Lion’s Mane: The Nerve Growth Nootropic Mushroom

Lion's Mane

Lion’s Mane is an incredible mushroom that touts some extremely unique nootropic benefits including increasing Nerve Growth Factor.

If you’ve been keen to the nootropic world lately, you’ve probably seen a certain member of the Fungi Kingdom showing up more frequently. This mighty mushroom is rather impressive and could be said to be pure “magic”, but probably not in the same way you’re used to thinking about mushrooms.

We’re of course talking about Lion’s Mane. This brain-boosting super ‘shroom is clearly bringing some serious nootropic benefits and we’ve got all the details ahead on why it should be a staple in any nootropic stack, especially since it’s so much different than the standard choline / L-Tyrosine style compounds many nootropic beginners start with.

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What is Lion’s Mane?

Scientifically known as Hericium erinaceus, Lion’s Mane is an edible mushroom used extensively in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine throughout history for its healing properties.[1,2,3] You may have also encountered it before under one of its other names,[4] including:

  • Bear’s Head
  • Hedgehog Mushroom
  • Houtou (Chinese)
  • Monkey’s mushroom
  • Old Man’s Beard
  • Yamabushitake (Japanese)

What does Lion’s Mane do?

Lion’s Mane is naturally rich in several vitamins and minerals, but also contains some particularly unique compounds including compounds such as erinacines, erinacea lactones, glycoproteins, hericerins, and polysaccharides (beta-glucans).[5] These bioactive compounds are believed to be the elements responsible for the plethora of benefits Lion’s Mane has to offer. Among the long-list of benefits (which we’ll get to more in-depth below) include[4,5]:

  • Anti-aging
  • Antibiotic
  • Anticancer
  • Antifatigue
  • Lion’s Mane has been shown to increase the amount of Nerve Growth Factor in the brain

    Antioxidant

  • Cognitive Function
  • Neuroprotective
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Glucose-lowering
  • Anxiety relief
  • Inflammation reduction
  • Protection against stomach ulcers
  • Immune system support

Implications on Nerve Growth Factor

While the list of benefits resulting from Lion’s Mane is long and distinguished, recently it’s gained considerable popularity in the nootropic community when it was found to affect Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a protein that’s vital to the function and survival of nerve cells.[6] Lion’s Mane has been shown to increase the amount of Nerve Growth Factor in the brain[12], which improves cognition by  promoting neuronal growth, reducing inflammation, and supporting overall brain health.

Suffice it to say, Lion’s Mane is an incredibly intriguing and unique nootropic that could be a valuable addition to any brain-boosting supplementation regimen. Now, let’s dive a little deeper into the myriad of benefits this mushroom has to offer.

Benefits of Lion’s Mane

  • Brain Function

    Lion's Mane Nerve Cells

    Lion’s Mane is able to stimulate growth in brain cells.[10]

    The main reason we’re here is for the nootropic benefit of Lion’s Mane, so there’s no better way to start the explanation of benefits than with how it improves brain function. The mushroom has been shown in clinical studies to enhance cognition, specifically by improving memory and recall.

    Research conducted in Japan on 50-80 year old adults with mild cognitive decline were given Lion’s Mane extract (3g / day total) for 16 weeks. Subjects receiving the extract increased scores on cognitive function without any adverse side effects.[7]

    Additionally, studies on mice show that Lion’s Mane can improve both memory and cognitive function in individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s – but this is yet to be truly replicated in human patients.[3,8]

  • Nerve Regeneration

    Lion’s Mane is one of the most potent natural brain boosters around due to its ability to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) production.[3,6] In fact, one study out of Japan found that Lion’s Mane was the only mushroom species to enhance Nerve Growth Factor synthesis.[12] Researchers have determined it’s the hericenones and erinacines present in the medicinal mushroom that can induce NGF production in nerve cells.

    As we briefly mentioned up top, NGF is a protein in the brain (neuropeptide) that maintains neurons, the cells responsible for assisting your brain process and transmit information. So, whether you’re studying for a big exam, writing a long article on nootropics (like this one), or just trying to focus better in the office, Lion’s Mane can help.

