We read through dozens of clinical trials about the lion's mane mushroom and depression. Good news: Hericium erinaceus does indeed seem to help with depression in many people.
Let's dive into the details.
What is Lion’s Mane?
Hericium erinaceus goes by many names, including lion’s mane, the monkey head mushroom, and the bearded tooth mushroom.
The health-benefiting properties of this adaptogenic mushroom have caused it to be a popular choice among those looking for an alternative to traditional medication or a way to improve their stress management.
Lion’s mane looks unique among mushrooms, due to its icicle-like teeth that hang from the central stalk. It is a saprotrophic mushroom, meaning that it feeds off dead tree trunks.
Potential Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Research on the therapeutic potential of the lion’s mane mushroom indicates this fungus has the potential to promote the production of nerve growth factors and repair nerve cells. It appears to ease the symptoms of dementia, mood disorders, and neuropathic pain, as well as improve overall cognitive function.
Some of the potential lion’s mane mushroom benefits:
- reduces anxiety and depression
- improves cognitive functions and overall brain health
- protects against mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease
- reduces inflammation and nerve pains
- encourages apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells
- improves gut health
- lowers blood sugar levels
- reduces inflammation
- reduces symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis
Bioactive Compounds Found in Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s mane mushrooms contain bioactive compounds, such as:
- prebiotic fibers
- digestive enzymes
What is Depression?
Depression is a common mental illness that affects the way you feel, think, and act. This ailment can be acute and caused by outside circumstances, or chronic and without an apparent cause.
People who’ve had mental illness in their family seem to be at an increased risk of depression, as well as those who take certain medications or struggle with alcohol or drug abuse. However, depression can strike without any clear cause, at any stage in life, and with varying intensities.
The Prevalence of Depression in Adults
According to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the most common mental health illnesses, with around 5% of adults suffering from some form of the illness. It’s more common among men and adults older than 60 and a leading cause of mental-health-related disability.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. While some may feel more irritable, others can feel completely numb. Some sleep more or eat more and others don’t sleep or eat at all. Still, there are some common symptoms of depressive disorders, including:
- loss of interest in day to day activities
- feeling helpless or hopeless
- sleep changes
- appetite changes
- loss of energy
- concentration problems
Lion's Mane and Dopamine
The main goal of lion's mane mushrooms is to keep your body in a state of homeostasis, whether that means lowering your sugar levels or increasing your dopamine levels. Here's how these medicinal mushrooms can stabilize dopamine and how dopamine affects depression.
Does Lion's Mane Increase Dopamine?
A 2018 study looked at the underlying mechanisms of anti-depressant effects of Hericium erinaceus in mice. The results suggest that when the mice were under stress, their dopamine levels decreased.
However, upon taking lion's mane, their dopamine levels stabilized, even though there were no changes in their levels of stress. This suggests that lion's mane could be responsible for the rise in dopamine levels, although further human research is needed.
The Effects of Dopamine on Depression
A study published in the Journal of Neural Transmission examined the effects dopamine can have on depression and concluded that, while the lack of dopamine can't be the only cause of depression, it's certainly a contributor. The successful use of antidepressants with dopaminergic effects corroborates this fact and warrants further research.
Can Lion’s Mane Alleviate Symptoms of Depression?
Treating depressive disorders with traditional medication comes with its own set of issues, as these drugs often have a slew of side effects. That’s why researchers are starting to look into alternative treatments for depressive disorders and other mental health issues—with adaptogenic mushrooms being of special interest.
One of the many medicinal benefits of lion’s mane seems to be its ability to ease depression. Although not much is known about the underlying mechanisms of this mushroom’s ability to alleviate symptoms of mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, human and animal research on the topic is certainly promising.
Therapeutic Potential of Lion’s Mane on Depressive Disorders
Research on the antidepressant effects of lion’s mane shows that this mushroom significantly improves depressive disorders and could be used as an alternative to traditional antidepressants.
A Japanese study examined the effects of Hericium erinaceus on symptoms of depression in menopausal women. After taking a lion’s mane supplement for 4 weeks, these women reported feeling less depressed than they did at the beginning of the trial, while the women who were taking a placebo did not report an improvement in their symptoms.
Can Neurogenesis Alleviate Depression?
Studies suggest that hericenones and erinacines, compounds found in the lion’s mane mushroom, may be able to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) proteins. Through the production of NGF and BDNF proteins, lion’s mane seems to aid in neurogenesis and proper development of nerve cells.
Hippocampal Neurogenesis and Depression
Neurogenesis, particularly of the hippocampus, seems to be one of the underlying mechanisms of lion’s mane’s ability to relieve symptoms of various mental health issues, such as anxiety (for more information check out our lion’s mane and anxiety article) and depression.
The hippocampus is highly sensitive to stress and may play a central role in depressive disorders, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. Therefore, an increase in nerve cells in this area could be related to less severe symptoms of depression, as well as fewer instances of this mental illness.
Lion’s Mane and Hippocampal Neurogenesis
An animal study examined the mechanisms behind Hericium erinaceus’ ability to reduce anxiety and depressive behaviors in adult mice. The results show that the mushroom seems to promote hippocampal neurogenesis.
The mice that were administered a lion’s mane extract for 4 weeks showed fewer signs of anxiety and depression than their counterparts and their hippocampal nerve cell count increased significantly.
Lion’s Mane, Stress, and Depression
Researchers are starting to take a closer look at the underlying mechanisms of lion’s mane’s ability to aid in the treatment of depression.
