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Everything You Need To Know About Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Lion's Mane mushroom growing on tree in forest

Lion’s Mane isn’t exactly a household name but, in recent years, it has become pretty popular among users of nootropics.

Generally speaking, it’s not a great idea to go around eating random mushrooms.  As it turns out, though, some of them are actually good for you.

Lion’s Mane is one of the good ones.

It has been around since long before humans inhabited the Earth, but modern science is only just starting to realize the unique benefits this wonderful fungus has to offer.

In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about Lion’s Mane, including what it is, how it works, and most importantly, how it can potentially benefit you.

So, if you’re ready to take a trip to the magical world of mushrooms and learn a thing or two, let’s just dive right in…

What Is Lion’s Mane?

a close up of Lion's Mane mushroom

Hericium erinaceus, otherwise known as Lion’s Mane (and Yamabushitake), is a species of mushroom indigenous to parts Asia, Europe, and North America.

The name comes from the fact that it naturally grows in long strands which collectively resemble the mane of a Lion.

It can be (and is) consumed as a whole food and it has an extensive history of use throughout traditional Chinese medicine.  In recent years, however, more and more people have started to take Lion’s Mane supplements.

Mostly, Lion’s Mane is used for nootropic (cognitive enhancement) purposes and preliminary research indicates there may actually be something to it.

Several unique molecules have been identified as active components:

  • Hericenones
  • Erinacines
  • Polysaccharides

Research shows that the majority of the benefits associated with Lion’s Mane can be attributed to these molecules, but supplements usually just contain an extract of the Lion’s Main mushroom, not a particular molecule.

These extracts can be either water-based or ethanol-based and both appear to be effective.

Why Do People Supplement With Lion’s Mane?

Most people who supplement with Lion’s Mane are looking to:

  • improve memory
  • enhance cognitive abilities
  • support general brain health

Supplements that do these sorts of things are called nootropics, and while the research on Lion’s Mane is still in it’s infancy, it has already earned a reputation as an effective natural nootropic.

There do appear to be some other potential benefits as well.

What Are The Benefits Of Lion’s Mane?

synapses transmitting electrical impulses between neurons

It’s important to understand that most of the research on Lion’s Mane has been conducted in vitro (cells in a petri dish) or in mice.

Very few studies have looked at how it works in actual human beings so some of these benefits hold a little more scientific weight than others.

With that in mind…

Lion’s Mane Supports Cognitive Function

There are a lot of ways to improve cognitive function, but Lion’s Mane appears to work much differently than most nootropics.

Research shows it can increase the activity of nerve growth factor (NGF), a peptide which is responsible for growing, protecting, and proliferating neurons (nerve cells).

NGF is essential for optimal brain health and NGF-dysfunction is associated with various cognitive impairments and disorders, including:

In general, higher NGF expression is seen as a positive indicator of cognitive health.

By increasing NGF expression, Lion’s Mane may enhance or, at the very least, support cognitive health.

In mice, Lion’s Mane has been shown to protect against cognitive decline from beta-amyloid, a peptide which is believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s.

In humans, 3g/day of Lion’s Mane extract improved scores on cognitive tests in subjects with mild cognitive impairments.

Lion’s Mane has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in humans subjects.

So it would appear as though there are definitely some cognitive benefits associated with Lion’s Mane.  Of course, it’s still unclear exactly how effective it is as a nootropic in normal, healthy people.

Lion’s Mane Improves Cardiovascular Health

There is some some preliminary research which indicates Lion’s Mane has some cardiovascular benefits as well.

It has been shown to inhibit angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE).

ACE is an enzyme that catalyzes the production of Angiotensin II, a molecule produced by the body which causes vasoconstriction and, as a result, high blood pressure.

ACE inhibitors are commonly prescribed for lowering blood pressure, so it’s possible Lion’s Mane supplementation encourages healthy blood pressure.

Lion’s Mane has also been shown to reduce triglycerides in mice fed a high-fat diet.

It appears to be an agonist (activator) of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα), a receptor protein which a key player in fatty acid metabolism.

Activation of PPARα reduces triglycerides and PPARα agonists can encourage weight-loss.  This mechanism is similar to that of Cardarine, a PPARδ agonist with fat-burning properties.

Unfortunately, Lion’s Mane has not been studied in humans for the purposes of improving fat metabolism or weight-loss, so it’s unclear how it effective it really is in this regard.

Lion’s Mane Has Anti-Cancer Properties

Research is extremely limited here but…

Lion’s Mane has been shown to inhibit mestasis (spread of cancer) in colon cancer cells (from mice).  Unfortauntely, no other studies have been conducted in this area.

It’s possible that Lion’s Mane, like many other supplements, has anti-cancer properties, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s effective at actually treating cancer in the human body.

It’s important to draw that distinction.

Studies show that there are a ton of phytonutrients that have anti-cancer properties.

There’s no indication that Lion’s Mane is particularly special in this regard.

Lion’s Mane Supports Immune Function

Preliminary research indicates Lion’s Mane may have immuno-enhancing properties as well.

In mice, it has been shown to accelerate wound-healing.  This study used a topical treatment, though, so it’s not entirely clear how much Lion’s Mane extract you need to supplement with to reap these benefits.

Right now, I’d say it’s a little too early to recommend Lion’s Mane as ‘immune health supplement’.

What Kind Of Results Can You Expect From Lion’s Mane?

Due to a lack of human studies, it’s tough to predict exactly how Lion’s Mane will affect you.