    Additional animal studies show that Lion’s Mane offers nerve regenerating abilities[9] and enhances nerve growth, in the brain and throughout the body.[4,9,10]

  • Neuroprotection

    Lion's Mane Actylcholine Mice

    HE treated AlCl3- and d-gal-induced AD mice for four weeks, and blood and hypothalamus were collected. The levels of (A) acetylcholine (Ach) and (C) choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) in hypothalamus, and the levels of (B) Ach and (D) ChAT in serum were detected via ELISA method. Data are expressed as the percentage to controls and mean ± SD (n = 10). ### p < 0.001 vs. normal mice (CTRL), * p <0.05 and ** p < 0.01 vs. AD mice. HE: Hericium erinaceus aqueous extract.[8]

    Acetylcholine is a vital neurotransmitter that aids nerve cell communication. Unfortunately, levels of “the learning neurotransmitter” decline with age, which results in decreased cognitive function and the progression of cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

    Lion’s Mane has been shown to exert powerful neuroprotective benefits. Studies conducted in rats with Alzheimer’s show Lion’s Mane enhanced acetylcholine and choline acetyltransferase (the enzyme that produces acetylcholine) levels in the blood and hypothalamus.[8]

    Other studies in mice note that Lion’s Mane prevents the loss of spatial short-term memory as well as visual recognition memory.[3] And still other studies note it decreases amyloid beta plaque buildup in the brain, which is important as beta amyloid plays a role in brain degradation in individuals with Alzheimer’s as well as neurotoxicity.[13] To top of the neuroprotective benefits of Lion’s Mane, it’s even been shown to exert some anti-dementia actions too.[14]

  • Anxiety & Depression

    Lion’s Mane isn’t just for enhancing focus and memory, it also helps combat feelings of anxiety and depression. A 4-week study in women (age 41 ± 5.6 years) experiencing menopausal symptoms (lack of concentration, anxiety, palpitations, irritability, etc.) found that treatment with Lion’s Mane improved their menopausal symptoms as well as their sleep quality.[15]

    What’s unique is that the women were fed cookies that contained 0.5g of Lion’s Mane powder four times per day for a total of 2g total Lion’s Mane fruiting body powder. Now that’s how you deliver a supplement ingredient!

    You may not be aware of this, but inflammation plays a key role in depression.[16] Compounds present in Lion’s Mane (such as amycenone) have been shown to decrease inflammation and exert antidepressant effects.[17]

  • Anti-Fatigue

    Lion's Mane Swimming

    Effects of Hericium erinaceus on exhaustive swimming times. Values are expressed as the means ± SD. *P<0.05, compared with the C group. C, control; LHT, low-dose HEP-treated group; MHT, moderate-dose HEP-treated group; HHT, high-dose HEP-treated group.[18]

    Believe it or not, Lion’s Mane might be a valuable performance enhancing agent to in regards to physical activity. The multi-faceted mushroom has been documented to increase exhaustive swimming time, glycogen content, and antioxidant enzyme activity in mice. Additionally, it also reduced blood lactic acid, malondialdehyde, and urea nitrogen, three key markers of fatigue.[18] For what it’s worth, Lion’s Mane has also been shown to increase flying ability, in flies that is.[4]These studies are why Lion's Mane has been included in the premier cordyceps-based performance ingredient, PeakO2.

  • Sleep

    It’s no secret that adequate sleep is essential to recovery, cognitive function, and general health. Sleep is the time when your body maximizes its repair, and is needed by everyone not just the infants and elderly, no matter what those young 20-somethings say. And guess what? Lion’s Mane improves sleep too!

    Lion’s Mane can enhance your sleep quality by improving circadian rhythm. Research in mice gives evidence the mushroom reduced wakefulness at the end of the “active phase” and advanced the sleep-wake cycle.[19] Based on this, researchers have suggested Lion’s Mane may be beneficial in disorders associated with impaired circadian clocks, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, or sleep phase disorder.

