The Health Benefits of Lion's Mane

Lion's mane mushroom

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Lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a type of medicinal mushroom. Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, lion's mane is widely available in supplement form. Scientific research shows that lion's mane contains a number of health-promoting substances, including antioxidants and beta-glucan.

Health Benefits

Proponents claim that lion's mane can help with a variety of health problems, including:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High cholesterol
  • Inflammation
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Ulcers

In addition, lion's mane is said to strengthen the immune system, stimulate digestion, and protect against cancer.

So far, research on the specific health effects of lion's mane is fairly limited. However, findings from animal-based research, test-tube studies, and small clinical trials indicate that lion's mane may offer certain health benefits, including support for neuronal health. Here's a look at some key study findings.

Brain Function

Lion's mane may benefit older adults with mild cognitive impairment, according to a small study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2009. For the study, researchers assigned 30 older adults with mild cognitive impairment to take either lion's mane extract or a placebo every day for 16 weeks. In cognitive tests given at weeks eight, 12, and 16 of the study, members of the lion's mane group showed significantly greater improvements compared to members of the placebo group.

In a more recent study (published in Biomedical Research in 2011), scientists examined the effects of lion's mane on brain function in mice. Results revealed that lion's mane helped protect against memory problems caused by the buildup of amyloid beta (a substance that forms the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease). Studies have also shown a possible neuro-protective effect against ischemic stroke.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) cautions that while some small preliminary studies on the impact of natural supplements on cognitive function have shown modest effects, "direct evidence is lacking." Claims made to the contrary are not supported by evidence.

Depression

Lion's mane may help alleviate depression and anxiety, suggests a small study published in Biomedical Research in 2010. For the study, 30 menopausal women consumed cookies containing either lion's mane or a placebo every day for four weeks. Analyzing study findings, researchers observed that members of the lion's mane group were less irritable and anxious and had less difficulty concentrating than members of the placebo group.

Cancer

Preliminary research suggests that lion's mane shows promise in protection against cancer. For instance, in a 2011 study published in Food & Function, tests on human cells revealed that lion's mane may help knock out leukemia cells.

In addition, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that lion's mane extract helped reduce the size of cancerous colon tumors in mice. The study's findings suggest that lion's mane may help fight off colon cancer, in part by increasing activity in certain cells involved in the immune response. Another study found that the extract might help reduce the spread of colon cancer cells to the lungs. However, it's too soon to tell whether lion's mane can help prevent or reduce cancer in humans.

Possible Side Effects

Little is known about the safety of long-term use and side effects of lion's mane supplements. However, there's some concern that lion's mane may aggravate symptoms in people with allergies and asthma. Therefore, it's important to consult your physician prior to using lion's mane, or any other supplement, if you have a history of allergies and/or asthma or any other medical condition.

Dosage and Preparation

Lion's mane is commonly consumed in many Asian countries for medicinal and culinary purposes. However, recommended dosage for various benefits is unknown due to a lack of studies. Pregnant women should avoid using lion's mane products as insufficient evidence is available to determine if any dosage is safe during pregnancy.

Lion's mane mushroom is widely available for purchase online and supplements containing lion's mane are also sold in many natural-food stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements. Lion's mane is commonly sold in powdered form.

What to Look For

Watch out for products claiming proven health benefits in humans as the majority of research has been limited to animal studies. Some lion's mane supplements have been marketed with unsupported claims, such as the promotion of weight loss, brain health, and the prevention of heart disease.

For example, in 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to Pure Nootropics, LLC, for making unsubstantiated claims about a variety of their products, including for their lion's mane powder. The company was marketing the supplement as "great for brain injury recovery" and to "reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression." Since then, the company has removed these specific claims from their marketing but continue to claim that the product "supports overall cognitive health."

Other Questions

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend lion's mane for any specific health condition. If you're considering the use of lion's mane for a chronic condition, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen. Self-treating a chronic condition with lion's mane and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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