Research on Hericium erinaceus Reveals Mushroom Magic

Sabine Downer
Dec 28, 2018 · 14 min read

Hericium erinaceus Benefits Health and Wellbeing

Lion’s mane mushrooms look like something out of a fairytale, but the health benefits of this mushroom are no lore. With cannabis putting natural medicines in the spotlight, the numerous health promoting benefits of mushroom fruiting bodies and mycelia are of more interest than ever.

The Greek physician Hippocrates identified mushrooms as potent anti-inflammatory agents as early as 450 BCE. Mushrooms are also used in traditional Chinese medicine, but didn’t gain attention in the Western World until the discovery of penicillin in 1929. While the antimicrobial and cholesterol-lowering properties of mushrooms are well established, researchers are now documenting antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulating activity.

Hericium erinaceus, better known as lion’s mane mushroom, is rich with natural compounds that have strong antioxidant and neuroprotective abilities. These bioactive compounds are key to understanding how lion’s mane mushroom can defend the body from diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and promote overall health.

What’s Lion’s Mane Mushroom Used For?

In traditional Asian culture, lion’s mane is used as a food and as a medicine. In Chinese medicine especially, lion’s mane mushroom is believed to treat symptoms of Qi deficiency like insomnia, vacuity (weak-mindedness), and hypodynamia (loss of strength). In addition to aiding brain and nerve health, Eastern medicine believes that lion’s mane can promote good digestion, general vigor, and strength.

Five Traditional Medical Uses of Lion’s Mane Mushroom

  1. Nutritive to the five internal organs
  2. Fortify the spleen and nourish the gut
  3. Anticancer
  4. Digestive aid
  5. Treat ulcers and chronic gastritis

Nutritional Value and Culinary Use of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

Lion’s mane mushroom are a good sources of phenolic compounds, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, linoleic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. They are rich with macro- and micronutrients.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Recipes

There are many ways to consume lion’s mane In addition to cooking. Lion’s mane mushroom capsules, powders, and tinctures can be made at home, or ordered online. Mushroom coffee with lion’s mane and mushroom matcha with lion’s mane are also popular ways to consume. Lion’s mane mycelium can be used as an ingredient in bread, and can be fermented as a beverage, wine, or vinegar.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a culinary mushroom, so many wonder, “Can you eat lion’s mane mushroom raw?

The answer is yes, but it won’t taste as good. Cooking lion’s mane mushroom releases many of the beneficial compounds and will improve its flavor. The distinct mushroom flavor is associated with a high content of free amino acids like glutamic acid, and numerous volatile compounds.

It should be noted that taking lion’s mane mushroom before bed is not recommended because lion’s mane help to power the brain on. The best time to take lion’s mane is in the morning to boost brain activity for the day ahead.

Medicinal Properties of Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Beyond use in traditional medicine, modern lion’s mane research has elaborated on a wide array of health benefits. The bioactive molecules in lion’s mane make them a great supplement to alleviate symptoms like inflammation.

Many of the benefits associated with lion’s mane can be attributed to its strong antioxidant activity. Oxidative stress is a common component of many disease pathologies. Oxidative stress is a general term to describe an excess amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the body. Reactive oxygen species can damage cells and impair organ function.

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit destructive activity by reactive oxygen species. Some substances can inhibit ROS directly, while other substances act as promoters to enhance the ability of the body to resist ROS damage using its own mechanisms.

Here are 13 ways that lion’s mane mushrooms support health, alleviate symptoms, and promote healing:

1. Diabetes and Hepatoprotection by Lion’s Mane Polysaccharides

Through antioxidant activity, lion’s mane extracts can reduce diabetic neuropathic pain, lower glucose levels, and increase insulin levels. Researchers believe that these results are possible because lion’s mane extracts can inhibit reactive oxygen species that cause damage to liver cells.

In addition to reducing diabetic symptoms, the antioxidant activity of lion’s mane polysaccharides can help protect the liver from more general damage and prevent liver disease. Specifically, lion’s mane can decrease liver damage from acute alcohol exposure.

2. Lion’s Mane for Cholesterol Reduction and Hypertension

In a mouse study, a 200mg per kilogram of body weight dose of antioxidant Lion’s Mane mycelium reduced total cholesterol, bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Lion’s mane mycelium increased good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

3. Lion’s Mane for Cardiovascular Health, Ischemia, and Circulation

The combination of lion’s mane effects on cholesterol, paired with its anti-inflammatory properties also support cardiovascular health and metabolism. Tinctures of lion’s mane may prevent blood clots as well. A component of the mushroom called hericenone B inhibits platelet aggregation. Lion’s mane extracts also inhibit production of excess blood vessels that can lead to thickening of the arteries.

Ischemia is a deficient supply of blood to organs caused by build-ups or blockages that form in arteries. The result of ischemia is that the body does not get enough blood, and in turn, the body does not get the oxygen carried by the blood. Life-threatening problems like heart attack and stroke can result. A dose of 300mg per kilogram of body weight dose showed a reduction in ischemia indicators after 15 days in a mouse trial.

