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More Than a Mushroom: Benefits of Lion’s Mane

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Mushrooms are having more than a moment. As we continue to discover their many impressive benefits—from improving mood in people with depression to fortifying our immune systems—studies show one mushroom is especially meaningful for the gut–brain axis. Lion’s mane (Hericium Erinaceus) supports healthy nerve growth and inflammatory responses in the brain, immune system, and digestive tract.

Lion’s mane may boost brain and cognitive function by targeting nerve growth factor, which regulates the development, proliferation, and survival of specific neurons. To maintain a healthy microbiome, the gut needs fibrous prebiotics, soluble fibers called beta-glucan, and antimicrobials. Lion’s Mane contains all of these important compounds.

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms for Everyday Eating

Plate of pasta with mushroom bolognese sauce

Lion’s Mane mushrooms can be easily incorporated into your daily diet through food and supplementation. A light-colored, funky-looking fungi, the mushroom gets its name from the shaggy, dangly threads that cover its exterior. Folklore points to its comical appearance, with monikers like “monkey head,” “bearded tooth,” and “hedgehog.”

There’s no need to forage for a daily dose of healthy fungi. Lion’s mane mushroom powder (and other powdered mushrooms) is cropping up in dietary supplements, food, and beverages. You’ll find mushroom coffees, mushroom hot cocoa, and mushroom spice blends to sprinkle on foods and beverages.

In the kitchen, Lion’s mane mushrooms’ versatility really shines through. Its subtle taste is slightly earthy and seafood-like, with a sweetness similar to crab and lobster. The mushroom’s flesh can easily be shredded for vegetarian crab cakes or cubed and tossed in pasta, salads, stews, and soups. Lion’s mane can also be sauteed or fried until crispy (see prep tips below).

Brain Health, Heart Health, Immune Health

Lion’s mane mushrooms contain vital nutrients, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, manganese, zinc, and potassium. These compounds have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties and play a role in the health of your brain, gut, and heart1Friedman M. Chemistry, nutrition, and health-promoting properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s mane) mushroom fruiting bodies and mycelia and their bioactive compounds. J Agric Food Chem. 2015;63(32):7108-7123. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02914 by supporting:

  • A 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 
  • Reduced gut and brain inflammation
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More Mushrooms for a Healthy Gut

Cup of black mushroom coffee

Danny Walsh knows firsthand the healing power of mushrooms. Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), he decided against conventional treatment. With the help of his medical team, Danny explored the gastrointestinal benefits of anti-inflammatory foods, including mushrooms. His gut health transformation was so profound that he fully immersed himself in discovering the full spectrum of mushrooms’ therapeutic benefits.

Though he could have given up coffee to ease his UC symptoms, Danny experimented with a low-acid brew (better for his gut) infused with a concentrated powder of Lion’s mane, cordyceps, and reishi. With his health restored, he turned his culinary tinkering into an award-winning mushroom coffee company called Peak State.

Lion’s Mane and Brain Function

Lion’s mane is a nootropic, meaning it contains compounds that assist in cognitive health and function. Two specific components—hericenones and erinacines—support nerve and brain health.2Martínez-Mármol R, Chai Y, Conroy JN, et al. Hericerin derivatives activates a pan-neurotrophic pathway in central hippocampal neurons converging to ERK1/2 signaling enhancing spatial memory. J Neurochem. 2023;165(6):791-808. https://doi.org/10.1111/jnc.15767 Hericenones are typically found in the head of the mushroom, while erinacines are located in the mycelia, the thread-like roots.

