Lion’s mane is the multitasker of the mushroom world. Also known as Yamabushitake or Hericium erinaceus, this powerful mushroom packs a punch: it can improve memory, help the heart, ease injury, fortify the stomach… and add a little something-something to a soup or a broth, for good measure.
In the wild, you’ll find this light-colored mushroom growing long dendrite-like spines that hang in a way that looks like – you guessed it – a lion’s mane. This funky fungus grows throughout the Northern Hemisphere; think North America, Asia, and Europe.
Careful when you see it in the wild, however. In some places in Europe, it’s endangered. Foragers: stick to supplements.
Though lion’s mane and other medicinal mushrooms have been studied and consumed for centuries, most of the studies on the ‘shroom are small, though promising. Below are 9 scientifically-backed uses for Hericium erinaceus, along with the studies that examined them.
To help you navigate this article, we've divided it into two sections. Feel free to hop to the one that's most interesting to you:
Let’s dive in:
Lion’s mane benefits for the brain
Lion’s mane as a nerve generator and memory stimulator is well-documented, and in fact, some of the few published human trials for this mushroom’s use fall into this category. Folks concerned about Alzheimer's, nerve damage, and more: read on.
Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive brain function
Anyone who has experience with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or dementia knows the devastation of nerve degeneration. Alzheimer’s comes for the memory centers first–affecting places like the hippocampus–and then slowly chips away at a person’s reasoning capabilities, language, social relationships and behavior after it makes moves to the cerebral cortex.
People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will experience confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, and eventually a loss of language and independent function.
Our brains are complicated, so researchers are still trying to pinpoint exactly how Alzheimer’s happens, but there’s a number of things going wrong in the dementia brain. Understanding what’s going on *up there* will help us figure out how lion’s mane can help:
- Plaque build-up: The scourge of memory, a protein called beta-amyloid builds up in Alzheimer’s brains, creating “plaque” that blocks signals from moving across synapses. (Scientists aren’t sure if this is a cause or an effect of dementia just yet; they just know it happens in these brains. The gene called TREM2 may be responsible; when it malfunctions, it causes inflammation, adding a host of other problems to the mix.)
- Tau tangles: Tau is another protein that, when functioning normally, helps nutrients get where they need to go in a neuron. In a dementia brain, they’re binding to each other, creating tangles. Like plaque, this interferes with communication between neurons.
- Cell death: Bad communication kills relationships, right? Similar thing with neurons. When these cells are blocked and can’t communicate, they die. That’s really bad news for brain function.
One thing scientists are pretty sure about: the process that kickstarts dementia and Alzheimer’s can begin a decade prior to symptoms popping up, making preventative care key.
Where does lion’s mane fit in?
Studies that examine lion’s mane’s effect on memory are small, but promising. More research is needed to confirm or clarify, but here’s what we know.
- Stimulates brain cell growth: Lion’s mane contains two important nerve generation compounds: hericenones and erinacines. One study showed that lion’s mane initiated nerve growth factor synthesis in cells, thereby enhancing nerve growth and improving cognitive function. [source]
- May block plaque build-up: Remember beta-amyloid, that protein that causes plaque in the brain? Some studies show that lion’s mane significantly reduced beta-amyloid-induced activity that causes cell death and cell shrinkage. Plus, it reduced the effects of free radicals on the brain, proving itself to be an effective antioxidant. [source, source]
- Improves cognitive function: A small human trial showed that folks with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who took lion’s mane supplements over the course of 16 weeks exhibited “significantly” increased scores of cognitive function. (However, when the patients stopped taking it, cognitive function receded back to baseline.) [source]
Depression and anxiety support
Researchers are beginning to find links between chronic inflammation and mental health diagnoses like depression and anxiety. It might seem like a weird like, but it’s actually got a biological purpose: as humans evolved, the depressive symptoms that came with the body’s anti-inflammatory response were natural tools in our infection-fighting toolkits.
But now, depression as a result of inflammation (think inflammation resulting from diet, gut health, lifestyle choices, and more) isn’t so useful. Lion’s mane has the potential to interrupt this response. How?
