The fruit bodies of lion’s mane mushroom can be used for culinary purposes, but supplementing your wellness routine with the fungus may also have other perks
If you want to jump on the mushrooms-as-medicine trend, you may consider talking with your doctor or an integrative registered dietician about lion’s mane. This large, white, shaggy fungus has been part of medicinal culture in East Asia for centuries, used historically as both food and medicine for a variety of health concerns.
“The beneficial compounds can be found in the lion’s mane fruiting bodies (the part that contains spores) and mycelium (the root-like structure),” says Monique Richard, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in Johnson City, Tennessee, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The fruiting bodies and mycelium contain many active ingredients. Namely, polysaccharides, erinacines, hericerins, steroids, alkaloids, and lactones, according to Lindsay Delk, RDN, based in Houston who specializes in the connection between food and mental health. These ingredients may explain the many possible health and wellness benefits of lion’s mane, which range from heart health to immune support.
However, it’s important to note: Although there is increased interest in lion’s mane for a variety of health conditions, unfortunately there is only very limited research in humans. Here are studies, mostly performed in the lab, that may pique your interest and show some theoretical benefits of the shroom. More studies in humans are needed to substantiate these possible human-health benefits, so keep this in mind.
Theoretical Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom, According to Lab Research
1. Improve Brain Function
Lion’s mane mushrooms contain hericenones and erinacines, two compounds that can stimulate the growth of brain cells in lab studies, per past research. In theory, this may have beneficial effects on people with brain conditions.
Past research studied the effects of lion’s mane supplementation on brain function in a group of middle-aged and older adults who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Mayo Clinic describes MCI as the stage between the normal cognitive decline that comes with aging and the more severe decline of dementia. The study found that adults who took four 250 milligram (mg) tablets of lion’s mane three times a day for 16 weeks showed a significant boost in cognitive function compared with those who didn’t. However, these benefits didn’t continue once people stopped supplementation.
A more recent study, published in June 2020 in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, found that taking three 350 mg capsules of lion’s mane daily for 49 weeks may have helped lead to significant improvements in brain health in people with mild Alzheimer’s disease
2. Support Digestive Health
Properties of lion’s mane have been shown to support the digestive tract. In particular, lion’s mane may help prevent ulcers by stopping the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that can have negative effects on gut lining, Richard says.
While these results may appear promising, human research is needed to substantiate this benefit.
Lion’s mane may also protect the intestines from inflammation and inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, Richard says.
A study in patients with ulcerative colitis, published in March 2016 in PLoS One, found that those who took a supplement containing 14 percent lion’s mane extract reported improved symptoms and quality of life after three weeks.
3. Relieve Depression and Anxiety
According to Delk, lion’s mane decreases inflammation, which may help relieve depression and anxiety.
She names one study, published in 2019 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in which overweight and obese patients with mood disorders were given lion’s mane supplements for eight weeks. Not only did these patients experience decreased depression and anxiety symptoms, but they also reported improvements in sleep quality. Blood samples also showed increases in pro-brain-derived neurotrophic factor (proBDNF), a protein that plays an important role in mood and brain health.
In a past study, women with nonspecific health complaints and diseases were given four cookies containing 0.5 grams of powdered lion’s mane daily for four weeks. Those who received lion’s mane cookies reported feeling less irritation and anxiety by the end of the study compared with women who received placebo cookies.
One limitation to this study is that it included only 30 women. Larger studies are needed to show how these findings might help with anxiety, and to see how lion’s mane compares or combines with mainstream therapies for anxiety, like meditation and talk therapy.
4. Boost Immune Health
Research in animals suggests that lion’s mane may strengthen the immune system, helping protect against bacteria, viruses, and other harmful substances.
A past study found that daily lion’s mane supplements extended the lifespan of mice injected with a hefty dose of salmonella bacteria by nearly 4 times more than mice that didn’t receive supplements.
A study published in February 2017 in Food & Function found that lion’s mane mushroom boosted activity in the intestinal immune system in mice. The intestinal immune system works to protect the body from harmful substances that make their way to the gut via the mouth or nose.
As the authors of a study published in June 2017 in Frontiers in Immunology explained, these effects may be partly due to beneficial changes in gut bacteria that activate the immune system.
However, most of the research has been done in animals thus far; human studies will hopefully show how lion’s mane might help the immune system.
5. Prevent Cancer
Lion’s mane has several unique compounds that may help fight cancer.
According to a study published in August 2020 in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, polysaccharide HEFP-2b, a compound in lion’s mane, slowed the growth of colon cancer cells in a test tube.
Another test-tube study, published in May 2020 in Food and Function Journal, demonstrated that peptides found in lion’s mane may help treat lung cancer. Researchers found that these peptides have the ability to capture free radicals (harmful substances linked with cancer) and trigger the death of cancerous lung cells.
But while these findings are promising, the anti-cancer effects of lion’s mane have only been studied in test tubes and animals. Human studies are needed.
6. Manage Diabetes
Lion’s mane may improve blood sugar control and symptoms like nerve pain, making it a potentially helpful tool for diabetes management.
For example, a test-tube study published in November 2020 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that several compounds in lion’s mane prevented alpha-glucosidase activity. In this way, lion’s mane may work similarly to alpha-glucosidase inhibitors (AGIs), a group of antidiabetic medications used to manage type 2 diabetes. AGIs limit the absorption of carbohydrates from the small intestine, helping lower the rise in blood sugar following a meal, according to a July 2022 article in StatPearls.
What’s more, a study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine revealed that feeding diabetic rats 40 mg of lion’s mane per kilogram of body weight significantly increased their pain threshold after six week of treatment. This suggests that lion’s mane may offer pain relief for diabetic neuropathy, a type of diabetic nerve damage that can cause pain and numbness in the legs and feet.
However, people with diabetes who are taking medication to control their blood sugar levels should approach lion’s mane with caution. Lion’s mane may interact with diabetes treatments, Richard says, causing blood sugar levels to drop too low.
In addition, most of the research in diabetes has been done in animals and test tubes so far — more studies in humans may show if lion’s mane can help with diabetes.
7. Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Research suggests that lion’s mane may lower your risk of heart disease, mainly through its effects on cholesterol.
For example, a test-tube study published in BioMed Research International found that lion’s mane extract may help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream, which is beneficial for overall heart health.
Meanwhile, previous research evaluated lion’s mane’s cholesterol-lowering effects. Researchers fed lion’s mane to obese rats once a day for two weeks. By the end of the study, these rats showed significantly lower levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (also known as “bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) than rats that weren’t given lion’s mane.
Despite these findings, Michelle Routhenstein, RDN, a preventive cardiology dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist at Entirely Nourished in New York City, doesn’t recommend using lion’s mane to prevent or treat heart disease. “It’s not supported by human studies and the safety and side effects haven’t been studied either,” she explains.
There are safer, more effective ways to prevent heart disease through your diet, under the care of your primary physician, Routhenstein adds.