While the mushroom is easy to identify, one must look into the fruiting body of the mushroom to locate the center of its adaptogenic capacities...
The fruiting body of lion’s mane contains a high concentration of potent bioactive chemicals which interact with our cells on a molecular level. These chemicals include high levels of beta-glucan polysaccharides, erinacines, and hericerenones. They are thought to be responsible for a host of benefits, most notably neuroprotective activities, but also anti-cancer, immunomodulating, hypolipidemic, and antioxidant effects¹.
One of the more remarkable actions of these chemicals is that they are able to directly cross the blood-brain barrier to directly support brain cell health.
What is the blood-brain barrier? It's a series of support cells and intracellular junctions that create a semi-permeable separation between general circulation and the brain’s vascular system.
This barrier primarily serves to regulate and create balance in the brain². By crossing the barrier, the constituents of Lion's Mane are able to have a direct and positive impact on our brain cells. There is emerging evidence that Lion's Mane components are able to stimulate release of beneficial compounds, like Nerve Growth Factor, which is responsible for the growth and development of the body's nervous system³.
While some clinical studies are still being evaluated, current evidence points to Lion's Mane as an excellent supplement for neuroprotection.
Lion's Mane has been studied to improve spatial short-term and visual recognition memory⁷. Moreover, a study in Japan found that when taken daily, Lion's Mane led to a significant increase in scores on the cognitive function scale⁸.
Lion's Mane has also been noted as a potential therapeutic in depression research. This is partly due to its anti-inflammatory activity in the brain. While we don’t know exactly what causes depression in all people, one hypothesis holds that the mood disorder is caused by excessive inflammation [pro-inflammatory molecules like Interleukin-6 and TNF-α have been implicated in the onset and maintenance of depressive states]. Studies have shown extracts of Lion’s Mane can moderate rises in pro-inflammatory molecules while increasing production of anti-inflammatory compounds, like Interleukin-10⁴.
Outside of clinical depression, the anti-inflammatory benefits of Lion’s Mane can still have an array of positive effects in most people. For example, Lion's Mane extract has even been shown to mitigate neuronal damage and cognitive deficits caused by amyloid-𝛃 plaque buildup⁵. Whether or not this benefit translates into humans remains to be seen, but there is still great promise for the direct neuroprotective effects of Lion's Mane.
Like many adaptogens, Lion's Mane works in a variety of systems in the body, not only in the brain. Another key ability of Lion's Mane is its potency as an antioxidant. The chemical compounds contained in this mushroom scavenge free radicals in our bodies and reduce oxidative stress⁶. This can lead to anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, and antidepressant effects along with a decrease of chronic stress and a mild boost in mood. Further clinical research is needed to help illuminate the strength and mechanisms behind these effects, but its validity as an antioxidant is clear.
More impressively, some compounds can even cross the blood-brain barrier and support our neurological health.
The clinical evidence behind Lion's Mane is growing alongside commercial interest, because it has become clear that this mushroom is a powerful supplement to keep the brain healthy and the body balanced.
Friedman, Mendel. “Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties OfHericium Erinaceus(Lion’s Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 63, no. 32, 5 Aug. 2015, pp. 7108–7123, 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02914.
Daneman, Richard, and Alexandre Prat. “The Blood–Brain Barrier.” Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan. 2015, p. a020412, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4292164/, 10.1101/cshperspect.a020412.
Spelman, Kevin, et al. “Neurological Activity of Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus).” Journal of Restorative Medicine, vol. 6, no. 1, 1 Dec. 2017, pp. 19–26, 10.14200/jrm.2017.6.0108. Accessed 23 Oct. 2019.
Chong, Pit Shan, et al. “Therapeutic Potential of Hericium Erinaceus for Depressive Disorder.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 21, no. 1, 25 Dec. 2019, p. 163, 10.3390/ijms21010163.
Brandalise, Federico, et al. “Dietary Supplementation OfHericium ErinaceusIncreases Mossy Fiber-CA3 Hippocampal Neurotransmission and Recognition Memory in Wild-Type Mice.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2017, 2017, pp. 1–13, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5237458/, 10.1155/2017/3864340. Accessed 17 Nov. 2019.
Li, Wei, et al. “Antioxidant and Anti-Osteoporotic Activities of Aromatic Compounds and Sterols from Hericium Erinaceum.” Molecules, vol. 22, no. 1, 11 Jan. 2017, p. 108, 10.3390/molecules22010108. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.
Mori K, Obara Y, Moriya T, Inatomi S, Nakahata N. Effects of Hericium erinaceus on amyloid β(25-35) peptide-induced learning and memory deficits in mice. Biomed Res. 2011 Feb;32(1):67-72. doi: 10.2220/biomedres.32.67. PMID: 21383512.
Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2634. PMID: 18844328.
Lead Photo Credit: By Lebrac - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4589370