The lion’s mane mushroom, scientifically known as Hericium erinaceus, is one of the oddest-looking mushrooms ever. It looks just as the name suggests: like a heap of white hairs vaguely resembling a lion’s mane. Or a pile of noodles, depending on how far your imagination goes.
This edible mushroom is quite common in North America, Asia, and Europe, where it’s enjoyed in almost any way you can imagine. Raw, dried, cooked, brewed as a tea, or just as a supplement–quite a few options to choose from.
While its taste isn’t for everyone (most people say it tastes like crab or lobster), the health benefits this mushroom can offer are indeed one of a kind.
So, are you ready to learn why you should definitely consider trying out some lion’s mane?
May help with anxiety and depression
Animal studies report that lion’s mane mushrooms may enhance the formation of new cells in the hippocampus, which plays a major role in the formation and control of emotions. Eventually, this could result in lower levels of anxiety and depression.
Some other studies reported that the antidepressant-like action of lion’s mane could be based on its ability to regulate the key neurotransmitters involved in healthy brain function, including dopamine and serotonin.
May protect the brain and enhance its recovery
The lion’s mane mushroom has a wide range of neuroprotective effects. For example, a study from 2016 reported that this natural wonder could be beneficial to treat and prevent neurodegenerative disorders. Common examples of neurodegenerative conditions include Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
One other study from 2014 highlighted that lion’s mane can reduce brain cell death due to ischemia. Ischemia is a lack of blood supply, usually due to a clot or a tumor. Specifically, the mushroom was able to reduce the damaged area of the brain by a whopping 44%!
There’s also some evidence that lion’s mane could enhance the regeneration processes in the nervous system. Some studies mention an improvement in regeneration rates as high as 21.7% in the brain and spinal cord cells. Wow!
May improve memory, cognitive and motor function
One of the main traditional uses of the lion’s mane mushroom is memory improvement. Well, modern studies suggest that it really does a great job in this matter!
For example, an animal study on aging mice reported that lion’s mane enhances the growth of new nerve cells in the parts of the brain that are vital for healthy memory and motor function. The ability of lion’s mane to enhance memory and cognitive function in general has been confirmed in human studies too. The effect didn’t last long, though, so it seems you’d have to keep taking the mushroom regularly for long-term improvements.
Supports gut immunity and reduces intestinal inflammation
The potential health benefits of lion’s mane don’t end on its ability to protect the brain and enhance its functions. For example, studies indicate that this mushroom may reduce intestinal inflammation, promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the guts, decrease local oxidative stress, and improve intestinal immunity in general. Long story short, lion’s mane is one of the best mushrooms for gut health we know. Really.
May protect the liver from alcohol-induced damage
Alcohol is the most abused substance worldwide, and it’s no secret that it can easily damage the liver if you aren’t careful with it. Well, although lion’s mane isn’t a quick fix for alcohol problems, animal studies indicate that it may reduce alcohol-related liver damage. Specifically, it reduces liver inflammation and fibrosis, improves function and inhibits oxidative stress.
May reduce obesity-related inflammation and prevent the development of diabetes
Few people know that adipose (fatty) tissue produces biologically active substances known as adipokines. During obesity, these adipokines cause chronic low-grade inflammation in the fatty tissue. This change may worsen insulin resistance and contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Here’s the good news: lion’s mane mushroom may prevent or reduce this specific kind of inflammation in the fatty tissue. So, although it doesn’t help with obesity specifically, it could help in preventing its development into something more serious.
May have anti-cancer properties
An animal study from 2013 reported that a lion’s mane extract was able to reduce the metastasis of colon cancer to the lungs by 50-55%. It’s unclear if this effect works with other kinds of cancer or metastases to other organs.
One other study from 2014 revealed that the active compounds in lion’s mane can kill some types of liver, colon, and gastric cancer. Of course, these two tiny pieces of data aren’t even remotely enough to recommend this mushroom as an anti-cancer remedy, but it’s still pleasant to know that it has at least some potential.
May prevent the formation of ulcers in the stomach and guts
There is quite a bit of evidence suggesting that lion’s mane has anti-ulcer properties. Check it out:
- In May 2019, an animal study reported that a purified polysaccharide from lion’s mane helps with ulcerative colitis by reducing inflammation and enhancing local immunity
- One other study from 2018 highlighted that this protective action could be based on the ability of the mushroom to boost the secretion of defensive factors and reduce free radical damage to the local tissues
- A 2015 study reported that lion’s mane can decrease existing ulcers in size
- In 2013, a laboratory study confirmed that this mushroom fights off the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which is one of the leading causes of gastric and duodenal ulcers
The Bottom Line
The lion’s mane mushroom is really a one-of-a-kind thing.
It looks strange, tastes strange—but comes jam-packed with potential health benefits. In most cases, people take lion’s mane to improve their brain power, gut health, and enhance any sort of regenerative process in the nervous system.
Does it work? Well, available studies suggest that it seems to work. We’ll need more time and more studies to say for sure, but right now it appears that the traditional wisdom of using this mushroom as a medicine has always been on point.
-The Cost Plus Nutrition Team