- Amycenone: This nootropic, found in lion’s mane, has the potential to reduce both inflammation and depression. In one animal study, it “markedly” reduced both inflammation and the effects of depression, suggesting that it could be a potential supplement to fight inflammation-related depression. [source]
- Anxiety-relief: A similar look at how lion’s mane extract affected stress-reduction in mice found that a daily supplement at higher doses significantly reduced the effects of anxiety and depression-inducing activities. [source]
- Hippocampal neurogenesis: That’s science-speak for enhancements in the hippocampus, the part of your brain involved in learning and memory. It’s also a key player in some psychiatric diagnoses. One animal study found that consistent supplementation of lion’s mane improved symptoms of anxiety and depression by stimulating nerve growth in that part of the brain. [source]
Brain & nervous system injury
A handful of animal studies point to lion’s mane as a powerful tool in stimulating nerve growth, making it a MVP for nervous system injury recovery. In the same way it can help improve symptoms of dementia, studies show that it may be helpful to previously-healthy brains on the mend. But since brain injuries can take a long time to heal, lion’s mane’s ability not just to stimulate nerve growth but to speed it up is key. Let’s take a look at how this mighty mushroom can help your neurons.
- Stimulating nerve growth & repair: Several animal studies and human trials point to lion’s mane’s potential to stimulate neural growth in several different types of cells, including the brain, the spinal cord, and the retina. And one study found that lion’s mane can even help healthy brains by significantly improving recognition. [source, source, source]
- Speeding up recovery: One study found that lion’s mane supplementation immediately following a nerve injury reduced recovery time by up to 41% in rats. It appeared to speed up this recovery by regenerating axons and stimulating nerve growth where nerve degeneration had occurred. [source]
- Reduces injury size: Remember: lion’s mane is a potential anti-inflammatory. In one animal study, supplementation at high doses reduced the size of a stroke-related injury by 44%. Erinacine, a key compound found in lion’s mane, seems to be the main culprit in reducing the brain’s inflammatory response, too: you might remember it from the Alzheimer’s section above. [source]
Menopause mood support
Women are notoriously absent from scientific studies, especially when it comes to taking a closer look at periods and menopause. Science’s understanding of how the world affects these two complicated cycles (and how those cycles affect things like physical activity, inflammation, and mental health) is surprisingly limited, which means this section is limited, too.
Just one small study suggests that lion’s mane could help women going through menopause feel less irritable and anxious. A small study of 30 women showed a significant reduction in complaints of irritability, depressive symptoms, and anxiety during a 4-week long supplementation period. The authors of the study suggest that this is the result of lion’s mane’s ability to stimulate nerve growth factor synthesis, which helps create or strengthen pathways in the brain.
Lion’s mane benefits for body
At the very heart of many modern diseases is one of two things: chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Heart disease? Autoimmune disorders? Cancer? Gastric diseases? Inflammation, baby. And oxidative stress? That’s a fancy word for the process that breaks down DNA and causes things like cancer (there it is again!), diabetes, and more. Lion’s mane is a known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which means it has a load of serious health benefits.
May protect against ulcer development
First, a lesson: ulcers in the digestive tract are usually the result of one of two things: bacteria overgrowth (specifically from the bug H. pylori) and damage to the layer of mucus that lines the stomach. (Despite common belief, stress and spicy foods don’t cause ulcers, but you can bet that they can make them worse.) So where does lion’s mane come in?
- It’s H. pylori’s worst enemy: Several studies show that lion’s mane can inhibit the growth of H. pylori, reducing the chance of a body developing an ulcer. [source, source, source]
- It prevents enzyme depletion: One animal study that looked at lion’s mane’s effects on preventing alcohol-induced ulcers (which develop in folks who consume large quantities of alcohol consistently). The study found that it significantly reduced the chances of ulcer development, and that even when it was given in large doses, it produced no negative side effects. The authors believe its efficacy lies in “preventing the depletion of antioxidant enzymes,” which help prevent cell damage. [source]
- It reduces inflammation: We’ve talked a little bit about lion’s mane’s anti-inflammatory properties already, but they come into play here, too. Several studies show that it can reduce inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis and possibly Crohns, though results on the latter are mixed. For folks with ulcerative colitis, one study showed that a mushroom supplement that contained lion’s mane significantly reduced symptoms and improved quality of life in less than a month. [source, source, source]
May help fight cancer
We’re all familiar with cancer. This disease is characterized by an uncontrollable replication of cells after DNA sustains damage. Lots of things can cause cancer: smoking, certain chemicals in our food and air, toxic elements in water, even too much red meat.
