Mushrooms have been widely reputed for their health benefits, and lion’s mane mushrooms are no exception. Known as Hericium erinaceus, lion’s mane mushrooms are native to Europe, Asia, and North America, and are part of the tooth fungus group.
Named for its appearance of long, hair-like spines, lion’s mane is a common ingredient in Chinese medicine thanks to its anti-inflammatory and immune boosting benefits. (source)
Nutritional Components of Lion’s Mane
Lion’s mane mushrooms have a unique taste, something similar to seafood, and a traditionally spongy texture. They can be eaten raw, dried, cooked, or powdered, and can even be made into tea.
No studies have been done on humans specifically examining how lion’s mane interacts in the body or with other substances, but there are no strong warning signs either. However, if you are allergic to other mushrooms, avoiding lion’s mane is also a good idea.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are nutritionally dense, containing 32 different bioactive components and nutrients, and is especially rich in the following:
10 Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s mane mushrooms have numerous health benefits. The following are the most common.
Protects the Brain & Defends Against Dementia
Lion’s mane mushrooms contain compounds that stimulate the growth of new brain cells. As aging naturally occurs, some brain cells fail to regenerate, but in dementia, too many brain cells die without new cells replacing them.
Animal studies show important benefits from lion’s mane of being able to reduce memory loss and prevent neurological damage, leading to reduced risk of both Alzheimer’s and dementia. (source)
Apart from dementia and Alzheimer’s, lion’s mane can also boost general cognitive function, helping to offset brain impairment that is sometimes a part of aging.
Promotes Mental Health & Relieves Anxiety, Depression
More than 30 percent of adults experience depression, anxiety, or both. Many factors can lead to these, but underlying levels of inflammation can often contribute.
Lion’s mane has potent anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown in studies to relieve mild symptoms of depression and anxiety by helping improve the way the hippocampus functions, the area of the brain that is associated with emotions.
Research shows that consuming lion’s mane can reduce feelings of irritation, anxiety, and other mood disturbances. (source)
Lion’s mane is such a potent brain booster that it has also been shown to help the brain recover from stroke and neurological injury, like brain trauma.
Protects the Digestive System & Boosts Gut Health
The digestive system includes the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine, but numerous other organs are involved in healthy digestion. Because of the complex interplay between the digestive process, complications can come into play.
One major problem associated with digestion are ulcers, which can occur in the stomach or small intestine and can be very painful.
Research on lion’s mane mushrooms show that they can protect against ulcers and even help address existing ones by reducing inflammation and providing protective polysaccharides, which change the way the gastrointestinal lining responds to the bacteria that causes ulcers.
Lion’s mane can also help address gastritis and acid reflux, as well as large intestine complications like inflammatory bowel disease.
Because it can significantly reduce inflammation, it can protect the entire lining of the digestive tract and can even have healthy benefits for conditions like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Research shows that taking lion’s mane extract can reduce symptoms of IBD, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease in as little as three weeks. (source)
Not only can lion’s mane protect digestive health and improve the intestinal lining, but it’s also helpful for reversing and healing leaky gut.
The intestinal wall has a complex system of gateways to prevent unauthorized particles from entering the bloodstream, but when this gateway breaks down, toxins, chemicals, and undigested food particles enter the bloodstream and lead to inflammatory and immune issues.
Lion’s mane supports a healthy mucosal lining of the gut and maintains a healthy gateway and barrier function in the gut.
Protects Cardiovascular Health & Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
The cardiovascular system is sensitive to a number of factors, including blood pressure, triglyceride levels, the presence of oxidized cholesterol, and the thickness of the blood.
Lion’s mane can naturally help to lower triglyceride levels in the blood. It can also help lead to weight loss, which can also reduce triglyceride levels.
Cholesterol in and of itself isn’t bad, but when LDL cholesterol becomes oxidized, it can lead to the hardening of arteries and the risk of heart disease. Research done in test tubes shows that lion’s mane can prevent cholesterol from becoming oxidized. (source)
When blood becomes too thick or clots inappropriately, the risk can be thrombosis or stroke. Lion’s mane mushrooms contain a compound which helps promote normal blood clotting and reduces the risk of thick blood, decreasing the risk for heart attacks and stroke. (source)
Decreases the Risk for Certain Kinds of Cancer & May Help Fight Cancer in the Body
Cancer is a terrifying word that most people associate with a nefarious disease. However, cancer itself occurs when normal cells in the body begin replicating incorrectly.
Cancer cells have the ability, because they’re damaged, to divide and replicate uncontrollably, which is why the diseased cells can overwhelm the healthy ones.
Promising research suggests that lion’s mane mushrooms can fight cancer by inducing death in cancer cells, specifically in liver, stomach, and colon cancer as well as leukemia. (source)
Not every study shows these results, and more research needs done to understand the potential benefits and underlying mechanisms.
