Our Favorite Lion’s Mane Supplements
With white, shaggy strings, this funny looking mushroom does indeed resemble a lion’s mane. Also known as the yamabushitake or hedgehog mushroom, it’s been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to support brain and neurological health and to boost chi (or vital energy).
Although it’s native to Asia, North America and Europe, this fungus is mostly cultivated in Asia and can often be found on broad-leafed trees like the beech and oak in the summer and fall months.
When eaten fresh, this medicinal mushroom has a taste that many people say is similar to crab. However, at least here in America, it’s not often found in the grocery store because of its short shelf life.
Though you may not find it on the veggie aisle, Lion’s Mane has become a popular supplement and can be taken as a powder, capsule or tincture if you’d like to reap some of its reported benefits.
But before we fill you in on some of the most popular products, let’s take a look at what Lion’s Mane can potentially do for your health.
Benefits of Lion’s Mane
Like many remedies used in traditional Chinese medicine, modern science is only recently beginning to study its reported benefits, which do seem to have a positive effect on cognitive functions, heart and gut health and more.
Although the investigations are promising, it is important to keep in mind that much of the research was conducted on animals and more studies on humans still need to be done.
Let’s take a look at some specific areas where this mushroom may potentially help us.
Lion’s Mane May Protect and Stimulate the Brain
As we get older, our brain loses the ability to make new connections which is why some people experience a loss of mental clarity or dementia.
Lion’s Mane contains two substances that stimulate the growth of brain cells: hericenones and erinacines. When used on mice, extracts of this mushroom helped to reduce memory loss and also prevented neurological damage caused by amyloid-beta plaques, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Although no Alzheimer-specific studies have been done on humans, Lion’s mane was studied on adults with mild cognitive impairment. The investigation found that using 3 grams of the powder per day for four months significantly improved brain health and function.
Lion’s May May Help with Nervous System Injuries
Because the brain, spinal cord and nerves help to send messages throughout the body, injuries to this system can be devastating and take a long time to heal.
But in a study done on rats, Lion’s Mane extract was shown to stimulate the growth and repair of nerve cells and reduce recovery time by 23-41% after an injury.
In another animal study, Lion’ Mane was shown to reduce inflammation after a stroke and reduce the size of brain injuries by 44%.
Lion’s Mane May Protect Against Ulcers
In test-tube studies, Lion’s Mane was shown to inhibit the growth of the bacteria H.pylori which is associated with stomach ulcers.
Furthermore, in an animal study, the extract was shown to be more effective in preventing alcohol-induced stomach ulcers better than conventional acid-lowering drugs and had no side effects.
Lion’s Mane May Reduce Heart Disease
Obesity, high triglycerides and oxidized cholesterol all put people at risk for heart disease. But test tube and animal studies seem to indicate that Lion’s Mane can help reduce some of these negative factors.
For example, one study found that daily consumption of Lion’s Mane in rats with a high-fat diet reduced triglycerides by 27% and reduced weight gain by 42%.
Test-tube studies have shown that the mushroom extract can prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream, thus helping to prevent hardened arteries.
Furthermore, Lion’s Mane contains a compound called hericenone B, which decreases the rate of blood clotting and can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Lion’s Mane May Fight Cancer
Another interesting area of research involving Lion’s Mane has to do with cancer. When the extract was mixed with various kinds of cancer cells in a test tube, they died at a faster rate. This includes separate studies on different kinds of cancer cells, including liver, colon, stomach and blood cancer.
Yet another investigation showed that Lion’s Mane was more effective than other medications in reducing tumors in mice and had fewer side effects.
Lion’s Mane May Reduce Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
If you’re up on your health and wellness news, you probably know that inflammation and oxidative stress are thought to be linked with illnesses like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune deficiencies and more.
Not only is Lion’s mane known to be a great source of antioxidants, but animal studies have also shown that it reduces markers for inflammation and oxidative stress. In fact, it may be especially helpful in managing bowel and liver disease as well as strokes.
Lion’s Mane May Reduce Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Although many factors can lead to depression and anxiety, chronic inflammation is thought to be one of the risk factors.
Animal studies have shown that Lion’s Mane has an anti-inflammatory effect and can reduce symptoms of depression in mice. Another animal study also showed that Lion’s Mane improves the function of the hippocampus, the part of the brain where emotions and memories are processed.
There was also one small study done on menopausal women that found consuming cookies with Lion’s Mane reduced feelings of anxiety as well as irritability.
Lion’s Mane May Boost the Immune System
As most of us are aware these days, healthy immune function helps us to fight off viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.
Animal studies have shown that Lion’s Mane can help to protect our bodies from pathogens that enter through the mouth and nose by boosting intestinal immunity.
Furthermore, one investigation showed that Lion’s Mane quadrupled the lifespan of mice after being injected with a lethal dose of the bacteria salmonella.
