Lion’s Mane supplements have gained serious exposure in recent years thanks to advancing research regarding its potential medicinal effects. In fact, supplements like lion's mane coffee and capsules are holding a prominent corner in the wellness market. But what is Lion’s Mane exactly?
You may already know that it’s being touted as a powerful nootropic, meaning it could boost brain performance, but there’s even more that you need to know about why it’s used and how to take Lion’s Mane before you try it for yourself. Let’s jump in:Table of Contents
The Lion's Mane mushroom, scientifically known as Hericium erinaceus,is a medicinal mushroom thought for centuries to improve cognitive performance and energy. This delicate mushroom gets its name from it's white, full, hair-like appearance, which is easy to spot growing on hardwood trees in late summer and fall.
The Lion's Mane mushroom is edible on its own and can be found in some "exotic" cuisine, but it's more often found in supplement form because the raw mushroom has a short shelf life. There are various preparations available, and wellness experts often disagree about which is the most effective way to take Lion’s Mane.
While ancient medicine pinned it as a brain boosting mushroom based mostly on anecdotal evidence, modern research has shed even more light on Lion's Mane's potential benefits and uses. To sum it up, Lion’s mane may have powerful benefits for supporting the brain and cognitive performance, balancing mood, and improving immunity.
Here are the details:
Most often, Lion’s Mane mushroom is linked to potentially enhanced cognitive performance, mood support, and various immune boosting functions, but the mushroom may have even greater potential. Before we jump into the research available to support the potential benefits of Lion’s Mane mushroom supplementation, we want to discuss two of the important biological properties of the mushroom that may be beneficial to human health:
Fungi like Lion’s Mane are composed mostly of polysaccharides, or complex carbohydrates. In fact, Lion’s Mane is estimated to be composed of about 60-70% polysaccharides. These polysaccharides are present in two different varieties–alpha-glucans and beta-glucans.
Alpha-glucans provide sustainable energy to the body, while beta-glucans are the more bioactive compound that may be responsible for many of the health benefits associated with the mushroom. Lion’s Mane contains at least 35 completely unique beta-glucans which is why it may be responsible for such a wide range of health benefits.
Lion’s Mane also contains many different terpenoids, a modified classification of terpenes. These are lipids that are often associated with the fragrance of many plants, but they also carry unique benefits of their own.
Now, let’s take a look at the supporting research to help us understand how these beneficial compounds may impact our health:
In general, the Lion’s Mane mushroom research dates back decades, but research efforts have recently increased thanks to it’s newfound popularity as a nootropic supplement. There’s a general mix of human and animal trials, but some research has only made it through in vitro (petri dish) studies.
It’s safe to expect more research to come, but here are some of the potential benefits we know about for now:
A 2012 study described Lion’s Mane’s antioxidant activity as “moderate to high.” The research evaluated 14 different types of medicinal mushrooms and found Lion’s Mane to have the fourth highest antioxidant activity.
What does that mean? Well, antioxidants may help fight free radicals in the body that cause inflammation. Inflammation may be a culprit of many different health conditions, including a number of different chronic conditions, like autoimmune diseases.
Some evidence suggests that Lion’s Mane’s potential antioxidant benefits may play another role–preventing and treating cancer.
One in vitro study found that lion’s mane extract could be useful in the treatment of leukemia, while another animal study found evidence that the mushroom may help fight different types of cancer cells, including many that cause gastric-related cancers.
These studies are limited and it’s unclear how they will translate to human applications, but many claims suggest that daily use of Lion’s Mane could work as a cancer preventative.
One animal study found that Lion’s Mane may boost the activity of gut bacteria that functions as part of the immune system. Another study suggests that it may even boost the growth of beneficial gut flora to increase immunity.
Many experts now agree that immunity begins in the gut and that the healthy bacteria within the digestive system plays a massive role in overall health.
Additionally, Lion’s Mane may have some general benefits for digestive health. A 2016 in vitro study found that lion’s mane may increase antibacterial activity in the gut that helps enhance digestion. A later study found that lion’s mane extract may help protect against stomach ulcers in mice, which helps support this antibacterial theory.
A 2015 study found that lion’s mane may help reduce anxiety and depression. When lion’s mane was given to mice, the subjects displayed fewer depressive behaviors and improved blood markers indicating a decrease in depression. Another 2018 study also supports these results, concluding that lion’s mane could potentially be useful for treating depressive disorders.
Human evidence is limited, but one small study evaluated the impact of these medicinal mushrooms on women with various health effects including sleep quality issues or menopausal symptoms. The research found that the group who ingested the mushroom experienced lower levels of anxiety than the women in the placebo group.
