As the popularity of lion’s mane mushrooms grows, so does the speculation about its mysterious effects. Many people who have tried this peculiar mushroom claim to have experienced profound health benefits after consuming it on a regular basis. Curious?
This article aims to outline the existing research into the health benefits of lion’s mane on a variety of health conditions. We also explore any noted side effects so you can decide if lion’s mane is a mushroom for you.
What are Lion’s Mane Mushrooms?
Lion’s mane mushrooms are large, shaggy mushrooms that look very similar to a lion’s mane, both in shape and colour (no surprise). Although rare, they naturally grow in clusters and can be found in woodland areas, attached to dying or rotting trees. They tend to brown with age and can be hard to spot.
These soft mushrooms have been growing in popularity in the western world over the last few years; however, they have been used for centuries in Asian countries like China, India, Japan and Korea – for traditional cooking and medical use.
Not only are they used for holistic medicine, but they are also flavoursome and often used in fine-dining restaurants around the world.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are extremely nutritious and vitamin-rich. They contain thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and minerals such as manganese, zinc, and potassium.
They also contain bioactive substances that have acclaimed beneficial health effects on the body, especially the brain, heart and gut.
Some of the potential health benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms include:
- Protection against dementia
- Relief from mild symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Faster recovery from nervous system injuries
- Reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Stronger immunity
Lion’s mane mushrooms are not “‘magic’” and their natural extracts are safe to consume, although those with a mushroom allergy should avoid consuming them.
8 Health Benefits from Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Due to the notorious health benefits this mushroom potentially provides, it is no surprise it has taken the interest of many researchers. The following health benefits have been scientifically noted; including both physiological and psychological relief of complaints.
Improved Brain Function
Evidence from several small clinical trials has suggested that Lion’s mane improves brain cognition.
In a double-blind clinical trial with Japanese men and women, participants took lion’s mane supplements for 12 weeks. The results indicated that oral intake of H. erinceis (the fungus in Lion’s mane mushrooms) significantly improved cognitive brain functions.
This is down to various chemical compounds and neuroprotective activities that are found in this particular mushroom.
This evidence also shows that oral intake of lion’s mane fungus is a safe method for dementia prevention.
However, this still needs to be confirmed by larger, long-term studies as direct evidence is still lacking.
Despite this, Lion’s mane continues to be used to help treat Dementia and Alzheimer’s conditions where the brain shows signs of cognitive decline.
Relieved Depression and Anxiety
Lion’s mane has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, in particular, to treat mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, this is due to its calming effect on the central nervous system which can treat common issues such as restlessness, panic and insomnia.
Although the effects of Lion’s mane fungus have not been scientifically compared to conventional antidepressants or treatments for mental health disorders, results are promising.
A recent study shows there are potential benefits to using them as part of treatment, combined with traditional prescriptions.
The results show that the ‘antidepressant-like activities’ in these mushrooms provide relief from common symptoms of anxiety and depression including low mood and sadness.
May Help Fight Cancer
Some believe lion’s mane may help combat cancer. Extracts from this mushroom have been used as part of treatment for various cancers including leukaemia, breast cancer and bladder cancer.
It is thought that the compound found in lion’s mane fungi promotes the death of cells affected by cancer, A study in 2015 found early evidence to support this.
It also shows the potential to help in the treatment of other cancers such as gastric and colon cancer. A study in 2021 also showed promising results during the treatment of breast cancer with similar findings as other studies.
However, one study failed to provide similar results. Therefore, further human research is needed to fully understand lion’s mane and its effects on cancer cells, in all types of cancers.
Help Control Diabetes
Another health benefit of lion’s mane is that it could help people with diabetes. In a 2021 study, results showed that it slowed down the digestion of carbohydrates in people with type 2 diabetes, lowering the rise in blood sugar. Therefore, it may be a tool to manage blood sugar levels, which could help millions of people who suffer from the condition.
It is also shown to improve pain from diabetic nerve damage, which is common among people with type two diabetes. In one study, the digestion of lion’s mane showed an increase in pain tolerance; however more human trials are needed for solid evidence to prove this.
People with diabetes should speak to a medical professional before combining the mushrooms with their current treatment, as there is little research on the effects of the combination.
Can Help Improve Heart Disease
Is lion’s mane good for your heart? It may be an aid in lowering cholesterol, a key driver behind heart disease, which could radicalise the treatment for this killer disease.
The results from many studies show it may reduce the risk of heart disease. How exactly? When ingested, lion’s mane mycelium improves fat metabolism, lowering triglyceride levels, reducing the oxidation of cholesterol, and reducing the rate of blood clotting.
In one study rats were fed a high-fat diet and given daily doses of lion’s mane extract. The results showed 27% lower triglyceride levels and 42% less weight gain after 28 days of consumption.
