Lion’s Mane – The Fungus That Alters the Brain

by Joanna Maja Niemczycka, MP, FMP

Psychedelic mushrooms are making a comeback, we’re seeing more mushroom varieties in grocery stores, young people are returning to forge mushrooms in the forests, and mushroom superfoods are exploding. We can surely agree that mushrooms are having a moment. 

Today we will focus on one of the fungi in particular, known as Lion’s Mane. Scientifically known as Hericium erinaceus. It is not a psychedelic mushroom, but it seemed pretty magical to me. Lion’s Mane is a functional also known as medicinal mushroom. Functional mushrooms are types of mushrooms that are known to be packed with antioxidants and nutritional value, with a host of health benefits.  

Lion’s mane has been used for hundreds of years, starting with a group of monks who used it to focus during their meditation. Since 2002, the number of Lion’s Mane studies have spiked and the mushroom has become more recognized in the neuropsychology and neuroscience world, prompting health enthusiasts to be interested in the brain hacking superfood. 

Lion’s mane has been linked to stimulate the release of a protein called nerve growth factor (NGF) by the body. Nerve growth factor is essential for brain health and neuron conductivity. Neuron conductivity refers to the ability of neurons to transmit signals from one neuron to other neurons and from a neuron to muscles and glands. 

We are about to take a look at what science has found so far in order to get a better understanding of what makes this mushroom so special. Hericium erinaceus contains an abundance of bioactive compounds, including glucan polysaccharides, hericienones and erinacine terpenoids, isoindolinones, sterols, and myconutrients, all of which could be beneficial for neuroprotection and regenerative health. 

Depression and Anxiety Disorders are the most frequently occurring psychiatric diagnosis, followed not far behind by Dementia (Alzhaimer and Parkinson), so taking a mushroom that is supposed to improve brain functions, and seems to have no side effects, seems very appealing. More studies are still needed, but let us have a look at the ones that have been published so far. Hopefully this is just the beginning, leading to further research.

Lion’s Mane May Improve Brain Function: 

The brain-health benefits may make lion’s mane a promising treatment for dementia. In a study published in 2020, people with mild Alzheimer’s disease who took capsules of lion’s mane daily for 49 weeks saw significant improvements in their brain health. Meanwhile, the placebo group experienced a decline in several markers of cognitive function. The studies also showed that the treatment is safe, well-tolerated, and may be helpful in achieving neurocognitive benefits. (Li IC et al., 2020).

A 2017 study in mice found that daily supplementation with lion’s mane mushrooms showed prevention of the loss of spatial short-term memory and decreased recognition memory. Two functions commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. During the experiment, these same mice started seeking out various stimuli, which engaged the brain’s new neural pathways and delayed the onset of cognitive impairment. (Brandalise F. et al., 2017).

An Online Survey for Patient Outcomes on Hericium Erinaceous Mushroom by N. Younis (2020) for the Al Balqa Applied University reported that participants who supplemented 3 grams of lion’s mane 2 times a day reported enhanced memory. 

May Help Lower Depression and Anxiety:

A review from 2019 by Chong, P.S. says that “Hericium erinaceus crude extract (extract from a whole plant) contains various hericenones, erinacines, and possibly other bioactive compounds that are still being discovered. Overall, the potent NGF-enhancing activities of H. erinacines are possibly mediated through the synergistic effects of several compounds in the H.E extract. These compounds can greatly enhance adult hippocampal neurogenesis and contribute to the antidepressant-like effects.” Concluding with “further research is needed”. 

A 2018 study by Chiu C.H. found that H. erinacines extract had an antidepressant effect on stressed-out mice after just 14 days of use. This positive effect could be due to a combination of factors, like increased neurotransmitters in the hippocampus and a reduction in brain inflammation. 

Another study looked at 30 women with nonspecific health complaints and diseases who were given four cookies containing 0.5 gram of powdered H. erinacines daily for 4 weeks. Compared with the women who received placebo cookies, the H. erinacines group reported significantly less irritation and anxiety at the end of the study. As the study was conducted on a small group of women, and it wasn’t compared to another form of treatment like therapy for anxiety, further research is needed to compare the benefits to other modes of therapy. (M. Nagano et al., 2010)

Let’s Recap!

Since the current research has mainly been conducted on mice and rats and small groups of humans, more and larger research with more variables in humans is needed. While it may help with some symptoms of depression and anxiety, mushrooms are not a cure for all. Even though Lion’s Mane seems to be rather safe, before starting a new supplement, you might want to contact your doctor to avoid any interactions. 

Sources:

Brandalise, F., Cesaroni, V., Gregori, A., Repetti, M., Romano, C., Orrù, G., Botta, L., Girometta, C., Guglielminetti, M. L., Savino, E., & Rossi, P. (2017). Dietary Supplementation of Hericium erinaceus Increases Mossy Fiber-CA3 Hippocampal Neurotransmission and Recognition Memory in Wild-Type Mice. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine, 20(13), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/3864340

Chong, P. S., Fung, M.-L., Wong, K. H., & Lim, L. W. (2019). Therapeutic Potential of Hericium erinaceus for Depressive Disorder. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(1), 163. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21010163

Chiu, C. H., Chyau, C. C., Chen, C. C., Lee, L. Y., Chen, W. P., Liu, J. L., Lin, W. H., & Mong, M. C. (2018). Erinacine A-Enriched Hericium erinaceus Mycelium Produces Antidepressant-Like Effects through Modulating BDNF/PI3K/Akt/GSK-3β Signaling in Mice. International journal of molecular sciences, 19(2), 341. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms19020341

Li, I. C., Chang, H. H., Lin, C. H., Chen, W. P., Lu, T. H., Lee, L. Y., Chen, Y. W., Chen, Y. P., Chen, C. C., & Lin, D. P. (2020). Prevention of Early Alzheimer’s Disease by Erinacine A-Enriched Hericium erinaceus Mycelia Pilot Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 12(155), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2020.00155

Nagano, M., Shimizu, K., Kondo, R., Hayashi, C., Sato, D., Kitagawa, K., & Ohnuki, K. (2010). Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomedical Research, 31(4),231-237, https://doi.org/10.2220/biomedres.31.231 

Noha Y. (2020). Online Survey for Patient Outcomes on Hericium Erinaceous Mushroom, Aqaba Universal College, 12(3),519-525. https://mail.phcogj.com/article/114

Ryu, S., Kim, H. G., Kim, J. Y., Kim. S. Y., & Cho, K. (2018). Hericium erinaceus Extract Reduces Anxiety and Depressive Behaviors by Promoting Hippocampal Neurogenesis in the Adult Mouse Brain. Journal of Medicinal Food, 21(2), 174-180, https://www.liebertpub.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1089%2Fjmf.2017.4006