Lion’s Mane mushroom also has other common names that are descriptive of its unusual shape, like Sheep’s Head or Bear’s Head. Lion’s Mane is also commonly known as the Japanese Yamabushitake, and in Latin the plant name is Hericium Erinaceus.
This mushroom has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for hundreds of years, mainly for digestive problems, and is now starting to be studied for many uses in contemporary medicine. Not surprisingly, it is causing people in the supplement industry world to make some startling claims as to the potential health benefits.
Lion’s Mane has shown some promise in several areas of medical research, and is certainly very popular right now.
We take a look at some of these claims, and try to sort out whether these mushrooms really have the almost magical powers that are being talked up about them.
Much has been made recently about the effects of Lion’s Mane for its supposed ability to improve memory and brain function. Well, who wouldn’t want to have a better memory, especially as we live in an ever ageing population? Better memory is something we could all benefit from, but it there any proof of these benefits in these magic mushrooms?
There might be. The aqueous extract of H. Erinaceus from Lion’s Mane contains neuroactive compounds which seem to induce nerve growth factor (NGF-synthesis). This promotes neurite outgrowth in the NG108-15 cells. In simple terms this means that Lion’s Mane promotes neuron activity and may help improve brain functioning.
High blood sugar levels in diabetes may result in heart attacks, strokes and, renal, or kidney impairment. Extracts from Lion’s Mane are thought to help reduce high blood sugar levels. In animal studies evidence has been presented that some extracts from Lion’s Mane will increase insulin levels.
A study was tried with 3 different groups of rats. One group had diabetes and were administered Lions Mane. The second group had diabetes but were not administered the Lion’s Mane, and a control group who had neither. The study found that the Lion’s Mane reduced Polydipsia (an abnormally great thirst, which is a symptom of diabetes) in the diabetic rats, as well as slightly lowering blood glucose levels.
Hardly conclusive proof but following these positive results, there is room for further study.
Ulcers are a common problem that leads to uncomfortable, and sometimes painful upsets in the digestive system. Peptic ulcers or gastric ulcers may lead to acidity, indigestion, burning sensations, and pain below the ribs. Extracts of Lion’s Mane mushroom may be able to actually treat peptic and gastric ulcers.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms are thought to help the gastric mucosa, by preventing the reduction of antioxidant enzymes. The gastric mucosa protects the digestive system from acid build up, and the Lion’s Mane extract encourages more build up of this mucosa. It is this effect that is thought to reduce the risk of ulcers forming.
The Lion’s Mane mushroom is thought to be a useful nerve aid, which may help to maintain a healthy nervous system. This is claimed to increase the capacity of neurons that will help deal with neurological problems, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.
Research has suggested that Lion’s Mane has some qualities that encourage the creation of nerve growth factor, or at least a newly discovered protein that encourages nerve health. The protein is important to the development and survival of neurons nerve cells, which are regarded as the building blocks of the nervous system.
Unfortunately nearly all of the results that back up claims for Lion’s Mane come from a very few research studies. The claims for help with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia are interesting but unproven.
Some extracts of Lion’s Mane are thought to contain effects that can help to slow and even control tumours that are part of liver, gastric, and colon cancer.
Extracts of this mushroom, when used in combination with chemotherapy drugs like doxorubicin, can effectively help to treat liver cancer or hepatocellular cancer which is resistant to the treatment with drugs alone.
Of course these studies are used in conjunction with chemotherapy drugs, so it is far from a proven cure for these cancers. The studies are limited to rats so far, which makes this just an encouraging claim at the moment.
Hardening and narrowing of the arteries is known as Atherosclerosis. The arteries supply the correct blood levels to the body, and if they are reduced or restricted in any way will carry the longer term risk of health problems like heart attacks and strokes. Lion’s Mane is thought to lower both high cholesterol and high blood sugar, which are the factors that lead to atherosclerosis.
One study found that the Lion’s Mane reduced Polydipsia, the thirst associated with diabetes, but there is not really any good evidence as yet to show that Lion’s Mane reduces risk to the hardening or restriction of arteries.
Although a certain amount of tension is thought to be good for us to keep us sharp, more often than not this overspills into stress causing anxiety and depression, and this has become a huge problem with more people becoming victims of these disorders. The medical profession are always coming out with new tablets to try to combat this increasing problem, but often the side effects of these drugs seem to create new problems.
Lion’s Mane is thought to stimulate nerve growth to the neurons, and is being considered as a new way of dealing with the problems of stress by maintaining healthier brain chemistry.
This research refers to the study that is most often quoted when extolling the effects of Lion’s Mane, that took place in Japan by Dr Kawagishi of Shizuoka University. It refers to the extract of the mushrooms abilities to promote nerve growth factor or NGF. This looks good but it is only one study so it is not proven as yet.
Myelin sheaths are envelopes of a protective substance wrapped around the axons of some nerve cells. Axons also known as nerve fibres transmit information to muscles, glands, and neurons. Injury of myelin compact structure leads to impairment and severe illness of the nerve system. Lion’s Mane is thought of as a complimentary medicine for conditions that affect the central nervous systems in illnesses like multiple sclerosis.
In Multiple Sclerosis, myelin sheaths around the nerve ends are damaged providing the nerves with little or no protection. Lion’s Mane is thought to actually encourage the development of myelin at a faster rate, and is considered to have very low toxicity levels.
Lion’s Mane has been used traditionally in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years as a treatment for fatigue. It is thought that this mushroom extract may also have uses in sports nutrition to aid stamina and recovery time.
Some studies have shown that Lion’s Mane increases the tissue glycogen content and antioxidant enzyme content which helps reduce fatigue. Lion’s Mane may also have shown a reduction in the levels of blood lactic acid (BLA), Serum urea nitrogen (SUN), and malondialdehyde (MDA) which play a role in causing fatigue.
Due to its fatigue reducing ability, Lion’s Mane mushrooms may have the potential to be used for sports nutrition.
Studies were carried out in 2009 in Japan by the Hokuto Corporation and the Isogo Central and Neurosurgical Hospital. The tests were conducted on a small group of patients struggling with mild cognitive disorders. When 30 patients were given a daily dose of 250mg of Lion’s Mane for 16 weeks, they all showed mild signs of improvement with cognitive tests. These improvements all decreased after 4 weeks when the treatment was stopped.
These tests are thought to show that cognitive abilities can be advanced by taking an extract of this mushroom. Scientists determined that enhancement in cognitive function is visible, provided the mushroom or its extracts are included daily within the diet.
Lion’s Mane looks promising as a treatment for mild cognitive impairment, but it requires further research.
There are potential health benefits to the Lion’s Mane mushroom, especially in regard to an improvement in cognitive functioning and protection of myelin sheath repair.
The downside is that despite the thousands of articles you can find about the mushroom’s benefits, the real scientific research is thin on the ground.
There are only about ten scientific studies on Lion’s Mane, and most of these are based on the Japanese study in 2009 in Japan by the Hokuto Corporation that used 30 patients with mild cognitive impairments as test subjects. Other research has been carried out on animal testing or in the lab.
This means that although Lion’s Mane looks good, the claims seem premature. We are a long way from definite conclusions, and despite the claims of many in the supplements industry; we have a long way to go before they are proven one way or another. For more natural smart pill supplements such as Lion’s Mane, why not check out our top ten here.