Although the results are promising, like the other evidence above, more human trials are needed for conclusive results as well as research into the side effects on humans.
Can Protect Stomach Lining from Damage and Ulcers
Those who suffer from stomach ulcers and conditions that damage the stomach lining may benefit from taking lion’s mane.
Overgrowth of the bacteria H. pylori is often the cause behind damaged stomach lining and ulcers; which are commonly caused by prolonged use of some over-the-counter drugs.
One study demonstrated that when ingested, Lion’s mane mycelium may protect against this bacteria by stopping the growth of H. pylori and therefore reducing damage, the risk of ulcers and unpleasant symptoms.
Another animal study found that lion’s mane extract was more effective at preventing alcohol-induced stomach ulcers than traditional drugs. Lion’s mane extract also reduced the chances of inflammation and prevented damage to tissue in other areas of the intestines.
One study on people with ulcerative colitis found that taking a lion’s mane supplement containing 14% lion’s mane extract significantly reduced symptoms and improved their quality of life after three weeks.
However, when the same study was repeated in patients with Crohn’s disease, the benefits were no better than a placebo.
Although we see promising studies, we are yet to see definitive results on the direct benefits of this mushroom on gut health. Improving gut health with lion’s mane supplements is an individual choice and should always be combined with good nutrition, as it’s not a replacement for food.
May Aid in Recovery from Nervous System Injuries
The nervous system sends signals between the brain, spinal cord, and other nerves in the body.
Some people who have damaged nervous systems due to traumatic accidents, injuries, falls or autoimmune diseases may live with life-limiting consequences including paralysis or loss of mental function.
Lion’s mane has been shown to have positive effects on repairing nerves in the early stage of recovery.
Results from a 2012 animal study show that Lion’s mane mushrooms could speed up the recovery time from nerve-related injuries, promoting the growth and repair of nerve cells.
There is also evidence that lion’s mane may also reduce the severity of brain damage after a stroke.
In a 2014 study, rats were given doses of lion’s mane mycelium straight after a stroke. The extract helped decrease inflammation and reduce the size of stroke-related brain injuries by 44%.
Further human clinical trials are needed to determine if the results of the animal study have the same healing effect on people.
Inflammation occurs in all parts of the body and can be chronic in some cases. Many diseases and illnesses are caused by inflammation, such as heart disease, cancer and autoimmune disorders. Therefore, treatments that reduce inflammation in any form, can help improve the health of millions around the world.
In one animal study, fresh nutrient-rich, lion’s mane mushrooms were found to promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria and strengthen immunity in the intestines.
Another study showed lion’s mane may aid in the management of inflammatory bowel disease, liver damage and stroke.
In both animal and lab studies, there are promising results when it comes to combating inflammation, however, human studies are needed as evidence for these preliminary results.
Provides an Immune System Boost
A strong immune system is an indicator of good overall health.
Lion’s mane may strengthen the immune system, according to research in animal studies. When digested, the properties of the mushroom may protect against harmful bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that make us ill.
Another study shows that these mushrooms can boost immunity by increasing activity in the immune system, which protects the body from other pathogens we may breathe in.
Lion’s mane is considered safe to consume, and results so far are promising. This research is still in its early stages, more human trials are needed to support the initial findings before advice can be standardised.
Rare Side Effects of Lion’s Mane
Fresh Lion’s mane is largely tolerated across the world, with no negative side effects documented from recent animal studies.
Although there is little data published on the safety of this mushroom, it appears to be very safe to consume, especially fresh mushrooms that are organically grown at home.
Looking at supplements, powders and other processed forms; some people have noted the following complaints after digestion: abdominal discomfort, nausea, and in some cases skin rashes. Taken in large quantities it may also interact with blood-clotting medications (such as warfarin). Therefore, those taking other medications should consult their GP before prolonged use of lion’s mane supplements.
Unsurprisingly, people with mushroom allergies should avoid consuming them. In some cases, lion’s mane has been reported to aggravate symptoms of other allergies and asthma, although this is not scientifically proven.
Large-scale, clinical trials are needed to prove the healing benefits of this wild mushroom, checking if it’s safe for long-term use.
How to Consume Lion’s Mane for Health Benefits
How each individual consumes Lion’s mane is a personal preference and not all forms of the mushroom are readily available.
Powdered forms can be purchased to be made into tea or added to coffee, whilst fresh forms are often eaten raw or cooked as an ingredient in a gourmet meal.
Taking a lion’s mane supplement or powder may be more costly, especially if taken over a long period of time to sustain the health benefits. In these cases, it may be more beneficial to grow your own lion’s mane mushrooms to eat. This way, you’ll have a fresh supply to tuck into, without any nasty additives.
