Lion's Mane Benefits for Digestive Health

Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat digestive health issues related to inflammation of the lining of the stomach, such as chronic superficial gastritis. People may choose to eat raw mushrooms or opt for extracts, powders, or dietary supplements.

In small laboratory and animal studies, researchers exploring digestive health have demonstrated Lion Mane’s potential to protect against ulcerative colitis, prevent the growth of H pylori, promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, and improve the host’s immune system. However, these studies are limited in their scope, and robust clinical trials are still needed to support their findings. Read on to learn more about the current research into Lion’s Mane’s benefits for digestive health.

Preventing H pylori and Ulcers

As many as 4.6 million Americans suffer from painful stomach ulcers each year, often affecting the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine. Many of these sores occur as a result of stomach acid damaging the mucous lining of the digestive tract, which is typically caused by bacteria or over-the-counter pain relievers including aspirin.

The spiral bacterium H pylori are responsible for approximately 70-90 percent of gastric ulcers and 90 percent of all duodenal ulcers. This bacterium is believed to have evolved in order to penetrate the stomach’s mucous lining where it is able to establish an infection. While the infection does not always have symptoms, it has been known to cause gastritis (stomach inflammation) and ulcers in the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. The infection is also associated with the development of certain cancers occurring in less than 20 percent of cases.

In a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences evaluated the effects of extracts prepared from the fruiting bodies Lion’s Mane mushroom against H pylori infections. Their published findings suggest that Hericium erinaceus is able to inhibit the growth of H. pylori in vitro (test tube) settings. In the same experiment, researchers were also able to show that Hericium erinaceus inhibits Staphylococcus aureus or staph infections. However, further research is still needed to identify the pharmaceutical mechanism of these mushrooms.

Promoting beneficial gut bacteria

According to Harvard researchers, as many as 100 trillion bacteria, both beneficial and harmful, live inside your digestive system. “This is a new frontier of medicine, and many are looking at the gut microbiota as an additional organ system,” says Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann, a staff physician in the infectious diseases division at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

In an animal study published in 2017, researchers investigated whether Lion’s Mane is clinically effective in alleviating inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) through the regulation of gut bacteria. Using rats as subjects, they reported that the structure of gut microbiota of the H. erinaceus extracts-treated groups “changed significantly” when compared with the control group. The researchers concluded that the extracts could work to promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, showing clinical potential in relieving IBS by regulating gut microbiota.

Improving Immunity

A 2017 study published in the journal Food & Function investigated the immunomodulating activity of Hericium erinaceus in mice. Researchers were able to show that Lion’s Mane mushroom-derived polysaccharides were able to improve immune function by enhancing cell-mediated and humoral immunity, or the activity of the intestinal immune system. This improved activity works to better protect the body from pathogens that enter the digestive tract through the nose and mouth.

A separate animal study published in 2017 in the journal Frontier in Immunology suggested that small-molecule proteins extracted from the fruiting body of Lion’s Mane could be useful for immunotherapy. Researchers noted that the protein treatment could improve the immune system in a prebiotic role — regulating the composition of gut bacteria and stimulating a vital immune process that is essential for T cell immune response triggering.

Finally, a 2012 animal study demonstrated that Lion’s Mane extracts taken daily were able to nearly quadruple the lifespan of mice injected with a lethal dose of salmonella bacteria. According to researchers, the extract-treated cells showed greater activity against the bacteria than the control group’s cells. The results from this limited study suggest that the mushroom extract activities against bacterial infection may occur through the activation of the subject’s innate immune cells, another compelling argument for its consumption.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, high-quality clinical trials on the efficacy of Lion’s Mane to prevent and treat health issues related to the human digestive tract are still lacking, but the published findings from the limited in vitro and animal studies warrant further research. If you’re suffering from any digestive-related issues and are considering Lion’s Mane, always seek medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider before making any changes to your health regime.