Lion's Mane for Cognition and Nerve Support

Lion’s mane mushroom has grown steadily in popularity recently as more people are becoming aware of its purported benefits. New companies are springing up with different mushroom supplements and existing supplement companies have begun to bring new products to the market. I normally wouldn’t begin a research review with a personal anecdote, but I’d like to emphasize that I probably never would have looked much more into the medicinal powers of mushrooms had it not been for my experience with lion’s mane. To be fair, I also must mention that my experience with this supplement may not be typical and hasn’t been extensively researched in humans yet. However, some of the animal research would support the benefits that I received, and I actually didn’t know of the specific effect that I had experienced while initially experimenting with it.

So let’s rewind to April of 2017. I was out on a normal bike ride around the local college campus, always taking care to ride only here on the street due to low speed limits and the presence of bike lanes. I crossed an intersection and a car ran a stop sign and hit me from the side. I was pretty much toast. My high confidence kept me from wearing a helmet while riding for the longest time, and I definitely paid the price for this collision. The high impact sent my head flying into the windshield of the car and the broken glass left a nasty series of deep cuts on my forehead which severed arteries and nerves alike. Thankfully, there were bystanders available to call an ambulance and help control the excessive bleeding. I actually could have died if the circumstances had been different, so I’m eternally grateful to the lady who helped me out.

After the ER and during the healing process I was left with a combination of complete numbness and other strange sensations due to the nerve damage in my head. The concussion put me out of service for nearly three weeks and even standing was difficult without feeling like I would faint. The doctors told me that the nerve damage would likely last 6 months to a year before they had the opportunity to regrow, but that there was also a high likelihood that I would never regain the feeling back completely.

Two months later, I stumbled onto lion’s mane and read about how it can support the nervous system and cognitive health. I had been interested in brain boosters since college, so I decided to give it a try. I took a 1500 mg extract every day, and besides the pleasant effect of feeling mentally on top of my game, I experienced another added benefit. Literally within two weeks of starting the supplement, the nerve damage was completely healed. It was as if I didn’t even notice at first how quickly the numbness subsided. I no longer had the lack of feeling mixed with strange nerve sensations. Coincidence? Maybe. But this experience convinced me of the powers of this amazing mushroom, so I love recommending it to people and telling them my story.

Due to the looming fear of the long term effects of traumatic brain injury, lion’s mane has been a part of my daily routine ever since then. It’s hard to judge who will experience the lingering effects of blows to the head, but it’s not something I want to put to chance. I thoroughly believe in the nerve healing properties of this mushroom.


Now that I’ve explained my side, let’s get into the research and a thorough description. So, lion’s mane is a mushroom that grows primarily on decaying hardwood trees and can be found in humid forest climates in the United States and even in parts of the Asian continent. It resembles a lion’s mane (hence the name), but according to who you ask can also look like white pom poms. I personally think that it looks a little bit more like cauliflower with thinner branches (at least the one I’ve grown!). It has a history of culinary use in some Asian and Indian cuisines as a vegetarian seafood replacement due to its lobster-like flavor and texture.

The scientific name for lion’s mane is hericium erinaceus, and it is also commonly referred to as yamabushitake. This mushroom contains two unique classes of compounds called hericenones and erinacines, which are responsible for the biological effects on the body. The compounds have different solubility in water and alcohol, so a dual-extract with both of these would be the best to take in a supplement form, but it is digestible and therefore can be eaten or even taken as a whole mushroom powder.

Now, the research on lion’s mane is much like it is on turmeric so far. It has performed quite amazingly in petri dish and animal studies, and there are currently very few human studies conducted. The research spans some time, but the scientists are finally starting to get more into researching it. It seems like the supplement industry always jumps on before the science does, and we’ve seen an increase in the number of lion’s mane supplements out there.

So far, they’re claimed to:

  1. Support cognitive functioning - plenty of products are promoting lion’s mane as a general cognitive booster, and it’s beginning to catch on.

  2. Cause nerve regeneration and increase nerve growth - while technically barred from saying these exact words due to DSHEA laws, companies dance around this topic by claiming that it supports the nervous system.

  3. Reduce anxiety and depression - due to the nervous system support, some people are claiming that lion’s mane can help support overall mood state.

  4. Provide immune system support - due to the beta-glucans in every mushroom, it makes sense that this claim pops up (and will come up in every mushroom review).

Since you already know that I’m a believer based on my experience, let’s get into what the actual research shows us. Mind you, there aren’t many human studies, so we will be covering rat research because certain claims haven’t been investigated in humans yet, though the anecdotes by people are on par with the animal studies so far, and the mechanisms for why these effects happen to animals and in petri dishes may have some carryover.

