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Lion's mane mushroom: Medicinal benefits

Updated: Aug 15, 2023



Mushrooms are a great source of nutrients that promote health and longevity. Today, more than 2,000 different edible and medicinal fungi have been identified. There are many species of Hericium being discovered; Hericium erinaceus, also known as lion's mane mushroom, is identified by its distinct succulent and strand-like growths. Commonly used in China, Japan, Korea, and India for medicinal and culinary purposes, they are also found in the northeast.


H. erinaceus fruits during autumn typically and springtime occasionally. These saprophytic fungi grow off maple and birch trees. Common practice is to cultivate these mushrooms on sterilized sawdust bags or on logs with dowels that contain the mycelium.


H. erinaceus has been used to:

  • promote neuronal growth

  • support the immune system

  • fight depression and anxiety

  • accelerate the wound healing process


This medicinal activity is facilitated by many bioactive compounds found in the fruiting bodies and mycelium, including erinacines, aromatic compounds, steroids, alkaloids, and lactones (6).


Lion's Mane Mushroom: Medicinal Benefits

Some of the medicinal benefits of lion's mane mushroom include:


lion's mane mushroom

1. Good source of vitamins

Lion's mane mushroom is a good source of vitamin D and vitamin B12.


Vitamin D deficiency affects about 41.6% of the world’s population (9). It is common among individuals with obesity and those in poor health. Untreated, it can result in bone disorders that can cause severe pain. Common examples are rickets and osteomalacia. This is the weakening and softening of bones that make the bones susceptible to fractures and breakages. Upon UV light exposure, sterol-containing lion's mane converts ergosterol to vitamin D (7). Implementing H. erinaceus into a diet can increase vitamin D levels and maintain bone strength due to the presence of sterols.


Vitamin B12 intake is necessary to prevent anemia and nervous system damage. Eggs and dairy are rich in vitamin B12; therefore, people who eat a vegan diet are at greater risk of developing complications in the absence of supplements. H. erinaceus has been found to contain inactive vitamin B12 lactones, which can generate active versions of the B12 vitamin (7). Supplementing H. erinaceus can help vegans prevent anemia and damage to the nervous system.


2. Immune-enhancing

Polysaccharides found in H. erinaceus have been shown to promote immune system function, as measured by cell-mediated immunity, humoral immunity, and macrophage phagocytoses in mice (1).


H. erinaceus has also been found to increase the production of secretory IgA (SIgA). SIgA blocks access of pathogenic microbes and toxins to intestinal epithelial cell (IEC) receptors and encourages the cleansing of pathogenic microbes from the intestine (2). Overall, lion's mane polysaccharides effectively promote immune health.


3. Antidepressant, anxiolytic, and nootropic

H. erinaceus intake has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety and improve focus. A test on 30 women was conducted using the Kupperman Menopausal Index, Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, and the Indefinite Complaints Index to determine the effectiveness of lion's mane mushroom on menopause, depression, and sleep quality (3). Each woman was given either a placebo cookie or a lion's mane mushroom-containing cookie for 4 weeks (3). Women who had been consuming the lion's mane cookie were more focused and less anxious, compared to controls (3). These results show that anxiety and depression are greatly reduced with the intake of lion's mane. Women who were given the placebo showed no change in emotion or sleep quality. All together, this supports the use of dietary lion's mane as an antidepressant and anxiolytic.


4. Promotes neuronal survival and myelination, protecting against dementia and autoimmunity

Dietary H. erinaceus promotes central nervous system (CNS) and mental health: it improves memory, reduces hyperactivity, and prevents cognitive impairments. It does so by increasing brain levels of the neurotrophic factor nerve growth factor (NGF).


Required for CNS neuronal development, this protein supports neuronal survival, axonal outgrowth, nerve regeneration, and myelination, which can protect against dementia and CNS autoimmunity.


NGF-promoting activity is attributed to the action of two compounds: hericerins, which are aromatic compounds found within the fruiting body, and erinacines, which are diterpenoids that demonstrate neuroprotective properties (6). In particular, erinacines A, B, and C were shown to promote neuronal NGF synthesis and growth (7). Erinacines decrease the production of lactate dehydrogenase and promote NGF in subjects, which can protect CNS neurons and help prevent and reduce the risk of developing dementia.


Without neuroprotective factors, neurons can deteriorate, resulting in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. To determine the efficacy of H. erinaceus in improving mild cognitive impairment (MCI), 50-80 Japanese men and women diagnosed with MCI were given an oral dose of H. erinaceus (5). 30 subjects were separated into two groups of 15; one group received a placebo while the other group received the lion's mane mushroom. After eight weeks, the subjects consuming the lion's mane had increased scores on the cognitive function scale, while the placebo group showed no difference in cognitive function (5). This trial showed that lion's mane is effective at alleviating MCI. Although this cannot cure many cognitive impairments, it can help improve lesser impairments.


