The health benefits of Lions Mane Mushroom are no joke.
Really, there aren’t too many incredible health claims from natural products that actually stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Everyday there is a new superfood or uber-supplement that is supposed to work miracles, and although a lot of these things are no doubt good for your health, they aren’t usually as miraculous as advertised.
That’s why it is so surprising to see that some of the claims around the health benefits of the Lions Mane mushroom, although quite incredible, are proving to be true.
It might not be surprising to everybody, though. This mushroom has long been thought to be able to improve mental capacity, mental clarity and focus, improve nerve function and to actually encourage nerve regeneration.
It has commonly been used as a nootropic, or “smart drug”, ingested by high performance individuals trying to get a mental edge. It has also been used by people suffering from age related memory loss and reduced mental capacity with anecdotal reports claiming the mushroom can effect a substantial improvement.
So what’s the deal with Lion’s Mane mushroom? Can it live up to the hype?
This article intends to investigate whether or not the reported effects of Lions Mane Mushroom are a real phenomenon, and if so, what the best way is to get some extra brain power in your life.
(skip down to the bottom of this article if you just want some suggestions for good supplements)
What is a Lions Mane Mushroom?
First of all, let me introduce the mushroom.
Lions Mane mushroom (scientific name Hericium eranacious) is a unique looking “toothed” fungus that naturally grows on dead or dying trees in temperate forests throughout the world. It is commonly found in North America, although it might be in your guidebook under a different name, such as the Bearded Tooth or the Japanese Yamabushitake.
If you are lucky enough to find it in the grocery store, it will likely be called a Pom-Pom.
The Lions Mane doesn’t resemble your typical stem and cap mushroom. Instead, the fruiting body looks more like a snowball, with long tooth like formations drooping down from the main body. These “teeth” act as the gills of the mushroom, and is what the mushroom uses to distribute its spores.
Lions Mane mushrooms are a common and popular choice for the home cultivator, and they are actively hunted by forest-trekking mushroom pickers. Yet, they are rarely, if at all, seen in grocery stores. And it isn’t because they aren’t tasty- in fact, the mushroom is a culinary delight adapting wonderfully to a multitude of dishes. Instead, the reason that they are often not seen in the produce section is likely due to a relatively short shelf life, and the fact that the fruit can easily bruise and become unsellable if handled too roughly.
When the intended use of the mushroom is strictly for the health benefits, the mushroom is typically consumed as a supplement in the form of a powder or pill. Dosage, frequency, and duration of supplementation can vary widely.
Health Benefits of Lions Mane
If you wanted to try and use Lions Mane Mushrooms to improve your overall health, you definitely wouldn’t be the first. These mushrooms have been used for hundreds of years, and have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine.
The not-so-short list of the reported potential health benefits of these mushrooms include the following:
Lions Mane has been shown to slow the rate of growth of cancer cells.
Reducing Blood Pressure
Known to have the ability to improve the levels of LDL and HDL in the blood.
Taken regularly, this mushroom has been shown to decrease reported levels of anxiety and depression.
Lions mane has been shown to protect and repair brain cells.
People supplementing with Lions Mane experience improved cognition and mental clarity.
The most interesting and promising items on this list are the potential to improve brain function and clarity, which is a pretty bold claim for a humble mushroom. Research is showing that the secret weapon for the Lions Mane seems to be its ability to induce the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).
NGF, which is naturally produced in the human brain, is involved in the maintenance, protection, and production of neurons- which are essentially the circuits in the computer that is your brain.
You can see why this stuff might be good for your brain, and why a lack of it would be bad.
There are not many things in the natural world that have ever been found to have the ability to stimulate production of NGF, which is what makes Lion’s Mane mushroom so interesting. By increasing NGF, the brain’s neurons are better protected, reducing naturally occurring cognitive decline due to aging.
Even more impressively, Lions Mane might actually be able to stimulate nerve generation, in which fresh neurons are produced and existing neural networks are made stronger. This could improve cognitive ability, even for people with healthy and functioning brains.
