Lion’s Mane - An Overview
Lion’s Mane (scientific name Hericium erinaceus, also known as “yamabushitake”) is a medicinal mushroom with clinically proven nootropic powers. It is used for:
Lion’s Mane is one of the most powerful (possibly THE most powerful) natural supplements for boosting what is known as Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).
NGF promotes nerve growth and regeneration, helping your brain rejuvenate itself and make new connections.
This is a critical process needed for memory formation, mental ability, and overall brain health.
Lion’s mane is a very unique member of the fungus kingdom, possessing qualities that no other species has (that we know of).
It contains the nootropic compounds hericenone and erinacines, both of which are only found in this particular mushroom.
Lion’s Mane belongs to the “tooth fungus” group and is native to Asia, North America, and Europe. It has a distinct and unusual appearance, looking almost like a wizard’s beard. It typically grows during the late summer and fall.
Many cultures have been using this fungus for thousands of years for it’s medicinal and brain-boosting powers.
Lion’s Mane is extremely prized in Chinese traditional medicine, and Chinese monks have been known to use lion’s mane to help focus their minds during long meditation sessions.
It is also considered a culinary delicacy, with a mild flavor reminiscent of lobster or crab.
Lion’s Mane and Neural Regeneration
Nerve regeneration is a critical part of keeping your mind sharp, especially as you get older.
Unfortunately, as we age our NGF naturally starts to drop. As neurons become less and less able to repair themselves and grow new connections, your cognition starts to suffer.
You can’t process information as quickly, it becomes more difficult to learn new things, and memories start slipping away.
Severe lack of NGF is even associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. It is absolutely critical to make sure your brain maintains it’s plasticity.
But Lion’s Mane is not simply for older people looking to fend off cognitive decline.
Healthy young people may also derive nootropic benefits from taking this mushroom, meaning lion’s mane could be a cornerstone of your brain-optimizing nootropic stack.
What Does Lion’s Mane Do?
Lion’s mane helps the brain by increasing structural support, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
This has numerous benefits for your cognition. Let’s take a look at what this nootropic can do for you.
Lion’s Mane For Brain Fog
Lion’s mane can clear out the dreaded “brain fog” that causes so much frustration for many people.
Everybody knows what it’s like when you have to fight through the murky haze in your mind just to connect two thoughts together.
It’s a major drain on productivity and just an all-round bummer.
Fortunately, there is clinical evidence that Lion’s mane supplements can improve overall cognition, especially in older people.
Many people report that after taking Lion’s mane for a few weeks that their overall thought process seems clearer and more efficient as if it “greased the wheels” of their brain.
Memories become easier to access, new information is easier to understand, and critical thinking becomes more fluid in this state.
In one double-blind study, researchers gave Lion’s mane (or a placebo) to a group of older adults for 16 weeks.
During that time period, they subjected the participants to a battery of cognitive tests.
They concluded that the group that had taken Lion’s Mane supplements had noticeably increased their cognition. The control group showed no improvement.
They also found that 4 weeks after the participants stopped taking Lion’s Mane, their scores on the test dropped back to baseline, indicating that continued supplementation is necessary to maintain it’s beneficial effects.1Mori K, et al. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial Phytother Res. 2009
Most of the clinical studies focus on older populations, but it is widely believed that the same dynamic that prevents cognitive decline also improves cognition in healthy adults.
Lion’s Mane For Boosting Mood and Lifting Depression
Another huge potential benefit of Lion’s mane is its effects on mood, particularly in lifting depression.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that shows how powerful this nootropic is when it comes to increasing positive emotions.
Some users claim that it has brought them out of long-term funks that resisted more mainstream treatments.
But you don’t have to take the word of anonymous internet posters.
There’s also solid clinical evidence that Lion’s Mane can encourage a positive outlook and beat back the blues.
One study focused on middle-aged women dealing with menopausal mood swings.
After several weeks of supplementation, researchers found that Lion’s Mane “has the possibility to reduce depression and anxiety” versus the group that took a placebo.
The women in the study self-reported significantly less anxiety, low moods, and irritability after taking the mushroom.2Mayumi Nagano, et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks hericium erinaceus intake Biomedical Research 2010
Lion’s Mane For Nerve Growth and Neuroplasticity
Lion’s Mane stimulates nerve growth, which can be extremely beneficial for healing neurological damage due to age, disease, or injury (such as concussions).
There are several very promising animal studies that indicate this mushroom has the power to significantly increase recovery times for injuries to the nervous system.
One study found that rats suffering from nerve damage reduced their recovery time by 23–41% after taking Lion’s Mane.
Another looked at rats that had suffered strokes and saw that this supplement greatly improved healing time, reduced inflammation, and cut the overall brain damage in half.3Wong KH, et al. Peripheral Nerve Regeneration Following Crush Injury to Rat Peroneal Nerve by Aqueous Extract of Medicinal Mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae), Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011 4Lee KF, et al. Protective effects of Hericium erinaceus mycelium and its isolated erinacine A against ischemia-injury-induced neuronal cell death via the inhibition of iNOS/p38 MAPK and nitrotyrosine, Int J Mol Sci. 2014
One particularly encouraging study looked at rats that had sustained gluteal nerve injury, rendering them totally disabled.
After drinking water that had been infused with Lion’s Mane for a while, these rats actually regrew enough neurons to start walking again!
Although these studies obviously did not look at human subjects, they do suggest the power and potential of Lion’s Mane for treating neurological injuries.
Some users have reported quicker recoveries after sustaining head injuries/concussions.
