The Lion’s Mane mushroom not only looks like a brainy mass, but contains unique Neurotrophic Factors that stimulate the growth of brain and peripheral nerve tissue. Often referenced in its uses for dementia and cognitive impairment, its health benefits seem to branch much farther beyond.
“If you’re looking for precursors to the nervous system, you might consider looking for them in fungi” Dr. Mitchell L. Sogin
I got shivers the first time I heard Paul Stamet’s talk about mycelium as earth’s natural internet. If you aren’t familiar with mycelium, it is the intricate branching network of hyphae that form the vegetative body of fungi.
When seen with the naked eye or viewed with an electron microscope you simply cannot escape observing its similarity to the human nervous system. Coincidental? Nature, the Gaian Mind, has an affinity for repeating patterns among successful systems.
Mycelium is vital to ecosystems because of its role as an energy cycler. It symbiotically mediates between flora and the soil, facilitating water uptake and nutrient exchange. It also communicates real time adaptive responses between microbes and plants via electrochemical signaling.
The “neural networks” it forms, as Paul Stamet’s initially described, emphasizes the ubiquitous and adaptive nature of mycelium as Earth’s sentient internet.
The effects that one such mushroom, Lion’s Mane, has on brain health become an extension of that original observation.
“If you’re looking for precursors to the nervous system, you might consider looking for them in fungi”
Dr. Mitchell L. Sogin of the Center for Molecular Evolution at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass
As you have probably come to appreciate, the medicinal fungi express a special intelligence in their therapeutic effects on the human body.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) sits at the top, quite literally occupying the cerebral position. Not only does it look like a brainy mass of neurons, but it contains unique properties called Neurotrophic Factors that stimulate the regrowth of damaged brain and peripheral nerve tissue (3).
It is for that reason this highly potent nootropic is revered for its cognitive enhancement properties especially in conditions of dementia and cognitive impairment (1). Hericenones and Erinacines are the primary bioactive classes observed in vitro responsible for its many effects studied in recent years.
A 2016 study published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine observed that rats fed Lion’s Mane extract following a crush injury to the peroneal nerve demonstrated higher repair signaling pathways promoting peripheral nerve regeneration (3).
Other studies have demonstrated stimulation of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and other pathways responsible for increasing myelination of nerve cells, nerve cell outgrowth, and even enhanced growth in adrenal cells (4-7).
Considering NGF, the hericenones and erinacines, it is no surprise that Lion’s Mane might exert other effects on brain function and the behavior of the autonomic nervous system. One study investigated the effects of Lion’s Mane on menopause, depression and sleep quality.
In a human based trial, 30 women were either fed Lion’s Mane cookies or placebo cookies over the course of 4 weeks. The Lion’s Mane cookie group placed favorable mean scores compared to placebo in parameters of depression, sensitivity, irritability and anxiety tests performed (8).
Cognition and Memory – Lion’s Mane mushrooms have well documented experimental uses for cognitive enhancement for conditions such as dementia and impairment (1) and memory loss (2). In one such study a group of 50-80 year old Japanese men and women previously diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment took 250mg tablets of Lion’s Mane powder three times a day for 16 weeks. Observations made of that group during weeks 8, 12 and 16 following the trial demonstrated increased cognitive scores when compared to placebo (1).
Alzheimer’s disease is a much more significant condition that is sadly becoming more prevalent in society each year. With a complex etiology, the presence of beta-amyloid plaque formation in the brain is responsible for its degenerative symptoms.
The fact that Lion’s Mane promotes nerve growth factor (NGF) both in vitro and in vivo and that NGF maintains and organizes cholinergic neurons in the central nervous system makes it a potential candidate in both preventing and treating dementia.
In 2008 Kawagashi and Zhuang in Drugs of the Future noted the compounds hericenones, erinacines and DLPE isolated from Lion’s Mane show significant activities in the induction of Nerve Growth Factor synthesis or the protection of neuronal cells against beta-amyloid peptide, endoplasmic reticulum stress- or oxidative stress-induced cell death also in vitro and in vivo.
They concluded that preliminary clinical trials indicate that H. erinaceum appears to be effective for senile dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease (18). Later Mori et al in Biomedical Research (2011) demonstrated preventative effects of Lion’s Mane in the impairment of spatial short term and visual recognition memory among mice that had been induced by amyloid β(25-35) peptide (2).
Multiple Sclerosis is another complex neurological degenerative disease involving patchy demyelination of brain and nerve tissue. The myelin sheath is an insulative layer that wraps around axons providing electrochemical protection and support to the delicate conductive nerve tissue.
Degeneration in the myelin causes significant nervous system impairment and dysfunction. This is why Multiple Sclerosis involves erratic and unrelated symptoms from visual disturbance, balance, grip weakness, pain and numbness, bowel and bladder problems and more.
In a 2003 study, Kolotushkina et al. observed that the process of myelination in the presence of the Lion’s Mane extract began earlier compared to controls and was characterized by a higher rate. The study concluded that extract of H. erinaceus promoted normal development of cultivated cerebellar cells and demonstrated a regulatory effect on the process of myelin genesis process in vitro (6).
A later study by Moldavan et al. in 2007 confirmed that Lion’s Mane extract exerted neurotrophic action and improved the myelination process in mature myelinating fibers and also did not affect nerve cell growth in vitro or evoke toxic effect or nerve damage (19).
Parkinson’s Disease – A neuro-degenerative motor disease characterized by degeneration in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. In a 2016 study, mice with Parkinson’s disease treated with Lion’s Mane extract demonstrated reduced neuron and brain impairment in the substantia nigra pars compacta as measured by brain histological examination. This cellular protective effect against oxidative stress in the basal ganglia was present both in vitro and in vivo (20).
Its name in Japanese is Yamabushitake which translates to Mountain Priest Mushroom. Anecdotally, it’s told that Buddhist priests would sip Lion’s Mane tea in preparation for meditation.
Though we haven’t come across any research substantiating that claim, it’s not difficult to imagine why. Either way, it makes for great imagery when sipping Lion’s Mane yourself or with mindful friends.
The taste of Lion’s Mane is more culinary adept than the other mushrooms. It can be both creamy and meaty at the same time. The fruiting body of Lion’s Mane if cooked from the fresh mushroom is said to even substitute well for crab meat.
Add half a teaspoon of Reishi brand organic non-GMO Lion’s Mane to a cup of boiled water and mix it in. Powerful by itself, it also combines well with the Reishi mushroom extract and green tea.
Hot Coco – I love sweet things and the creamy feel that Lion’s Mane gives blends amazingly with cacao and cinnamon for making hot chocolate. What better combo, hot chocolate and enhanced brain function. We like to heat up a rice or coconut milk and mix in copious spoons of raw cacao, a pinch of cinnamon and cardamom, some dried orange peel and finally….. half of teaspoon of Lion’s Mane powder extract. Speaks for itself.
Laksa and Curry Lovers:
I am not going to get into Laksa and Curry recipes, but if you love cooking up coconut sauces with spicy dishes and want a solid brain food, this is it. Add half a teaspoon to the sauce once it is done cooking.
Disclaimer. The information represented in this article is meant to provide concepts from evidence based research. It is not intended to treat or diagnose any health condition. For appropriate treatment methods please contact your healthcare provider.