Ischemia can also lead to kidney failure. The polysaccharides of lion’s mane mushroom have demonstrated the incredible ability to reduce the risk of kidney failure by reducing lipid peroxidation and preventing oxidative damage to the kidneys.

4. Lion’s Mane Boosts Brain Function and Combats Alzheimer’s

One of the most amazing benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms is their ability to protect neurons and prevent neurodegeneration. Lion’s mane powder has shown an ability to improve memory and cognition in human and mouse studies.

This is possible because the lion’s mane mycelium contain the bioactive diterpenoids erinacine A, B, and C. These molecules can stimulate production of nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is involved maintaining and organizing the function of neurons in the central nervous system.

In neurodegenerative diseases, NGF is depleted and damage to neurons occurs. By boosting NGF production, this deterioration can be avoided. The enhanced production of NGF improves nerve regeneration in the brain and throughout the body.

In addition to the neuroprotective properties attributed to NGF, lion’s mane powder from fruiting bodies can enhance production of acetylcholine. In Alzheimer’s patients, acetylcholine levels can be reduced by as much as 90%. Lion’s mane also reduces damage from Alzheimer’s disease is by decreasing beta-amyloid plaques in the brain through antioxidant activity.

5. Lion’s Mane Slows Parkinson’s Progression and Heals Nerve Injury

Research on animal models has shown that a daily dose of lion’s mane mycelium can combat the oxidative stress and dopaminergic lesions that are characteristic of Parkinson’s pathology.

In peripheral nerve injury, consuming a dose of 10ml per kilogram body weight of lion’s mane fruiting body extract can reduce recovery time by improving nerve regeneration, leading to motor function recovery.

6. Fighting Fatigue with Lion’s Mane Mushroom Extract

Physical fatigue can be measured by the increased amount of lactic acid in the blood, and decreased levels of glycogen in tissue. The powerful antioxidant activity of lion’s mane mushroom can promote resilience to fatigue by increasing antioxidant enzyme activity and increasing glycogen levels.

7. Lion’s Mane for Skin Care, Bone Density, and Anti-Aging

Polysaccharides molecules in lion’s mane mushrooms can increase collagen levels in skin. These polysaccharides can also clean up metabolic waste products like lipofuscin, and boost activity of antioxidant enzymes like superoxide dismutase.

As bodies age, bone density loss can be problematic. Lion’s mane polysaccharides can inhibit osteoclast production. Osteoclasts are cells that break down bone tissue, so suppressing them helps maintain healthy bones.

The lion’s mane compound ergosterol peroxide is thought to have the potential to treat or prevent age related disease. Senescence is the process of cell death, characterized by the cells loss of ability to grow and divide. Ergosterol peroxide may slow this process by reducing the activity of senescence-associated β-galactosidase. Researchers hope the compound may be a way to help treat aging-related diseases.

8. Antibacterial Activity of Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Lion’s mane extracts contain bioactive erinacines and polysaccharides that have been shown to have antimicrobial activities against both antibiotic-resistant and nonresistant pathogenic bacteria.

Lion’s mane extracts are especially active against Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is particularly resistant to most antibiotics. This makes lion’s mane especially valuable to the development of new antibiotics to treat some of the most dreaded bacterial infections.

Lion’s mane mushroom extracts also exerts antibacterial action against Salmonella typhimurium, a potentially lethal foodborne illness, and Helicobacter pylori, a gastrointestinal pathogen that can contribute to ulcers. Extracts show general antibacterial inhibition with many Gram-positive and Gram-negative pathogenic bacteria.

9. Anti-inflammatory Action of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

Because lion’s mane mushroom extracts can reduce inflammation factors like reactive oxygen species, nitric oxide, and inflammatory cytokine substances, it may be able to help heal brain injury, stomach ulcers, and intestinal bleeding.

10. The Effect of Lion’s Mane on the Immune System

In the immune system, polysaccharides of lion’s mane mushroom activate several immune cells like CD4+, macrophages, and T-cells, and stimulate secretion of cytokines that promote immune responses. The polysaccharides also aid in maturation of dendritic cells that act as immune messengers.

The overall immunomodulating effects of lion’s mane are thought to be key to its ability to increase immune system activity and defend against microbial pathogens, and tumor formation.

11. Acceleration of Wound Healing and Reduction of Scarring

Topical preparations of lion’s mane has shown the ability to accelerate wound healing in mouse models. Researchers believe this is possible because compounds from the mushroom can modify the immune response to reduce the presence of macrophage cells and increase collagen production.

This difference is characteristic of the difference between a regenerative immune response and an inflammatory immune response which can result in scarring instead of rebuilding of tissue.

12. Lion’s Mane Mushroom for Cancer and Tumors

Carcinogens are chemicals that produce a physical response called carcinogenesis. Carcinogenesis has a sequence of stages where cellular processes lead into tumor formation and proliferation.

