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July 28, 2020
The first notable thing about Lion’s Mane is its appearance. It’s an amazing-looking fungus – not at all what we think of when we picture ‘mushroom’ in our minds. It has other names, among them are sheep’s head and ‘pom pom blanc’, and its Latin binomial is Hericium erinaceus, which translates to ‘hedgehog’. These are all fun, and apt, names for this mushroom but Lion’s Mane should be taken quite seriously: it is quickly gaining popularity for its powerful properties and multiple applications in human health.
Long consumed as a food, for thousands of years in Japan, China, even Egypt, as well as in North America, this mushroom is high in protein (roughly 20%), high in soluble fibre, and (fun fact) tastes oddly like lobster when cooked properly 1. It’s quite possible that older cultures were well aware of its many medicinal properties; it was, in fact, used in Traditional Chinese Medicine 2. But it didn’t get much scientific attention until the early 1990’s with researchers in Japan identifying the presence of two compounds, hericenones and erinacines, which act as Neuron Growth Factors (NGF’s) in the central nervous system, key players in nerve regeneration 3. This, of course, immediately had exciting implications for brain research – Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are fast becoming one of the leading causes of chronic health decline after the age of 65 – but you may be surprised to know that Lion’s Mane has proven to be beneficial in many other areas of health as well. So let’s talk about those! Let’s explore 7 of the many health benefits of this wondrous fungus:
We’ll start here, since this is where we will find the largest body of evidence so far, in the research of Lion’s Mane. Many studies have been done in regards to the NGF’s mentioned above, and repeatedly show improvements to cognition and memory. One study in particular in 2011 3 focused specifically on the cognitive impairments of Beta-amyloid peptides (these have been shown to accumulate in formations called plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s) – these peptides were significantly reduced with daily administration of Lion’s Mane. Now it’s true, most studies so far have been done on animals, mainly mice – but one study in 2009 4 was done on 30 human subjects, men and women between 50 and 80 who ingested daily doses of powdered Lion’s Mane, and, compared to control subjects, all scored significantly higher on cognitive function scales over a 16-week period. This effect diminished 4 weeks after stopping the Lion’s mane, which itself is quite compelling evidence for its daily use. Botanica’s Lion’s Mane Iced Tea could be a tasty way to incorporate it daily, especially during these hot summer months.
The other fascinating area of brain research with this mushroom is in depression and anxiety. Both of these can often be thought of as two sides of the same coin: they both involve altered levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. It also seems that these mood disorders could be connected to degraded neurons in the hippocampus of the brain. Lion’s mane was shown in a 2018 study 5 to not only increase neurotransmitters between neurons, but to also stimulate regeneration of neurons in the hippocampus. As an interesting side note, a feature that will come up again when we talk about the immune system, the same study also showed that Lion’s Mane decreased secretion of a cytokine called Interleukin 6, part of the immune system that actually contributes to low mood when we get sick!
Digestive issues are incredibly common. Stress, processed diets, overuse of antibiotics, autoimmune diseases and mental health issues like depression and anxiety, all take a toll on the lining of our digestive tract, often leading to reflux, IBS, gastritis and gastric ulcers. Medical treatments usually revolves around prescription antacids, more antibiotics, and strong steroid drugs, all of which may reduce symptoms, but can damage the gut even more in the long run, and have other side effects like inhibiting the uptake of calcium and other minerals. Interestingly, Lion’s Mane has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the treatment of chronic gastritis, but the mechanism was unknown. A study published in 2015 6 was able to show that the polysaccharide components of the fruiting body were responsible for significantly reducing stomach ulcerations. Another study, in 2013 7 indicated a significant inhibition of a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, long known to be pathogenic in the formation of stomach ulcers. Add to all of that the fact that Lion’s Mane, like all of our mushroom family, are a great source of soluble fibre – another term for that is ‘prebiotic’, food for the normal flora in our digestive tract. Might as well improve that microbiome for better digestive function. Two birds – no, three – with one stone! Fascinating. And promising, since Lion’s Mane has no known toxicity or side effects. More studies may show benefit for other digestive issues.
