From theoretical protection against heart disease and diabetes to boosting brain and immune health, lion’s mane mushrooms may have health benefits, though more research is needed.
Lion’s Mane Health Benefits
The fruity bodies of lion’s mane mushroom can be used for culinary purposes, but supplementing your wellness routine with the mushroom can have other benefits as well.
If you want to get into the mushroom trend, you can consider consuming lion’s mane. This large, white, shaggy mushroom has been part of the medicinal culture in East Asia for centuries, historically used both as food and medicine for a variety of health conditions.
The beneficial compounds are found in the lion’s mane fruiting bodies (the part that contains the spores) and the mycelium (the root-like structure). Fruiting bodies and mycelium contain many active ingredients. Namely, polysaccharides, erinacins, hericerins, steroids, alkaloids and lactones. These ingredients may explain the many possible health and wellness benefits of Lion’s Mane, which range from heart health to immune support.
However, it is important to note that although there is growing interest in lion’s mane for a variety of health conditions, human research is unfortunately very limited. Here are studies, mostly done in the lab, that might pique your interest and show some theoretical benefits of the mushroom. More human studies are needed to confirm these possible human health benefits, so keep that in mind.
Theoretical Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom, According to Lab Research
1. Improve Brain Function
Lion’s Mane mushroom contains hericenone and erinacin, two compounds that may stimulate brain cell growth in lab studies, according to previous research. In theory, this may have beneficial effects for people with brain conditions.
Previous research has investigated the effects of Lion’s Mane supplementation on brain function in a group of middle-aged and older adults who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Mild cognitive impairment is a stage between the normal cognitive decline that occurs with age and the more severe decline of dementia. The study found that adults who took four 250 milligram (mg) tablets of Lion’s Mane three times a day for 16 weeks showed a significant increase in cognitive function compared to those who did not. . However, these benefits did not continue after stopping supplementation.
A more recent study, published June 2020 in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, found that taking three Lion’s Mane 350 mg capsules daily for 49 weeks may have helped lead to significant improvements in brain health in people with mild Alzheimer’s disease. However, further research is needed.
2. Support Digestive Health
The properties of Lion’s Mane have been shown to support the digestive system. In particular, lion’s mane can help prevent ulcers by stopping the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that can have negative effects on the intestinal wall. The authors of a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms gave lion’s mane extract to a group of mice with H. pylori. Those that were treated with lion’s mane had lower levels of H. pylori in their stomachs than mice that didn’t receive the extract.
A test-tube study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology also found that lion’s mane inhibited the growth of H. pylori. Although these results seem promising, research in humans is needed to confirm this beneficial effect.
Lion’s Mane may also protect the intestines against inflammation and inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. A study in patients with ulcerative colitis, published in March 2016 in PLoS One, found that those who took a supplement containing 14% lion’s mane extract reported improved symptoms and quality of life after three weeks. That said, in research published in July 2016 in PLoS One, the authors repeated this study with patients with Crohn’s disease, and both the treated group and the placebo group saw similar improvements.
3. Relieve depression and anxiety
Lion’s Mane decreases inflammation, which can help relieve depression and anxiety. A study, published in 2019 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in which overweight and obese patients with mood disorders were given lion’s mane supplements for eight weeks. Not only did these patients experience a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety, but they also reported improved sleep quality. Blood samples also showed an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (proBDNF), a protein that plays an important role in mood and brain health.
4. Boost Immune Health
Animal research suggests that lion’s mane can boost the immune system, helping to protect against bacteria, viruses, and other harmful substances. A past study found that daily lion’s mane supplements extended the lifespan of mice injected with a high dose of salmonella by almost 4 times, compared to mice that were not given the supplements.
A study published in February 2017 in Food & Function found that lion’s mane mushroom stimulated gut immune system activity in mice. The intestinal immune system works to protect the body from harmful substances that find their way to the intestine via the mouth or nose. As the authors of a study published in June 2017 in Frontiers in Immunology explain, these effects may be partly due to beneficial changes in gut bacteria that activate the immune system. However, most research has been conducted on animals so far; human studies will hopefully show how lion’s mane might help the immune system.
5. Prevent Cancer
Lion’s Mane has several unique compounds that may help fight cancer. According to a study published in August 2020 in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, the polysaccharide HEFP-2b, a lion’s mane compound, slowed the growth of colon cancer cells in a test tube. Another test-tube study, published in May 2020 in the Food and Function Journal, demonstrated that the peptides found in lion’s mane may help treat lung cancer. Researchers have found that these peptides have the ability to capture free radicals (harmful substances linked to cancer) and trigger lung cancer cell death. But while these results are promising, the anti-cancer effects of lion’s mane have only been studied in test tubes and on animals. Human studies are needed.
6. Manage Diabetes
Lion’s Mane may improve blood sugar control and symptoms such as nerve pain, making it a potentially useful tool for diabetes management. For example, a test-tube study published in November 2020 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that several compounds in lion’s mane inhibited alpha-glucosidase activity. In this way, Lion’s Mane may work similarly to alpha-glucosidase (AGI) inhibitors, a group of anti-diabetic drugs used to manage type 2 diabetes. AGIs limit the absorption of carbohydrates in the small intestine, which helps reduce the rise in blood sugar after a meal, according to an article in StatPearls in July 2022.
What’s more, a study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that feeding diabetic rats 40 mg of lion’s mane per kilogram of body weight significantly increased their pain threshold after six weeks of treatment. These results suggest that Lion’s Mane may relieve diabetic neuropathy, a type of diabetic nerve damage that can cause pain and numbness in the legs and feet.
However, people with diabetes who take medication to control their blood sugar levels should be careful with lion’s mane. Lion’s Mane can interact with diabetes treatments and cause blood sugar levels to drop too low.
Also, most diabetes research has been done on animals and in test tubes so far. Further human studies may show whether lion’s mane can help fight diabetes.
7. Reduce the risk of heart disease
Research suggests that lion’s mane may reduce the risk of heart disease, primarily through its effects on cholesterol. For example, a test-tube study published in BioMed Research International found that lion’s mane extract may help prevent oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream, which benefits overall heart health.
Meanwhile, previous research has evaluated the cholesterol-lowering effects of Lion’s Mane. The researchers gave lion’s mane to obese rats once a day for two weeks. At the end of the study, these rats had significantly lower levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (also called “bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) than the rats. rats that had not been given a lion’s mane.
Despite these findings, keep in mind that using Lion’s Mane to prevent or treat heart disease is not supported by human studies and the safety and side effects have not been studied either. There are safer and more effective ways to prevent heart disease through your diet, under the supervision of your primary care physician.