What to Look for in a Lion’s Mane Supplement
Although scientific investigations and clinical trials are ongoing, early research suggests that Lion’s Mane does have an impressive amount of potential health benefits. You’ll find this mushroom supplement available as a powder, capsule or sometimes as a tincture. But before you jump on the mushroom bandwagon, it’s important to know what to look for in a supplement as not all of them are created equal.
Most of the active compounds in Lion’s Mane (and other fungi) are contained in the reproductive part of the mushroom, which is what we know as the mushroom itself. But fungi also have an extensive underground root system which consists mainly of starches.
Unfortunately, many companies seeking to ride the wave of mushroom popularity use the roots (which grow faster) instead of the mushroom or fruiting body as it’s called. That’s why it’s so important to carefully read the labels of the supplements you are considering.
To help you discern what you’re getting in a supplement, let’s dive a little deeper into the terminology.
Fruiting Body vs. Mycelium
Mycelium are the roots of the mushroom, which have to establish themselves before a mushroom or fruiting body can be produced. Unfortunately, they have little to none of the benefits that have been discussed in this article.
If the label of the supplement you are considering contains mycelium or a combination of fruiting bodies and mycelium, it will not have the same concentration of beneficial substances that are contained in an extract made of pure fruiting bodies.
To get the most benefits from Lion’s Mane supplements, always look for one that is made of pure fruiting bodies and not mycelium or MOG powder (mycelium grown on grain) as it’s often called.
Beware of the Terms Full Spectrum and Polysaccharide
Though the FDA does require companies to clearly state whether their product is made from mycelium or the fruiting body, not all manufacturers follow these guidelines.
Some companies will try to disguise the fact that their product is mainly mycelium by using terms like “full spectrum.” Although using all parts of mushroom may sound more beneficial, it’s actually not. Again, it’s the fruiting body that contains the beta-glucans, vitamins, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds you’re looking for.
Another vague term you should look out for is “polysaccharide.” Yes, beta-glucans (one of the most beneficial compounds in a mushroom) are polysaccharides. But there are many other polysaccharides found in the roots of the mushroom that don’t have the same health benefits.
Don’t Be Fooled by Scientific Names or Vague Labels
Other companies will also try to disguise the fact their supplement is mainly mycelium by using the scientific name of Lion’s Mane, “Hieracium Erinaceus.” Impressive as that may sound, if the label doesn’t specify that only fruiting bodies are used, most likely the product contains mainly mycelium or, at best, a small amount of fruiting bodies.
Look for Supplements with Specific Beta-Glucan Contents
When it comes to Lion’s Mane supplements, the more specific the label is, the better. Responsible companies will test their product for contents and specify the amount of beta-glucans, triterpenoids and other beneficial compounds you get per serving.
So be sure to read the supplements facts carefully when choosing an extract and be sure it’s been tested for contents. If the label is not specific, it’s hard to know what you’re actually getting.
Look for Organic and Third Party Tested
The term “natural” is not the same as “organic.” To be sure your supplement doesn’t contain harmful pesticides, be sure that it is specifically labeled “organic.”
Another way to ensure the purity of the supplement is to buy products that are third-party tested for heavy metals and other harmful chemicals. Look for extracts that are tested by NSF International, USP, UL or Consumerlabs.com to ensure that the supplement is safe.
Lion’s Mane Products
As you can see, there are some very important factors to consider if you want to reap all the benefits of Lion’s Mane. To make your search easier, here are three brands you may want to consider.
This extract is made from pure fruiting bodies only and is independently lab-tested. Here’s what we like about it:
- Extracted from Fruiting bodies only
- 100% Organic
- Contains no added starch, mycelium or empty grains
- Independently lab tested to contain 25% beta-glucans and less than 5% starch
- The company offers a 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee
As an alternative to capsules, this powder can be added to smoothies, juice or mixed with just water. Here’s what we like about it:
- Made from fruiting bodies only
- Contains no mycelium or fillers
- 100% Organic
- Each batch is tested for potency and safety
- Contains 31% beta-d-glucans
Gaia Herbs is another company known for quality and also tests its products for purity and beta-glucan content. Here’s what we like about it:
- Made from 100% fruiting bodies
- No mycelium, grains or other starches
- 100% organic and sustainably harvested mushrooms
- Tested for purity and beta-glucan levels
A Few More Thoughts
Although most people don’t seem to have negative side effects from Lion’s Mane, it can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. If you experience nausea, headache or other negative symptoms, be sure to discontinue use.
As with all dietary supplements, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before adding them to your diet and always follow the recommended dosage from the manufacturer.
With that in mind, Lion’s Mane could sharpen your mental focus as well as giving you other additional health benefits. Try it, and you too may feel the power of this functional fungus!
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