Mushrooms are a great source of nutrients and other chemicals that promote health and longevity. Today, more than 2,000 different species have been identified as edible and medicinal. There are many species of Hericium being discovered; H. erinaceus (lion's mane mushroom) is the commonly used species in China, Japan, Korea, and India for medicinal and culinary purposes.
The fruiting of H. erinaceus can occur during springtime but is much more common in the fall. These fungi are identified by their distinct succulent and strand-like growths. These saprophytic fungi are found in the northeast, growing on decaying trees such as maple and birch. It is common practice to cultivate these mushrooms on sterilized sawdust bags or on logs with dowels that contain the mycelium.
H. erinaceus has been used to:
promote the growth of neurons
provide support to the immune system
fight against 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).
1. Good source of vitamin D and vitamin B12
Sterol-containing lion's mane converts ergosterol to vitamin D upon UV light exposure (7). Hypovitaminosis D is a common deficiency today, affecting about 41.6% of the world’s population (9). Vitamin D deficiency is common among those that are obese and demonstrate poor health eminence. Untreated vitamin D deficiency 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. 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 potential nervous system damage. People who follow a vegan diet are more likely to develop anemia from a deficiency in vitamin B12. This vitamin is found in eggs and dairy; therefore, those who avoid these food items must take supplemental B12 in order to prevent ailments caused by vitamin B12 deficiency. H. erinaceus has been found to contain inactive vitamin B12 lactones, which can potentially 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
Polysaccharides found in H. erinaceus have been shown to regulate the immune system, as measured by cell-mediated immunity, humoral (body fluid) immunity, and macrophage phagocytoses in mice (1). It is evident that consumption of H. erinaceus polysaccharides promotes immune system function.
H. erinaceus has also been found to increase the production of secretory IgA (immunoglobulin A), which is essential in immune health since it blocks access of pathogens to the epithelial receptors (1). Secretory IgA (SIgA) protects the intestinal epithelium from toxins and pathogenic microorganisms (2). SIgA encourages the cleansing of pathogenic microorganisms from the intestine by blocking the access of these pathogens to the epithelial receptors (2). Essentially, lion's mane polysaccharides are effective in promoting immune health through regulating immune activities that include the use of SIgA, which is essential in protecting the epithelium from pathogens and toxic compounds.
3. Antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties & helps with focus
H. erinaceus intake has been shown to fight against depression and anxiety. 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 in order to determine the effectiveness of lion's mane mushroom on menopause, depression, and sleep quality (3). Each woman in this group of 30 were either given a placebo cookie or a cookie containing the lion's mane for 4 weeks (3). Women who had been consuming the cookie containing the lion's mane mushroom were found to be more focused and less anxious, as compared to the women consuming the placebo cookie (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, supporting the use of dietary lion's mane as an antidepressant and anxiolytic aide.
4. Promotes myelination and neuronal survival, which protects against dementia and autoimmunity
The inclusion of H. erinaceus in diets improves memory, reduces hyperactivity, prevents cognitive impairments, and promotes nerve factor growth. Hericerins and erinacines contained in lions mane mushroom have been shown to promote health in the nervous system.
Hericerins are aromatic compounds with medicinal properties found in the fruiting body of lion's mane (6).
Erinacines are diterpenoids with demonstrated neuroprotective properties (6). Erinacines A, B, and C were shown to promote nerve growth factor (NGF) synthesis and growth activity in neurons (7). Erinacines decrease the production of lactate dehydrogenase and promote NGF in subjects, which can protect CNS neurons and help reduce the possibility of developing dementia. Lion's mane can be used to prevent or reduce the rate of dementia.
H. erinaceus promotes mental health by increasing brain levels of NGF. This neurotrophic factor is an essential protein required for the development and protection of neurons in the central nervous system (CNS). NGF promotes neuronal survival, supports axonal outgrowth, and improves brain health by producing myelination. Myelination is necessary for brain development since myelin ensures even electrical signal propagation in neurons, while also coating and guarding against other forces that can negatively affect neurons (4). Without neuroprotective factors, neurons can deteriorate, resulting in dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. If myelination does not occur frequently, or if demyelination occurs, neurodegenerative autoimmune diseases can result.
H. erinaceus can help protect against these diseases or delay their detrimental effects if a subject is already diagnosed. Therefore, it is recommended that patients who are battling neurodegenerative autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, transverse myelitis, or neuromyelitis optica include myelination-promoting supplements to their diet in order to encourage the growth of the myelin sheaths that protect these nerves. As indicated, lion's mane is a good approach to improving myelination in the brain.
