Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.
That was the advice of the Greek physician Hippocrates, given to us thousands of years ago. For centuries people groups across the globe have been doing just that — using nature’s bounty to help heal the body.
Lion’s Mane is one of those foods with a long history of medicinal use. Of course, Lion’s Mane is the Western name for hericium erinaceus, an edible mushroom found on the trunks of hardwood trees. Its fruiting bodies are easily identified by the long, single clumps of dangling spines.
Popular in Asian countries, this mushroom is referred to as Hou Tou Go (monkey head mushroom) in China and the Yamabushitake in Japan. It was, and still is, widely used in traditional Eastern medicine.
Besides looking awesome, this secret power of the fungi kingdom boasts numerous health benefits; both as a food and as a supplement.
Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane
Nutritionally, it is known for containing zinc, potassium, calcium, and various polysaccharides such as beta-glucans.
In Eastern traditional medicine, Lion’s Mane was used widely for promoting digestive health. This included liver function support and protection. Also, it was used as a remedy for peptic and duodenal ulcers and in the treatment of chronic gastrointestinal inflammation. For mental health, it was often used for alleviating mental apathy and was seeped as a health tonic and tea.
In modern medicine, many of the health benefit claims of Lion’s Mane can be put into two groups:
- Cognitive function and support.
- Immune system and antioxidant activity.
Here are some of the common health benefits claims of Lion’s Mane:
Cognitive Function and Support
- Protects against the effects of cognitive decline
- Supports overall mental and emotional wellness
Immune System Support and Antioxidant Properties
- Reduces the effects of tension with soothing properties
- Reduces oxidative stress as a dietary antioxidant
To date the most widely researched health benefit for Lion’s Mane is in the area of brain and nervous system health and function; specifically, it’s impact on brain cells. Research remains optimistic in regard to its potential benefits related to neurodegenerative issues.
Lion’s Mane and Neurodegenerative Aspects
As we age, our brain’s ability to adapt and grow new neural pathway connections decline. This neurological decline can sometimes be severe. It is most pronounced in those that suffer from neurodegenerative issues like memory loss.
This deterioration of neurites (nerve cells) in the nervous system can lead to cognitive decline; progressive memory loss and poor processing. Some studies on Lion’s Mane claim that it may have a role to play in neurite outgrowth.
Neurites, such as axons and dendrites, are vital to neurological and cognitive function as they serve as the signal pathways. The study showed that Lion’s Mane triggered neurite outgrowth of the brain, spinal cord, and retinal cells.
Implications for Memory Loss
These findings are hopeful as they could impact the rate of neurological cell degeneration in the brain. Further studies support these claims. Certain mushrooms, like Lion’s Mane, possess compounds known as hericenones and erinacines. These have shown to have neurotrophic factors, which support neurite outgrowth.
Further animal studies have studied the potential of Lion’s Mane for memory loss. Needless to say, the potential benefits of Lion’s Mane for cognitive health is promising.
Lion’s Mane and Mental Health Effects
While many scientists believe that brain chemistry may have a role to play in decreasing, negative moods, other factors such vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, and even irritating effects could also contribute to a decline in mental health.
To date, much of the research studies have focused on animal interactions with Lion’s Mane; specifically, its interaction in hippocampus function and depressive behaviors. However, there was an interesting human research study that merits a closer look.
In the study, female participants were randomly assigned either hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) cookies or placebo cookies (yes, cookies) for four weeks to examine its potential benefits for stress.
Immune System Support and Antioxidant Properties
Lion’s Mane also has health benefits in regard to immune health and the fight against oxidative stress due to its antioxidant properties.
Lion’s Mane and Immune Support
A strong immune system is the bedrock for fighting against a whole host of germs, viruses, and pathogens. It helps to have a lion backing it up. Tension is one of the immune system’s primary functions — a normal and necessary process. It works well in supporting pathogens when it is short-lived; however, it can pose serious health issues.
Lion’s Mane and Antioxidant Properties
Antioxidants are a popular buzzword these days. They are present in many foods and their role is very important — they deserve the praise. In short, antioxidants are molecules that roam the body hunting free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause damage to cells, tension, and all sorts of havoc. Another term for this is called oxidative stress. When oxygen molecules split they are left with unpaired electrons, these electrons freely roam around the body looking for bonds. Unfortunately, this search often results in cell damage.
Lion’s Mane as a Dietary Antioxidant
One study looked at the potential antioxidant effects of various types of culinary mushrooms, especially their effects as an ACE inhibitor — an enzyme that controls blood pressure. ACE inhibitors help lower blood pressure.
The study found that the antioxidant capacity of these mushrooms demonstrated a surprising antihypertensive effect as they were able to inhibit the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE).
Out of all the culinary mushrooms, Lion’s Mane came in fourth in terms of the highest antioxidant activity.
Lion’s Mane, Roaring into the Future
These were some of the most studied health benefit claims of Lion’s Mane. The list of potential benefits could probably go on and on.
The future potential and areas of research of Lion’s Mane include areas of cardiovascular, metabolic, and nervous system health:
- Reducing risk factors for heart issues
- Supporting blood sugar control
- Reducing the effects of nervous system injuries
The Bottom Line on Lion’s Mane
As we have seen, Lion’s Mane has shown some surprising health benefits in the areas of cognitive function to help keep the brain sharp, immune support for the fight against inflammation, and antioxidant activity to ward off oxidative stress.
Lion’s Mane can certainly be consumed as a culinary mushroom. But it is often found in combination in calming supplements and in supplement blends; such as found in the Complete Calm De-Stress Gummies.
No matter how you enjoy its benefits, this is one lion you want to grab by the mane. It is no coincidence that it has been around and used for centuries.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Dr. Jay Cowin, Nutrition Expert
Founder of Functional U, a Nutrition, Performance & Optimal Health practice.