Here is a quick video of mushroom legend Paul Stamets talking about the potential benfits of this mushroom:
Evidence and Medical Research on Lions’s Mane
There have been plenty of scientific studies done which conclude that Lions Mane mushrooms may indeed stand up to its health claims.
One recent example is a 2009 double-blind placebo controlled study in Japan. They took two groups of 15 people, giving a placebo to one group, and 250mg of Lions Mane to the other. The study found that “At weeks 8, 12 and 16 of the trial, the Yamabushitake group [lion’s mane] showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group.”
It concluded that “The results obtained in this study suggest that Yamabushitake is effective in improving mild cognitive impairment.”
This is exciting stuff in the world of Alheimers research, and gives hope to potential improvements for cognitive disorders in general.
Although the results don’t sound that exciting to the laymen, in science-speak, the above results are pretty strong in favor of Lions Mane being a powerful tool to improve brain function.
Another more recent study conducted in 2011 tried to test the hypothesis that Lions Mane mushroom could quicken recovery from brain injuries. They study was done by purposefully damaging the brains of rats followed by administering an extract of fresh Lions Mane mushroom during the recovery. The point of the study was to “ investigate the possible use of this mushroom in the treatment of injured nerve.”
They found that neurons regenerated better in the Lions Mane group than in the control group and concluded that “Patients who receive H. erinaceus may experience a more expeditious improvement in the quality of life and a more complete functional recovery after injury.”
Scientific papers are usually pretty dry, but this is exciting stuff. It gives hope to potential improvements for people suffering from brain injuries and other cognitive disorders in general.
Aside from rigorous scientific studies, there are plenty of anecdotal reports that supplementing mushrooms can have a marked effect on brain power. It is widely considered a “nootropic”, also known as “smart-drug”. People take it to improve their concentration and ability to retain new information.
People who use this mushroom as a supplement don’t usually feel the effects right away. Lion’s Mane is a natural product, and the benefits seem to come on subtly over time. This makes sense when considering the mode of action is for Lions Mane to simulate Nerve Growth Factor. It takes time for the production and protection of nerve cells in the brain to have beneficial effects.
On the other hand, Tim Ferris, famous entrepreneur and author of the Four Hour Workweek, The Four Hour Chef and the Four Hour Body often talks about taking Lions Mane Mushroom in the form of an instant coffee. The coffee’s main selling point is that contains Lions Mane extract, although it also contains other medicinal mushrooms.
Tim claims that the coffee supercharges his focus, and gets his brain firing on all cylinders. This likely isn’t caused by much more than the caffeine and a healthy dose of the placebo effect, as Lion’s Mane itself shouldn’t be able to act that quickly.
That being said, it is possible that a combination of coffee and different mushrooms might have different effects.
Here is a quick video of Tim talking about the mushroom coffee: (skip to 57 seconds)
Lions Mane Mushroom Extracts
So how are Lions Mane mushrooms cultivated for extracts and supplements?
There are a couple different ways that Lions Mane mushrooms are cultivated for the purposes of supplementation. One method involves actually growing and harvesting the complete mushroom fruit body, while the other method involves only growing the mycelium on grain.
The difference between these two methods is huge, and has a enormous impact on the quality of the final product. Further, the validity of the health claims for supplements produced from mycelium-on-grain is questionable at best.
Mycelium On Grain
As mentioned above, “mycelium on grain” is a method of growing Lions Mane mushrooms for the purposes of supplementation without ever producing an actual mushroom fruitbody. Here, myceluium is grown out on grain, similar to the process of making grain spawn. This grain is then pulverized and sold as a Lions Mane supplement.
This is the common method in which “mushrooms” for the purpose of supplementation are grown in the United States, where it is simply not cost effective to do otherwise.
The problem is that most of the beneficial compounds (namely the beta-glucans in the case of Lions Mane) are contained in the mushroom itself, and are not found in significant quantity when produced from mycelium on grain. The end result is a supplement that is mostly grain starch, which cannot be compared to pure Lions Mane mushroom.
Some research shows that beta-glucans are indeed found in mycelium-on-grain products, but there is substantial evidence to prove this research is flawed. The presence of beta-glucans is actually just a false positive for alpha-glucans– a compound commonly found in grain starch.
