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Focus on Lion's Mane

Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) grows on broadleaf trees and has been used as a medicine for treatment of impaired digestion and gastric disease in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 1000 years.[1] Named because the plentiful spines on its surface resemble the tumble of a lion’s mane, this mushroom is both a culinary and curative masterpiece. This mushroom’s flavour has been compared to crab and lobster, which makes it a favourite of chefs around the globe. With its thick texture, lion’s mane is suitable for deep frying, roasting, sauteing, or added to stews and sauces.

Besides being delicious, this mushroom is also nutritious. Lion’s mane mushrooms provide the macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Lion’s mane also contains significant amounts of the micronutrients copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc[2] and Vitamin D as well as antioxidant compounds like phenols and flavonoids. Of course, lion’s mane is also a source of beta-glucans and bioactive compounds including terpenoids and sterols. Ergosterol, for example, is part of the mushroom’s immune system and protects cell membranes from free radical damage.[3] (It’s also converted into Vitamin D with exposure to sunlight.) 2 Although a superstar on the plate, lion’s mane really shines as an ally for optimal health.

Mainly for your brain

Despite the myths you may have heard about your brain cells depleting as you age, your brain continues to reorganize itself and form new neural connections throughout your life. The trick is to make sure you continue to challenge yourself and learn new skills at the same time you provide your brain with the nutrients it needs to create and protect neurons.

Compounds in lion’s mane help to ease stress-induced cells death[4] and may support repair. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study measured the cognitive function scores of older Japanese adults with mild cognitive impairment. The adults who used supplemental lion’s mane extracts for 16 weeks achieved better cognitive test scores at the end of the study. The research suggests that Lion’s mane may have a role in improving mild cognitive impairment.[5]

Studies have shown that compounds from lion’s mane (called hericenones and erinacines) can easily cross the blood-brain barrier. These natural chemicals stimulate the creation of neuron growth factors that maintain and organize neurons and activate the brain.[6]

Deficiencies in these specific factors have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases, which result from progressive damage to cells and connections in the nervous system that are essential for coordination and mobility, as well as sensation and cognition.  Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are examples of neurodegenerative diseases.6 Animal studies show that lion’s mane may prevent damage to spatial short-term and visual recognition memory caused by amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease.[7]

Menopausal depression and anxiety

Other double-blind placebo-controlled research explored the effect of Lion’s mane on depression and anxiety for menopausal women. Thirty females were randomly assigned to receive Lion’s mane or placebo for 4 weeks. The Lion’s mane group reported lower levels of anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating than the placebo group. Researchers haven’t yet figured out how lion’s mane works to reduce these symptoms.[8]

Gut + immunity

Like other mushrooms, lion’s mane supports the immune system in a variety of ways. First of all, because approximately 80% of the immune system is found in the digestive tract, keeping the gut healthy is critical to keeping the entire body healthy. Animal research has shown that this mushroom may help to prevent mucosal damage and swelling caused by ulcers.[9] As well, lion’s mane provides a source of prebiotic fibres that help to feed beneficial bacteria in the gut and support a healthy microbiome.

Immune system modulation

Research shows that lion’s mane modulates the immune system and may help to regulate inflammation by increasing or decreasing signals that trigger inflammation when required, as well as shutting it down when the time is right.[10] Test tube studies also have determined that Lion’s mane activates macrophage immune cells that engulf germs and viruses to prevent them from causing you harm.11  As well, lion’s mane encourages maturation of dendritic cells, which are critical messengers that share information between the innate and adaptive immune systems.10 Finally, some research suggests that lion’s mane may play a role in helping to prevent tumours.[11]

Metabolic health

Laboratory studies show that lion’s mane plays a role in maintaining healthy glucose levels.[12] Some evidence shows that this mushroom may improve fat metabolism and lower triglyceride levels.[13] Lion’s mane may prove beneficial in preventing and calming chronic, low-grade inflammation in fat tissue that accompanies obesity and is a driver of metabolic disease.[14]  Human trials in all these health supporting areas are ongoing.

Although Lion’s mane is known for brain benefits, clearly this mushroom brings a lot more to the table. 

Lisa Petty, PhD likes Mindful for focus, concentration and all the thinking...


[1] Ma, Bing-Ji., Shen, Jin-Wen., Yu, Hai-You., Ruan, Yuan., Wu, Ting-Ting., & Zhao, Xu. (2010) Hericenones and erinacines: stimulators of nerve growth factor (NGF) biosynthesis in Hericium erinaceus, Mycology, 1:2, 92-98, DOI: 10.1080/21501201003735556

[2] Friedman, M. (2015). Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(32), 7108–7123.

[3] Dupont, Fleurat-Lessard, P., Cruz, R. G., Lafarge, C., Grangeteau, C., Yahou, F., Gerbeau-Pissot, P., Abrahão Júnior, O., Gervais, P., Simon-Plas, F., Cayot, P., & Beney, L. (2021). Antioxidant Properties of Ergosterol and Its Role in Yeast Resistance to Oxidation. Antioxidants, 10(7), 1024–21.

[4] Sabaratnam, V., Kah-Hui, W., Naidu, M., & Rosie David, P. (2013). Neuronal health - can culinary and medicinal mushrooms help?. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine3(1), 62–68. OPEN

[5] 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.

[6] Ryu, S. H., Hong, S. M., Khan, Z., Lee, S. K., Vishwanath, M., Turk, A., Yeon, S. W., Jo, Y. H., Lee, D. H., Lee, J. K., Hwang, B. Y., Jung, J.-K., Kim, S. Y., & Lee, M. K. (2021). Neurotrophic isoindolinones from the fruiting bodies of Hericium erinaceus. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 31, 127714–127714.

[7] 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.

[8] Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, Hayashi C, Sato D, Kitagawa K, Ohnuki K. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomed Res. 2010 Aug;31(4):231-7. doi: 10.2220/biomedres.31.231. PMID: 20834180. OPEN

[9] Abdullah N, Ismail S (2011) 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 13:3339 

[10] Jiang, S., Wang, S., Sun, Y., & Zhang, Q. (2014). Medicinal properties of Hericium erinaceus and its potential to formulate novel mushroom-based pharmaceuticals. Applied Microbiology & Biotechnology98(18), 7661–7670. 

[11] Lee JS, Min KM, Cho JY, Hong EK. (2009). Study of macrophage activation and structural characteristics of purified polysaccharides from the fruiting body of Hericium erinaceus. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 19(9):951–9. doi: 10.4014/jmb.0901.013.

[12]   Hetland, G., Tangen, J.-M., Mahmood, F., Mirlashari, M. R., Nissen-Meyer, L. S. H., Nentwich, I., Therkelsen, S. P., Tjønnfjord, G. E., & Johnson, E. (2020). Antitumor, Anti-Inflammatory and Antiallergic Effects of Agaricus blazei Mushroom Extract and the Related Medicinal Basidiomycetes Mushrooms, Hericium erinaceus and Grifola frondosa : A Review of Preclinical and Clinical Studies. Nutrients, 12(5), 1339–. OPEN

[13]   Choi, Kim, Y. S., Park, B. S., Kim, J. E., & Lee, S. E. (2013). Hypolipidaemic Effect of Hericium erinaceum Grown in Artemisia capillaris on obese Rats. Mycobiology, 41(2), 94–99.

[14] Mori K, Ouchi K, Hirasawa N. The Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Lion's Mane Culinary-Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) in a Coculture System of 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and RAW264 Macrophages. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2015;17(7):609-18. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushrooms.v17.i7.10. PMID: 26559695.