Cardiovascular health is important to all of us, especially as we start to age – let’s face it, once past 40 and often dealing with the many responsibilities of family, finances, home, and work, we pay less attention to exercise, we get out of good dietary habits, we tend to sleep less, and our stress increases. Enter cholesterol and blood pressure worries, atherosclerosis, weight gain, and a lot of time sitting down or lying on our couches, reaching for comfort food, which, unfortunately, is usually high in sodium and saturated fat. All of this leads to oxidation of cholesterol in our arteries. But here’s an idea: if we could add a LOT of antioxidant-rich foods into our diets, especially if those antioxidants also had anti-inflammatory action, we would drastically reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke simply because we’ve reduced the formation of arterial plaque. All mushrooms contain antioxidants, more than you would expect, since they are not brightly coloured; Lion’s Mane specifically was shown in a 2014 study to be able to inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (that’s our ‘bad’ cholesterol), acting on the same enzyme that statin drugs act upon. 8 In the quest to kick-start a better diet, and throw a therapeutic amount of Lion’s Mane into the mix, I would suggest Botanica’s Perfect Protein Elevated Brain Booster – add a scoop into a smoothie every day, with some flax oil, blueberries, and your milk of choice, and you’ll have an amazing heart-healthy snack (that’s also good for your brain).
After digestive issues, I would say that fatigue, or low energy, is the most common problem that people want help with. There are so many reasons for this – over work, lack of sleep, thyroid deficiencies, not enough nutrient in the diet, iron deficiency and on and on. The trick is to find the underlying reason, and try to correct it. When your body is fatigued – taking the stairs wipes you out – Lion’s Mane shows real promise. In 2015, researchers showed that the polysaccharides from a Lion’s Mane preparation were able to restore specific chemical compounds in the body after they had been depleted by exhaustive exertion, as well as increase antioxidant enzymes and tissue glycogen (our storage form of glucose found mainly in skeletal muscle and the liver)9. The strongest dose showed the greatest improvement, and no discernible side effects. This is promising for exercise-related fatigue, but also potentially for physical depletion related to chronic illness which affects all the same compounds.
You are probably already aware that many of the medicinal mushrooms in use these days are primarily indicated for ‘boosting’ your immunity, helping you to strengthen your immune system so that you don’t get sick as often, and when you do, you recover faster. Lion’s Mane is no exception. When you first start to get sick – that somewhat vague sense of ‘coming down with something’ – it’s your macrophages at work. These are modified white blood cells that are the first on the scene, especially with respiratory infections. Your first line of defense, in other words. They then trigger an increase in chemicals called Cytokines, which are responsible for your fever, muscle and joint aches, and eventually the eradication of the invading pathogen. It turns out that the polysaccharides in Lion’s Mane have the ability to stimulate those macrophages – thus giving us a more robust immune response to the bugs going around.
It also seems that our immune system in the digestive tract gets a boost from Lion’s Mane, via a protein that activates gut macrophages, increases production of T-cells, and decreases secretion of the inflammatory Interleukin-6. (This is the chemical that makes our joints ache and puts us in a bad mood). Add to that it’s strong antioxidant activity, just as important in the immune system as anywhere else in the body, and it’s prebiotic boosting of good gut bacteria, and we have a mushroom that can aid our immune system on many fronts.
We now know that inflammatory processes are the driving force behind most of our chronic health issues in modern-day life. That includes cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, all of the autoimmune diseases, depression, anxiety, dementia, and most of our digestive disorders. Antioxidant-rich foods act not only to neutralize free radicals from causing damage to our cells and tissues, they also act as potent anti-inflammatories. One study in 2016 looked at Ulcerative Colitis (UC), an autoimmune condition that attacks intestinal mucosa; it specifically showed Lion’s Mane anti-inflammatory activity against this disease11 which is very exciting because most people with UC are treated with strong immunosuppressant or cytotoxic drugs, which themselves cause a vast array of side effects.
