We love white button mushrooms as much as the next person, but when it comes to mushrooms that do far more than tantalizing your taste buds in your favorite recipes, lion's mane mushrooms are right at the top of the list.
But what exactly are these exotic-sounding fungi all about? Read on to get the answers to your lion's mane questions as we discuss the origins of these ancient mushrooms, how to use them, and the many health benefits they can offer you.
What Is Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
Also known as monkey head mushroom, hedgehog mushroom, bearded tooth fungus, yamabushitake, and Hericium erinaceus in scientific parlance, lion's mane mushroom is a large, white mushroom with long, shaggy spindles that looks like—you guessed it—a lion’s mane. It also slightly resembles a fluffy sea anemone or an ivory-colored "Cousin Itt" from the Addams family.
Native to areas of North America, Europe, and Asia (where it has long been prized in traditional Chinese medicine), lion's mane is both an edible mushroom and a medicinal mushroom since you can eat it as food as well as use it for certain therapeutic functions.
What Are The Benefits of Lion's Mane
When it comes to lion's mane questions, chances are you most want to know about its potential health benefits. As it turns out, there are quite a few. Below are some of the benefits that scientific research supports.
1. Brain Health
This is your brain: 🧠 (Not bad)
This is your brain on lion's mane: 🦁🧠...💡!
OK, so that's oversimplifying things, but lion's mane is linked to helping the brain in more ways than one. From improved memory to better mental clarity to protecting the brain, it's newest nickname might be "brain mushroom."
Part of the reason is because lion's mane has two specific compounds that can stimulate brain cell growth: hericenones and erinacines. (1)
Multiple studies show lion's mane offers neuroprotective properties that prevent memory loss in mice with Alzheimer's disease. (2, 3, 4) What’s more, it also improved symptoms for older adults with mildly impaired cognitive function. (5)
In a 2017 medical journal compilation, researchers concluded that because of its anti-inﬂammatory properties and promotion of nerve growth factor, "Hericium erinaceus mycelium shows great promise for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases." (6)
2. Reduces Inflammation
Like all mushrooms, lion's mane is loaded with complex sugars (aka polysaccharides) known as beta-glucans. Studies have shown that these compounds are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory effects. (7)
And since chronic inflammation is thought to be at the root of many illnesses including autoimmune disorders, cancer, and heart disease (8), consuming lion's mane mushroom may prevent such conditions.
One study testing several different culinary-medicinal mushrooms found that lion’s mane had particularly high antioxidant activity, concluding that "culinary-medicinal mushrooms can be considered as [a] potential source of dietary antioxidant and ACE inhibitory agents." (9)
3. Helps Immune System
Given that lion's mane is packed with antioxidants that help reduce and prevent inflammation and oxidative stress, it stands to reason that this mushroom can also help your immune system. One study found that lion's mane extract increased the lifespan of salmonella-infected mice by activating the immune cells. (10)
3. Mood Booster
Lion's mane mushroom is linked to improving mood by reducing mild anxiety and depression. A four-week study found that women who ate cookies made with lion's mane reported reduced anxiety and depression. (11) Another study further supported the link between lion’s mane mushroom extract's beneficial effects on anxiety and depression in mice. (12, 13 )
4. Healthy Nervous System
In a 2018 study, results indicated that "hericium erinaceus mycelia enriched with its active compounds can promote functional recovery and enhance nerve regeneration in rats with neuropathic pain or presbycusis." While more research is needed, this is very promising news to help people with nervous system damage. (16)
5. Protects the Gut
Studies show that because of lion's mane anti-inflammatory capabilities, it also may help regulate "intestinal mucosal immune activity" (17) and can also help relieve inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and regulate gut microbiota. (18)
6. Heart Health
Studies have shown that lion’s mane mushroom extract—particularly the hericenone compound—can lower triglyceride levels (19), slow down blood clotting, and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. (20)
7. Regulates Blood Sugar Levels
A 2018 study suggests that fermented hericium erinaceus juice can manage blood glucose levels and may help manage diabetes along with medication. (21) These findings support a previous 28-study from 2013 that found lion's mane had an antioxidant effect and reduced blood sugar and cholesterol levels in rats. (22)
8. Can Fight Cancer
Along with helping your overall immune system, some studies suggest that yamabushitake could actually kill cancer cells including leukemia and stomach cancer. (23, 24) Another study found that lion's mane extract inhibits the spread of lung cancer cells in mice (25). There is growing interest in lion's mane and medicinal mushrooms in general as a natural source for future cancer therapy. (26)
Best Way To Consume Lion's Mane
Now that you know more about the many health benefits linked to lion's mane, your next question is probably related to how you should consume it.
There are many ways to enjoy lion's mane mushroom—you can cook it, dry it, or steep it to make tea. You can also take it as a nootropic. In other words, you can take lion's mane as a supplement in pill, capsule, liquid, or powder form as a natural way to boost your cognitive function.
However, not all dietary supplements are created equal. When buying lion's mane mushroom supplements, always read the label to avoid added fillers, grains, starches, or artificial ingredients.
A good place to start is FreshCap's 100% pure lion’s mane powder extract, which is made from whole mushroom fruiting bodies (not just mycelium). It's also certified organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, and paleo friendly.
The good thing about using a mushroom powder extract is its versatility. Rather than just swallowing a pill, you can add powder to smoothies, coffee, tea, or even to sauteed vegetables, soups, or other dishes. The flavor is so subtle you won't even notice it, yet you'll reap its powerful health benefits.
How Much Lion's Mane Mushroom Should I Take?
Because information on dosage is limited, the best way to determine how much to take is to consult your doctor. You can also look at the amounts used in scientific literature.
In some studies, yamabushitake dietary supplements were administered in 250 mg tablets (750 mg per day) for 16 weeks. (27) For powder extract, you can try 1 gram per day, or roughly one small loosely packed scoop.
Where Can I Find Lion's Mane Mushroom?
You can find lion's mane supplements in many online stores as well as in health food shops and grocery stores such as Whole Foods. Of course, do your research, read labels, and only buy from reputable brands that use natural, whole ingredients and no fillers.
Keep in mind that just because a product is the most expensive doesn't mean it's the highest quality. That said, don't expect to get high-quality, pure lion's mane extract for five bucks. If it sounds too good (or cheap) to be true, it probably is.
What Are the Side Effects of Lion's Mane?
Although generally regarded as safe, you should certainly talk to your physician before taking lion’s mane if you have a medical condition, are pregnant, nursing, or have asthma. While rare, there have been some documented adverse allergic reactions including difficulty breathing or skin rash.
Your Lion's Mane Questions... Answered?
We trust you've learned what you need to know to make an informed decision about adding lion's mane mushroom to your diet. This fantastic fungi has rightfully earned its title as a superfood.
Now that you’re armed with detailed information and guidance on what it does and how to shop for it, you’re well on your way to enjoying its many health benefits.