Human studies on the bioactive compounds in Lion’s mane show promising results: 

Wiring of brain image in hands symbolizes cognitive health
  • Evidence suggests these compounds support the formation of neurons in the hippocampus,3Chong PS, Fung ML, Wong KH, Lim LW. Therapeutic potential of Hericium erinaceus for depressive disorder. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;21(1):163. Published 2019 Dec 25. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21010163 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 alleviated symptoms of depression, anxiety, frustration, and heart palpitations.4Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomed Res. 2010;31(4):231-237. https://doi.org/10.2220/biomedres.31.231
  • 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.5Vigna L, Morelli F, Agnelli GM, et al. Hericium erinaceus improves mood and sleep disorders in patients affected by overweight or obesity: could circulating Pro-BDNF and BDNF be potential biomarkers?. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019;2019:7861297. Published 2019 Apr 18. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7861297
  • For people experiencing brain trauma, compounds in the mushrooms may play a role in reducing functional losses from oxidative stress6D’Amico R, Trovato Salinaro A, Fusco R, et al. Hericium erinaceus and Coriolus versicolor modulate molecular and biochemical changes after traumatic brain injury. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021;10(6):898. Published 2021 Jun 2. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox10060898 that can lead to the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

Mushrooms and Mental Health

A study from Penn State College of Medicine7Ba DM, Gao X, Al-Shaar L, et al. Mushroom intake and depression: A population-based study using data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2005-2016. J Affect Disord. 2021;294:686-692. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2021.07.080 suggests that eating any kind of edible mushroom may also benefit a person’s mental health, in part due to certain nutrients abundant in mushrooms.

Researchers collected diet and mental health data from more than 24,000 U.S. adults for an 11-year span. They found that people who ate mushrooms had a lower risk for depression. Mushrooms are rich in ergothioneine, an antioxidant that may protect against cell and tissue damage in the body. Antioxidants like ergothioneine may help prevent mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression and lower the risk of oxidative stress, which could reduce depression symptoms. Oyster mushrooms contain the highest levels of ergothioneine.

Three Ways to Add Lion’s Mane to Your Diet 

Low in calories but high in protein, Lion’s mane mushrooms’ meaty texture makes it a perfect vegetarian stand-in. Get creative with your culinary combos!

  1. Substitute the seafood in your favorite crab cake recipe with Lion’s mane.
  2. Robust coffee and earthy mushrooms make a delicious hot beverage. Start your day by adding powdered Lion’s mane to your morning brew. Try Peak State’s recommendations for brewing a perfect cup.
  3. Replace half the ground meat in bolognese sauce with finely diced mushrooms. You’ll get the same savory umami flavor, with less saturated fat and added nutrition.

Brands mentioned in this article are not endorsed by the Institute for Natural Medicine and are included only for educational purposes. 

Footnotes

  • 1
    Friedman M. Chemistry, nutrition, and health-promoting properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s mane) mushroom fruiting bodies and mycelia and their bioactive compounds. J Agric Food Chem. 2015;63(32):7108-7123. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02914
  • 2
    Martínez-Mármol R, Chai Y, Conroy JN, et al. Hericerin derivatives activates a pan-neurotrophic pathway in central hippocampal neurons converging to ERK1/2 signaling enhancing spatial memory. J Neurochem. 2023;165(6):791-808. https://doi.org/10.1111/jnc.15767
  • 3
    Chong PS, Fung ML, Wong KH, Lim LW. Therapeutic potential of Hericium erinaceus for depressive disorder. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;21(1):163. Published 2019 Dec 25. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21010163
  • 4
    Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomed Res. 2010;31(4):231-237. https://doi.org/10.2220/biomedres.31.231
  • 5
    Vigna L, Morelli F, Agnelli GM, et al. Hericium erinaceus improves mood and sleep disorders in patients affected by overweight or obesity: could circulating Pro-BDNF and BDNF be potential biomarkers?. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019;2019:7861297. Published 2019 Apr 18. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7861297
  • 6
    D’Amico R, Trovato Salinaro A, Fusco R, et al. Hericium erinaceus and Coriolus versicolor modulate molecular and biochemical changes after traumatic brain injury. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021;10(6):898. Published 2021 Jun 2. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox10060898
  • 7
    Ba DM, Gao X, Al-Shaar L, et al. Mushroom intake and depression: A population-based study using data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2005-2016. J Affect Disord. 2021;294:686-692. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2021.07.080

This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of natural 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 evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

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