Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus
Yamabushitake, or Lion’s mane mushroom, is definitely not your classic cap and stem variety of mushroom. It has a rather distinctive appearance with long cascading white spines, kind of resembling a Lion’s Mane. It is also known by other names – Satyr’s beard, Hedgehog mushroom, Bearded hedgehog, Pom Pom and of course in Japanese it is called Yamabushitake (which literally means ‘mountain priest mushroom’).
Lion’s mane is a medicinal mushroom with a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine where it has been used as a digestive tonic for over 2,000 years. It is well known for its remarkable role in improving digestive and liver functions and in peptic and duodenal ulcer treatment. Interestingly, the Chinese Ministry of Health has approved the mushroom extract to treat Chronic Superficial Gastritis. Modern scientific research also supports these claims and point to the mushroom’s particularly positive effects on brain health, memory and mood  .
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits for Brain and Nervous System
To sum up the neuroprotective benefits of Lion’s Mane mushroom, it gives you “nerves of steel and the memory of a lion,” as believed in Asia. The mushroom has been extensively studied for its extraordinary neuroprotective effects. Lions’ mane has been shown to boost overall cognitive functions, a property that can be attributed to its ability to enhance the secretion of Nerve growth factor (NGF).
NGF are proteins that play a major role in the maintenance, regeneration and re-myelination of neurons, keeping the nervous system running strong and healthy. A lack of NGF is implicated in the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. So far, two nerve growth factors, Hericenones and Erinacines, have been identified in this mushroom and are known to stimulate the biosynthesis of NGF. How does the mushroom help in improving cognitive functions and providing extraordinary nervous system benefits?
- Stimulates the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) 
- Improves cognitive functions, including learning and memory
- Increases nerve regeneration after injury 
- Stimulates the differentiation and re-myelination of neurons
- Treats anxiety and depression
- Reduces neurotoxicity induced by beta-amyloid plaques (primary biomarker for Alzheimer's)
Understanding the science surrounding Lion’s Mane mushroom may still be in its infancy, but compelling human as well as animal and in vitro studies are already pointing to its tremendous potential in protecting the brain from the effects of aging, and its role in central and peripheral nervous system disorders, such as:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Mild cognitive impairment
While improving cognitive functions is indeed unique and the most important health benefit offered by this medicinal fungus, it is not the only one. It has remarkable anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, immune-stimulating, and anti-coagulating properties responsible for a wide range of health benefits. So what does Lion’s Mane mushroom have to offer?
- Improves digestive functions
- Provides relief in ulcers and gastritis
- Strengthens immune system and fights infections
- Regulate blood pressure
- Regulates cholesterol levels
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Fights cancer
- Reduces inflammation
- Eliminates toxins
- Useful in healing wounds
- Protects the body against oxidative damage
What makes Lion’s Mane mushrooms so incredibly healthy?
Both the mycelium and the fruiting body contains several bioactive compounds, which are available when the mushroom is heated or prepared as a hot water extract. “Emerging pieces of evidence have shown that different active molecules in H. erinaceus have different functions on different organs in different diseases via the different mechanisms.”  Lion’s Mane is rich in some physiologically important components, especially β-glucan polysaccharides, “which are responsible for anti-cancer, immuno-modulating, hypolipidemic, antioxidant and neuro-protective activities of this mushroom.” 
It also contains high amounts of polysaccharides, anti-oxidants, polypeptides and fatty acids. These components act as a tonic for the digestive tract and enhance the function of the gastric mucus barrier. The polysaccharides are also powerful immunity boosters and upregulate the immune system to help fight cancer more effectively and also manage the toxic effects of chemotherapy.
In vitro as well as animal studies show that Lion’s Mane mushroom extract may have powerful anti-cancer potential. A 2014 study published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that the mushroom’s extract to be effective against three gastrointestinal cancers; liver, colorectal and gastric cancers. The study also noted that the extracts are more effective and less toxic compared to 5-FU or fluorouracil, common anti-cancer drug. “Twenty-two compounds were obtained from the fractions of extracts, including seven cycli dipeptides, five indole, pyrimidines, amino acids and derivative, three flavones, one anthraquinone, and six small aromatic compounds”. And these bio active compounds hold the promise to develope as potent anticancer agents to treat gastrointestinal cancer when used alone or in combination with chemotherapy drugs. 
A 2015 study published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine points to the evidence that Lion’s Mane mushroom may prove helpful in sports nutrition. The study evaluated the anti-fatigue activity of the mushroom in a mouse model and found that polysaccharides present in the mushroom enhances certain fatigue related biochemical parameters, “including blood lactic acid (BLA), serum urea nitrogen (SUN), tissue glycogen, superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and malondialdehyde (MDA).” The outcome suggested that the medicinal mushroom exerts significant anti-fatigue and antioxidant enzyme activity. 
- M Nagano et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomedical Research, vol. 31, no. 4 (August 2010): 231–237.
- K Mori et al. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research, vol. 23, no. 3 (March 2009): 367–372.
- Zhang et al. Chemical constituents from Hericium erinaceus and their ability to stimulate NGF-mediated neurite outgrowth on PC12 cells. Bioorg Med Chem Lett. 2015 Nov 15;25(22):5078-82. doi: 10.1016/j.bmcl.2015.10.016. Epub 2015 Oct 16.
- Wong et al. Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers., a medicinal mushroom, activates peripheral nerve regeneration. Chin J Integr Med. 2014 Aug 26
- Jiang et al. Medicinal properties of Hericium erinaceus and its potential to formulate novel mushroom-based pharmaceuticals. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2014 Sep;98(18):7661-70. doi: 10.1007/s00253-014-5955-5. 2014 Jul 29.
- Khan et al. Hericium erinaceus: an edible mushroom with medicinal values. J Complement Integr Med. 2013.
- G Li et al. Anticancer potential of Hericium erinaceus extracts against human gastrointestinal cancers. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 153, no. 2 (April 2014):521–530.
- Liu et al. Anti-fatigue activities of polysaccharides extracted from Hericium erinaceus. Exp Ther Med. 2015 Feb;9(2):483-487. Epub 2014 Dec 16.