Myelin sheaths insulate and protect nerves: they ensure rapid electrical signal propagation in neurons, while also coating and guarding against other forces that can negatively affect neurons (4). If myelination occurs too infrequently, or if demyelination occurs, neurodegenerative autoimmune diseases (e.g., multiple sclerosis, transverse myelitis, or neuromyelitis optica) can result. H. erinaceus can help protect against or delay the detrimental effects of these diseases. Therefore, it is recommended that patients battling these diseases include myelination-encouraging dietary supplements. As indicated, lion's mane is a good approach to improving brain myelination and preventing or delaying dementia.


lion's mane mushroom growing on a tree

5. Anti-fatigue, balances energy, and enhances recovery

Lion's mane has been shown to provide energy-boosting properties in supplemental doses. H. erinaceus polysaccharides were distributed to three groups of mice. Anti-fatigue was evaluated through a series of tests and compared to controls. It was shown that the three groups of mice had decreased blood lactic acid, serum urea nitrogen, and malondialdehyde content, and increased antioxidant enzyme activity, including glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and superoxide dismutase (SOD), and tissue glycogen content (12).


Blood lactic acid, serum urea nitrogen, and malondialdehyde

Lactic acid is formed when muscle cells repair after exercising, resulting in muscle soreness. This feeling is lessened when dietary H. erinaceus is introduced to those who are protein to immediate lactic acid fermentation, thus enhancing muscle recovery.


High serum urea nitrogen levels are accompanied by fatigue in subjects facing kidney failure. By adding lion's mane polysaccharides to the diet of kidney failure patients, serum urea nitrogen levels decreased in the body, mitigating fatigue.


In cancer patients, an increase in free radicals and oxidative stress results in overproduction of malondialdehyde. When lion's mane is added to the diet of those who display high levels of malondialdehyde, the levels start to decrease, and the accompanying lethargy begins to depart. Lion's mane can help fight lethargy by neutralizing compounds in the body.


Antioxidant enzymes

An increase in antioxidant enzymes helps fight fatigue by removing free radical metabolites to sustain physiologic cellular activity (13). This promotes the mechanisms that allow for the production and maintenance of energy. Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is likely to occur when fluctuating energy levels are present in a subject. Instead of amphetamine sulfate, the medication prescribed to ADD patients, lion's mane can be used to promote energy production without risk of addiction.


6. Cancer-fighting properties

The effects H. erinaceus has on astrocytoma cells could benefit those who are suffering from brain tumors. The inclusion of hericenones promoted NGF mRNA (11). This improved the production of nerve growth proteins from the cells, while inhibiting growth of pheochromocytomatous (adrenal gland tumor) cells. Inclusion of H. erinaceus in patients diagnosed with astrocytoma (a type of brain tumor) can promote NGF mRNA, reducing cancerous cell growth and preventing mutations.


Additionally, a component of lion's mane mushroom, erinacines A, prevented growth of colon cancer tumor cells in vitro. It lowered viability of human colorectal cancer DLD-1 cell culture (14). There is also evidence to suggest that H. erinaceus displays antineoplastic activities against gastric cancer and colorectal cancer (16), as well as preventing metastases to the lungs (17).


A major volatile compound found in lion's mane, benzaldehyde, has been shown in some studies to alter cancer cell shape in subjects fighting carcinoma (10). H. erinaceus may be able to complement cancer treatments in patients struggling with carcinoma. Inducing cancer cell morphology changes can allow for the cells to be easily targeted or sensitized when undergoing radiation to reduce the number of cancerous cells.


That said, not all studies have shown cancer-fighting properties. Fruiting bodies of H. erinaceus protected against cell damage, promoted cell viability, and decreased lactate dehydrogenase production in pheochromocytomatous cells via an NGF-upregulating mechanism (7). Cells in culture can act very differently than the human body. Taken together, clinical trials are still needed to demonstrate the efficacy of lion's mane in fighting cancer in humans.


infographic on blood clotting

7. Reduce blood loss due to injury or wounds

Glycoproteins found in H. erinaceus have been shown to have a hemagglutinating effect (7). This is beneficial for those suffering from hemophilia or individuals who need assistance in clotting wounds. A diet enriched in the glycoproteins found in lion's mane is expected to improve in blood quality and reduce blood loss.


