It is mind-bending to think about the gut and brain benefits of mushrooms. Many types of mushrooms are healthy for the body, but human and animal studies show one particular type — Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus)—has some unique properties. The health benefits of this particular mushroom help the gut and brain, which is critical to keeping the gut-brain axis functioning in top form.
Powdered mushrooms in dietary supplements, food, and beverages are gaining popularity. It’s easy to get a daily dose of these healthy fungi. You’ll find mushroom coffees, mushroom hot cocoa, mushroom spice blends, and packets to add to your foods and beverages.
Lion’s Mane supports brain and cognitive function by targeting nerve growth factor (NGF), which regulates specific neurons’ growth, maintenance, proliferation, and survival. The gut needs fibrous prebiotics, soluble fibers called beta-glucan, and antimicrobials to keep a healthy microbiome balance, and Lion’s Mane has all of these important compounds to support healthy nerve growth and inflammatory responses for the brain, immune and gastrointestinal systems – three components of the gut-brain axis.
The health benefits of mushrooms are pretty remarkable and can be easily applied to your daily life in the kitchen, with your food choices, and through dietary supplementation. The Lion’s Mane mushroom, a creamy, funky-looking fungi, gets its name from shaggy, dangly threads that cover the outside. Folklore points to its comical appearance, including monkey head, bearded tooth, and hedgehog.
In the kitchen, Lion’s Mane is very versatile. The subtle taste is slightly earthy and seafood-like, with a sweetness similar to crab and lobster. The teeth-like structure of the flesh allows them to be easily shredded and used for vegetarian crab cakes or tossed in pasta, salads, stews, and soups. They can also be sauteed or fried until crispy (see recipe ideas below).
Danny Walsh is a real-life example of the power of mushrooms. He had ulcerative colitis (UC) and did not want to follow a conventional treatment path. With the help of his medical team, Walsh explored the benefits of a singular strategy of consuming anti-inflammatory foods, including mushrooms. Walsh’s gut health transformation was so profound that he delved into the science of mushrooms and how to get more health benefits from their bioactive ingredients.
Though he could have given up on coffee because of his UC, Walsh experimented by infusing a low-acid coffee (better for his gut) with substantial levels of mushroom powder, including Lion’s Mane, cordyceps, reishi, and others. With his health restored, he turned his culinary tinkering into an award-winning coffee-mushroom company called Peak State.
Nutrient and Health Resume
These bearded-like mushrooms contain potent nutrients vital to health, including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and the essential minerals manganese, zinc, and potassium. As mentioned, these compounds, along with others, play a role in the health of your brain, gut, and heart because of their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. Benefits include supporting:
- Strong immune system response
- Healthy blood pressure regulation
- Normal blood sugar management
- Reduction of oxidative stress for healthy aging
- Healthy kidney, gut, and liver function
- Enhancement of nerve/neurotransmitter functioning
- Reduction of inflammation in the gut and brain
Brain Health Compounds in Lion’s Mane
Lion’s Mane is a nootropic, meaning it contains compounds that assist in brain health and function. The mushroom contains two specific compounds—hericenones and erinacines that support nerve and brain health. Hericenones are typically found in the fruiting bodies—the head of the mushroom, while erinacines are located in the mycelia—the thread-like roots of the mushroom.
Human clinical trials using the bioactive compounds in Lion’s Mane show promising results:
- Human and animal studies show how these compounds support the formation of neurons in the hippocampus, which may help maintain healthy moods and limit the damaging cognitive effects of depression.
- In a study of menopausal women, consuming cookies containing powder from the mushroom’s fruiting bodies powder alleviated the symptoms of depression, anxiety, frustration, and heart palpitations.
- Another study reported that supplements containing 80% mycelium extract and 20% fruiting body from Lion’s Mane significantly improved feelings of depression and anxiety and enhanced sleep after 8-weeks of use.
- For people experiencing brain trauma, compounds in the mushrooms may play a role in reducing functional losses from oxidative stress responses that can lead to the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.
3 Ways to Add Lion’s Mane to Your Daily Diet
Low in calories but high in protein, they have the duo-benefits of being a vegetable that can behave like a meat or seafood protein in recipes. The following are recipes and ideas to spark your culinary creativity and eat more mushrooms.
- Substitute your favorite crab cake recipe with Lion’s Mane mushroom. Shred the same volume of mushrooms to replace the seafood, add the standard binders and spices and saute in a pan. One supplier of fresh and dried mushrooms says mushroom-crab cakes are the most popular way their customers use Lion’s Mane.
- Coffee and Lion’s Mane mushrooms are meant for each other. Robust coffee and earthy mushrooms make a delicious hot beverage. Start your day by adding powdered mushrooms to your morning brew or see Peak State’s recommendations for brewing here.
- If you are as crazy about mushrooms as I am, look at this video series from Epicurious about all the types of mushrooms. These videos don’t tackle every type (14,000) but break it down into the most common, specialty, and rare mushrooms on buying, storing, and cooking.
Brands mentioned in this article are not endorsed by the Institute for Natural Medicine and are included for educational purposes.
This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
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