Cancer treatments aim to stop this uncontrollable replication of cells in its tracks, usually by killing whole swaths of them through chemotherapy. And while our friend lion’s mane can’t hold a candle to chemo, it can certainly shine a light of its own. Here’s how:
- Kills cancer cells: In some test tube studies, mixing lion’s mane with cancer cells caused the cells to die at a faster rate. (One study, however, had trouble replicating these results. Scientific studies have to be able to be replicated in order to be found legitimate, so that means more studies are needed here.) [source, source, source]
- Holds unique compounds: A couple of studies identified some unique components in lion’s mane that had the ability to slow down cell regeneration and protect against the negative effects of chemotherapy: HEA and cerebroside E. [source, source]
- Slows cancer’s spread: A couple studies revealed some pretty extraordinary results in lion’s mane’s ability to reduce metastasis, or the replication of cancer cells. One found a 69% reduction in lung cancer cell growth; the other showed that a couple compounds in lion’s mane effectively reduces metastasis in liver, colon, and gastric cancer, and went so far as to say lion’s mane extract was more effective and less toxic than 5-FU, or Fluorouracil, a common cancer drug. [source]
- Great source of antioxidants: Antioxidants are key for preventing oxidative stress, or the process by which DNA gets damaged, opening up the pathway for cancer cells to form. Out of a list of 14 mushroom varieties, one study rated lion’s mane as the fourth-highest for antioxidant activity (Ganoderma lucidum, or reishi, took the #1 spot). [source, source]
Reduce risk of heart disease
Did you know that heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States? This ubiquitous term could mean anything from problems with the heart’s blood vessels, valves, a heart infection, heartbeat rhythm problems, and more. Put simply: when you have more stress put on the heart, it’s not going to respond well. Lion’s mane might be able to ease some of that stress in some cases. Here’s how:
- Anticoagulant: That’s a fancy term for “blood thinner.” Don’t freak out: it’s not baby aspirin. But lion’s mane does contain a compound called hericenone B, which has been shown to reduce the risk of blood clotting in some instances. [source]
- Prevents oxidation of cholesterol: Cholesterol gets a bad rap, and for good reason: too much of it can clog arteries, harden artery walls, or cause clotting that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Lion’s mane extract appears to reduce the oxidation of cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of hardened arteries. [source]
- Lowers triglyceride levels: Being overweight can also lead to increased risk of heart disease. Some studies show that lion’s mane can not only lower triglyceride levels, but also “cure” hypolipidemia, or high cholesterol. It does this by improving fat metabolism, which helps lower weight-gain. [source, source]
When a person has diabetes, it means their body doesn’t have control over its blood sugar levels, leading to high highs and low lows. There are two types: Type I (in which the body doesn’t produce insulin) and Type II (in which the body can’t respond to insulin as well). Lion’s mane can help.
- Lowers blood sugar: In one study, lion’s mane extract “significantly” lowered blood sugar levels and raised insulin levels in diabetic rats. And another study performed to verify lion’s mane’s antidiabetic effects found it does this through blocking the activity of alpha-glucosidase, which helps break down carbs, the building-blocks of blood sugar. [source, source]
- May reduce nerve pain: One symptom of diabetes is nerve pain, especially in the hands and feet. We already know lion’s mane has a positive effect on nerves and nerve generation, so this might not come as a surprise, but one study showed that it can significantly decrease nerve pain associated with diabetes – and raise antioxidant levels to boot. [source]
As a bonus, lion’s mane may also have the potential to heal wounds. One study that compared the length of time it took to heal when a wound was washed with sterilized water vs when it was dressed with topical applications of lion’s mane extracts found that the latter significantly decreased the time it took to heal. Strides on this, like studies on lion’s mane and menopause, are limited. We’ll update this section as we know more.
