Hericium erinaceus, more commonly known as the ‘Lion’s Mane' mushroom, is a unique species of fungi most commonly found growing on hardwood’s in the forest areas of North America and Canada. Widely associated with its ability to increase cognitive function, the popularity of Lion's Mane has skyrocketed in recent years, with more and more people beginning to appreciate and utilise the natural remedy for its profound benefits.
Lion's Mane, Brain Fog and Focus
Ever have those days where your mind just can't seem to settle? You sit down, trying to commit to the work at hand, but procrastination takes over and the brain fog rolls back in. Well, good thing - you aren't alone, and there are natural alternatives that can help you get back on track.
The Lion’s Mane mushroom holds some powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. What sets it apart from the rest of the fungi kingdom though, is its unique ability to bypass the blood-brain barrier once ingested. The blood-brain barrier is a protective barrier that separates the bloodstream from the brain and central nervous system. It regulates the passage of substances, allowing essential nutrients to reach the brain while preventing potentially harmful substances from entering. Lion's Mane mushroom has been studied for its potential effects on the blood-brain barrier and results have shown that the presence of hericenones and erinacines in the Lion’s Mane actually promote blood circulation in areas around the brain. As a result, more oxygen is channelled to the brain, enhancing cognitive function, increasing mental clarity, focus and reducing brain fog.
Lion’s Mane and Memory
Hericenones and Erinacines are the two most prominent compounds found in Lion’s Mane, and are what makes Lion’s Mane proficient at stimulating Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). Nerve Growth Factor is essential for the growth, maintenance, and survival of nerve cells. By promoting the production of NGF, Lion's Mane may support the health and function of neurons.
A study (1) carried out by the Brain Institute at the University of Queensland found that, when carrying out laboratory tests to measure the neurotrophic effects of compounds isolated from Lion’s Mane on cultured brain cells, “the mushroom extract and its active components largely increase the size of growth cones, which are particularly important for brain cells to sense their environment and establish new connections with other neurons in the brain”. Concluding the study with the statement that “lion’s mane mushroom had a significant impact on the growth of brain cells and improving memory”. It is this healthy regrowth of brain cells and promotion of NGF that leads to those regular uses of Lion’s Mane reporting a notable increase in performance when it comes to short-term memory and active recall.
Lion’s Mane and Mental Health
The number of people moving towards natural alternatives for medicating depression and anxiety has increased dramatically in recent years, with Lion’s Mane becoming a consistent favourite due to its neurotrophic properties. When you think of inflammation, you wouldn't necessarily associate this with depressive tendencies, however, this is exactly where Lion’s Mane comes into play. Inflammation actually plays a large role in the development and progression of depression. Chronic inflammation in the brain can affect neurotransmitter function and neural circuits, contributing to mood disorders. Lion's Mane contains bioactive compounds that are proven to hold anti-inflammatory properties. These anti-inflammatory effects may therefore contribute to a reduction in overall inflammation in the brain.
Additionally, when coupled with its potential neuroprotective effects, Lion’s Mane may help maintain the health of neurons and neural circuits. This is particularly relevant in the context of depression, where structural and functional changes in the brain have been observed. A Japanese study (2) held in 2010 tested this hypothesis on 30 women, half of which would consume a cookie that contained Lion’s Mane of 4 weeks, with the other half consuming a placebo. Those who had consumed the Lion’s Mane cookie scored significantly lower than the other group when it came to reporting levels of irritation and anxiousness, and higher when reporting levels of concentration. With study concluding that “Lion’s Mane significantly ameliorates depressive disorder through monoaminergic modulation, neurogenic/neurotrophic, and anti-inflammatory pathways, indicating the potential role of Lion’s Mane as complementary and alternative medicine for treating the symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
Lion’s Mane and Dementia
Lion’s Mane has been linked to a number of degenerative diseases, such as dementia, due to its ability to prevent or mitigate certain aspects of cognitive decline. Compounds in Lion's Mane (Hericenones and Erinacines), may have neuroprotective properties, helping to shield neurons from damage. Additionally, some studies suggest that Lion's Mane may have the ability to promote the regeneration of damaged nerves. This potential neuroregenerative effect could be important in preventing and slowing down the progression of neurodegenerative conditions like dementia.
A study (3) led by a collaborative group of scientists from Korea and Australia, found that throughout three different cognitive tests, those who had consumed Lion’s Mane consistently, displayed “significantly improved cognitive functions” and described Lion’s Mane as a “safe and convenient method for dementia prevention so far”.