Lion’s mane can also slow the replication of cancer cells, slowing progression of the disease, especially when it comes to metastasis. (source)
It can slow or reverse the spread of cancer in certain types, including:
- Cervical cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Colon cancer
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Breast cancer
While lion’s mane doesn’t yet replace traditional cancer treatment, it can treat it side-by-side, and has very little side effects. More research is needed to determine how to use lion’s mane for cancer prevention and treatment.
Naturally Manages Diabetes & Blood Sugar Issues
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin, a hormone responsible for helping the body take glucose into the cells. When the body doesn’t respond to insulin, blood sugar levels remain higher, leading to a number of problems.
When blood sugars remain high for too long, brain, eye, kidney, and nerve problems can occur, as well as weight disorders.
Research in animals shows that lion’s mane can improve blood sugar control and reduce some of the worst complications of diabetes. It helps block an enzyme that breaks down carbs, reducing the glycemic load of higher carb meals and lowering blood glucose levels.
Lion’s mane can also help to reduce serious complications of diabetes, like diabetic neuropathy, where numbness and tingling pain occurs in the hands and feet. It can also improve the body’s response to insulin in as little as 28 days.
Protects the Body from Inflammation & Reduces Oxidative Damage
Inflammation is meant to be a healthy type of response, providing the ability for the body to heal. But when inflammation continues unchecked, it can lead to a host of problems, including heart disease, autoimmunity, cancer, and other chronic disorders.
Lion’s mane mushrooms can help to reduce the inflammatory and oxidative processes because they act as potent antioxidants within the body.
Animal research has found that it can reduce inflammatory markers in the body, and is especially good for reducing the symptoms of IBD, liver problems, and even stroke.
When the body carries excessive fat, these cells can produce inflammation throughout the body that leads to disease processes.
Research shows that lion’s mane mushrooms can directly influence how inflammation is formed in response to fatty tissue. This effect might be able to help reduce metabolic syndrome, heart disease risk, stroke, and diabetes.
Lion’s mane also has potent antioxidant properties, which is how it fights free radicals in the body. Free radicals are what leads to oxidative damage in cells and tissues and can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, chemical exposures, environmental toxins, stress, and more.
Not only can lion’s mane improve the body’s response to inflammation, but it also promotes better wound healing both on the surface and internally. Research shows that liquid lion’s mane extract can promote better wound healing in animal studies. (source)
Antioxidant benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms also extend to other chronic health conditions and disorders. It can be beneficial for the following:
- Slowing signs of the aging process
- Protecting liver cells from damage
- Reducing the risk of osteoporosis
Improves Immune Function
Without a healthy immune system, the body is unable to properly fight off the infections and bacteria that we come in contact with every single day. Lion’s mane can boost immune function by making it more sensitive to invaders.
Research in animals shows that lion’s mane mushrooms can increase immunity by sensitizing the immune system to the presence of invaders. This allows the immune system to more quickly respond to pathogens that enter the body and need destroyed.
The positive effects are partly because of how lion’s mane can influence the gut, as well as how it can decrease inflammatory processes in the body.
While most immune research has been done in animals, studies show that lion’s mane is so potent that it can more than quadruple the lifespan of a mouse that was injected with lethal doses of deadly bacteria. (source)
More research needs to be done to fully understand how lion’s made affects immunity in humans, but the results of studies so far are promising.
Boosts Sleep Quality
A good night’s sleep is essential for health, yet numerous factors conspire to disrupt sleep. Lion’s mane mushrooms can help boost sleep quality and even reduce mental health issues that can disturb sleep, too.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are rich in polysaccharides that help fight fatigue, promote normal circadian rhythms, and even prevent brain patterns that can result in risk factors for dementia.
Research also shows that lion’s mane can help to naturally decrease factors that rob the body of healthy sleep, like anxiety and depression.
Increases Natural Energy Levels & Metabolism
Lion’s mane and other mushrooms have the unique ability to boost natural energy levels without the jittery effects that are typical of caffeine. People even drink mushrooms that have been ground into powder as coffee, so similar are the energizing benefits and even the taste profile.
How does lion’s mane boost energy levels? The high levels of antioxidants fight oxidation in the body that are often a cause of fatigue and low energy levels at the cellular level.
Lion’s mane mushrooms can also decrease the levels of lactic acid in the blood, which is produced after physical exertion or exercise. By reducing this, it allows for a faster rebound after physical activity and can promote more stable energy levels.
It also helps the body better utilize glucose for energy fuel.
While many mushrooms have health benefits, lion’s mane has a unique set of health protecting qualities and nutritional support. Lion’s mane mushrooms can protect brain health, cardiovascular health, digestive function, and can fight chronic diseases and even cancer.
Thanks to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, lion’s mane mushrooms have significant health-promoting benefits and can even reduce the serious effects of diabetes and associated complications.
If you want to try lion’s mane mushrooms, be sure to check with your doctor before starting them. Never take them if you’re allergic to other mushrooms, and if you experience any side effects or signs of allergic reactions, discontinue immediately.
Research shows many promising benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms and it certainly warrants consideration as a potential superfood for total body health.
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.