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 fresh, dried, and supplement form. Scientific research shows that lion's mane contains a number of health-promoting substances, including antioxidants and beta-glucan.

Health Benefits of Lion's Mane

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 and Anxiety

Research to date suggests that Lion's mane may help alleviate depression and anxiety. For example, a 2020 review of the literature called Lion's mane "a potential alternative medicine for the treatment of depression."

Likewise, a 2021 research review detailed several studies that showed significant anti-anxiety effects. Lion's mane appears to offer "neuroprotective functions, cytotoxicity, anticarcinogenic, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, and herbicidal activities," as well.

Cancer

Preliminary research suggests that lion's mane shows promise in protection against cancer. For example, 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.

Diabetes

Studies in animals support the use of lion's mane mushrooms in managing diabetes. The mushrooms may improve metabolic function by helping to regulate glucose and insulin levels.

Possible Side Effects of Lion's Mane

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, especially if you have a history of allergies, asthma, and/or any other medical condition.

Studies on the potential benefits of lion's mane in humans have shown great promise, but research so far has been limited mostly to animals. Always consult your healthcare provider before ingesting lion's mane or any other supplement.

How to Take Lion's Mane

Lion's mane hasn't been studied enough to establish standard dosages and preparation. General guidelines follow, but always heed your physician's specific advice regarding medicines and supplements.

Dosage

Lion's mane is commonly consumed in many Asian countries for medicinal and culinary purposes, but there are no consistent formulations or dosage recommendations. Follow the instructions on your package of lion's mane closely.

Lion's Mane Precautions and Interactions

Avoid using lion's mane mushroom products if you're pregnant. Not enough research has been done to determine if any dosage is safe during pregnancy.

If you take diabetes medications, be aware that Lion's mane mushroom can lower your blood glucose levels too much. Keep a close eye on your readings.

Likewise, taking lion's mane along with anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs can cause blood clotting difficulties that can result in bleeding or bruising.

Some people are allergic to lion's mane. Seek medical help immediately if you notice throat swelling, breathing trouble, or other signs and symptoms after taking lion's mane.

What to Look For When Buying Lion's Mane

Watch out for products claiming proven health benefits in humans; 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."

Where to Find Lion's Mane

Many big-box and specialty online and brick-and-mortar stores sell fresh, dried, and/or powdered Lion's mane, as well as capsules, teas, and various forms of blends featuring the fungi. In nature, they tend to grow in logs, decaying wood, and tree wounds.

Other Questions About Lion's Mane

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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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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