Lion’s Mane For Cognitive Enhancement
This is likely due to its effects on neuroplasticity, which allows the brain to fluidly reshape itself and make new connections.
This is a crucial aspect of forming new memories and learning new concepts.
Many people who use Lion’s Mane say that they can focus on tasks better after a few weeks of supplementation.
This is likely related to the way it improves overall mood. After all, when you are happier and less stressed, it is much easier to concentrate on what’s in front of you.
More human trials need to be conducted on this aspect of Lion’s Mane benefits, but the available evidence indicates it could be an effective nootropic for overall thinking.
How Lion’s Mane Works In The Brain
Lion’s Mane works primarily through promoting Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).
NGF is a neurotrophic factor and neuropeptide that regulates the growth, repair, reproduction, and maintenance of some of the brains most important neurons.
Lion’s Mane and Nerve Growth Factor
NGF is critical for the survival and maintenance of sympathetic and sensory neurons.
Every cell in the body, including the brain, goes through a process called “apoptosis,” or programmed cell death.
This is a highly regulated method that the body uses to clear out old or non-functional cells to make way for new ones. The body loses tens of billions of cells a day due to apoptosis.
It’s critically important for proper functioning in all organisms.
However, you do not want unnecessary apoptosis going on, especially in the brain.
And as it turns out, without the presence of NGF, your neurons will start initiating their self-destruction sequence.
Essentially, NGF keeps your brain cells from committing suicide, so it’s important to keep your levels up.
NGF doesn’t just protect older cells from dying off. It also promotes the genesis of new neurons, which can have a profound nootropic effect on the user.
Researchers have found that the compounds in Lion’s Mane can increase neurite outgrowth by 60% in some cases.
They have also established that it can grow myelin, which is an important substance that coats the axons of nerve cells.
Myelin is a critical component of the nervous system that support, protect, feed, and isolates each cell. Lack of myelin can result in cognitive decline and dementia.
Luckily, Lion’s mane has been shown to promote and regulate healthy myelination.5Lai PL, et al. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia, Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013 6Kolotushkina EV, Moldavan MG, Voronin KY, Skibo GG. The influence of Hericium erinaceus extract on myelination process in vitro, Fiziol Zh. 2003
Learning new things and forming new memories are processes that rely on your brain’s ability to physically form new connections between neurons.
When this nerve growth can happen more readily, your cognitive processes will perform better in turn.
There are also anecdotal reports of Lion’s Mane healing peripheral nerve damage.
Some people claim to have regained feeling in their limbs from supplementing with it.
There have been no major studies done about this phenomenon, but judging from what we do know about Lion’s mane, it seems reasonable that it might have this ability.
You cannot supplement directly with NGF. It cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and will be excreted from the body if you ingest it in it’s isolated form.
You can, however, stimulate the production of NGF through hericenones and erinacines, which are two natural products isolated from the fruiting body and mycelium of Lion’s Mane.
Hericenones and erinacines are both compounds that can easily cross the blood-brain barrier and start increasing NGF levels.
According to current scientific literature, Lion’s Mane may be one of THE most effective supplements for this particular action.
Lion’s Mane and Inflammation
Lion’s mane also lowers harmful inflammation in the brain. Inflammation can cause many different problems with memory, cognition, and mood.
Inflammation can be caused by many factors, such as unhealthy food, drugs/alcohol, illness, or injury, and it is overall bad news for brain health.
Luckily, Lion’s Mane acts as an antioxidant, which can lower inflammation, and keep the brain running smoothly.
Antioxidants are an incredibly important factor in maintaining overall long-term health.
Lion’s Mane contains a number of these helpful compounds, such as polysaccharides and oligosaccharides. These antioxidants intercept destructive compounds called free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can kill cells or damage the DNA, which can lead to mutations during cell reproduction.
The effects of free radicals are wide-ranging and are linked to all sorts of health problems.
The polysaccharides in Lion’s Mane can boost the immune system, helping your body fight disease.
They also increase the number of macrophages and “natural killer” cells, both of which patrol the body and destroy infected or abnormal cells, including cancer cells.
Lion’s Mane Potential Side Effects
Lion’s mane is generally well tolerated but some people may experience side effects.
None of the clinical studies we’ve seen have listed any specific, recurring side effects among subjects, but there are some anecdotal reports of the following:
Increased NGF can cause a mild, itchy flush in some people. It’s not dangerous, but some find it uncomfortable. This is fortunately rare.
Some people complain that Lion’s mane actually lowers mood and causes brain fog for them, which is the exact opposite of what most people experience.
This just goes to show that everybody is wired differently, and that any substance can cause very atypical effects in some parts of the population
There are some reports of lowered libido, especially in men. However, there are also some reports of increased libido. Again, different strokes for different folks, as it were.
As with any supplement, make sure you listen to your body and note any changes you feel.
No nootropic is for everyone, and you can always discontinue it if it causes you problems.
We strive to bring you the most up to date, research-based information about Lion’s Mane and other nootropics.
Something we missed? Do you use Lion’s Mane? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
About the author:
Erik Levi is a co-founder of HolisticNootropics.com and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner.
As an NTP Erik takes a nutrition first approach to health. He has worked with many different people to help them use nutrition to optimize their quality of life.
Erik believes that mental health is a physiological process and cognitive enhancement is not something that can be achieved by just taking some pills with good Amazon reviews.
Instead, true cognitive enhancement comes with the right balance of nutrients, movement, and gratitude. Erik continues to stay up to date with the most current nootropic and holistic health research and promises to deliver the best solutions possible.
You can check out his personal health blog/podcast/YouTube Channel all under the name Holistic A-Hole.