions about its specific upsides.
You should also keep this in mind when you come across products that mention health benefits, since research on the effectiveness of lion’s mane is yet to be done extensively on humans. Although several products already state these benefits, these products may not adhere to FDA regulations.
To cite an example, in 2019, the FDA had asked a company that promoted its lion’s mane supplement with claims that it’s beneficial for “brain injury recovery” to stop making such claims.