A 2017 study suggests that Lion’s Mane supplementation potentially increased object recognition and memory in mice. Further research has found that the medicinal mushrooms may even help prevent cognitive decline caused by neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s.
Human evidence is limited, but one older study did evaluate the benefits of the medicinal mushroom on cognitive performance in older adults. This research concluded that daily consumption of mushroom extract for 4 months improved cognitive performance in adults between 50 and 85 years of age compared to the placebo control group. The cognitive performance scores decreased after discontinuing the extract.
Some claims suggest that Lion's Mane can improve heart health, but there’s only one limited study to support this claim. Still, this animal trial found that Lion’s Mane extract improved heart health in mice by helping to lower cholesterol.
Some evidence suggests that Lion’s Mane mushroom may be able to help manage blood sugar levels, which could be useful in managing diabetes and related conditions.
One study found that regular doses of Lion’s Mane mushroom over 4 weeks helped to lower blood sugar levels in rats with diabetes.
Another 2015 study confirmed these effects when using Lion’s Mane regularly for a period of 6 weeks. The rat subjects in this study not only experienced lower blood sugar levels, but also boosted antioxidant activity and lower overall signs of nerve pain, a common symptom linked to diabetes.
In addition to the potential benefits of Lion’s Mane for nervous system damage caused by diabetes, some evidence shows that the mushroom may have some overall benefits for nervous system health.
One study found that Lion’s Mane extract may encourage the growth of new nerve cells and may stimulate faster healing within in the nervous system. Another study found that daily doses of Lion’s Mane extract resulted in faster nerve regeneration in rats with nerve damage compared to control subjects.
If you’re convinced that Lion’s Mane may have some benefits for you to take advantage of, the next step is learning how to use Lion’s Mane correctly. Here’s what you should know:
As with all wellness supplements, it’s important to consider the quality of the Lion’s Mane you choose. First and foremost, this means buying from a responsible manufacturer that provides lab testing for the final product batch. It’s always nice to know that you’re actually getting what you see on the product’s label.
The best time to take Lion's Mane is in the morning as part of your regular wellness routine. Some people may add Lion’s Mane in at different points in their day, but it’s important to take a dose daily for the most benefits.
Studies typically involve routine daily doses, and some have shown that the cognitive benefits of Lion’s Mane do not persist after stopping the daily doses.
In general, studies use Lion’s Mane doses ranging from 750 mg to 3,000 mg. The amount of Lion’s Mane you should take per day varies based on a number of factors, like whether you are taking other adaptogens with the Lion’s Mane or the particular reason you may be taking Lion’s Mane. You may want to start on the low end of that dosing threshold and increase until you reach the desired effects you’re after. Read "Lion's Mane Dosage" to learn more.
Earlier we mentioned the beneficial biological compounds (like beta-glucans and terpenoids) that are found in Lion’s Mane. It’s important to note that these compounds are available in different varieties and proportions in the different parts of the mushroom, which is why so many different formulations exist.
For instance, some formulas may include only mushroom powder made from the fruiting body, while others may also include portions of the mycelium, or the “root” of the mushroom.
Often, Lion’s Mane comes in powder form and may be mixed up as a beverage or taken in capsules. You can also cook and eat fresh Lion’s Mane, but it isn’t shelf stable for more than a few days, so it’s not the best choice for regular use.
Lion’s Mane research involves both human and animal trials in which the supplement is generally well tolerated. In fact, people eat the mushroom in many parts of the world and it’s consider a safe part of many traditional cuisines.
Of course, in supplement form, the doses of Lion’s Mane taken are much more concentrated. However, the mushroom was not found to produce any adverse effects in rodents, even when used in high doses. While no serious health effects have been identified, it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with Lion’s Mane may be different. If you experience any effects that are not pleasant, discontinue use.
In many cases, this could be linked to poor product quality and not the Lion’s mane itself. It’s also important to discuss changes to your wellness routine with your doctor, especially if you already take other medications.
Read "Lion's Mane Side Effects" to learn more.
Lion’s mane doesn’t have any overwhelming effects, rather it may help you generally feel more mentally balanced and less distracted. Many people describe the effects as a “mental buzz” that improves focus and overall cognitive performance.
No. Although some people describe the feeling as “elevating,” Lion’s Mane is not psychotropic and will not get you high. It may boost, not impair, cognitive function.
It can! Many people take Lion’s Mane with other energy-boosting supplements because it’s not known on it’s own to have any energy stimulating effects. However, it does contain complex carbohydrates that are a good source for sustained energy.
While some people notice the benefits of Lion’s Mane after the first use, others experience gradually increasing effects over the first two weeks of dosing. In general, Lion’s Mane may need to build up in the body before you experience the full benefits.
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