  • Blood Sugar

    Lion's Mane Memory

    H. erinaceus increases recognition memory. Novel object recognition test (NOR) in dx (n = 10) and Hr-dietary supplemented mice (n = 15) during a 10 min session. (a) Schematic of the experimental set-up and procedure used. Histograms show (b) the number of approaches to the familiar and novel objects; (c) the total duration of approaches; (d) the average duration of an approach; (e) the latency to the first approach; (f) total latency; and (g) average latency between approaches.[4]

    In addition to enhancing cognitive health and function, Lion’s Mane also shows promise as a diabetes-combatting supplement. Research in mice show it can reduce blood glucose in body normal and diabetic mice by almost 50%.[4] Additionally, it also has been shown to increase glucose tolerance and insulin release, resulting in better glycemic control.[20]

    On top of that, the mighty mushroom might also be useful for treating diabetic nerve pain, as research notes Lion’s Mane can enhance pain threshold.[21]

  • Anti-Aging

    Lipofuscin is a metabolic waste product of human and animal aging metabolism. It constantly accumulates as a cell ages, which contributes to cell wasting. Lion’s Mane has been document to reduce lipofuscin levels in mice.[4]

    Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is a powerful antioxidant that combats reactive oxygen species (ROS) into oxygen (O2). The problem is that SOD naturally decreases as we age, reducing antioxidant abilities and accelerating aging. Polysaccharides contained in Lion’s Mane have been shown to increase superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity in the brain and liver.[4] And some studies have shown Lion’s Mane to demonstrate anti-aging effects in human cell cultures too.[22]

  • Cardiovascular Health

    Lion’s Mane has been shown to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol in rats fed a high fat diet, while also increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol.[23,24] Other research notes that the fungus reduced weight gain, body fat, and triglyceride levels.[25] Researchers believe the mushroom’s cholesterol-lowering effects may be due to decreased fat absorption or increased rate of cholesterol breakdown.[4,26]

  • Anti-Inflammatory

    We’ve already mentioned that Lion’s Mane can increase SOD activity, but that’s not the end of its antioxidant powers. Studies show the mushroom can reduce excess ROS, pro-inflammatory factors (for example, NF-kB), prostaglandin, and nitric oxide.[28] It also improves symptoms associated with gut inflammation, intestinal bleeding, and levels of inflammatory cytokines as well.[29] And to top it off, Lion’s Mane also prevents obesity-related fat tissue inflammation.[27]

Other Benefits

Lion's Mane Lactic Acid

Effects of Hericium erinaceus on blood lactic acid and serum urea nitrogen content. Values are expressed as the means ± SD. *P<0.05, compared with the C group. C, control; LHT, low-dose HEP-treated group; MHT, moderate-dose HEP-treated group; HHT, high-dose HEP-treated group.[18]

Since the primary focus of this article is on the nootropic benefits of Lion’s Mane, we’ll simply list the other benefits attributed to the mushroom’s consumption but not dive too deep into them:
  • Improved Immune System Function
  • Induces cancer cell death
  • Antibacterial effects
  • Reduces HIV activity
  • Enhances circulation (via reduction in blood clotting)
  • Protects the gut and liver
  • Increases collagen content
  • Improves bone density

Dosage

Dosing of Lion’s Mane really depends on the quality (strength) of the extract. Ideally, you want to get one that contains at least 20% beta-glucans. A good starting dose for a 20-30% beta-glucan Lion’s Mane extract is 500-1000mg.

Brain Forza Lion's Mane

Look for a premium quality extract of Lion’s Mane from Brain Forza.

However, if you’re using a weaker extract you may need to consume several grams of the extract to get enough of the “good stuff” that we described above. The two human study done on Lion’s Mane used a dose of 1,000 mg with 96% purity three times per day for a total of 3g Lion’s Mane extract[7], and the other “cookie” one treating anxiety and depression used a total of 2g / day divided across 4-0.5g doses.[15]

Best Lion’s Mane Supplement

Given the extract strength recommendations above, we currently recommend Brain Forza Lion’s Mane, which is loaded with beta-glucans and receives high reviews:

Brain Forza Lion's Mane Mushroom - Deals and Price Drop Alerts

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Side Effects

Lion’s Mane is generally considered safe with little to no adverse side effects resulting from its use. Anecdotal accounts note that some people do experience a bit of an “itchy skin” feeling, which is believed to be caused by the increased Nerve Growth Factor synthesis.

Lion’s Mane has been extensively tested in mice and shows no signs of toxicity, even when dosed up to 5g/kg.[30]

Stacking

Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient that provides the backbone of the learning neurotransmitter acetylcholine; learn which form is the best for your needs.

