Welcome to another blog post for the weekly nootropic ingredient spotlight series.
Today we are taking a look at Lions Mane Mushroom, a hugely popular medicinal mushroom renowned for its ability to support and protect the brain.
What is Lions Mane Mushroom?
Lions Mane Mushroom (Hericium Erinaceus) is a medicinal mushroom native to North America, Europe and Asia. It is the mushroom most associated with improving brain function and is thus often included in nootropic formulations.
It has recently surged in popularity as a medicinal mushroom, capable of exerting potent neuroprotective and brain health benefits.
Lions Mane contains a number of natural compounds and constituents which contribute to its useful neuropharmacology. It includes high molecular weight myconutrients such as polysaccharides which includes Beta Glucans and Heteroglucans which have been shown to induce very beneficial effects. It also includes low molecular weight compounds such as Terpenoids (including Hericenones and Erinacines).
There is clinical research showing that Lions Mane is also able to promote the synthesis of neurotrophins such as Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in cell models. This protein helps neuronal growth and repair.
Lions Mane has research suggesting that it may have implications on those suffering from cognitive decline, or be able to help those suffering with neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.
One human study showed that at a dose of 3g per day, was effective in improving symptoms of cognitive impairment in elderly Japanese men and women.
While most research for Lions Mane has been done in rodent and cell models, there is some promising evidence to show it can support human health too. There is definitely an opportunity for further studies to help determine the efficacy for Lions Mane to support brain health outcomes and reduce cognitive decline due to lifestyle, aging or disease.
How does Lions Mane Mushroom work (Mechanisms of action)?
To understand how Lions Mane Mushroom as a whole really works, we must first look into how its constituent compounds work to act in the brain and the body.
Namely, we will look at Polysachharides such as Beta Glucans and Heteroglucans.
We will also look at Terpenoids such as Erinacines and Hericenones.
Let's take a closer look.
Polysachharides (Beta Glucan and Heteroglucans)
Polysachharides are long chain carbohydrates that can be found in foods, or in the cell walls of plants, fungus and other organisms. An example of a structural Polysachharide is cellulose, often used to create hard gel capsules as well as in the paper and textile industries.
The Polysachharides contained within Lions Mane Mushroom, particularly the Beta Glucans and Heteroglucans are responsible largely for:
- Neuroprotective effects from toxicity due to B plaque formation (in cell models)
- Decreasing production of ROS (reactive oxygen species)
- Increasing efficacy of free radical scavenging
- Promotes cell viability and protects cells against apoptosis induced by B plaque formation
- Decreased blood lactic acid, serum urea nitrogen, tissue glycogen etc further supporting their role on oxidative stress
Terpenoids (Erinacines and Hericenones)
Terpenoids are a class of naturally occuring hydrocarbons that consist of terpenes attached to an oxygen containing group - these astoundingly make up over 60% of products in the natural world.
Hericenones are a group of aromatic compounds isolated from the fruiting body of Lions Mane.
Erinacines are found in the mycelium primarily.
Both of these groups of substances have been shown to cross the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) and shown to exert neurotrophic and neuroprotective effects.
Erinacines in particular, have been shown to promote Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). This is the neuro protein that's responsible for supporting, repairing and growing neurons and nerve cells.
Effects & Research for Lions Mane Mushroom
As stated earlier, there is a significant amount of research done in both rodent models and cell models that support the efficacy of Lions Mane Mushroom and its ability to provide neuroprotection and increase production of NGF.
In a human study, 30, 50-80 year old Japanese men and women diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, took 4, 250mg capsules of H.Erinaceus (96% dry powder), three times per day for 16 weeks. The subjects showed statistically significant increases in their scores on a dementia rating scale. These effects were gone 4 weeks after the administration period however.
In another study, rodents were administered B amyloid peptide to bring on impairments in cognitive function. They were also fed Lions Mane Mushroom over a period of 14 days. It was observed that the mushroom was able to prevent impairments of spatial short term and visual recognition memory induced by B amyloid peptide. This indicates that Lions Mane Mushroom (Hericium Erinaceus) may be useful in the prevention of cognitive dysfunction.
1. (human study) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18844328/