If you're on a quest for better brain function, you’ve probably heard the buzz about lion’s mane. With claims of its tremendous benefits for the brain, this shaggy mushroom is said to enhance cognition, improve memory and boost focus, among a host of other potential wellbeing advantages (which we'll delve into later).
With a rich history in traditional medicine, particularly in China, this fabulous fungi has captivated interest as a potential natural, potent nootropic, yet limited research has been conducted to substantiate its claims. However, as research gains momentum, lion's mane has become the centre of attention in the wellness community, capturing the curiosity of enthusiasts and experts alike.
We decided to dig deeper into the claim that lion’s mane mushrooms can improve memory and enhance cognitive performance. Does lion’s mane really have memory-boosting potential? Does the science back this up? How does this mushroom work in the body? The results are exciting to say the least, and if you're curious about this brain-boosting marvel, read on to find out more (and to learn more about the overall benefits of lion’s mane mushroom, check out our 8 Wellbeing Benefits of Lion’s Mane blog).
What is Lion’s Mane?
Lion's mane (scientific name Hericium erinaceus), also known as “Bearded Tooth”, "Yamabushitake" and the “Smart Mushroom”, is a type of edible medicinal mushroom native to Asia, Europe, and North America. Its unique appearance, with cascading white tendrils resembling a lion's mane, is what gives it its intriguing name. For centuries, it has been an essential component of traditional Asian medicine due to its potential to promote wellbeing and overall vitality.
The Active Compounds of Lion’s Mane Mushroom
The key components responsible for lion's mane's potential cognitive benefits are called hericenones and erinacines. These bioactive compounds, which are mainly concentrated in the fruiting body of the mushroom (that’s the furry white body visible above ground), are believed to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF) in the brain. NGF is crucial for the growth, maintenance and survival of nerve cells, making it a vital element in brain health and cognitive function.
Lion’s Mane and Memory Improvement: How Does it Help?
- Enhancement of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)
Studies have shown that the hericenones and erinacines found in lion's mane can cross the blood-brain barrier and, as mentioned earlier, stimulate the production of NGF. By promoting the growth and protection of brain cells, lion's mane may contribute to memory improvement and overall enhancement of brain health.
- Neuroprotective Effects
Lion's mane mushroom exhibits potent antioxidant properties, which can help protect brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. By reducing cellular damage, this functional mushroom may aid in preserving memory and cognitive function.
- Supporting Brain Plasticity
The brain's ability to adapt and reorganise itself is known as neuroplasticity. Lion's mane fungus is believed to enhance neuroplasticity, potentially leading to improved learning and memory retention.
- Reduction of Age-Related Cognitive Decline
As we age, cognitive function naturally declines. However, some research suggests that lion's mane may help mitigate age-related memory impairments, making it a promising candidate for elderly individuals seeking memory support.
Studies and Research
A recent key study carried out by the Queensland Brain Institute supports the theory that there are active compounds in lion’s mane mushrooms that help regenerate brain cells. The research found that in mice, those compounds stimulated the growth of neurons which led to improved neural connections in the brain and subsequent memory improvements.
Professor of Neurophysiology Frederic Meunier, from the Queensland Brain Institute, said, “Pre-clinical testing found the lion’s mane mushroom had a significant impact on the growth of brain cells and improving memory."
“Using super-resolution microscopy, we found the mushroom extract and its active components largely increase the size of growth cones, which are particularly important for brain cells to sense their environment and establish new connections with other neurons in the brain.”
Source: The University of Queensland
A 2019 study also found that lion's mane oral supplements improved recognition memory in ageing mice after two months.
Other Benefits of Lion’s Mane
This marvellous mushroom also boasts a number of other potential benefits, although it is important to note that more human-based clinical trials are required for conclusive evidence. Some potential lion’s mane benefits include:
- Digestive health support
- Immune system support
- Nerve regeneration
- Anxiety and depression relief
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Antioxidant activity
- Improved sleep quality
- Cardiovascular health
How to Take Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Of course, lion’s mane mushroom can be cooked and eaten (and provides a tasty, highly nutritious portion of a meal), however, lion's mane supplements are becoming increasingly popular as an easy way to reap all the benefits without the need to source and cook the mushroom daily. Subsequently, lion’s mane supplements are now available in various forms, including capsules, powders and extracts. Before incorporating any supplement into your routine, read the packaging and follow the instructions on how to take the supplement carefully.
Additional Ways to Boost Brain Health
In addition to incorporating lion’s mane mushroom into your routine, there are several other ways to boost brain health and cognitive function. One of the most crucial factors is maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins B, C, D and E can provide essential nutrients that support brain health. Regular physical exercise is also beneficial, as it increases blood flow to the brain and promotes the release of chemicals that aid in memory and learning. Engaging in mental stimulation, such as puzzles, games or learning new skills, can help keep the brain active and sharp. There are plenty of apps available that offer ‘brain training’ exercises to complete daily.
Prioritising quality sleep and managing stress are equally important, as both play significant roles in brain function. Lastly, maintaining social connections and engaging in meaningful social activities can positively impact cognitive health and overall wellbeing. By adopting a holistic approach that combines these practices with supplements like lion's mane, individuals can optimise their brain health and potentially enhance their cognitive abilities throughout life.
Lion's mane mushroom, with its potential to stimulate nerve growth factor production, support brain plasticity and protect brain cells, has garnered attention lately for its memory-boosting properties. While research is still ongoing, preliminary studies suggest that lion's mane may offer cognitive benefits and be a valuable addition to brain health support regimens.
- Lion's Mane vs CBD for Anxiety
- Does Lion's Mane Work for Focus?
- Wellness Benefits of Maca Root
- Can CBD Boost Focus?
Lion’s Mane for Memory FAQs
Is lion's mane safe to use?
Lion's Mane is generally considered safe for most people when taken in appropriate doses. However, some individuals may experience mild gastrointestinal discomfort. Always follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional if you have concerns.
Can lion's mane treat Alzheimer's disease?
While lion's mane shows promise in supporting cognitive function, it is not a cure for Alzheimer's disease. It may help alleviate some symptoms or slow cognitive decline, but further research is needed.
Can children take lion's mane supplements?
Many lion’s mane supplements available in health stores and wellness websites are to be taken by adults only. As with any supplement, it's crucial to consult a paediatrician before giving lion's mane to children.
How long does it take to see results with lion's mane?
Individual responses may vary, but some individuals report noticing improvements in cognitive function after consistent use for a few weeks.
Can I take lion's mane with other medications?
Potentially. If you are taking medications, it's essential to consult with your GP to ensure there are no possible interactions.