Out of all the benefits, the nootropic properties are definitely the most reliable.  If you suffer from any kind of memory impairment or cognitive deficit, you may notice that Lion’s Mane

  • improves your memory
  • allows you to think more clearly
  • reduces anxiety/depression

Of course, given the ability of Lion’s Mane to enhance nerve growth factor (NGF) expression, there are a lot of ways it can potentially improve cognitive function.

There’s just not much in the way of concrete evidence, so at this point, it’s kind of a ‘try and see’ type supplement.

What Is The Clinically Effective Dosage For Lion’s Mane?

a spoonful of Lion's Mane supplement capsules

Only a few human studies have been conducted so far, so no precise clinical dose has been established.

So far, it looks like anywhere from 2 to 3 grams of Lion’s Mane extract is effective for improving cognitive function.

Lower doses may be effective, but no studies have tested lower doses, so it’s hard to say.

Also, the quality of the extract would likely make a fairly significant difference as well.  The Hericenone, Erinacine, and Polysaccharide content may differ, depending on the extraction process.

It’s best to go with an extract that contains the full spectrum of actives.

Does Lion’s Mane Cause Any Side Effects?

No adverse effects were reported in any of the human studies on Lion’s Mane.  In mice, massive doses (5g/kg) have been used without incident.

There was one situation in which a 63 year old man was hospitalized for respiratory failure which may have been due, in part, to an allergic reaction to Lion’s Mane, but no conclusions can be drawn from this.

Unless you’re allergic, there’s probably nothing to worry about with Lion’s Mane.  As always, though, it’s not a bad idea to talk to a healthcare professional before taking it (or any supplement).

Other Nootropic Supplements Worth Taking

Lion’s Mane may have some unique benefits, but then again, it’s hardly been studied in humans.

I’m not suggesting that this means it’s not worth trying, but if you’re looking for something that’s tried and true, there are a few other nootropic supplements you should consider.

All of the supplements we’re about to discuss have been studied multiple times in actual human beings.  They’ve all been PROVEN to actually enhance certain aspects of cognitive function.

Alpha GPC

Alpha GPC is a naturally occurring phospholipid (component of cell membranes).  It is considered to be the most bioavailable and efficient Choline source.

It contains 40% Choline by weight and, upon ingestion, easily crosses the blood brain barrier where the Choline portion is then converted into the neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine is heavily involved with cognitive functions like:

  • learning
  • memory
  • attention
  • muscle contraction
  • sleep

Increasing Acetylcholine levels is perhaps the most direct way of enhancing or optimizing your cognitive abilities.

Alpha GPC has been shown to restore cognitive function in people with memory impairments and is currently being investigated as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders.

Research also indicates it can enhance muscular power output, an indication of enhanced Acetylcholine signaling.

A clinical dose of Alpha GPC is anywhere from 600-1200mg/day.

Phosphatidylserine

Like Alpha GPC, Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid.  It is critical for maintaining the health and structural stability of cells, especially in the brain.

Studies have shown that Phosphatidylserine can improve cognitive function in elderly people with memory problems AND healthy young people.

It’s one of the few natural nootropics which can actually benefit just about everyone, at least to some degree.

Another things that places Phosphatidylserine a different level than other natural nootropics (most of which don’t actually work) is the fact that it also has stress-reducing properties.

Research shows that Phosphatidylserine can help maintain healthy Cortisol (stress hormone) levels and reduce perceived (mental) stress as well.

In one study, competitive golfers taking Phosphatidylserine reported less stress and actually performed better (in terms of drive accuracy) because of it!

A clinical dose of Phosphatidylserine is anywhere from 200-800mg/day.

Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa Monnieri is an herb which grows all over the world but has an extensive history of use throughout Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine with Indian roots.

It’s one of the few herbal supplements which has had many of the alleged benefits validated by modern science.

Research shows that Bacopa can improve memory and cognitive performance, in both old AND young people.

If there’s one herbal nootropic you should be taking, it’s Bacopa by a long shot.

That doesn’t mean Lion’s Mane isn’t worth it.  It just means Bacopa is DEFINITELY worth it.  It’s safe and it’s effective whether you have something wrong with your brain or not.

The same can’t be said for most herbal nootropics (including Lion’s Mane).

A clinical dose of Bacopa Monnieri is anywhere from 300-500mg, depending on the Bacoside (active component) content.

My Daily Nootropic Stack

Before you go experimenting with speculative nootropics that may or may not work, you should create a basic nootropic stack using tried and true ingredients.

I personally use (and recommend) the following stack:

  • Alpha GPC – 600mg/day
  • Phosphatidylserine – 200mg/day
  • Bacopa Monierri – 300mg/day

Simple, effective, and entirely safe.

There’s really no reason NOT to take these three supplements every day.

Of course, you can add to this stack as you please, but the foundation should remain more or less unchanged.

Other supplements which may synergistically (or additively) enhance the cognitive effects of this basic stack include Fish Oil, Citicoline, and Uridine.

If you don’t mind crossing the line into synthetic nootropics, you could consider adding something like Aniracetam or Noopept to the mix as well.

The Bottom Line On Lion’s Mane

Lion’s Mane is an intriguing supplement which may very well be an effective nootropic, but human studies are scarce, so it’s tough to say how effective it really is.

It definitely appears to be effective for improving cognitive function in people with memory impairments or some sort of cognitive dysfunction but if you’re just a normal, healthy person looking for a cognitive boost, you’ll have to try and see.

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