Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is recognised as one of the most unique superfood medicinal mushrooms in the world! It's known as a natural “nootropic" and is most famous for its extraordinary brain-boosting power and incredible potential to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) from within the brain.
NGF drives many brain-building and neuroprotective activities including– regenerating brain and nerve cells, developing new and existing neural pathways, promotes myelin sheath development, and also supports the entire nervous system, immune system, and helps regulate mood.
Our culture honours those who work their hands to the bone, we wear that trait like a badge of honour. And with the constant social pressures to consistently perform and "always be on”, it’s no surprise that Lion’s Mane has attracted the attention of many elite athletes, entrepreneurs, and hard-working students to help boost their performance and keep them on top of their game.
“When your best isn’t good enough, just take Lion’s Mane."
How would you like to experience better mood, have more focus, memory and concentration in your life?
With the rising level of stimuli in our society– the overstimulation from TV, cell phones, video games, decision fatigue from excessive stress and impossible workloads, combined with the increasingly polluted environment we live in and chemical laden foods we consume, it’s obvious that our attention levels are waning, our ability to be present (in the now) is gone, and our healthy brains are rapidly declining.
Lion’s Mane could be the answer to our degenerating brain health. Science is also backing up its reported health claims and benefits too!
Studies have proven Lion’s Mane to boost brain function, enhance memory, recall, and improve concentration. Consuming Lion’s Mane regularly may offer profound neurological benefits and cognitive enhancements. There’s also evidence to suggest Lion’s Mane helps elevate mood, lower inflammation in the brain and gut, and improve depression and anxiety disorders.
Table of Contents
- 1. History of Lion's Mane Mushroom
- 2. Lion’s Mane Boosts Brain Power and Nutrition
- 3. What is a Nootropic?
- 4. Lion’s Mane Stimulates Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)
- 5. Problems with the blood-brain barrier
- 6. Bioactive compounds of Lion’s Mane mushroom
- 7. Lion’s Mane combats depression and anxiety
- 8. Lion’s Mane Promotes Good Digestion
- 9. Best quality Lion’s Mane mushroom extracts
- 10. Dosage and side effects
- 11. How to use Lion’s Mane mushroom
History of Lion's Mane Mushroom
Hericium erinaceus– the mushroom with the most playful names– collectively known as “Lion’s Mane” but also “hedgehog mushroom”, “bearded tooth fungus”, pom-pom mushroom”, “monkey head”, "satyr’s beard”, and “Yamabushitake” in Japan. Lion’s Mane mushroom has been around for thousands of years as a popular health tonic and important herbal medicine in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
In Japan and China, Lion’s Mane is a popular culinary mushroom for its meaty texture, with some even comparing its seafood-like taste to shrimp and lobster! That may or may not be a little far-fetched, but it’s still one of the most delicious mushrooms.
Lion’s Mane is easily recognisable in the field with its long cascading tendrils that resemble beautiful white icicle-like spines that are said to resemble the “mane of a lion”. Its growth is widespread throughout China and North America and they’re common in late summer and autumn hanging on logs and hardwood trees, particularly American beech.
Lion’s Mane Boosts Brain Power
Lion’s Mane is most famous for its brain and cognitive enhancing power. Unlike plants who manufacture their food energy from the sun (solar energy), mushrooms do not contain chlorophyll, they grow faster at night and are said to gain their caloric requirements from lunar energy, which is believed to nourish the brain with intuition and imagination.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that out of all the species of fungi discovered in the world (around 120,000 to date), Lion’s Mane is the only reported mushroom to be beneficial for brain health. That is absolutely staggering!
While Lion’s Mane mushroom is a powerful tonic food for brain health, it also offers many other benefits:
- Elevates Mood
- Improves Memory
- Reduces Stress
- Supports Nervous System
- Increases Energy
- Improves Gut Health
- Enhances Immunity
- Boosts Antioxidants
Lion’s Mane is said to give one “nerves of steel and the memory of a lion.” It contains high amounts of antioxidants, beta-glucans, and other unique polysaccharides that help boost and support the immune system. It's rich in minerals, amino acids, polypeptides, and fatty acids.
Lion's Mane has also been described as the “smart mushroom”. It’s hailed in the smart drug community as one of the best natural "nootropics" on the market.
What is a Nootropic?
Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs” are compounds (derived from natural or synthetic sources) that work to enhance brain function and improve mental capacities. They’ve become very popular among students, entrepreneurs, and tech startup employees to give their mind and cognitive abilities an extra boost.
Most nootropics or smart drugs on the market are made from synthetic ingredients, modafinil is one of the most popular. Lion’s Mane mushroom stands out as one of only a few naturally sourced nootropics that successfully enhances cognitive performance and brain function. It's often referred to as ‘Nature’s Nutrient for the Neurons.’
Lion’s Mane's classification as a nootropic is largely driven by its ability to promote nerve growth factor (NGF).
Lion’s Mane Stimulates Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)
One of the most significant effects of Lion’s Mane is its ability to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) in the brain. NGF is required by the brain and important sensory neurons to keep the entire nervous system healthy and strong.
NGF is a small protein-like molecule, belonging to a class of brain-building compounds called neurotrophins. NGF is responsible for the growth, development, maintenance, and survival of nerve cells. Without NGF, nerve cells, or neurons, would die and cause massive cognitive and motor problems.
NGF promotes the growth, maintenance, and survival of the axons (part of the nerve cell that transmits information via electrical impulses to other neurons, muscles, and glands) by helping repair the myelin sheath, the coating around the axons. It also helps quicken the myelination process.
Some researchers have even suggested that NGF is essential for hippocampal plasticity and learning. In one animal study, mice were subjected to an NGF deprived state and induced learning and memory deficits. They were then supplemented with Lion’s Mane to examine the effects. Quoting from the study:
"The results revealed that H. erinaceus prevented impairments of spatial short-term and visual recognition memory…"
Unfortunately, NGF declines as we age, which results in less efficient brain functioning. In animal studies, an absence of NGF has been linked to a condition resembling Alzheimer’s disease.
NGF was first discovered in 1950’s by Italian biologist Rita Levi-Montalcini and American biochemist Stanley Cohen. These two scientists were awarded the 1986 Nobel prize in Physiology/Medicine for the discovery and isolation of NGF. Shortly before her death at age 103, Dr Levi-Montalcini admitted that her brain was more vigorous today than it was four decades ago. She attributed her amazing vitality and long life to the fact that she took NGF eye drops every day. She was the first Nobel laureate to live over one hundred years.
Problems with the blood-brain barrier
It’s worth mentioning that it’s not easy to boost NGF. In fact, since its discovery, researchers have had a difficult time enhancing NGF due to the fact that there aren't many compounds, especially in nature, with a molecular weight small enough to penetrate the blood-brain barrier to stimulate NGF within the brain. As a result, it can be supplemented or administered as an oral drug.
The blood-brain barrier is a filtering mechanism of the capillaries that carry blood to the brain and spinal cord tissues. This barrier provides a defence system against disease forming pathogens and toxins that may be present in our blood and prevents those nasties from entering the brain cells. As we mentioned, there are not many compounds small enough to penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
A breakthrough occurred when Hirokazu Kawagishi, Ph.D., discovered a class of compounds in Lion’s Mane mushroom that stimulate the production of NGF, causing neurons to regrow.
Bioactive compounds of Lion’s Mane mushroom
Lion’s Mane contains two unique diterpenoid (fat-soluble) compounds– hericenones and erinacines, named after the Latin name of the mushroom, Hericium erinaceus.
These two constituents show strong anti-bacterial activity and help stimulate the production of NGF. Hericenones are the compounds that stimulate the production of NGF production in the brain while the erinacines are small enough to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Together these compounds help stimulate the production of NGF from within the brain. Pretty amazing stuff!
Many NGF supplements simply do not work because they cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. This places Lion’s Mane on top of the list as one of the best natural NGF-boosters ever discovered.
The bioactive substances in Lion’s Mane are believed to have great potential for repairing neurological damage, improving intelligence, reflexes, and may even encourage neuroregeneration in the brain, which may assist with improving neurological conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
Early research is indicating that another fat-soluble fraction isolated from Lion’s Mane, called amyloban, may help protect against neuronal cell death caused by toxic amyloid-peptide. Amyloid plaque develops in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, causing the destruction of neurons as the disease progresses.
There’s also reports that amyloban increases energy and promotes improved mood, memory and a greater sense of wellbeing. However, more research needs to be conducted to confirm the complete bioactivities of amyloban.