 

Cognitive Support

Currently, there is only one humans study (that we could find) which looked at cognition after daily supplementation with lion’s mane. This first trial investigated the effects of 16 weeks of supplementation at approximately 1000 mg of dry mushroom powder taken 3 times per day on subjects in Japan who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. When compared to placebo, the subjects taking lion’s mane scored significantly higher on cognitive performance tests (1). Unfortunately, the researchers noted that the increase in cognitive capacity had sharply declined after 4 weeks of cessation. This means that lion’s mane may not have permanent cognitive boosting effects, but a longer trial would need to be conducted and with a larger sample size of people to further assess this. I tend to notice that when I stop taking it for several days, my brain isn’t as sharp as it is while on it. However, most nootropics (brain boosters) have a very similar effect where any benefit is not permanent and only seems to be present during supplementation.

The mechanism for this is effect (which is also observed in rat research), is theorized to be due to the stimulation of nerve growth factor, or NGF for short (2-3). Quite simply, you raise NGF and nerves regenerate, form new connections, and generally function better. While there is a substantial lack of human research available, lion’s mane looks like it has plenty of potential due to it’s direct actions on the nervous system (2). I would love to see a lot more research on the cognition side and some eventual research into neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Nerve Growth and Regeneration

This is the bread and butter of where lion’s mane has the most potential. Not yet tested in humans beyond anecdotal reports like mine, this property of lion’s mane is supported through the petri dish and rat studies so far (3-7). The most stunning of these was the nerve regeneration seen in rats that sustained a crushing injury (6). It appears that the stimulation of NGF happens when lion’s mane is taken internally, or when coming into direct contact with the nerves. This is important to note where an effect is seen in a petri dish, but not necessarily when consumed by a human or animal like many anti-cancer claims of common supplements.

What is fascinating is how the anecdotal reports of nerve regeneration in humans is in line with what we know from the rat and petri dish studies. An excerpt from Tero Isokauppila’s book Healing Mushrooms reads, “I became fully convinced of lion’s mane’s neurological effects after a good friend of mine was injured in a surfing accident a few years ago. A crashing surfboard hit her hard, and she incurred some brain damage as a result. She could still function, but the accident damaged the nerves in her brain to the point where she often lost focus and had frequent dizzy spells. She started taking 1500 to 3000 milligrams of lion’s mane daily, and after six to eight weeks, her dizzy spells were far less frequent and she was able to focus better and for longer periods of time” (8). I also highly recommend his book if you are looking to get more into the world of medicinal mushrooms.

There are more testimonials from people available to find online, and of course I will always say that these should be taken with a grain of salt. Everyone will have different results because everyone’s body is different, but I fully believe in the power of lion’s mane for this purpose. I think it has potential for use in settings where there is nerve or brain damage if these effects can be fully validated in human studies. I look forward to updating everyone when this research comes out!

Benefitting Mood

This aspect isn’t discussed widely, but nevertheless it is one of the claims for lion’s mane. Only one human study exists so far evaluating these effects and it is quite a small study with limitations on how the results may be generalized. This trial used menopausal women who were given cookies with half a gram of the powdered mushroom and told to eat 4 per day over 4 weeks (probably not the healthiest way to consume your mushrooms). When compared to the placebo group, these women experienced less depressive and anxiety symptoms as assessed by questionnaires (9). The researchers theorize that because increased neurogenesis (nerve growth) leads to antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties in other contexts, the increase in NGF from lion’s mane could explain this effect. While the study wasn’t very extensive and had a small sample size, it at least corroborates with rat research which examined the same subject (10-11).

It looks promising, but the research is far from being conclusive on this one. I can personally say that I experience less stress and anxiety and feel like I’m generally in a better mood when I take lion’s mane versus when I don’t. Other people have reported similar experiences when looking at product reviews and those talking about their experiences with it. We definitely need more research in this area too, as I’m always a supporter of any type of alternative to harsh prescription antidepressants.

Immune Support

Mushroom polysaccharides called beta-glucans have been found to help modulate the immune system and provide support for general infection fighting capability (and may be one of the reasons we don’t get sick very often here at The Herbal Equivalent). Currently, there are no direct human studies on the immune regulating effects of lion’s mane, but they are currently supported by a few rat and petri dish studies (12-15). It appears as though lion’s mane contains some compounds which may play a role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome along with enhancing immune system activity without over stimulating it, at least in rats. We aren’t sure of the exact human effects of these compounds since no human research has been done on it yet, but many of the other effects have had some decent carryover between the animal and petri dish models and the human studies.

