A medicinal mushroom with the name “bearded tooth fungus” may not sound like something you want to eat. But adding it to your diet could be a game changer for cognitive health.
Lion’s mane mushroom — also known as “bearded tooth fungus” or “hedgehog mushroom,” (or hericium erinaceus in the fungi kingdom) — has become recognized as a powerful superfood for enhancing brain function and helping with a number of ailments, possibly even reducing incidence of cancer. You can find it in the wild in North America, Europe, or Asia, but you’ll also find it in many nootropic supplements today. Its use goes back hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine as a tonic for supporting overall health and longevity.
Fortunately, its use has spread from China and Japan, and it’s now easily available to anyone who wants it. Here’s a closer look at why lion’s mane mushroom is so beneficial for the brain, as well as a few other health benefits it offers — all of which are supported by research.
#1 Improves Memory, Focus, and Concentration
At any given moment, how many tabs do you have open on your internet browser, and how many screens are you looking at? As a fast-paced society of multitaskers, it can be difficult to concentrate on one task when you really need to.
It’s said that lion’s mane mushroom is one of nature’s most powerful brain foods because it helps stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) production (1). NGF is a neuropeptide that helps maintain neurons, which are the cells responsible for helping your brain process and transmit information. So, whether you need to study for an exam, write a paper, or focus better at work, the neurotrophic benefits of lion’s mane mushroom can help.
One study showed that lion’s mane was effective for significantly improving cognitive function in those with mild cognitive impairment when taken for at least 4 weeks (3). Another study also demonstrated that lion’s mane can help preserve photographic and short-term memory (1). (If only we’d known about this superfood during the SAT’s!)
It’s also suggested that lion’s mane is most effective when taken on a continual basis (3).
#2 Reduces Depression and Anxiety
Anxiety disorders affect 40 million Americans aged 18 and older. Depression isn’t so far behind, affecting nearly 16 million American adults (4)(5).
Over the counter (OTC) prescription medications are one of the first solutions offered for treating both of these conditions, but lion’s mane may provide similar benefits, without the unwanted side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. In fact, the NGF-enhancing action of lion’s mane that we mentioned above has also been shown to support the autonomic nervous system — the primary system involved in your body’s fight or flight response (6).
In particular, lion’s mane mushroom has been shown to reduce feelings of irritability and anxiety, which also suggests it may work for mild symptoms of depression (6).
Important Note: Lion’s mane mushroom may interact with certain OTC prescription drugs, including antidepressants and antianxiety medications, so it’s always important to check with your doctor before supplementing with lion’s mane.
#3 Increases Energy
One of the most discussed benefits of lion’s mane in online forums is the steady energy boost it provides without the jitters of other stimulants, like caffeine. In fact, our friends at Four Sigmatic have even created mushroom coffee with lion’s mane, so you can take advantage of the energy boost without suffering the caffeine crash later.
There’s a few reasons why lion’s mane can help with energy. First, lion’s mane is rich in antioxidants that support overall cellular health (7). Since energy transport takes place between your cells, the more antioxidants you have in your diet, the easier it is for your body to produce energy.
Secondly, lion’s mane has been shown to reduce lactic acid in the blood, which causes fatigue after intense physical activity. It also increase tissue glycogen content so that your body can produce energy quicker (8).
#4 Alleviates Symptoms of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are neurodegenerative conditions that result from cell degeneration in the brain.
As we mentioned above, one of the reasons why lion’s mane mushroom is such a powerful brain food is because it’s proven to increase NGF, which happens to be the exact neuropeptide needed to prevent nerve cell damage (9).
What’s more astounding, is that lion’s mane has also been shown to regenerate damaged cells, which means it may be particularly beneficial for those with advancing neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease (10).
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Studies show that eating or supplementing with lion’s mane mushroom can help improve insulin sensitivity, and significantly lower high blood glucose levels in as little as 28 days (11). This suggests that lion’s mane is helpful for managing type 2 diabetes and other blood sugar imbalances.
#6 Supports Gut Health
Lion’s mane has natural antibacterial properties that are strong enough to protect the gut against harmful bacteria, such as H.pylori (12). It may also be effective for protecting against other digestive conditions, such as leaky gut, by safeguarding the gut mucosal lining (13).
Lion’s mane has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the GI tract, which can help with the digestive symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease and colitis (14).
#7 Supports Cardiovascular Health
The underlying cause of cardiovascular disease is chronic inflammation, which is why reducing inflammation through your diet, nutritional supplements, and lifestyle is crucial for a healthy cardiovascular system. (And yes, mental stress and lack of exercise can cause inflammation, too.)
The anti-inflammatory properties of lion’s mane support overall cardiovascular health, but studies have also found that it can reduce LDL cholesterol levels and elevated triglycerides, which are two risk factors for heart disease.
How to Take Lion’s Mane and Where to Find it
You can cook lion’s mane mushrooms in butter and eat them whole, boil them in hot water, or take lion’s mane extract as a nutritional supplement in capsule, tablet, tincture, and powder form. Most health food stores carry lion’s mane mushroom supplements.
Our favorite way to take lion’s mane mushroom is by adding it to a warm mug of bone broth, which is why we came up with a brand new bone broth flavor to share with you — Kettle and Fire Mushroom Chicken Bone Broth. Currently, you can find the new flavor in Whole Foods Market in the States. It’s basically slow simmered lion’s mane and portobello mushrooms, combined with all of the goodness from our classic chicken bone broth. We can’t think of a better (or more delicious) way to boost your brain function.