Lion’s Mane combats depression and anxiety
A recent clinical trial in 2010 investigated the effects of Hericium erinaceus intake on thirty women at menopause age. The results suggested a reduction in depression and anxiety over the course of the trial:
"Concentration", "irritating" and "anxious" tended to be lower than the placebo group. Our results show that HE intake has the possibility to reduce depression and anxiety and these results suggest a different mechanism from NGF-enhancing action of H. erinaceus.”
People have reported increased feelings of well-being after consuming Lion’s Mane over a period of time. While the studies have not definitively confirmed this, it’s likely the activity of the amyloban and the calming effects Lion’s Mane has on the nervous system (NGF activity) which provides individuals with increased feelings of optimism and wellbeing.
High NGF levels are associated with romantic love
In 2005, interesting research out of the University of Pavia, Italy found that people have high levels of NGF when they first fall in love.
They compared 58 subjects (new lovers) against two control groups– subjects who were either single or presently engaged and in a long-term relationship. The results showed that NGF levels were much higher in subjects in the initial stages of a romance or who had just fallen in love.
However, after one year (long enough for the honeymoon period to end), the NGF levels of the subjects in love "decreased and became indistinguishable from those of the control groups […] these findings suggest that some behavioural and/or psychological features associated with falling in love could be related to raised NGF levels in the bloodstream."
Lion’s Mane Promotes Good Digestion
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Lion’s Mane has been traditionally used to promote strength, vigour, good digestion, and support gastrointestinal disorders such as gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis, and other more serious digestive issues.
In vivo and in vitro tests have demonstrated that the potent immune-modulating and anti-inflammatory properties of Lion’s Mane may help prevent and potentially heal ulcers.
A recent study in 2013 investigated the gastroprotective effects of Lion’s Mane mushroom against ethanol-induced ulcer in rats. The results showed that the aqueous extract of Hericium erinaceus:
"promoted ulcer protection as ascertained by a significant reduction of the ulcer area. Furthermore, it exhibited a significant protection activity against gastric mucosal injury by preventing the depletion of antioxidant enzymes […] H. erinaceus protected gastric mucosa in our in vivo model. It is speculated that the bioactive compounds present in the extract may play a major role in gastroprotective activity.”
Best quality Lion’s Mane mushroom extracts
In order to reap the reported benefits we’ve discussed– NGF synthesis, improving brain health, supporting the nervous system etc. it’s best to consume a concentrated dual-extract of Hericium erinaceus fruiting body.
Dual-Extract refers to the type of extraction method where water and alcohol have been utilised to extract the full-spectrum of constituents in the mushroom. In the case of Lion’s Mane, alcohol is used to extract the adaptogenic fat-soluble compounds– hericenones and erinacines, and possibly amyloban, while the hot-water extracts the immune-modulating beta-glucans (water-soluble polysaccharide compounds).
Without the alcohol extraction, only the immune-modulating polysaccharides will be present in the final extract product and not the fat-soluble, brain and nervous system promoting compounds.
Dosage and side effects
Teelixir suggests starting with 1/2 tsp of Lion’s Mane mushroom dual-extract per day. It is very gentle and calming, however, if you are sensitive to herbs, you may want to start with 1/4 tsp. When your body feels ready, you can increase your dosage according to your daily needs. This extract is not heat sensitive. Lion’s Mane mushroom is non-toxic and has no known side effects.
How to use Lion’s Mane mushroom
The flavour profile of a concentrated dual-extract of Lion’s Mane mushroom is earthy and slightly bitter. It mixes well with your coffee, tea, smoothies, and your favourite dessert recipes. You can also make Lion’s Mane mushroom tea by simply adding 1/2 tsp to a mug and mixing it with hot water. Try combining Lion’s Mane to other tonic herbs, adaptogens, and superfood mushrooms to create a potent life-promoting elixir.
If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some fresh Lion’s Mane mushroom, chop it up neatly and simply sauté in coconut oil or grass-fed butter for a few minutes. Add a pinch of sea salt, black pepper, and voila! It’s definitely one of the most delicious mushrooms available. It may not be as medicinally potent when eaten in its whole form compared to an extract, but you will still reap some amazing benefits.
Its time for Lion’s Mane to be included in our diet as part of an intelligent protocol for brain and mood health. Teelixir offers the only certified organic concentrated dual-extract of Lion’s Mane mushroom fruiting body in Australia. Try it today!
- The Power of the Lion’s Mane Mushroom by Ward W. Bond PhD, Ken Babel
- Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide by Martin Powell