Lion´s mane is a wellknown edible and medicinal mushroom found throughout the world that commonly colonizes both living and dead broadleaf trees. Its fruiting bodies, meaning the mushroom heads, and fungal mycelia, meaning the root-like structures, exhibit various pharmacological activities, including the enhancement of the immune system as well as anti-tumor, hypoglycemic, and anti-aging properties.
Lion’s Mane is also known as Hericium erinaceus in Latin, Yamabushitake (山伏茸) in Japanese, Monkey’s Head in China.
The mushroom looks like a clump of a lion’s mane, or someone’s beard hair- except the individual threads or spines are thicker than a strand of hair. Also, the mushroom is a pearly white color.
The whole mushroom, both Mycelium and the fruiting body, has many bioactive compounds that has a therapeutic action on the body. Lion’s Mane is found to benefit Alzheimer’s disease & dementia, regulation of the immune system, diabetes, wound healing, and many different types of cancer.
Scientific analysis has shown that the aromatic compounds hericenones and erinacines isolated from the fruiting body and mycelium promote nerve growth factor (NGF) synthesis in cultured astrocytes . These results highlight the usefulness of H. erinaceus for the treatment and prevention of dementia.
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What are the Active Chemicals in Lion’s Mane?
Some of the active constituent responsible for Lion’s Mane medicinal effects include polysaccharides like Beta-glucans, heteroglucans, heteroxylans, several cyanthane derivative triterpeens also known as hericenone and erinacine. Beta glucans are found naturally in the cell walls of cereals, bacteria and fungi.
But what makes Lion’s Mane mushroom so interesting is its potential as a cognitive enhancer.
For starters, Lion’s Mane has many properties that also match the actions of smart drugs:
Medical Effects & Properties of Lion’s Mane
- anti-cancer & anti-tumor
- clears brain fog
- increases energy
- reduces memory impairment
- increases long term memory
- Increases motivation
- Improves Wound healing
- Lowers Blood Glucose
- Increases vivid dreaming
In order to understand why Lion’s Mane has so many different properties, we need to understand how Lion’s Mane works. Let’s first investigate Lion’s Mane’s ability to increase Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the body.
Benefits of Lion’s Mane on Diabetes
Lion’s Mane has a substance called Hericenones that is responsible for stimulating Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the body. As the name suggests, NGF is responsible for the growth and survival of nerve cells, or neurons. NGF promotes the growth neurons in the brain, but NGF is also needed for many different biological processes.
For example, NGF is also involved with the regulation of the immune system and survival of pancreatic beta (β) cells. There is some evidence that Lion’s Mane may be useful for treating diabetes. The NGF in Lion’s Mane improves wound healing, and is also shown to help in the regeneration of insulin producing beta cells as well as the regeneration of nerves lost to peripheral neuropathy. What do these benefits mean?
Is it the NGF that improves wound healing? Or something else in Lion’s Mane?
It means that Lion’s Mane is reversing not only symptoms, but one of the causes for diabetes. Let me explain.
First, patients afflicted with diabetes experience delayed wound healing. That means that either the cells in the diabetic person is not regenerating fast enough to replace the dead cells, or that the diabetic person’s immune system is interfering with the healing process.
The delayed wound healing is a symptom of diabetes, because diabetes causes there to be chronic high levels of blood glucose in the human body. The chronically elevated blood sugar causes neuropathy.
Neuropathy is peripheral nerve cell death. For example, neuropathy in your hands & feet would mean that you loose your sense of touch or feeling in them. This is not uncommon in diabetic patients.
The chronically raised blood glucose levels in diabetic patients also leads to poor blood circulation, and proper blood circulation is needed for repairing damaged skin. That means that you’ll find that diabetic patients tend to have skin wounds that heal slowly.
But another question remains: What does Lion’s Mane do for the brain?
How Does Lion’s Mane Benefit the Brain?
There are multiple ways that Lion’s Mane functions to benefit the brain. For example, because Lion’s mane is an anti-inflammatory, it also reduces inflammation in the brain. Inflammation in the brain is harmful. For the occasional bout of brain inflammation, a person may experience a migraine, headache, or brain fog. But for chronic brain inflammatory conditions, like multiple sclerosis, a person may experience a loss of cognitive function overtime. So Lion’s Mane may help by reducing the inflammation in the brain.
Additionally, Lion’s Mane helps the brain by stimulating nerve cell growth, development, and repair. In this way, Lion’s Mane has a very similar functions to NGF and BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). The brain needs NGF and BDNF for maintaining a healthy number of neurons. Without NGF & BDNF, the number of neurons in the bran would decrease, and the brain would start showing symptoms that are very similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
Lion’s Mane also speeds up the growth of myelin sheaths on the axons of neurons. This is important for our neurons to function in the first place. Without myelin sheaths, not only would the action potentials or signals sent through a neuron’s axon slow down, but also loose signal before it is able to reach the next neuron
What Effects the Quality of Lion’s Mane?
In this section, I will cover the environmental conditions that affect the quality of the Lion’s Mane mushroom. The amount of therapeutic bioactive compound is dependent on the quality of the Lion’s Mane mushroom.
In order to find a high quality Lion’s Mane supplement, you have to consider in what conditions was the mushroom grown in, and on the flip side you can test different supplements by observing & comparing their affects on yourself.
Lion’s mane is white when it is young, and becomes yellowish & brownish the older it gets. The browning indicates that the quality of the mushroom has decreased.
The growth of the Lion’s Mane is sensitive to air circulation, light, temperature, humidity, and pH. Given that Lion’s Mane is a aerobic fungus, it is also sensitive to the concetration of CO2. When there is too much CO2 in the area where the Lion’s Mane is growing (exceeds 0.1%), then the lion’s mane will develop a deformity that makes it look like a coral reef. To contrast, Healthy Lion’s Mane has a smooth straight spines.
Also the medium in which the Lion’s Mane is grown can affect the bioactive compounds that it has. Just like the quality of a plant may depend on its soil, the quality of the medium (i.e. a tree log) may influence the quality of the Lion’s Mane.
The growing medium is also important to consider, given that the Lion’s Mane mushroom absorbs nutrients & minerals from the medium. The problem is that this mushroom also can collect hazardous heavy metals if they are inside the medium- like cadmium, lead, & radionuclides.
Where to Find Lion’s Mane Supplements