A study in 2019 12 looked at the connection between depression and sleep disorders, specifically in a population of overweight or obese adults. Sleep is tricky when your metabolism is doing wonky things! Your blood sugar regulation can be off – in fact, Lion’s Mane has an impressive ability to improve this 13; when blood sugar is more stable, we sleep better, crave sugars less, have a more moderate appetite, and our mood improves. So does our sleep. Turns out that something called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) in our brains is implicated in poor sleep, obesity, and depression or low mood. With daily Lion’s Mane ingested, this BDNF compound, which acts mostly in the hippocampus of our brains, is increased – leading to better mood and improved quality of sleep. Botanica’s Perfect Protein Elevated Brain Booster, containing Lion’s Mane, would make a perfect late afternoon smoothie – if you’re trying to regulate your weight, keep your blood sugars under good control so that you aren’t craving those late-night sweets, and improve your sleep and mood, the combination of protein plus the medicinal effects of Lion’s Mane would be a great choice – no, it would be the perfect choice.
1. Friedman, M. 2015. Chemistry, nutrition, and health-promoting properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) mushroom fruiting bodies and mycelia and their bioactive compounds. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 63(32). 7108-23. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02914
2. Stamets, P. 2005. Notes on nutritional properties of culinary-medicinal mushrooms. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 7. 103-110.
3. Mori, K., Obara, Y., Moriya, T., Inatomi, S., and Nakahata, N. 2011. Effects of Hericium erinaceus on amyloid Beta(25-35) peptide-induced learning and memory deficits in mice. Biomedical Research 32(1). 67-72.
4. Mori, K., Inatomi, S., Ouchi, K., & Tuchida, T. (2009). Improving the effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Mar;23(3):367-72. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2634. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18844328?dopt=Abstract
5. Chong, P.S., Fung, M.L., Wong, K.H., and Lim, L.W. 2019. Therapeutic potential of Hericium erinaceus for Depressive Disorder. International Journal of Molecular Science, 21(1). 163. DOI: 10.3390/ijms21010163
6. Wang, M., Konishi, T, Gao, Y., Xu, D., and Gao, Q. 2015. Anti-gastric ulcer activity of polysaccharide fraction isolated from mycelium culture of Lion’s Mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (higher basidiomycetes). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 17(11). 1055-60. DOI: 10.1615/intjmedmushrooms.v17.i11.50
7. Shang, X., Tan, Q., Liu, R., Yu, K., Li, P., and Zhao, G.P. In vitro anti-Helicobacter pylori effects of medicinal mushroom extracts, with special emphasis on the Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (higher basidiomycetes). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 15(2). 165-74. DOI: 10.1615/intjmedmushr.v15.i2.50
8. Rahman, M.A., Abdullah, N., Aminudin, N. 2014. Inhibitory effect on in-vitro LDL oxidation and HMG Co-A Reductase activity of the liquid-liquid partitioned fractions of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane mushroom). BioMed Research International. Retrieved from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/828149/
9. Liu, J., Du, C., Wang, Y., and Yu, Z. 2015. Anti-fatigue activities of polysaccharides extracted from Hericium erinaceus. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 9(2). 483-487. https://doi.org/10.3892/etm.2014.2139
10. Kim, S.P., Kang, M.Y., Choi, Y.H., Nam, S.H., and Friedman, M. 2011. Mechanism of Hericium erinaceus (Yamabushitake) mushroom-induced apoptosis of U937 human monocytic leukemia cells. Food and Function, 6. 348-356. Retrieved from: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2011/fo/c1fo10030k
11. Wang, D., Zhang, Y., Yang, S., Zhao, D., and Wang, M. 2019. A polysaccharide from cultured mycelium of Hericium erinaceus relieves ulcerative colitis by counteracting oxidative stress and improving mitochondrial function. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules. 125. 572-579. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2018.12.092
12. Vigna, L., Morelli, F., Agnelli, G.M.,…………and Rossi, P. 2019. Hericium erinaceus improves mood and sleep disorders in patients affected by overweight or obesity: Could circulating pro-BDNF and BDNF be potential biomarkers? Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7861297
13. He, X., Wang, X., Fang, J., ………Zhao, Z. 2017. Structures, biological activities, and industrial applications of the polysaccharides from Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) mushroom: A Review. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, 97. 228-237.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2017.01.040