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Lion's Mane Mushroom: What Is It and How Can It Help You?

Lion's Mane Mushroom: What Is It and How Can It Help You?

Are you looking for a natural way to fight anxiety and depression, stave off dementia, reduce your risk of heart disease, and otherwise boost your overall health and well-being? Let's be honest, who isn't?! 

You may be interested in learning about lion's mane mushrooms. These mushrooms have been used by people in different parts of Asia for centuries for culinary and medicinal purposes.

What is a Lion's Mane Mushroom?

Hericium Erinaceus, more commonly known as lion's mane mushrooms, are white, globe-shaped fungi with long and shaggy spines. These mushrooms can be eaten or taken in supplement form. When consumed or used in cooking, the mushrooms have a seafood-like flavour that some people compare to crab or lobster. If you're a seafood lover, you may enjoy snacking on these mushrooms plain or adding them to your favourite dishes and salads.

Benefits of Lion's Mane Mushrooms

Some of the most significant health benefits of lion's mane mushrooms include:

Anxiety and Depression Relief

Research shows that nearly half of all Australians will suffer from a mental health condition in their lifetime. About three million adults show symptoms of anxiety and/or depression each year. Of course, many factors, including genetics and lifestyle, can lead to these conditions. But chronic inflammation also plays a leading role. But, lion's mane mushrooms and their extract can help. 

Researchers have found the lion's mane mushroom and its extract can lower mild symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is because of its ability to help people feel relaxed and focused. What's more, the mushroom may even be able to improve sleep, which is a common side effect of anxiety.

A study of menopausal women who ate cookies containing lion's mane mushrooms every day for one month reported fewer feelings of irritation and anxiety. Also, they had less difficulty concentrating than women in the study who took a placebo pill. 

Protects the Heart

The major contributing factors to heart disease are:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglycerides
  • Physical inactivity 
  • Tobacco use
  • Increased tendency of blood clots

According to research, lion's mane extract may help lower your risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Related heart conditions by working to alleviate some of the above-mentioned common causes of heart disease.

Studies show that lion's mane can improve cholesterol levels by:

  • Lowering triglycerides.
  • Increasing HDL cholesterol.
  • Preventing LDL cholesterol from rising.

Diabetes Control

If you have diabetes, you know how important controlling your blood sugar is. The lion's mane mushroom has been found to effectively treat both type 1 and type 2 diabetes and play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes. One recent study found that blood sugar levels in rats with diabetes dropped after they were given lion's mane mushroom extract for 28 days.

How can lion's mane mushrooms lower blood sugar? The key relates to how they block alpha-glucosidase's activity, an enzyme responsible for breaking down carbs in the small intestine. When this enzyme is blocked, blood sugar levels drop since the body cannot digest and absorb carbs as efficiently.

Lion's mane mushroom extract may also reduce diabetic nerve pain, although the research is quite limited in this area. A study found that mice with diabetic neuropathy that were given lion's mane mushroom extract for six weeks had significantly reduced pain and lower blood sugar.

Immune System Booster

Are you tired of feeling the effects of cold and flu season? Lion's mane mushrooms can help with that, too, thanks to their immune system-enhancing abilities. They do so by stimulating the activity of the intestinal immune system — the body's natural defence against pathogens that enter through the mouth and nose.

The lion's mane mushroom is not the only type of mushroom that is packed with immune system-boosting antioxidants. What is unique about lion's mane is how it stimulates the production of nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin. These compounds have been shown to regulate the body's immune response.

May Help Fight Cancer

A cancer-fighting mushroom? Studies have found lion's mane mushrooms can slow down the spread of cancer in mice with colon cancer. A study in which mice were given lion's mane extract reduced the spread of colon cancer to the lungs by nearly 70%.

A separate study found the extract to be even more effective at slowing the growth of tumours in mice than traditional cancer medication, with fewer side effects.

Reduced Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

One study examined the antioxidant powers of 14 types of mushroom species. It found lion's mane to be the fourth-highest in terms of antioxidant activity. 

Oxidative stress happens as we age. The free radicals and antioxidants in our bodies become more and more imbalanced, leading to cell and tissue damage. Chronic inflammation, caused by a lifetime of eating junk food, exposure to toxins and infections and injuries, and oxidative stress are culprits for a wide range of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.

Studies have shown that lion's mane mushroom extract lowered markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in rodents and may be especially helpful in managing the following conditions:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
  • Liver damage
  • Stroke
  • Obesity

Cognitive Health Booster

As we age, our brains — like many other bodily systems — decline in how they process, retain, and access new and old information.

Studies show that lion's mane can help boost brain health in several ways, from protecting against Alzheimer's disease to providing a boost in mental functioning. This is again thanks to the nerve growth factor (NGF) that lion's mane works to stimulate. NGF is a key ingredient in new cell production and in strengthening current cells.  

In fact, a group of older adults experiencing mild cognitive impairment were given a small amount of lion's mane mushroom extract every day for four months. The adults reported significant improvements in their cognitive functioning. Once the adults stopped taking the supplements, the benefits disappeared.

Forms and Dosages of Lion's Mane Mushrooms

There are a few different ways you can consume lion's mane mushrooms:

  • Steep them in tea.
  • Cook with them or eat them cooked as a snack.
    • Take a supplement in the form of a capsule
    • Liquid
    • Tablet
    • Powder

How much you should take of each of these supplements will vary. So, it's highly recommended to follow the instructions on the label carefully. If you experience any adverse reactions to lion's mane mushrooms, stop taking them immediately and contact your doctor.

Lion's Mane Mushroom Risks and Side Effects

Although most studies on lion's mane mushrooms have been on animals, in general, the substance appears safe to eat in moderate quantities. No adverse effects have been produced by any of the studies, even when lion's mane was consumed in high doses.

If you are allergic or sensitive to mushrooms, you should avoid lion's mane as it could produce an allergic reaction. Some people have documented difficulty breathing or skin rashes after consuming lion's mane mushrooms, likely because of allergies.

It's also recommended that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding avoid lion's mane mushroom supplements. Not enough research has been done to determine whether the supplements are safe to take during pregnancy.

Lion's Mane Mushrooms: Final Thoughts

In closing, lion's mane mushrooms and the extract appear to offer several natural health benefits, from heart health to diabetes management and cancer protection, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Before taking lion's mane mushrooms or the extract, speak with your healthcare provider.

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