Lion’s Mane – Therapeutic Potential

Lion’s Mane contains over 70 bioactive ingredients and can be considered one of the most interesting mushrooms for gaining and maintaining good health. Very few mushrooms cover such a wide spectrum of therapeutic potential.

Science has been researching Lion’s Mane mushrooms for several decades now, but barely scratched the surface so far. Below the main research subjects are listed.

Improving cognitive functions and stimulating the Nerve Growth Factor

Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a secreted protein that is important for the growth, maintenance, survival and regeneration of nerve cells, and is considered critical for their survival. Without it, these nerve cells / neurons will die, causing both cognitive and motoric problems. The discovery of the NGF was in the 1950s, and the scientists responsible received the Nobel Prize in 1986 for this, when the importance of the NGF was finally acknowledged.

The presence of NGF prevents or reduces the degeneration of nerve cells such as caused by neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s) and aging. A positive effect on myelination was also found.

Lion’s Mane contains several compounds that appear to stimulate NGF production. NGF is stimulating nerves that are damaged due to e.g. accidents or declining due to aging to regrow to a certain extent*. Its main effect however appears to be slowing down the decline of the nerve system due to age. The main compounds responsible are alcohol-soluble terpenoids, and these are classified in two groups:

• Hericenones (found in the fruiting body)

• Erinacines (found in the mycelium)

Apart from those two groups research suggests there might be other yet-to-be-discovered compounds or synergetic combinations of compounds in Lion’s Mane with similar potential.

These are so far the only active substances found in natural products that can induce the production of the NGF and the related BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor). These bioactives therefore might have great potential for -indirectly- repairing neurological damage, improving cognition and reflexes and, even more significant, to help slowing down the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

We quote from a recent case study (duration: 16 weeks) performed with 50- to 80-year-old Japanese men and women diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment: […] At weeks 8, 12 and 16 of the trial, the [Lion’s Mane] group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group. The [Lion’s Mane] group’s scores increased with the duration of intake.[…] The results obtained in this study suggest that [Lion’s Mane] is effective in improving mild cognitive impairment.

Its potential for Immunomodulation

A shared property of all mushrooms is immune-modulation. Key ingredients are mainly the water-soluble beta-glucans. Water extracted Lion’s Mane can have high levels of beta-glucan. Always check the supplement facts label to verify !

Considering that our immune system is the core of our health this is a very important property – allergies, inflammations, infections, auto-immune diseases and many old-age health issues are all immune-related.

Its potential for Anti-Gastritis and Anti-Ulcer effects

Traditionally hot water-extracted Lion’s Mane was used to treat peptic ulcers and chronic gastritis. Beta-glucans are the main bioactive compounds responsible for this.

Its potential for balancing good and bad cholesterol

Beta-glucans support a healthy balance between good and bad cholesterol. In the EU this health claim has been ratified by the EFSA.

A healthy balance between LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol helps with preventing high blood pressure and supports a healthy cardio-vascular system: less plaque, stronger arteries.

Lion’s Mane also contains trace amounts of Lovastatin.

Its potential for Anti-Diabetic effects

Like all mushrooms high in beta-glucans, Lion’s Mane supports maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels are very damaging in the long run. Nerve damage / diabetic neuropathy is a major side effect of long-term high blood sugar levels.

In recent years a lot of research has been conducted into Lion’s Mane’s potential to help repair damaged nerves. Beta-glucan (normalising blood sugar levels) and terpenes (NGF-induction / nerve-repair) are the key factors here and are both present in good quality Lion’s Mane.

Its potential effects on menopausal problems, depression, anxiety

The NGF / BDNF-inducing bioactives in Lion’s Mane also appear to have an effect on other areas of the brain, including areas that are related to Rett Syndrome and bipolar disorder. Like, the menopause and obesity also include a mental element. Stress and/or anxiety are usually a precipitating factor in these and might negatively affect the levels of NGF.

We quote from a recent case study (2010; duration: 4 weeks) performed with 30 women in the menopausal age: […] “Concentration”, “irritating” and “anxious” tended to be lower than the placebo group. Our results show that LM intake has the possibility to reduce depression and anxiety […]“.

Side effects and safety

There are no side effects worth mentioning. Some very sensitive people might experience mild side effects due to their genetic wiring. Some people using concentrated water extracts have reported a loss of libido, but this is most likely due to their personal wiring. Research has never reported such side effects.

Caution: mushroom extracts with a high level of beta-glucans should never be used together with immune-suppressants, like those prescribed after a transplant.

The blood sugar lowering effects can cause fatigue in those that are highly susceptible. In general these people are also very susceptible to e.g. caffeine and alcohol, or are diabetic. Taking the extract together with a sugar-containing liquid can neutralise this effect. Diabetics might have to adjust their medication; it’s best to discuss this with a medical professional.

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