There is a large body of research that documents anticancer and antitumor effects from use of lion’s mane extracts and powders. Different cancers and tumors have a varied pathology. While the interaction with mushroom components will be different depending on the specific cancer, there are some general modes of cancer and tumor defense.

Here are some of the primary ways lion’s mane mushroom defends the body from cancer and tumors:

  • Induce tumor cell death (apoptosis)
  • Destruction of ROS that damage DNA and proteins
  • Suppress carcinogenic signalling pathways
  • Inhibit blood flow to cancer cells
  • Stimulate immune system to promote cancer cell destruction
  • Promote macrophage cells that defend against tumor cells
  • Hericerin A reduces leukemia cell proliferation
  • Lion’s mane can also inhibit liver cancer cells
  • The polysaccharide HEG-5 is a very strong antioxidant that can inhibit MCF-7 breast cancer cells

13. Lion’s Mane Mushroom for Anxiety and Depression

The lion’s mane compound amysenone is being researched because it is able to pass the blood-brain barrier, unlike NGF. Amysenone is being investigated for antidepressant activity, increasing alertness, and improving symptoms of sleep apnea.

One interesting lion’s mane mushroom study evaluated a group of women with symptoms of depression, menopause, and poor sleep quality. The women in the test group consumed four cookies per day made with 0.5g of lion’s mane fruiting body powder (per cookie). The women in the placebo group did not get any cookies.

The oral consumption of the mushroom powder showed reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improved sleep quality. NGF was ruled out as a mechanism for these women’s symptom improvements, so it is possible that amysenone was the bioactive mushroom molecule that relieved their symptoms.

Biochemical Composition of Lion’s Mane

The fruiting bodies and mycelia of Lion’s Mane mushroom contain large amounts of bioactive (and potentially bioactive) components. Few natural mushroom species can biosynthesize so many different secondary metabolites. Lion’s Mane is thought to produce at least 70!

Researchers believe that these compounds can produce a wide array of health benefits such as preserving brain health, supporting immune health, and fighting cancer.

Terpenoids

Terpenoids are a type of chemical molecule that makes up more than 60% of products in the natural world. A variety of terpenes called diterpenes and sesterpenes are found in the fruiting body and fermenting mycelium of Lion’s Mane mushrooms.

Hericenones are a group of aromatic compounds isolated from the fruiting body of the mushroom, and erinacines are a group of terpenoids found in the mycelium. Both hericenones and erinacines easily cross the blood-brain barrier, and are thought to promote growth of nervous tissue and protect nervous tissue from damage.

Sterols

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory sterols like ergosterol have been extracted from Lion’s Mane mushroom fruiting bodies. Interestingly, ergosterol degrades into vitamin D when exposed to UV light. Taking advantage of this natural process could produce vitamin-enhanced mushrooms for culinary use.

Glycoproteins

The novel glycoprotein HEG-5 was found in Lion’s Mane mycelium extract. HEG-5 inhibited the growth of human gastric carcinoma cells in a cell culture study.

Polysaccharides

Polysaccharides from Lion’s Main have a number of bioactive processes attributed to them. They have shown antioxidative and antitumor activity. In a study of cells with beta-amyloid plaques, like those seen in Alzheimer’s Disease patients, Lion’s Mane polysaccharides protected brain cells from oxidative damage by the plaques. Lion’s Mane polysaccharides have also demonstrated the ability to protect the liver from oxidative damage.

Volatile Compounds

Dried fruiting bodies of Lion’s Mane have 77 identified components that account for 87.6% of its extracted essential oil. Volatile compounds play a large role in producing aroma and are also a major source for antimicrobial plant compounds.

Here are the top four volatile compounds found in Lion’s Mane:

1. Palmitic (hexadecanoic) Acid

Palmitic acid is naturally present in butter, cheese, milk, meat, cocoa butter, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. It is used to produce a soaps, cosmetics, and as an additive for processed foods.

2. Linoleic Acid

Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid, that is one that must be consumed for proper nutrition, linoleic acid deficiency can cause mild skin scaling, hair loss, and poor wound healing.

3. Phenylacetaldehyde

Chocolate and buckwheat are two other natural sources for phenylacetaldehyde. The compound is also present in flowers and is used in pheromone signalling by some insects. Phenylacetaldehyde has a scent that is described as honey-like, sweet, and grassy. In addition to it’s pleasant scent, it has antibiotic activity.

4. Benzaldehyde

Benzaldehyde can be found in almonds, apricots, apples, and cherry kernels. It has an almond-like odor and is used for flavoring imitation almond extract.

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Image Attributions

Lion’s mane mushroom by Melissa McMasters CC 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Modified by Sabine Downer.

Hericium erinaceus by Henk Monster CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Modified by Sabine Downer.

Hericium erinaceus (Bull.) Pers. by Penny Firth (pfirth) at Mushroom Observer CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Modified by Sabine Downer.

Sabine Downer

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After 8 years as a laboratory scientist I have turned my passion for knowledge to content writing.

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