Lifestyle

Understanding Lion's Mane Effects on the Brain

Understanding Lion’s Mane Effects on the Brain

Lion’s Mane or Hericium erinaceus mushrooms have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine to treat, cure, or prevent digestive issues. However, recent research into the fungi’s bioactive compounds is demonstrating great potential for preventing and treating brain and nerve health-related issues. While this early research is still very limited, it’s making the popular culinary mushroom with seafood-like flavor a strong candidate in promoting positive brain and nerve health-related activities.

Does Lion’s Mane Effect the Brain?

Lion’s Mane is believed to affect the brain’s nerve cells through its ability to induce the nerve growth factor (NFG). As the name implies, NFG plays a role in the growth, maintenance, proliferation, and survival of nerve cells or neurons — and your brain has approximately 80 billion nerve cells.

In fact, Lion’s Mane mushrooms and extracts have demonstrated the ability to reduce symptoms of memory loss in animal studies as well as prevent the neural damage caused by amyloid-beta plaques, which are known to accumulate in the brains of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2009, researchers investigated the brain health of Japanese men and women with ages ranging from 50-80 who’ve been diagnosed with mild cognitive impartment. Half of the 30 participants were given four 250 mg tablets containing 96 percent Lion’s Mane mushroom dry powder three times a day for 16 weeks and observed for four more weeks. The published study found that the Lion’s Mane group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group, with no adverse side effects. The findings of this relatively small study show that Lion’s Mane was effective in improving mild cognitive impairment.

To date, most of our research has been limited to animal studies and test tubes in laboratory settings. While the findings are promising, we certainly need more research before we definitely claim that Hericium erinaceus is an appropriate treatment for brain health-related issues.

What Makes Lion’s Mane Unique?

To understand how Hericium erinaceus may be used as a preventative measure or to help treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, researchers have been focusing on the fungi’s unique biologically active compounds, specifically, hericenones and erinacines — two natural substances isolated from Hericium erinaceus. To date, only erinacine A has confirmed pharmacological actions in the central nervous system in rats, but it has been shown potent stimulating activity of nerve growth factor synthesis in laboratory settings.

In a study published in 2014, researchers investigated whether Hericium erinaceus and isolated Erinacine A could function as an anti-inflammatory with neuroprotective properties for stroke victims. High doses of Lion’s Mane extract were given to rats immediately after a stroke, successfully reducing the inflammation and size of their stroke-related brain injuries by 44 percent. The study was able to conclude that the treatment does offer neuroprotective effects after ischemic brain injury, scavenge free radicals, and inhibit inflammation. These findings paint Lion’s Mane as a promising agent to help with neuroprotection, which may reduce ischemic brain damage.

Potential Side Effects

While there are no human studies that have examined the side effects of Lion’s Mane mushrooms or extracts, they are available for sale in their natural form at many grocery stores for cooking or health food retailers in dietary supplement form. If you’re sensitive or allergic to other mushrooms, you should avoid Lion’s Mane, as there have been documented cases of breathing difficulty and skin rashes after exposure to the product — both of which are likely related to an allergic reaction.

In a 2016 animal study using rats to evaluate the potentially toxic effects of the extract when orally administered, researchers concluded that “ that oral administration of HEAE is safe up to 1000mg/kg and H. erinaceus consumption is relatively non-toxic.”

Lion’s Mane Benefits — Final Thoughts

Hgh-quality clinical studies to investigate how Lion’s Mane mushrooms, Hericium erinaceus extracts, or isolated compounds such as erinacine A may affect the human brain are still needed, but the published results from limited animal studies and in vitro experiments are very promising. As with any changes to your diet or wellness regimen, it’s always a good idea to seek advice from a licensed medical provider. But for aging patients whose brains struggle to maintain or form new connections, the future may one day become much better thanks to the natural ingredients contained in this fascinating fungi.