Lion's Mane and the Brain

Lion’s mane mushrooms are widely known as one of the healthiest fungi you can consume. But what are their impacts on the brain specifically? Hint: They provide all kinds of awesome benefits for the brain! We’ll be talking about these benefits, plus diving into the science of it all, below.

How Does Lion’s Mane Interact With The Brain?

So before we can talk about all the great impacts lion’s mane mushrooms can have for brain function, it’s important to explain how they even interact with the brain. Our brains are sensitive, and need to be protected from as many outside toxins as possible. To serve this function, we all have what is called the blood-brain barrier.

The blood-brain barrier is very important, screening sensitive brain tissues from toxins carried in the blood. While protecting your brain from toxins, the blood-brain barrier also keeps out many beneficial substances as well.

So can lion’s mane cross this blood-brain barrier to even reach the brain? Yes. Hericenones and erinacines—bioactive compounds found in fruiting bodies of many functional mushrooms, including lion’s mane—can cross the blood-brain barrier quite easily. Once lion’s mane makes its way to the brain, it provides some pretty great benefits.

Impact of lion’s mane on the brain

Brain nerve growth and neurogenesis

Clinical studies suggest that one of the properties of the lion’s mane mushroom is its ability to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF for short) proteins. These proteins aid in the growth and proper development of nerve cells. An animal study found that one of the compounds (hericenone K) in Hericium erinaceous promoted neurite overgrowth, an important part of neurogenesis in the brain.

More human studies of the effects of lion’s mane on nerve growth still need to be conducted. The body of research is not quite robust enough at this point to make any definite conclusions, but the evidence is promising and suggests lion’s mane could promote nerve growth in humans as well.

 

Decreased cognitive impairment

There is also evidence to suggest that Hericium erinaceous can improve cognitive function. The most well-known human study of lion’s mane centered around individuals who were experiencing mild cognitive impairment due to age or underlying conditions. The placebo-controlled study was performed on Japanese adults, 50-80 years old, over the course of 16 weeks. At the end of this time, it was found that participants’ cognitive health improved significantly after taking lion’s mane. Thus, research suggests lion’s mane can improve cognition, and may even be able to slow the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

 

Learning and memory deficits

These same effects of lion’s mane that have the potential to treat Alzheimer’s also help with learning and memory deficits as a whole. A number of studies, both anecdotal and research-based, have shown that lion’s mane can help combat brain fog. Whether it is caused by a chronic condition, lack of sleep, or anxiety, brain fog can drastically reduce people’s cognition and their ability to focus. With lion’s mane, this unpleasant brain fog can lift, allowing for better focus, learning, and memory.

 

Improved mental health

In addition to its positive impact on cognition, lion’s mane also seems to improve mental health. Both anxiety and depression symptoms can be eased by regularly consuming lion’s mane mushrooms. One study looked specifically at this phenomenon, studying women going through menopause, and the depression and anxiety they were experiencing. After 4 weeks, those who had consumed lion’s mane daily scored lower on tests measuring depression and anxiety symptoms. As a whole, mild symptoms of various mental disorders seem to be improved when people add lion’s mane to their diet.

So it is clear that lion’s mane has a close relationship with the brain. While more research is needed, the evidence we do have points to lion’s mane as a potential treatment for everything from Alzheimer’s to depression. Its ability to get through the blood-brain barrier allows all its positive benefits to take effect, improving cognition, memory, and mental health.

Sources: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0960894X15301256 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.2634 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20834180/

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