Important note on lion’s mane studies
For almost all of the research cited here, barring a few on Alzheimers and menopause, studies were done in-vitro (a.k.a., in a test-tube with human or animal cells) or on animals, such as mice or rats. Research on lion’s mane – and the overall health benefits of medicinal mushrooms – is limited, and more research in human trials is needed to support the above benefits.
Consult your doctor before taking lion’s mane for dose recommendations, possible interactions between lion’s mane supplements and any medication you’re currently taking, and general guidance.
Should I use lion’s mane mycelium or fruiting body?
Let’s talk mushroom basics. There are two major “parts” of a mushroom: the mycelium and the fruiting body.
The fruiting body: What you know as a mushroom – the classic cap and stem – is referred to by mycologists as the “fruiting body.” This part of the ‘shroom tends to pack the biggest nutritional punch, especially in strains that are cultivated by us humans.
The mycelium: Mycelium is the web-like structure that kind of acts like the fruiting body’s roots. It has similar nutrients to the fruiting body, and in some cases can add a few new ones to the mix. One of those cases is lion’s mane. The only problem with its nutritional value is that it’s typically cultivated by people using starch, and when it's harvested, it’s not separated from that starch. That means that most mycelium supplements are actually mostly yeast… not exactly health-beneficial.
So, which to use?
You’ll notice in the above studies that there is a mix of use cases: both fruiting body and the mycelium is administered. According to this book, many studies give lion’s mane in a 4:1 mycelium to fruiting body ratio. (We know! It’s a bit of a different approach.)
But that doesn’t let you off the hook for checking the product you’re about to buy: mycelium that’s cultivated in starch might not have enough time to absorb all of the nutrients necessary to make it a beneficial supplement. Our recommendation: look for that certificate of analysis (more below).
For a complete guide to mycelium vs fruiting body, check out this guide.
Proper dosage of lion’s mane
Reminder: for studies on lion’s mane, human research is limited. In the above studies cited, dosage varies widely. Humans, however, have been consuming lion’s mane and using it for medicinal purposes for millennia.
Some studies used the following dosages:
- 750 milligrams per day for 16 weeks
- 3 grams per day in tablet form for 16 weeks
- 5 grams per day of the fruiting body in soup or broth
- Additional sources recommend 500-600 milligrams (that’s one teaspoon) 3 times per day for ongoing maintenance.
For more dosage information, check out this guide.
What to look for in a lion’s mane product
Keep your eyes peeled for a few things when you’re shopping for a lion’s mane product:
- Always, always look for products with COAs. A COA, or a certificate of analysis, should give information on things like active compounds, microbiological components, and more. Ideally this COA is created by a third-party source.
- Look for a dual extract: There are a couple ways to extract nutrients from mushrooms: alcohol or hot water. Many of the studies above used a lion’s mane ethanol extract, which can isolate some non-water soluble compounds in the mushroom. On the other hand, hot water extraction isolates beta-glucans, which are water soluble and are nutritional rockstars.
Dual extraction products, in which extraction from both hot water and ethanol is involved, are favored in instances where a mushroom has high levels of both water-soluble and non-water soluble compounds, like reishi, and like our friend lion’s mane. Read more about mushroom extraction here.
If you're interested in finding the lion's mane product that's right for you, we've put together a list of the best mushroom supplements on the market -- check it out here.
Potential side-effects of lion’s mane
Side effects of lion’s mane supplementation appear to be very, very limited. There is one study that suggests it might increase the risk of asthma-like symptoms. These symptoms were reported in only one man, who is the focus of this study. In animal trials, there seem to be no reports of negative side effects, and in human trials, though limited, there are no consistent reports of negative side effects. Check out this article for more information on possible side effects.
Thinking of trying lion’s mane? This multitasking mushroom is a powerful addition to any diet. We suggest starting with these recipes.