You may have heard of this one before…
Lion’s mane, also known as Hericium erinaceus or Yamabushitake, is rapidly gaining global recognition for its potential brain-boosting benefits. In fact, the legendary Paul Stamets once referred to lion’s mane as the “smart mushroom”, specifically for its effects in supporting neurogenesis.
And while we definitely believe Stamets is a credible source on all things mush related, we had to do some digging ourselves to uncover all the wondrous benefits of lion’s mane mushroom.
What is Lion’s Mane?
But first, let’s take a minute to uncover the early foundations of lion’s mane mushroom.
This hardwood-loving mushroom is native to Asia, North America, and some parts of Europe, but it has truly gained its reverence in Ancient China and Japan. In fact, the name ‘Yamabushitake’ was said to be inspired by the Yamabushi monks of Japan, and the lore details that these monks used the mushroom to enhance their deep meditative states (this has not been proven, although it would make sense).
Since its discovery, lion’s mane has been used as a tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to promote health and vigor (1). And, as we are all aware, the mushroom is now making headlines as focus-enhancing, brain-boosting nootropic.
But are these claims just mainstream buzz? Let’s check in with the research…
Lion’s Mane Benefits
… and the research is looking good, friends! From brain health to anti-cancer benefits, there’s a lot of evidence to push lion’s mane up the rank as one of the healthiest mushrooms known to humans. Here are 5 awesome benefits of lion’s mane.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits for Focus and Clarity
Lion’s mane is mostly known for its potential benefits on focus and cognition, hence the name “smart mushroom” (thanks, Stamets!).
And there are plenty of studies that actually prove this. After administering an extract of the Hericium erinaceus fruiting body for 12 weeks, one study found significant improvements on the test subjects’ Mini Mental State Exam (2). This examination tests a subject on their concentration, attention, memory, and other cognitive markers, indicating that lion’s mane may have a significant effect on clarity, focus, and overall cognition (3).
Another in vitro study highlighted the effects of lion’s mane extract on Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) protein (4). According to the study, the mushroom extract stimulated NGF synthesis, which is extremely important for maintaining healthy functioning of the brain. Increased NGF activity is associated with improved memory and learning ability, so the link between lion’s mane and enhanced cognition is definitely there (5).
To make this all even more interesting, lion’s mane is rich in brain-supporting B-vitamins such as thiamine and niacin (6). While most studies attribute the mushroom’s positive effects on the brain to its active compounds-such as polysaccharides and hericenones- the abundance of B-vitamins must surely also play a role in this.
With all of this promising research, and ample amounts of anecdotal evidence, it’s clear why our favourite mycologist referred to lion’s mane as the “smart mushroom”. Try having your lion’s mane with some coffee and ginkgo biloba for a powerful brain-boosting beverage.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Neuroprotective Benefits
Expanding on the above, lion’s mane has demonstrated potential neuroprotective benefits for individuals suffering with diseases characterized by cognitive impairment and cognitive decline (such as dementia). The research has also shown that it may provide protection and prevention against these diseases.
The most widely noted study was performed on 50-80 year old Japanese men and women with mild cognitive impairment. The test subjects were administered lion’s mane extract 3 times a day and were compared against a control group at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of the trial. Remarkably, the test subjects showed significant improvements on cognitive functioning when compared to the control group… But what really stunned researchers was that once the subjects terminated their use of lion’s mane, their cognitive functioning began to decline again (7).
Animal studies have also highlighted the mushroom’s ability to prevent cognitive dysfunction in mice that are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (8).
One systematic review wrapped this all up by stating that lion’s mane has medicinal benefits for humans with cognitive impairments (9), highlighting its potential neuroprotective benefits. Another one of our faves, reishi mushroom, has also been shown to have the same effects!
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits for Anxiety and Depression
Another benefit related to the mind. According to various clinical trials, lion’s mane may have positive effects on depression and anxiety.
A clinical trial conducted on 30 females noted that, after 4 weeks of consuming lion’s mane extract, the test group exhibited less irritability and lower anxiety than the control group (10).
Animal studies have highlighted the mushroom’s ability to reduce anxiety and depression by promoting neurogenesis in the hippocampus, the region of the brain which is responsible for emotional processing and wellbeing (11).
Another critical review attributed lion’s mane mushroom’s “antidepressant effects” to its anti-inflammatory, neurotrophic, and neurogenic pathways (12).
While research is still fairly limited on lion’s mane’s effects on anxiety or depression, the results we have so far are extremely promising.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits for Gut Health
But the effects of this incredible mushroom aren’t just limited to the brain!
According to research, lion’s mane may be beneficial to the gut in several ways. One study demonstrated the mushroom’s ability to regulate the gut microbiome and relieve IBS symptoms (13).
Some studies have also highlighted lion’s mane mushroom’s ability to inhibit the growth of H. pylori and prevent the formation of stomach ulcers (14).
And have you ever heard about the Mind-Gut connection? This is just our theory, but we believe that the effects of lion’s mane mushroom on the brain may actually be amplified by its healing activities in the gut.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits for Cancer
Like its mushroom sister reishi, researchers are slowly uncovering the effects of lion’s mane mushroom on cancer.
These studies are mainly limited to animal and test-tube (in vitro) subjects, so the research must be taken with a grain of salt. Regardless, the anti-cancer potential of reishi mushroom is exciting- as many studies highlight the mushroom’s direct interaction with cancer cells.
In fact, some studies have shown that lion’s mane extract may induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells (15). This was shown to have an effect on many different types of cancer cells, from leukemia to gastrointestinal cancers (16).
Is Lion’s Mane ‘The Smart Mushroom’?
So, does the mushroom truly live up to its label?
We always ask that you form your own judgements, but in our opinion… we think, yes!Our deep dive has shown that the mushroom is not only useful to the brain, but it may have powerful healing effects on the gut and overall health, too. While research is still ongoing, Hericium erinaceus has definitely found a spot as one of our favourite mushrooms.