This is a bit of a rabbit hole to dive into- and may be out of the scope of this article- but if you want a good explanation on the reasons why mycelium on grain products are inadequate for supplementation check out this article.
Growing the Fruitbody
This is what comes to mind for most people when they think of growing mushrooms. It involves actually growing the mushroom to completion and harvesting the entire fruitbody. This fruitbody is then used to produce an extract.
If done this way, the end supplement will contain all the beneficial compounds of the mushroom, which is the reason why people seek out a Lions Mane supplement in the first place.
There is no doubt though- it is much more expensive to produce mushroom supplements in this way. For this reason, the mushrooms are often grown overseas, where lower costs make it feasible.
However, you can still find supplements produced from mushrooms grown overseas that are certified organic and of the highest quality. The end result is a product that contains high levels of beta glucans and low levels of starch- far superior to supplements produced from mycelium-on-grain.
The bottom line when looking to buy Lions Mane supplements is to make sure you know what you are getting. You need to ensure that you are getting a full mushroom product that can live up to the claims, and not a bottle of grain starch.
Ways to Supplement With Lions Mane
At this point you might be interested in trying Lions Mane mushrooms out for yourself. Whatever your reason, it’s good to know that it is perfectly safe to consume, and Lions Mane mushroom side effects are not generally reported, except for the potential of an allergic reaction (which could be said about any food).
Of course, checking with your doctor or health professional is advised before starting any supplementation regime, especially if pregnant, nursing, or if you have any medical conditions.
There are a few different ways that you get the benefits of lions mane mushroom.
Wild Lions Mane Mushroom
Of course, you could always try your hand at foraging for this beautiful mushroom in the wild. Aside from being lucky, finding this mushroom in the wild will depend on your geographical location and the time of year that you’re hunting.
Check out a good mushroom foraging book to see it even grows in your area. In general, Lions Mane will grow in temperature regions of the northern hemisphere, most often found fruiting on dead or dying hardwood logs late in the fall.
Lions mane mushroom identification is relatively easy, although with any mushroom you find in the wild, you want to be 100% sure of what you have before you consider eating it.
You don’t really have to worry about lions mane mushroom look alikes, as the mushroom is the only one with dangling spines protruding from a single “ball” formation.
Also, although mushroom foraging can be great fun, it’s not really a dependable way to supplement with Lions Mane, especially if you want to try to see the effects of long term supplementation.
By Jim Champion, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11283568
Growing Lions Mane
A more surefire way to get a consistent supply of Lions Mane mushroom is to try and grow it yourself!
Lions Mane mushroom is relatively easy to grow, and can be grown at home using the methods and techniques found on this site. Lions Mane is best grown on supplemented sawdust fruiting blocks, and if you get your timing right, you shouldn’t have a problem having a constant supply. You can also dry them and powder them so that you can grow a bunch and save them for later.
A much less involved option is to grow them at home using a mushroom growing kit. These kits are about as easy as it gets for growing mushrooms at home. Usually, a Lions Mane kit consists of a fruiting block that has already been fully colonized and will arrive at your house ready to fruit. You simply need to slice some holes in the bag and place it in a reasonably humid environment.
Although it could get quite expensive over the long term, getting a kit is still a reasonable way to get fresh lions mane. Plus, it’s a ton of fun!
Lions Mane Mushroom Extracts
You could always try supplementing with lions mane using a pill or powder.
This is by far the easiest and most cost effective way of supplementing with Lions Mane. It is also the easiest way to control the dose. Also, the pills will last for a very long time, so you don’t have to worry about managing fresh mushrooms.
There are a number of different companies offering Lion’s Mane in pill or powdered form. Again, you want to be sure that you are purchasing from a reputable company, preferably selling organically grown mushrooms- either full spectrum or harvested as mycelium.
Pill form is extremely convenient, allowing you to take the mushroom just like any other vitamin. You can also get the mushroom as a powdered supplement, which is good if you want to try and add the mushroom to smoothies and shakes.
