Lion’s Mane mushroom is highly prized in Chinese Traditional Medicine, where it has been used to treat the disorders of the digestive tract such as stomach and duodenal ulcers. Recent scientific studies suggest the mushroom offers some incredible benefits to the brain and nervous system. Central to the mushroom’s neuro-protective benefits is its unique ability to increase Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) levels as first discovered by Dr. Hirokazu Kawagishi of Shizuoka University in Japan .
What is NGF?
Nerve Growth Factor (or NGF) is a protein that keeps the entire nervous system kicking and functional. It plays a major role in:
- Survival, maintenance and differentiation of sensory and sympathetic neurons.
- Stimulating the production of new neurons in the central and peripheral nervous system.
- Improving the brain’s capacity to build new neural connections within different parts of the body.
- Supporting myelination in the brain.
- Maintaining cognitive functions.
The challenge with NGF is that it is a big molecule and cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier, the semi-permeable membrane between the blood and brain. In case of neurological disorders, the brain is not able to produce its internal NGF supply, and with the blood-brain barrier not allowing external NGF to get in, some of the brain’s neurons begin to gradually deteriorate while the production of new neurons either slows down or gradually stops over time.
A diminishing amount or lack of NGF is considered to be the most plausible underlying mechanism for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, several other disorders affecting the brain and nervous system.
Studies show that the Lion’s Mane mushroom contains two potent compounds, hericenones and erinacines, that have the unique ability to penetrate the blood-barrier and stimulate the brain to synthesise more NGF . The compound ‘erinacines’ is known to be one of the most powerful NGF inducers naturally present.
In fact, Lion’s Mane is the only mushroom known so far with significant nerve regeneration ability. A 2014 study published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine showed that it is capable of promoting peripheral nerve regeneration after injury .
Re-myelation: Potential Role in Protecting Axons of Nerve Cells
Myelin is a protective protein sheath that accumulates around neurons, more specifically around the elongated fibers called axons, the part of neurons. Myelin enables neurons to transmit electric signals (information) faster, facilitating complex brain functions and processes. Myelination also plays an important role in the repair and regrowth of damaged axons.
Studies show that the compounds in Lion’s Mane mushroom helps to regenerate myelin along the damaged axons (nerve re-myelination). This property is found to be particularly useful in protecting the brain from the effects of aging, and also has huge potential in treating patients with multiple sclerosis, a neurological disorder characterized by progressive degradation of myelin sheaths in the brain and spinal cord. The nerve re-myelination capacity of the mushroom has also opened new avenues to treat disorders like dementia, depression, autism and schizophrenia.
Reduction of beta amyloid plaques: Potential Role in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
The formation of amyloid-beta (Aβ) proteins is the primary biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease. These insoluble proteins form sticky clumps or plaques in the brain that:
- Causes inflammation in the brain tissue
- Destroys healthy bystander neurons
- Interferes with healthy nerve transmission, thus blocking the flow of information between cells.
Amyloid plaque formation is believed to be responsible for the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and the associated symptoms such as memory loss and other cognitive issues. Studies show that Lion’s Mane mushroom reduces the formation of amyloid plaques and protects against the associated cognitive impairment .
Improved Cognitive Functions: Role in boosting memory and learning
It is reported that Buddhist monks have used Lion’s Mane as tea for centuries to improve their concentration powers before meditation. Renowned fungi expert (mycologist) Paul Stamets dubs Lion’s Mane as “the first smart mushroom” and believes that the mushroom is nature’s nutrients for the neurons.
Modern studies also suggest that this smart mushroom may have a promising role in improving cognitive functions, including memory and attention. A 2009 study published in Phytotherapy Research concluded that the mushroom is effective in improving mild cognitive impairment .
Feel good factor: Promising Role in Relieving Anxiety, Depression
Lion's Mane mushroom may play an important role in uplifting mood and alleviating feelings of anxiety and depression. A 2010 study investigated the clinical effects of “H. erinaceus” or Lion’s Mane on menopausal women for 4 weeks, and found that the group given the mushroom’s cookies had significantly lower levels of anxiety and irritation and tended to have improved concentration levels over the group that consumed placebo cookies.
In addition, the study found that consumption of Lion’s Mane may contribute to reducing depression and anxiety by a mechanism altogether different than the mushroom’s NGF-enhancing action .
The overall benefits of Lion’s Mane mushroom extend beyond the nervous system. This edible fungus is endowed with powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, immune-stimulating, and anti-coagulating properties – making it useful in a number of other conditions besides neurological disorders.
- Kawagishi, H., Ando, M., Sakamoto, H., Yoshida S., Ojima, F., Ishiguro, Y., Ukai, N., Fukukawa, S. 1991. "Hericenone C, D and E, stimulators of nerve growth factor (NGF) synthesis from the mushroom Hericium erinaceum." Tetrahedron Lett 32, 4561-4564.
- Ma, Bing-Ji , Jin-Wen Shen, Hai-You Yu, Yuan Ruan, Ting-Ting Wu & Xu Zhao, 2010. "Hericenones and erinacines: stimulators of nerve growth factor (NGF) biosynthesis in Hericium erinaceus." Mycology: An International Journal on Fungal Biology. 1(2): 92-98.
- Wong et al. Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers., a medicinal mushroom, activates peripheral nerve regeneration. Chin J Integr Med. 2014 Aug 26. Epub 2014 Aug 26.
- Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2634.
- Mori et al. Effects of Hericium erinaceus on amyloidβ(25-35) peptide-induced learning and memory deficits in mice. Biomed Res. 2011 Feb ;32(1):67-72.
- Nagano, M., Shimizu, K., Kondo, R., Hayashi, C., Sato, D., Kitagawa, K., Ohnuki, K. 2010. "Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake." Biomed Res. 31(4):231-7.