8. Accelerates wound recovery and minimizes scarring

H. erinaceus has been evaluated for topical application to stimulate the rate of wound recovery. In a study, H. erinaceus was used in the form of an aqueous extract derived from the fruiting bodies of the fungi (6). Five different groups of male rats were wounded with a 2.00-cm slice on their necks. Each of the mice were then treated with either distilled water, intrasite gel, or different concentrations of the lion's mane fruiting body extract. The mice that had been treated with the distilled water required a longer time to heal as compared to the mice treated with the intrasite gel and the lion's mane extract (6). The rats whose wound were dressed in H. erinaceous had a smaller scar width and healed with fewer macrophages and more collagen compared to distilled water.


Collagen stimulates tissue growth in wounds and is essential to prevent infection. It develops a layer between the wound and the bacteria which decreases the risk of infection. Collagen therefore controls the growth of bacteria populating the skin before the wound is sterilized. It also promotes the growth of new cells on the skin, reducing scar size and severity. Dressing wounds with lion's mane extract helps accelerate wound repair, promote collagen protection, and reduce scarring and infection.


atherosclerosis process diagram

9. Helps with cardiovascular and kidney conditions


Small quantities of palmitic acid can prevent atherosclerosis

Palmitic acid, a component in the oils of palm trees, may benefit subjects who are prone to developing fat build up in and on artery walls (15). With its high concentration of palmitic acid, lion's mane can prevent the likelihood of this occurrence. Chronic, untreated fat deposition in arterial walls can lead to atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Implementing small quantities of this major volatile compound in lion's mane can reduce the likelihood of these fatal health problems.


Linoleic acid can lower cholesterol levels

Linoleic acid is another major volatile compound in lion's mane which is essential to support the immune system and lower cholesterol levels. People with high cholesterol are prone to heart disease. Supplying dietary H. erinaceus can protect people from suffering from these diseases due to the increase of linoleic acid intake that fights cardiovascular diseases.


Polysaccharides that can promote heart and kidney health

H. erinaceus are highly studied due to their source of polysaccharides and ligninolytic carboxymethyl cellulose, which can be used in the production of bioenergy (6). Polysaccharides in the fruiting body of H. erinaceus have been demonstrated to improve the amount of blood supplied to organs (7). This is a common problem in cardiovascular surgery. When lion's mane polysaccharides were pre-administered to mice, a decrease in levels of blood urea nitrogen and an increase in creatine clearance were seen. Lion's mane can reduce the chances of cardiovascular complications.


Lion's mane polysaccharides promote kidney health and removal of waste fluids, which can benefit patients who suffer from acute renal failure. It is essential to ensure that kidney waste removal is operating successfully. If waste is not properly removed from the kidneys, continuous use of diuretic medications and constant dialysis procedures are required. Dietary H. erinaceus can aid kidney function and lower the risk of kidney failure in patients with kidney damage by preventing oxidative stress in the kidney. The introduction of lion's mane polysaccharides decreased lipid peroxidation levels compared to renal ischemia reperfusion group (7). Injury to the kidneys from oxidative reactions was prevented, suggesting its usefulness in preventing kidney failure in humans.


lions mane mushroom growing on a tree in fall

10. Reduce menstrual cramps

The volatile compound phenyl acetaldehyde has been shown to provide anti-inflammatory effects that reduce menstrual cramps (7). Oftentimes, people who suffer from menstrual cramps use acetaminophen to reduce the pain, which can increase the risk of liver damage, which can potentially be fatal. As a substitute, lion's mane can be used to reduce menstrual cramps without harmful side effects.


11. Antibiotic against MRSA, Salmonella, and H. pylori

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a serious and growing problem. Some pathogens have become difficult to fight off, necessitating alternative treatment methods.


Staphylococcus aureus, the causative agent of pneumonia and meningitis, is becoming resistant to methicillin. A test conducted to determine the efficacy of erinacines found in lion's mane revealed that erinacines have anti-MRSA (methicillin-resistant S. aureus) activity (7). Those that are affected by these antibiotic-resistant S. aureus can take a lion's mane mushroom supplement to attack these microorganisms that would otherwise harm the body.


Mice that had been injected with doses of Salmonella typhimurium were protected by H. erinaceus extracts that had motivated growth of macrophage cells in the immune system, which protected mice from liver impairment and prevented death (7). Those that are exposed to S. typhimurium often fight liver diseases that result from the infection. Introducing lion's mane to the diet of these subjects can reduce the risk of liver damage.


A common human GI pathogen that causes ulcers is known as Helicobacter pylori. Minimum inhibitory concentration values from the fruiting bodies of lion's mane mushrooms were used to evaluate the efficacy of the polysaccharides against H. pylori (7). The bioactive compounds and polysaccharides in lion's mane extract inhibited the growth of H. pylori in agar assays, suggesting lion's mane could help prevent the development of ulcers in those infected by H. pylori (7).


Other pathogen tests were performed using H. erinaceus to see the inhibition of growth in Gram-positive and Gram-negative pathogenic bacteria (7). Both Gram-negative and Gram-positive pathogen growths were inhibited when exposed to extracts of lion's mane (7). The introduction of lion's mane can decrease bacterial growth to treat antibiotic-resistant pathogens.