Like anything, fresh lion’s mane often tastes better and provides better nutrition than other processed forms. Many claim it has a seafood flavour, making it a sustainable, non-processed alternative option. When consumed raw this vibrant mushroom has a slightly bitter taste than when cooked, making it a great alternative vegan ingredient in many popular dishes such as curries and broths.
There isn’t a set dosage of lion’s mane that is recommended for everyone; therefore it’s always best to start with a small amount to see how your body reacts to the compounds in the mushroom. Alternatively, if you are consuming a supplement or powder, always follow the guidelines given.
What to Look For When Buying Lion’s Mane
When buying any form of lion’s mane, you’ll want to ensure you are getting a premium quality product, as cheap products may contain other ingredients. Make sure you follow this checklist before deciding on your next lion’s mane purchase.
- Check what is included in it – Always check the label or product description before buying any supplements or extracts so you know what it contains. There are many products on the market that contain both the fruit body and mycelium, which is what you want. Equally, there are some products only made from some parts of the mushroom, this applies to any liquid or dried forms. To get the full benefit of the bioactive substances you need a product with both the fruit and the body of the mushroom. If you’re buying extracts, check that these are pure and not altered with sweeteners or other bulking agents. Fresh mushrooms that are grown at home naturally contain both of these substances and are arguably the purest and healthiest form for consumption.
- Identify the sourcing – normally mushrooms are grown in the wild or cultivated, however as mushroom popularity grows, so do growers who use unhealthy farming methods. If your product has been grown in an environment with pesticides and heavy metals, it will absorb these and pass these on to you when consumed. That’s why it’s crucial to check your supplier is organic so you can easily identify where the mushrooms in your product are sourced. If you’re planning on growing your own mushrooms, check your supply sourcing too. You’ll want a sustainably sourced, organic product to give you the best chance of cultivating your own. Our mushroom spawn is high quality and suitable for hobbyists and keen growers alike.
- Consider the effects of processing – lion’s mane used in powders or supplements must be dehydrated and milled before being used to create the final product. This industrial process can affect the quality of the end product. Always check if your product has come from a verified provider that adheres to industry standards.
- Product evaluation – Has the product been tested and certified as safe to consume? Check for organic certification or referencing as Non-GMO. These will give you more confidence that your product has endured regulatory testing before it’s been put on the market. If you’re unsure – don’t buy!
Lion’s mane is also still being heavily researched, therefore be wary of any organisation that is claiming profound health benefits. Research is promising but it is yet to be conclusive. Like with any medicinal product, there are always some concerns about potential drug reactions with over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs. However, on its own, this mushroom is generally safe to consume.
Where to Find Lion’s Mane
In recent years there’s been a boom in medical mushroom popularity and they are now widely available to buy. Lion’s mane can be found (in some) supermarkets, health food stores, and online. You can find it to purchase in all forms including blends of powders, capsules, teas and extracts.
If you are out in UK woodlands, you are unlikely to find any lion’s mane as it’s extremely rare. Even if you do, it’s protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, making it highly illegal to tamper with. If you believe to come across any in the wild, you should leave it alone.
If you are really keen to try fresh lion’s mane, then you should find a specialist farmer or try your hand at growing your own at home.
Consider Growing Your Own Lion’s Mane
We may be biased, but there are plenty of reasons why you should grow your own Lion’s mane at home.
It’s generally an easy mushroom easy to cultivate, but the mycelium can take a while to develop than other mushrooms, so it’s best to take your time and be patient.
For inexperienced hobbyists, during the growing process, it can also be difficult to determine whether the mushroom is fully colonised and ready to produce fruit, but this comes with practice. Don’t let this put you off – when harvested, this mushroom is a culinary delight.
Lion’s mane can be grown both indoors and out, all year round. You won’t need soil as this type of mushroom can grow on a log or in a bag. Growing your lion’s mane on a log can take up to two years, so it’s much easier to grow them in a bag if you don’t want to wait that long.
There are many ways to grow organic lion’s mane, depending on preference – but you will need the correct supplies, equipment and a suitable environment. If you choose to grow your mushrooms in a bag (the easiest choice) then you’ll also need to consider the supplies you’ll need in order to grow them.
Once you have settled on your environment you will need to prepare your substrate, we recommend using Master’s Mix to do this. It’s a nutrient-rich, wood mix which creates the perfect bed of proteins for the lion’s mane fungi to thrive.
The rest of the growing process then entails:
- Sterilising your substrate mix
- Inoculating your substrate mix (with mushroom grain spawn mix)
- Incubating your mushrooms
- Monitoring the environment until fully colonised
With the right practice and direction, you could find that growing your own lion’s mane is a healthier and more cost-effective way to consume the product compared to expensive processed supplements found online.
Like with all fresh produce, growing your own supply of organic lion’s mane will give you the best possible chance to experience the health benefits outlined above. When it comes to the dried vs fresh argument – in our eyes, it’s a no-brainer!