Updated August 17, 2023.
Read Time: 6 minutes
What Are Lion’s Mane Mushrooms?
Wild lion's mane mushrooms can be found on dying maple, oak, and beech trees. Lion’s mane is a saprophytic fungus, which means it decomposes dead trees. Lion’s mane mushrooms essentially digest its host trees, collecting the nutrients accumulated over the tree’s lifetime.
In traditional Chinese medicine, lion's mane has a reputation as a longevity tonic. It is used as a folk treatment for improving cognition, treating nerve pain, and delaying or preventing degenerative brain diseases. Many recognize Lion's Mane as one of the most well known and studied medicinal mushrooms of today.
Lion's Mane Mushroom Health Benefits
Despite the use of lion's man in traditional medicines, you might be wondering: can a humble tree mushroom really support health?
Well, let's dive into the research! According to recent lab studies, lion’s mane supports cognition, supports healthy digestion, fights cancer, and shows promise as a supplement to cancer treatments (1).
In this article, we'll explore each of these lion's mane mushroom health benefits:
- Lion’s Mane Supports Cognition
- Lion’s Mane as a Nutritional Intervention for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- Lion’s Made Supports Recovery from Nerve Damage
- Lion’s Mane Supports Healthy Digestion
- Lion’s Mane Fights Cancer
Ready to explore? Read on!
1. Lion’s Mane Supports Cognition
In the 1990’s, a scientist named Hirokazu Kawagishi examined lion’s mane mushrooms and made an important discovery. He identified two unique bioactive compounds: hericenones and erinacines.
Since then, hericenones and erinacines have received a lot of attention. They have been shown to protect and boost brain function and to stimulate the natural production of nerve growth factors (NGF) in the brain and throughout the nervous system.
About Nerve Growth Factors (NGF)
NGF is a protein that the body uses to grow and maintain nerve cells in the central, sensory, and automatic nervous systems (2, 3). The hericenones and erinacines in lion’s mane are proven to stimulate NGF, even helping neurons grow new branches and, ultimately, make new connections (4).
The erinacines extracted from lion’s mane are special because they can cross the blood-brain barrier. This means neurons can absorb lion’s mane’s erinacines right from the bloodstream. They may act directly on the central nervous system to improve cognition (4).
The rich concentration of hericenones and erinacines in lion’s mane mushrooms is likely the basis for lion’s mane’s reputation in traditional medicines as a memory booster and sleep aid.
2. Lion’s Mane May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Because lion’s mane extracts stimulate NGF production, researchers are examining it as a nutritional intervention for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia is the general term for cognitive decline that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Unfortunately, the neurological changes that cause dementia usually occur long before dementia symptoms themselves are evident. This makes the disease especially difficult to study and treat. Scientists are still working to pinpoint the specific causes and progressions of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Scientists believe that Alzheimer’s interferes with cognition by interfering with brain cells’ ability to repair and heal. This would cause brain cells to die. When enough brain cells die, the brain struggles to process information, memory, and new experiences.
One of the ways Alzheimer’s causes this damage involves “beta-amyloid plaques.” The protein beta-amyloid can form plaques around nerve cells in the brain. Those plaques interrupt communication between neurons. Researchers think this is one source of the cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Once amyloidβ plaques begin to form, they create a “traffic jam” situation because other proteins cling to them. This chain reaction creates permanent protein tangles, permanently interrupting neural activity around those cells.
Because Alzheimer’s seems to start with beta-amyloid plaques, scientists are looking for dietary interventions that prevent plaques from forming. One promising intervention is lion’s mane mushrooms.
Lion’s mane studies show that erinacines slow the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques. If scientists are right about beta-amyloid causing Alzheimer’s, then lion’s mane mushroom extracts have the potential to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (1).
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—and experts say this is especially true for Alzheimer’s disease. Preventing plaques may prevent Alzheimer’s before its symptoms arise.
3. Lion’s Mane Supports Recovery from Nerve Damage
The nervous system reaches throughout our bodies. Neurons aren't found only in our brain. We have neurons all the way to our fingertips! If nerves anywhere in the body are damaged, they may stop sending signals or misfire, sending uncontrolled pain signals to the brain.
Researchers have found several benefits of lion’s mane for nerve regeneration as it blocks certain pain signals and helps regenerate nerves by stimulating NGF (1). This suggests that lion’s mane offers two-fold treatment for nerve pain and is one of the leading mushroom for nerve damage in general.
Nerve pain is often treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (5, 6). Unfortunately, those drugs can damage the stomach’s protective mucosal layer, especially with long-term use (7). Wildly enough, lion’s mane has anti-inflammatory properties that can protect and repair the stomach’s lining.
4. Lion’s Mane Supports Healthy Digestion
Lion’s mane reduces inflammation and prevents tissue damage in the stomach and intestines thanks to its antioxidant activity. It can even treat ulcers caused by NSAIDs use.
Lion’s mane studies show the superfood inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria, protecting the stomach lining, and reducing the symptoms of painful intestinal diseases. One study showed that patients with ulcerative colitis who took a lion’s mane extract reduced their symptoms and improved their quality of life in just three weeks (8).
Gastric and intestinal conditions which may be soothed by lion’s mane extract include: stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease.
5. Lion’s Mane Fights Cancer
Lion’s mane has been shown to fight cancer both directly and indirectly.
Lion’s mane has anti-inflammatory properties, especially for tissues in the stomach and intestine. Cancer is caused by malformed DNA, and inflammation increases the likelihood that DNA will become malformed. This is because inflammation creates free radicals and other DNA-damaging molecules, while also increasing the rate of DNA replication. Together, these scenarios increase the risk of cancerous mutations.
That is why anti-inflammatory foods like lion’s mane extract help reduce the risk of cancer (9). Because lion’s mane specifically reduces inflammation in the stomach and intestines, it may support the prevention of cancer in those tissues.
Lion’s mane also fights cancers more directly. One study showed that lion’s mane accelerated the death of cancer cells from liver, colon, stomach, and blood cancer. A lung cancer study showed that lion’s mane slowed the cancer’s spread by 69%. A third study showed that lion’s mane extract slowed tumor growths better than traditional cancer treatments, with fewer side effects (8).
Many cancer patients receiving chemotherapy treatments experience nerve pain as a side effect. Because lion’s mane promotes nerve growth factors and alleviates certain nerve pains, nerve pain caused by chemotherapy may be alleviated by lion’s mane extracts (6).
As with any medical regimen, cancer patients should consult their physician before adding nutritional supplements to their diet.
Revitalize Yourself + Plant Trees = Wild!
The stressors of the modern world take a toll on our bodies. If we feel fatigued, unmotivated, or detached, it’s easy to see why we might lose connection with the people and projects that matter to us. Luckily, our wild bodies know how to get the most out of superfoods like lion's mane mushroom extract.
Plus, with every purchase of Forager's Kingdom's extracts, you heal your connection with the earth by helping to reforest our planet. Every sale from our store donates to One Tree Planted, an organization that shares our mission for sustainability by planting trees worldwide.