Lion’s Mane is best suited to long-term use, but if you’re looking for some immediate/acute benefits from the super ‘shroom, consider stacking it alongside a member of the racetam family (such as our favorite, phenylpiracetam) along with a high-quality choline supplement such as Alpha GPC or CDP-Choline to prevent any choline depletion-induced headaches.

For long-term cognitive health and improvement, consider stacking Lion’s Mane with Uridine (from CDP-Choline) and fish oil, which support cell membranes as well as Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) which reduces brain cell apoptosis (death). You could also include some supplemental zinc too, if your diet is lacking, since zinc is involved in regulating synaptic function.

Takeaway

Lion’s Mane is an exceptionally powerful mushroom; one that touts a number of nootropic and general health benefits. Simply put, it’s one magical mushroom that deserves a lot more attention and one that should be included as part of any nootropic stack.

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References

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  16. Cepeda, M., Stang, P. and Makadia, R. (2016). Depression Is Associated With High Levels of C-Reactive Protein and Low Levels of Fractional Exhaled Nitric Oxide. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 77(12), pp.1666-1671. http://www.psychiatrist.com/JCP/article/Pages/2016/v77n12/v77n1221.aspx
  17. Yao W, Zhang J, Dong C, et al. Effects of amycenone on serum levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-10, and depression-like behavior in mice after lipopolysaccharide administration. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2015;136:7-12. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2015.06.012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26150007
  18. LIU J, DU C, WANG Y, YU Z. Anti-fatigue activities of polysaccharides extracted from Hericium erinaceus. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine. 2015;9(2):483-487. doi:10.3892/etm.2014.2139. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4280918/
  19. Furuta S, Kuwahara R, Hiraki E, Ohnuki K, Yasuo S, Shimizu K. Hericium erinaceus extracts alter behavioral rhythm in mice. Biomed Res. 2016;37(4):227-232. doi:10.2220/biomedres.37.227. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27544998
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  21. Yi Z, Shao-long Y, Ai-hong Wang, et al. Protective Effect of Ethanol Extracts of Hericium erinaceus on Alloxan-Induced Diabetic Neuropathic Pain in Rats. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2015;2015:595480. doi:10.1155/2015/595480. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4415746/
  22. Noh HJ, Yang HH, Kim GS, et al. Chemical constituents of Hericium erinaceum associated with the inhibitory activity against cellular senescence in human umbilical vascular endothelial cells. J Enzyme Inhib Med Chem. 2015;30(6):934-940. doi:10.3109/14756366.2014.995181. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25676326
  23. Yang B-K, Park J-B, Song C-H. Hypolipidemic effect of an Exo-biopolymer produced from a submerged mycelial culture of Hericium erinaceus. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2003;67(6):1292-1298. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12843656
  24. Choi W-S, Kim Y-S, Park B-S, Kim J-E, Lee S-E. Hypolipidaemic Effect of Hericium erinaceum Grown in Artemisia capillaris on Obese Rats. Mycobiology. 2013;41(2):94-99. doi:10.5941/MYCO.2013.41.2.94. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3714447/
  25. Hiwatashi K, Kosaka Y, Suzuki N, et al. Yamabushitake mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) improved lipid metabolism in mice fed a high-fat diet. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2010;74(7):1447-1451. doi:10.1271/bbb.100130. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20622452
  26. Hiraki E, Furuta S, Kuwahara R, et al. Anti-obesity activity of Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) powder in ovariectomized mice, and its potentially active compounds. J Nat Med. 2017;71(3):482-491. doi:10.1007/s11418-017-1075-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28181079
  27. 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):609-618. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26559695
  28. Kim Y-O, Lee S-W, Oh C-H, Rhee Y-H. Hericium erinaceus suppresses LPS-induced pro-inflammation gene activation in RAW264.7 macrophages. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2012;34(3):504-512. doi:10.3109/08923973.2011.633527. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22126451
  29. Qin M, Geng Y, Lu Z, et al. Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ethanol Extract of Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Agaricomycetes), in Mice with Ulcerative Colitis. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2016;18(3):227-234. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v18.i3.50. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27481156
  30. Hao L, Xie Y, Wu G, et al. Protective Effect of Hericium erinaceus on Alcohol Induced Hepatotoxicity in Mice. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2015;2015:418023. doi:10.1155/2015/418023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4415743/

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