Lion’s mane mushroom

by Tim W. Shaw August 07, 2021

Lion’s mane mushroom

Lion’s mane mushroom is used in many supplement powders, capsules and even tea, but what is it and why is it useful?

Lion’s mane is a fungus that has a beneficial effect on several areas of the body, including the brain and heart. More research must be conducted for it to be fully understood, but current studies show that it has promise as a food supplement. People all over the world already take it regularly and include it in their supplementation routine.

Lion’s mane mushroom - Fast facts

  • Lion’s mane mushrooms are large, white fungi with long flowing tendrils; they can be eaten raw, cooked or added to supplements
  • They grow on dead or dying trees in North America, Europe, China and Japan.
  • They have many names, including lion’s mane, yamabushitake and hou tou gu (monkey head mushroom).
  • There are several different types of lion’s mane, but Hericium Erinaceus is the most cultivated and used in supplements.
  • Other types of lion’s mane include Hericium Abietis, Hericium Alpestre, Hericium Americanum, Hericium Coralloides and Hericium Laciniatum.
  • When consumed, the anti-inflammatory fruiting body of the lion’s mane supports heart and brain health.
  • Lion’s mane mushroom has an excellent safety profile but can trigger an allergic response in some people: shortness of breath, itchy skin and a rash.

What is lion’s mane mushroom? 

Lion’s mane mushroomThis unique fungus has a distinctive appearance and a long history of use as a food supplement. Lion’s mane can be found growing on dead or dying trees across North America, Europe, China and Japan. It’s capable of reaching the size of a football and 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 prepared 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 some gourmet restaurants add it to their menu when in season.

Are there different types of lion’s mane?

There are several different species of lion’s mane, all with similar appearances. The most common type cultivated for use in food supplements is Hericium Erinaceus. Other varieties that can be found in the wild include:

  • Hericium Abietis
  • Hericium Alpestre
  • Hericium Americanum
  • Hericium Coralloides
  • Hericium Laciniatum

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 some have investigated its impact within the 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

Some studies show that, when eaten, lion’s mane can speed up the reactions that breakdown fats and reduce triglyceride levels in the blood. These may indicate that lion’s mane could be able to reduce 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. Inflammation is a natural swelling that occurs in the body during illness or injury. It’s part of the healing process but sometimes it can occur when it’s not needed. This type of swelling has been linked to a broad range of diseases, chronic illnesses and mental health conditions.

Studies with mice found that lion’s mane provides anti-inflammatory factors that can lessen depression-like symptoms. Other animal investigations showed that an alcohol-based lion’s mane tincture could effectively reduce chronic inflammation.

Are there any side effects?

Lion’s mane mushroom has an excellent safety profile, and the only negative effects observed during studies were mild; These effects were specifically linked to allergic responses and included shortness of breath, itchy skin and a rash.

If you have an allergy to mushrooms or other similar substances, you should either entirely avoid taking lion’s mane, or talk to your doctor first. Pregnant women should also give it a miss because there is not yet enough evidence to verify that it’s safe during pregnancy.

Lion’s mane is consumed safely in many countries across the world and studies with rats have shown that it’s not addictive. In most cases there are no ill effects, even when taken in more significant amounts.

How much should I take per day?

The studies that reported positive effects from lion’s mane used daily amounts of between 750mg and 5g. The current evidence indicates that you will begin to notice effects if you take a daily measure in this range. However, some supplements use specially prepared extracts that provide a more concentrated amount of the active ingredients. In these cases, they may provide more significant results with a smaller measure. For the best results, you should always follow the directions on the packet.

What forms does it come in? 

Lions mane mushroom cooked

Lion’s mane is a versatile food and can be consumed in several different forms:

  • Cooked and eaten with your meal – When cooked, lion’s mane has a pleasant flavour similar to seafood. Cooking and eating it is a great way to get the complete range of nutrients, but not everyone has a large enough supply to keep eating it daily.
  • Mushroom tea – The mushroom can be shredded and dried to form a delicious tea. The introduction of hot water to the mushroom flesh breaks it down and releases higher levels of nutrients and active ingredients into the liquid.
  • Ethanol or hot water extracted supplements – Just like in tea, the addition of hot water or ethanol releases the beneficial substance from within the cells. These extraction methods are often used to prepare supplements and allow manufacturers to place concentrated extracts into small capsules. This is the most convenient method to take lion’s mane regularly.
  • Freeze-dried fruiting bodies – The freeze-drying process prevents the mushroom from decaying. This ensures that it still contains all of its valuable substances when you’re ready to eat it. Supplement makers often add freeze-dried lion’s mane to capsules or combine it with other types of extract.
Available here lion's mane

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 lion’s mane blend by Living Nutrition because they contain a wide range of essential compounds and vitamins. 

What should I look for when making a purchase?

If you choose to buy a lion’s mane supplement, look for trustworthy, organically certified brands that use all parts of the fruiting body and mycelium.

Companies with lots of genuine customer reviews on independent sites like Trustpilot are a great place to start. By choosing an organic brand, you know that they’ve had to meet strict criteria and their products have been thoroughly inspected by an official organic authority, such as the UK Soil Association. Products that contain all parts of the mushroom have a broader range of the mushroom’s active ingredients, making them more effective.

Conclusion

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

Author

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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