#10 Lion’s Mane: A Medicinal Mushroom

White mushroom that looks like strands of hair growing on the side of a tree. Greenery in the background.
Figure 1: Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Image Source: flickr.com

Brain fog is a common complaint of people suffering with neuropathy.  It causes memory problems, poor concentration, and diminished mental clarity.  For people plagued with chronic pain, having these additional symptoms may lead to anxiety around “What else is wrong with me?”  or depression and thoughts like “Is this my life now?”.  For some it can make working difficult and reduce performance.  Lion’s Mane Mushroom promises to become a possible aid in addressing brain fog symptoms.

There is also which research indicates Lion’s Mane also shows some promise in supporting nerve regeneration.

A Mushroom for the Brain

As a society integrated with a strong influence of western medicine, we are not conveniently exposed to other traditional medicines practiced for millennia in other continents.  Hericium Erinaceus – also known as ‘Lion’s Mane’ mushroom – has recently become more popular in North America as a potential nootropic (a substance that boosts brain performance). With potential benefits of boosting cognitive ability, mood, and immune function – there has been a number of studies performed in order to test such hypotheses. There are various studies related to Lion’s Mane revealing the improvement of cognitive abilities amongst other benefits that can directly alleviate the brain fog caused by chronic inflammation that often accompanies neuropathy.

Lion’s Mane is a saprotroph fungus which means it feeds on dead tree matter and is made up of two parts; the mycelia (living core of organism) and the fruit body (exterior to the tree trunk). Both constituents of Lion’s Mane contain certain chemical compounds that have proven to be safe, and desirable supplements to improve brain function. A research trial was done on 50- to 80-year-old Japanese males and females diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in order to examine the efficacy of oral intake of Lion’s Mane in improving cognitive functioning. The subjects of the Lion’s Mane group took four 250-mg tablets containing 96% of dry powder three times a day for 16 weeks. There was a relative increase in cognitive function scale scores throughout the duration of intake. Laboratory tests showed no adverse effect of Lion’s Mane and it was effective in improving mild cognitive impairment.1,2

Furthermore, the human species has fallen victim to fungus bacteria for many years, which has resulted in our species adapting with a complex immune response. A polysaccharide known as Beta-Glucan is a soluble fiber that come from cell walls of bacteria, and fungi known to have health benefits.3 This molecule is also in the cell wall of Lion’s Mane and is regarded as a pathogen-associated molecular pattern molecule (PAMP).4 PAMPs are molecules that share a variety of different common patterns or structures that alert immune cells to destroy intruding pathogens. Macrophages are a specialized immune cell that has shown to become activated by the chemical compound called Beta-Glucan, that is abundantly found in Lion’s Mane.4 Macrophages play an important role in neurogeneration also indicating an improvement to brain function.5

Potential for Peripheral Nerves too

 Research shows the two parts of this mushroom could have multiple effects on the neural brain networks as well as the peripheral nervous system in different ways. A natural product called Hericenones found in the fruiting body are reported to activate synthesis of nerve growth factors (NGFs) emitted which are necessary for the survival of neural cells in the brain.1 Despite most recent experiments being in vitro (i.e., in a lab setting) and performed on animals, there are promising conclusions. In a study conducted to learn the potential effect of nerve repair and comparing the effects of taking mecobalamin (vitamin B12), an injured rat with a dysfunctional right limb was exposed to an aqueous extract of the fruiting body. The study did reveal axonal regeneration, protein synthesis and peripheral nerve regeneration.2 The aqueous extract accelerated motor functional recovery which would ideally allow for accelerated recovery after injury in human patients.2

As neuropathy sufferer know, a lot of research goes into studying ways to repair the brain and research into ways to repair the peripheral nerves is only a fraction in comparison. It is nice to know there are healing possibilities being studied for the peripheral nerves as well.

Western Medicine is catching up

The mechanisms behind Lion’s Mane have been leveraged in traditional eastern medicine for quite some time, and for over 1000 years in China. Although the complex bioactive components of the mushroom that contribute to the benefits discussed need to be elucidated further, there are promising studies supporting Lion’s Mane as a nootropic. Current research shows the benefits that can be seen through supplementation of Lion’s Mane and have proven to be safe with no side effects to research participants.  Further human trials are still required.

Anyone who suffers from brain fog knows how frustrating it can be to be confused over something simple, or to not be able to remember something important. Lion’s Mane may be a lift for us and our brain function that has the added bonus of supporting peripheral nerves as well.


References
  1. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial
  2. Neuroregenerative Potential of Lion ’ s Mane Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.)
  3. Beta-Glucans Uses, Side Effects, and More
  4. Hericium erinaceus, an amazing medicinal mushroom
  5. Improvement of cognitive functions by oral intake of gerricium erinacesus , biomedical research, J-STAGE (journal)

Food for thought…

We can’t do it alone

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