Lion’s mane mushroom

by Tim W. Shaw May 18, 2020

Lion’s mane mushroom

Lion’s mane mushroom is found in a wide range of natural supplement powders, capsules and even tea, but what is it and why is it useful?

The lion’s mane is a beneficial fungus which studies have shown to have a promising effect on several areas of your body, including brain function, heart health and inflammation. More research must be conducted for it to be fully understood, but it shows promise as a food supplement and many people regularly include it in their regular supplementation routine.

What is lion’s mane mushroom? 

Lion’s mane mushroomThe lion’s mane mushroom is a fungus with a unique appearance and a long history of use as a food supplement. It can be found growing on dead or dying trees across North America, Europe, China and Japan. Capable of reaching the size of a football, it gets its name from the shaggy, hair-like tendrils that appear to flow from it like a waterfall.

Known in China as hou tou gu (monkey head mushroom), lion’s mane has had several historical uses. Monks used to prepare it to be the active ingredient in a tonic to support the good health of the heart, liver, lungs, spleen, and kidneys. They believed that it could replenish internal health, aid digestion and regulate the Qi. Also used as a ‘brain tonic’, it was often taken in tea as an aid to concentration before meditation. 

In North America, Native Americans were aware of its health-giving properties and carried it with them in powder form. The powder had several uses but was most often used to speed up the healing of open wounds. In Europe, there were times it was such a delicacy that it was reserved for royalty. Its mild seafood-like flavour means that gourmet restaurants add it to their menu when it’s in season, but now, you’re more likely to find it in food supplements. 

What are the health benefits of lion’s mane?

Since interest in this incredible mushroom has increased, scientists have conducted investigations to broaden our understanding of its effects. They have primarily focused on its role in promoting brain health, but it has the potential to have a positive impact on systems throughout your entire body: 

Brain function and memory

brainLion’s mane is often referred to as a nootropic, which is a substance that can boost memory and mental capacity. It is thought to help some people improve their focus and clear brain fog. A study conducted with older adults showed that 3g daily caused a significant improvement in mental function. 

Research conducted with animals has also demonstrated that preparations containing lion’s mane can stimulate the growth of brain cells and reduce the symptoms of memory loss. Currently, there is no conclusive evidence, but there is a good indication that it can cause several actions that could improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

There is also a growing indication that it may be of use to reduce the damage caused when the brain or nervous system is injured. Research with rats showed that the recovery time from brain damage could be reduced by up to 41% by lion’s mane extract. 

Lower triglyceride levels and improved heart health

Studies showing reduced levels of triglycerides and improved metabolism of fat, is an indicator that lion’s mane may prove useful in reducing the risk of heart disease. It also exhibits several other features which could prevent heart-related issues, such as stopping cholesterol from oxidising in the blood and reduced blood clotting rates.

Reduced inflammation

Research has also had success linking inflammation to a broad range of diseases and chronic conditions. It is also likely a contributing factor for mental health conditions like stress and depression. Studies with mice found that the anti-inflammatory factors in lion’s mane were able to reduce depression-like symptoms. Other animal investigations showed that substances extracted from it with alcohol effectively reduced inflammation. 

Are there any side effects?

Lion’s mane is considered to have an excellent safety profile, and the only negative effects noted in studies were mild. They were specifically linked to allergic responses and included shortness of breath, itchy skin and a rash.  

It is well-tolerated, but when trying any new food or supplement, if you notice any strange effects, stop taking it and contact your doctor. 

What forms does it come in? 

Lion’s Mane Cognitive BlendWhile some people believe that adding the mushroom to your food is the best way to reap its benefits, others think it should be carefully prepared or extracted first. Most studies have been conducted with extracts made with ethanol or hot water. The presence of either substance breaks down the structures inside the mushroom and allows the beneficial compounds to be concentrated for improved potency.

Consequently, the best ways to consume lion’s mane are in teas or hot water tonics and specially prepared supplements. These often contain extract, or freeze-dried particles of the fruiting body and can be bought as capsules, tablets or powders. Capsules are the simplest way to take it and are particularly suited to those who want to take it discreetly or don’t like its flavour.

Lion’s mane mushroom is ideally suited to be taken alongside other active ingredients. Together they provide a broader synergy of beneficial effects that are greater than that of a single compound. Supplements that build up a range of benefits from different substances like this are known as ‘stacks’. Turmeric, holy basil, ginger, nettle and green tea make great companions for lion’s mane and are often used in products like the Cognitive Blend by Living Nutrition because they contain a wide range of essential compounds and vitamins. 

What should I look for when making a purchase?

To get the best results, look for a supplement that:

1. Contains the entire fungus

This should include all parts of the fruiting body and mycelium. With everything present, you will get a greater range of beneficial ingredients and will be able to consume all the active elements of the fungi.

2. Is officially certified organic

Look out for organically produced lion’s mane, with a verifiable organic certification. This will give extra assurance that a third party has scrutinised the growth and manufacture process and that no artificial chemicals are used in any processes. 

3. Is supplied by a trustworthy brand

Look for companies with lots of customer reviews on independent sites like Trustpilot. Also, it can be useful to talk to friends and family or look for online reviews to get recommendations.


The lion’s mane mushroom has an incredible history of being used in powders, tonics and elixirs. Several ancient civilisations were aware of its effects and successfully harnessed them in different ways. 

We, however, still have some way to go before we fully understand the full scope of its actions and how they can improve our lives. What we do know strongly indicates that it has excellent potential as a food supplement.

Fact-checked by Dr Marios Kyriazis.

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Tim W. Shaw
Tim W. Shaw


Tim W. Shaw writes extensively about CBD oil, cannabis and other groundbreaking food supplements. He and his wife share their home with two daughters and a lifetime’s collection of books.

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