50-80 Japanese men and women that were diagnosed with cognitive impairment were given an oral dose of H. erinaceus in order to determine the efficacy of the fungi in improving cognitive impairment (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 an effective agent in refining minor cognitive impairment. Although this cannot cure many cognitive impairments, it can help improve lesser impairments.
5. Reduces fatigue, promotes energy balance, and enhances muscle recovery
Lion's mane has 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:
a decrease of blood lactic acid, serum urea nitrogen, and malondialdehyde content
an escalation in antioxidant enzyme activity [including glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and superoxide dismutase (SOD)] and tissue glycogen content (12)
Blood lactic acid: Lactic acid is formed when muscle cells repair after exercising, resulting in a sore feeling in the muscles. This feeling is lessened when H. erinaceus is introduced in diets of those who are prone to immediate lactic acid fermentation. When introduced, anti-fatigue properties are evident.
Serum urea nitrogen: When high levels of serum urea nitrogen present in subjects facing kidney failure, it is accompanied by fatigue. It has been shown that by adding lion's mane polysaccharides to the diet of kidney failure patients, serum urea nitrogen levels decrease in the body, and this mitigates the feeling of fatigue. Dietary lion's mane benefits patients that easily succumb to fatigue.
Malondialdehyde: 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 against lethargic feeling by neutralizing compounds in the body.
Antioxidant enzymes: An increase in antioxidant enzymes helps fight against fatigue by removing free radical metabolites in order to sustain physiologic cellular activity (13). This promotes the mechanisms that allow for the production and maintenance of energy. Attention deficit disorder 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. Hericenones and benzaldehyde have 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.
A major volatile compound found in lion's mane, benzaldehyde, has been shown in some studies to alter cancer cells shape in subjects fighting carcinoma (10). H. erinaceus may be able to supplement 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.
Fruiting bodies of H. erinaceus have been shown to protect against cell damage in pheochromocytomatous cells (7). This resulted in an increase in cell viability and a decrease of the production of lactate dehydrogenase.
7. Glycoproteins that reduce blood loss due to injury
Glycoproteins found in H. erinaceus have been shown to have a hemagglutinating effect (7). This is beneficial for those suffering from hemophilia who need assistance in clotting wounds. With a diet enriched in the glycoproteins found in lion's mane, it is expected to see an improvement in blood quality in some individuals who suffer from hemophilia. When hemophilic patients are wounded, the amount of blood loss could be reduced with supplemental lion's mane compared to controls.
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.
Stimulating tissue growth in wounds with the use of collagen is essential in preventing infection. Collagen controls the growth of bacteria populating the skin before the wound is sterilized. Collagen therefore develops a layer between the wound and the bacteria which decreases the risk of infection. Collagen promotes the growth of new cells on the skin, allowing for a reduction in scar size and severity. Using lion's mane extract is beneficial to dressing wounds in order to accelerate wound repair and promote collagen protection in order to reduce scarring and infection.
9. Helps with cardiovascular and kidney conditions
Small quantities of palmitic acid can prevent atherosclerosis
A component in the oils of palm trees is palmitic acid. Palmitic acid may benefit subjects who are prone to developing fat build up in and on artery walls. 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 suffer from cardiovascular diseases. Supplying H. erinaceus to a diet can protect people from suffering from these diseases due to the increase of linoleic acid intake that fights against 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). It has been demonstrated that the polysaccharides in the fruiting body of H. erinaceus can 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. If H. erinaceous is added to the diet of those suffering from kidney damage, then this can aid kidney function and prevent the possibility of kidney failure. This is accomplished through the prevention of 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, indicating its usefulness in preventing kidney failure in humans (7).
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 potentially fatal liver damage. As a substitute, lion's mane can be used to reduce menstrual cramps without harmful side effects.
11. Antibiotic properties against pathogens
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a serious and growing problem. Some pathogens have become difficult to fight off, necessitating other treatment methods that don't involve antibiotics.
Staphylococcus aureus, the causative agent of pneumonia and meningitis, is becoming resistant to methicillin. A test that was conducted to determine the efficacy of erinacines found in lion's mane indicated that erinacines have anti-MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) activity (7). Those that are affected by these antibiotic resistant S. aureus can take a lion's mane mushroom supplement in order 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 against 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 pathogens growths were inhibited when exposed to extracts of lion's mane (7). The introduction of lion's mane can decrease bacterial growth in order to treat antibiotic-resistant pathogens.