Could we see some type of adjunct cancer therapy benefit from lion’s mane in the future? It’s possible, especially considering the newer research coming out with other medicinal mushrooms and their use in cancer.

Side Effects

As far as we know, there are none. Some people may experience sensations from increased nerve growth, but the mushroom has not been found to be toxic in the therapeutic dose range. However, we can’t draw the conclusion that it’s 100% safe or side effect free because it hasn’t been evaluated in enough people for us to know. I’ve never experienced any negative effects in the past 10 months of taking it regularly, but that doesn’t guarantee that other people won’t. Be mindful of things like allergies, as it may be of concern here.

Other Thoughts

I hate that there isn’t more research on lion’s mane. There would be plenty of potential for its use in nerve damage and brain damage cases if we could evaluate the effects in humans. I’m already a believer, and I know that makes me biased here, but I doubt that the nerves in my head would have healed so quickly had it not been for this mushroom. My personal favorite is the Lion's Mane Mushroom Elixir from Four Sigmatic and this was the one I used when I had my nerve healing experience! You can follow the link below and use coupon code: hequals at checkout to receive 10% off all products!

Is it worth taking? So far, the research isn’t very extensive, and so you’re making that decision based mainly on anecdotes, rat studies, and petri dish studies. I take it because I believe that the effects are there for the cognitive and mood support and nerve regeneration, but just have not been investigated thoroughly. However, I’m hopeful that more research will come out soon. Until then, you can make the decision for yourself if you want to believe in lion’s mane before the effects are validated, but I already have my mind made up, and it appears that anywhere from 1500-3000 mg per day is enough to provide benefits. Plenty of people have experienced these benefits and I hope that this mushroom becomes more popular.

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References

  1. Mori, K. et al. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2634.

  2. Phan, CW. et al. Therapeutic potential of culinary-medicinal mushrooms for the management of neurodegenerative diseases: diversity, metabolite, and mechanism. Crit Rev Biotechnol. 2015;35(3):355-68. doi: 10.3109/07388551.2014.887649.

  3. Mori, K. et al. Nerve growth factor-inducing activity of Hericium erinaceus in 1321N1 human astrocytoma cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 2008 Sep;31(9):1727-32.

  4. Lai, PL. et al. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013;15(6):539-54.

  5. Friedman, M. Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-promoting Properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Active Compounds. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Aug 19;63(32):7108-23. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02914.

  6. Wong, KH. et al. Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers., a medicinal mushroom, activates peripheral nerve regeneration. Chin J Integr Med. 2016 Oct;22(10):759-67. doi: 10.1007/s11655-014-1624-2.

  7. Zhang, CC. et al. Chemical constituents from Hericium erinaceus and their ability to stimulate NGF-mediated neurite outgrowth on PC12 cells. Bioorg Med Chem Lett. 2015 Nov 15;25(22):5078-82. doi: 10.1016/j.bmcl.2015.10.016.

  8. Isokauppila, T. Healing Mushrooms. New York: Penguin Random House. 2017 pg. 52.

  9. Nagano, M. et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks of Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomed Res. 2010 Aug;31(4):231-7.

  10. Ryu, S. et al. Hericium erinaceus Extract Reduces Anxiety and Depressive Behaviors by Promoting Hippocampal Neurogenesis in the Adult Mouse Brain. J Med Food. 2017 Nov 1. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2017.4006.

  11. Chiu, CH. et al. Erinacine A-Enriched Hericium erinaceus Mycelium Produces Antidepressant-Like Effects through Modulating BDNF/PI3K/Akt/GSK-3ß Signaling in Mice. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Jan 24;19(2). pii: E341. doi: 10.3390/ijms19020341.

  12. Diling, C. et al. Immunomodulatory Activities of a Fungal Protein Extracted from Hericium erinaceus through Regulating the Gut Microbiota. Front Immunol. 2017; 8: 666.

  13. Wu, F. et al. Structure characterization of a novel polysaccharide from Hericium erinaceus fruiting bodies and its immunomodulatory activities. Food Funct. 2018 Jan 24;9(1):294-306. doi: 10.1039/c7fo01389b.

  14. Diling, C. et al. Extracts from Hericium erinaceus relieve inflammatory bowel disease by regulating immunity and gut microbiota. Oncotarget. 2017 Sep 6;8(49):85838-85857. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.20689.

  15. Mizuno, T. et al. Antitumor-active polysaccharides isolated from the fruiting body of Hericium erinaceum, an edible and medicinal mushroom called yamabushitake or houtou. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 1992 Feb;56(2):347-8.