Lion's mane, also known as Hericium erinaceus, is a beautiful and edible mushroom of the tooth fungus group. They can be found growing naturally in Asia, Europe, and North America.The Lion's mane mushroom is a large, mostly white mushroom with a long stem and dangling spines on its cap. Known to grow on virtually any hardwood like beech, maple, or birch trees, the lion's male is a crunchy delicacy with great medicinal values from ancient times.

Lion's Mane gills are often cream-colored and tend to be brownish towards their edges. The stem has a texture appearing like strands of spaghetti, causing some to nickname it –the "spaghetti monster". It appears as an open umbrella when young but over time, becomes funnel-shaped, with about 6 to 8 ribs on each side.

When it comes to taste or texture, these mushrooms have few competitors. They are tender and firm with a slightly crunchy texture that makes many persons liken them to seafood. For centuries, it has found its use in many Asian countries for culinary and medical purposes. 

Now it is available in supplement form, as scientific research has shown that it contains several health promoting substances that are mostly beneficial to overall brain health and immunity. In addition, there are other health conditions lion's mane can help with and these include:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Inflammation 
  • Ulcers 
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • High cholesterol
  • Parkinson's disease

Just like its namesake, many refer to lion’s mane as the "king" of the mushroom kingdom due to its numerous health benefits. Let us now look at some of these amazing health benefits of lion's mane.

Improves Brain Health and Nervous System

With advancing age, mental abilities decline over time. This is because the brain gradually loses its ability to grow new nerve cells and form nerve cells connections which are integral to optimal mental functioning. 

Research has shown that lion's mane mushrooms contain two unique compounds –hericenones and erinacines, that can stimulate the growth of brain cells and restore these connections. This can be exploited in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease which causes progressive memory loss.

There have been animal studies that have shown that lion's mane prevents impairments of spatial short-term and visual recognition memory induced by amyloid β (25-35) peptide [1]. These amyloid beta plaques accumulate in the brain during Alzheimer's disease.

In another study, lion's mane was shown to boost mental functioning in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Here, participants were grouped into two, one group was given lion's mane extract while the other was given placebo. The group given lion's mane extract showed significant improvement in mental functioning [2].

However, the brain is just one part of the nervous system and the Lion's mane benefits are not limited to just the brain but also other parts of the nervous system such as the spinal cord and other (peripheral) nerves. Injuries sustained in the brain and spinal cord can be quite damaging and take a considerably long time to heal but it has been discovered that lion's mane mushroom extract may help speed up recovery from such injuries, by enhancing the growth and repair of nerve cells.

Relieves Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Two leading health challenges of the world today are anxiety and depression. Amongst the many causes of depression, chronic inflammation could be a major contributing factor. New studies have demonstrated that lion's mane extract has anti-inflammatory effects [3] that help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. One of these studies showed that amycenone, a substance obtained from extracts of lion's mane, has antidepressant effects in LPS-induced inflammation model of depression.

In some other studies, it was also noted that lion's mane extract helped to improve the functioning of the hippocampus, a region of the brain in charge of memories and emotional responses.

One small study in menopausal women who ate cookies containing lion's mane mushrooms also reported a reduction in feelings of irritation and anxiety as well as improved concentration [4].

Protects Against Ulcers and Protects the Digestive System

Capable of forming anywhere along the digestive tract, ulcers are often caused by two main factors – an overgrowth of the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori and damage to the mucous lining of the intestines due to, for example, chronic use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Lion's mane extract halts the growth of Helicobacter pylori [5] and protects the stomach and intestinal linings from damage. The active component responsible for this is the polysaccharide fraction of lion's mane extract. There are also studies that have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects of the ethanol extract of lion's mane medicinal mushroom in ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases.

Reduces Risk of Heart Diseases

Heart diseases are a major health problem that plagues the world today. Some major risk factors of heart disease include hypertension, high triglycerides, oxidized cholesterol, obesity, amongst others.

Lion's mane extract generally lowers triglyceride levels and improves fat metabolism. In one study, Hericium erinaceus, cultivated with Artemisia capillaris (HEAC), proved to cure hyperlipidemia [6] in rats and in some other studies, it led to significantly less weight gain.

Oxidized cholesterol molecules have more likelihood to attach to the walls of arteries, causing them to stiffen. This increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Therefore, preventing oxidation, which lion's mane extract does, is quite beneficial for the heart.

Also, hericenone B is a compound in lion's mane extract, which has been demonstrated to have inhibitory effect on the formation of blood clots [7], another major risk factor in heart disease.

Helps Boost the Immune System

The benefits of a strong immune system are well known and cannot be overemphasized.

From boosting the activity of intestinal immune system to the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, lion's mane has been found to have several ways by which it boosts the body's immunity. Studies have shown immunomodulating activity [8] of the Hericium erinaceus-derived polysaccharide (HEP).

Potential to fight against Cancer

Damaged DNA causes cells to replicate without control and this is the basis for cancerous growth.

There are special compounds such as Hericium erinaceum agglutinin (HEA), which have been isolated from the dried fruiting bodies of lion's mane mushrooms, that showed potent anti-proliferative activity [9] toward tumor cell lines.

They have also been shown to be a rich source of bio-active compounds such as polyphenols, polysaccharides, and glucans, amongst others, which can be explored for treatment of various cancers.

May Help In the Management of Diabetes

When the body can no longer regulate its sugar levels properly, it results in diabetes. Chronic, poorly managed diabetes usually results in complications involving the kidneys, nervous system, and the vision, amongst others.

A good number of studies have revealed that lion's mane causes lower blood sugar levels [10]. One way it does this is by blocking the activity of the enzyme alpha-glucosidase, which breaks down carbohydrates in the small intestine.

In addition, lion's mane limits diabetic nerve damage that result from complications of chronic poorly managed diabetes. There is now a sound argument for lion's mane to be included in therapeutic supplements for diabetics.

In conclusion, lion's mane contains many special bio-! active substances that are quite beneficial to the body, brain, heart, and guts. As concerns safety and side effects, animal studies done so far have showed no adverse effects even at very high doses. However, any person who are sensitive to mushrooms should avoid it then.