A 2018 Taiwanese animal study examined the effects of Hericium erinaceus enriched with erinacine on dopamine and serotonin production in stressed-out mice. The study concludes that lion’s mane “could be an attractive agent for the treatment of depressive disorders.”
Stressed Mice Have Lower Levels of Feel-good Neurotransmitters
In the Taiwanese study, a control group of mice (those not given Hericium erinaceus) showed significant decreases in dopamine and serotonin production after exposure to stressors. As we all know, dopamine and serotonin are “feel-good” neurotransmitters. Low levels of these are associated with depression, while high levels are associated with…feeling great.
So, exposure to ongoing stress made these mice more prone to depression. No surprise there.
Of perhaps even more concern, “levels of interleukin (IL)-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α were increased” in the control group after prolonged stress. (IL)-6 and (TNF)-α are cytokines that signal an inflammatory response from the immune system. Elevated levels of both generally correlate to increased inflammation in the body.
Inflammation serves a valuable role locally—for example, to heal a wound—but is bad when widespread and/or chronic in bodily tissues.
Lion’s Mane Extract Alleviates Stress Symptoms
In the Taiwanese study, mice given lion’s mane extract responded to prolonged stress quite differently than the control group.
Whereas “good” neurotransmitters were decreased and inflammatory cytokines increased in the control group of stressed mice, the reverse was true for the mice given lion’s mane extract.
Not only were levels of serotonin and dopamine higher in the lion’s mane group, but the inflammatory response was lower than in the control group.
What We Can Conclusively Say About Lion’s Mane and Depression
Here’s what we know to date about Hericium erinaceus and depression:
- According to human and animal studies, lion’s mane has the potential to be a natural remedy for depression.
- An animal study suggests that the mechanisms behind the antidepressant properties of lion’s mane could be connected to its ability to promote neurogenesis.
- Stress often contributes to depression by increasing inflammation and lowering “feel-good” neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.
- Lion’s mane helps mice weather stress better, keeping dopamine and serotonin higher and reducing inflammation. We can hypothesize that it may do the same for humans.
- More human studies are needed to uncover the underlying mechanisms of lion’s mane and its effects on depression.
- Given that there are no downsides to taking lion’s mane, its relatively low cost, and its high availability, it may make sense to include this fungus into one’s diet as a way to lessen the symptoms of depression.
Interested in Taking Lion’s Mane for Depression?
If you’re interested in taking lion’s mane for depression, why not have it in a delicious morning bowl of granola?
Our Forij Superfood Granola contains a hyperconcentrated extract of lion’s mane, as well as cordyceps and chaga mushrooms. The extract contains 10-15 times the beneficial nutrients a regular mushroom powder does.
But, don’t be apprehensive if you’re not a fan of mushrooms, as you won’t be able to detect them in our granola. Our three mouth-watering flavors are delicious and taste nothing like mushrooms!
Lion’s Mane and Depression FAQ
Is lion’s mane beneficial for bipolar disorder?
Lately, researchers have expressed a lot of interest in alternative medicine as a way to treat many mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder. And although lion’s mane is in no way a replacement to traditional medication, research shows it could aid in the treatment of bipolar disorder due to its dietary lithium content.
Are lion’s mane supplements safe to eat?
Including lion’s mane in your diet is safe and can be quite beneficial. This mushroom contains a plethora of benefits, and many praise it for its antioxidant activities and its ability to improve cognitive functions and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
How much lion's mane should I take for depression?
You should be taking upwards of 1000 mg of lion’s mane per day if you are taking it for depression. However, if you’re new to taking adaptogenic mushrooms, you may want to start with a lower dosage, as lion’s mane can upset the stomach if you’re not used to taking it.
How does lion's mane make you feel?
Taking lion’s mane can make you feel energized and focused, and it may also calm you down if you’re prone to feeling anxious. Due to its energizing properties, you should avoid taking lion’s mane late in the day, even if you are taking it for insomnia and better sleep quality, as it may make you feel restless and unable to fall asleep.
Does lion’s mane help with brain fog?
Yes, research suggests that lion’s mane can improve symptoms of brain fog. Lion's mane supplements have been reported to be effective in treating brain fog caused by insomnia, depressive disorders, Lyme's disease, and migraines after only a few weeks of regular use.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food examined the effects of the lion’s mane extract on symptoms of depression, including brain fog. Results suggest that the medicinal mushroom extract improved these symptoms by promoting brain cell growth and regeneration in the brain of an adult mouse.
Does lion's mane increase testosterone?
Yes, lion’s mane seems to increase testosterone levels, especially in people who naturally have lower levels of testosterone. Many adaptogenic mushrooms have the potential to improve testosterone levels in the body, which could lead to muscle growth and an increase in overall energy.
What are the side effects of lion's mane?
Although there are no clinical studies on the side effects of lion’s mane, centuries of use in traditional Chinese medicine and anecdotal evidence suggest that they are completely safe to consume. Still, if you are concerned about possible side effects or have experienced adverse effects to other fungi, consult with healthcare professionals before you start taking lion’s mane.
How long does it take to feel the effects of lion's mane?
Usually, you can expect to feel the effects of lion‘s mane after about two weeks of regular use. However, don’t get discouraged if it’s been over two weeks and you still don’t notice any difference. Increase the dosage slightly and keep at it, and the changes will certainly come.
This article was written strictly for informational purposes and is not intended to inform about medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any kind. The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).