Fungi Perfecti Host Defense
In the world of mushroom cultivation, there is no bigger name than the legendary forager, grower, and overall entrepreneur Paul Stamets. He has offered volumes of knowledge and research to the field of mycology. It’s for that reason that Host Defense, his own personal line of medicinal mushroom supplements, is one of the most trusted and highly regarded brands available.
However, the problem with Host Defense Lions Mane supplement is that it is derived from the grain spawn rather than the full fruiting body of the mushroom. Yet, it still claims to include a “full spectrum” of beneficial compounds. Because of this cultivation method, the ingredients include “myceliated brown rice” with the rice acting as a growing medium for the mycelium.
Host Defense mycelium-on-grain is grown in the USA and is certified 100% organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. It is also verified non-GMO.
Each capsule contains 500mg of Lions Mane myclelium, and the package suggests taking 2 capsules per day. Again, the problem is that you don’t know how much lions mane you are actually getting. Since the ingredients are lions mane “mycelium” instead of the actual mushroom, you are likely getting a high starch product that is mostly filler.
You can get a bottle with 120 capsules, which should last you about 2 months if you follow the recommended dosage. This should be a reasonable time frame to see if supplementing with host defense lions mane is worthwhile for you.
Lions Mane Powder Supplement
If you want to try Lions Mane in a powder form, then a good choice is the Lions Mane Mushroom Extract Powder from Real Mushrooms.
Getting the supplement in powdered form can be convenient if you want to try and add Lions Mane to your diet using smoothies, shakes, or adding to coffee or tea. It is especially great if you already drink post work-out protein shakes, and want to add some brain boosting power to your recovery drink.
Real Mushrooms supplements are 100% certified organic and verified non-GMO, so you can be sure that you are getting a quality product. The supplements are also vegan friendly, gluten-free, dairy free and nut-free, so you can be confident in what you are taking if you have any dietary restrictions.
Instead of using the mycelium grown on grain, Real Mushrooms actually hand picks the whole mushroom fruiting body, then uses the process of hot water extraction to get a powder. This powder is analytically tested and guaranteed to contain the beneficial compounds.
Real Mushrooms claims that using the whole fruiting body allows for a higher quality product, with less starch and less filler, which actually makes total sense. If using myceliated grain, you are going to end up getting a large volume of starch from the rice or whatever grain the mycleium is grown on.
Using the whole fruiting body, as is the case with Real Mushrooms, will definitely yield a more concentrated product, so keep that in mind when spending money on supplements.
Mushroom Coffee with Lions Mane
As mentioned above, it is now possible to get a pre-mixed “Lions Mane Coffee”, available from Four Sigmatic. This is essentially an instant coffee mix that contains lions mane extract, along with an extract of the chaga mushroom.
The claim is that you get a good dose of the benefits from coffee, such as enhanced concentration and focus, without the jitters or other unpleasant effects from taking high doses of caffeine.
It isn’t all that likely that you will get a huge boost from Lions Mane by drinking this coffee, as the mushroom typically acts over a longer period of time, although it is indeed possible that the extract has some sort of modulating effect on the caffeine. If not, then this mostly-coffee mix is likely way overpriced.
If you want to try Lions Mane coffee, you could always just purchase the extract powder and make your own, which would likely be way more cost effective.
There are however many anecdotal reviews saying that Four Sigmatic’s Lions Mane coffee sets your brain on “fire” even more so than regular coffee. The marketing is definitely slick, with beautiful packaging and many high profile recommendations. It could just be a placebo effect, but it might be worth giving it a try to see if it works for you.
Try it for Yourself
The Lions Mane Mushroom is not only beautiful, but is potentially supercharged with compounds that have the ability to improve your brain.
These claims are backed up with both anecdotal evidence and thorough scientific research. Since there is no known harm from ingesting Lions Mane at supplemental doses, your best bet might just be to give it a try and see if it works for you.
No matter our age, occupation or goals and dreams, we could all benefit from a mental boost. Why not give it a try?
Thanks for reading! Let me know your experiences with lions mane mushroom in the comments below!
OTHER POWERFUL MUSHROOMS:
-spread the spores-