Conclusion

It is evident that Hericium erinaceus (lion's mane mushroom) is beneficial to human health and cognition. The compounds that make up the fungi have proven to impact different parts of the body by increasing chemical levels that promote health, or reducing other compounds that are negative to well-being. Implementing this supplement can help any person prevent or delay a wide range of ailments.



Key Takeaways

  • Lion's mane mushroom improves gut, heart, and brain health, enhancing energy, focus, and immunity.

  • Various bioactive compounds such as erinacines, hericenones, steroids, alkaloids, lactones, polysaccharides, glycoproteins, benzaldehyde, and phenyl acetaldehyde give lion's mane its broad-ranging therapeutic properties.

  • Lion's mane mushroom has potential to help prevent or treat depression, anxiety, ADD, fatigue, dementia, autoimmunity, multiple sclerosis, wounds, certain cancers, high cholesterol, kidney damage, menstrual cramps, MRSA, Salmonella, and H. pylori infections, and more.


Further Reading

Lee, Li-Ya et al. Erinacine A-Enriched Hericium erinaceus Mycelium Delays Progression of Age-Related Cognitive Decline in Senescence Accelerated Mouse Prone 8 (SAMP8) Mice. Nutrients, 2021. 13(10): p. 3659. Link


References

  1. Sheng X, et al., Immunomodulatory effects of Hericium erinaceus derived polysaccharides are mediated by intestinal immunology. Food Funct, 2017. 8(3): p. 1020–7.

  2. Mantis NJ, Rol N, Corthésy B., Secretory IgAs complex roles in immunity and mucosal homeostasis in the gut. Mucosal Immunol, 2011. 4(6): p. 603–11.

  3. Nagano M, et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomed Res, 2010. 31(4): p. 231–7.

  4. Weickenmeier J, et al., The mechanical importance of myelination in the central nervous system. J Mech Behav Biomed Mater, 2017. 76: p. 119–24.

  5. Mori K, et al., Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res, 2009. 23(3): p. 367–72.

  6. Abdulla MA, et al., Potential Activity of Aqueous Extract of Culinary-Medicinal Lions Mane Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) in Accelerating Wound Healing in Rats. Int J Med Mushrooms, 2011. 13(1): p. 33–9.

  7. Friedman M., Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties of Hericium Erinaceus (Lion′s Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds. J Agric Food Chem, 2015. 63(32): p. 7108–7123.

  8. Kim SP, et al., Mechanism of Hericium erinaceus (Yamabushitake) mushroom-induced apoptosis of U937 human monocytic leukemia cells. Food Funct, 2011. 2(6): p. 348.

  9. Forrest KY, Stuhldreher WL. 2011. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr Res, 2011. 31(1): p. 48–54.

  10. Kochi, M., et al., Antitumor activity of benzaldehyde. Cancer Treat Rep, 1980. 64(1): p. 21–3.

  11. Mori K, et al., Nerve Growth Factor-Inducing Activity of Hericium erinaceus in 1321N1 Human Astrocytoma Cells. Biol Pharm Bull, 2008. 31(9): p. 1727–32.

  12. Liu J, Du C, Wang Y, Yu Z., Anti-fatigue activities of polysaccharides extracted from Hericium erinaceus. Exp Ther Med, 2014. 9(2): p. 483–7.

  13. Xu J, Zhao Q, Qu Y, Ye F. 2013. Antioxidant activity and anti-exercise-fatigue effect of highly denatured soybean meal hydrolysate prepared using neutrase. J Food Sci Technol 52(4): p. 1982–1992.

  14. Chien-Chang Lu, et al., Inhibitory effect of Erinacines A on the growth of DLD-1 colorectal cancer cells is induced by generation of reactive oxygen species and activation of p70S6K and p21. J Funct Foods, 2016. 21: p. 474-484.

  15. Carta G, Murru E, Banni S, Manca C. Palmitic Acid: Physiological Role, Metabolism and Nutritional Implications. Front Physiol, 2017. 8: p. 902.

  16. Gravina, Antonietta Gerarda et al. Hericium erinaceus, a medicinal fungus with a centuries-old history: Evidence in gastrointestinal diseases. World journal of gastroenterology, 2017. 29(20): p. 3048-3065.

  17. Hetland, Geir et al. Antitumor, Anti-Inflammatory and Antiallergic Effects of Agaricus blazei Mushroom Extract and the Related Medicinal Basidiomycetes Mushrooms, Hericium erinaceus and Grifolafrondosa: A Review of Preclinical and Clinical Studies. Nutrients, 2020. 12(5): p. 1339.

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