Medicinal mushrooms are continuing to make a big splash in the natural health and research communities. These rediscovered ancient medicines offer such impressive health benefits that even mainstream medicine is finding them hard to ignore. Recent studies have demonstrated powerful applications in the areas of cancer treatment, immune modulation, and much more.
We’ve written about some of the other top medicinal mushrooms, including chaga, cordyceps, enoki, and reishi. The entire class of medicinal mushrooms is exemplary for activating the body’s self-healing potential and warding off disease by facilitating systemic balance; for this reason, they are often categorized as adaptogens.
But each mushroom also has its own specialties. For example, chaga is commonly used to treat cancer, viral infections, and immune disorders. Cordyceps naturally boosts energy, vitality, and physical performance without taxing the adrenals or stimulating the central nervous system. And reishi fights so many diseases and ailments that it’s been given illustrious titles such as “the Mushroom of Immortality” and “the King of Medicinal Mushrooms.”
No discussion of medicinal mushrooms would be complete, however, without mentioning lion’s mane.
Is Lion’s Mane the ultimate brain adaptogen?
Lion’s mane mushrooms get their name from their appearance, which can look…well, like a lion’s mane. It has been a well-known functional food in Chinese medicine for centuries, but has only recently made a comeback in modern medicine.
It boasts an incredible list of beneficial properties—one study reports that lion’s mane is “antibiotic, anticarcinogenic, antidiabetic, antifatigue, antihypertensive, antihyperlipodemic, antisenescence, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, nephroprotective, and neuroprotective properties, and [that it improves] anxiety, cognitive function, and depression.”
It is perhaps most well-known, though, as a powerful nootropic (that is, a cognitive enhancement tool). If you’re interested in boosting brain function and cognitive performance, protecting against cognitive decline, and even healing damage to brain cells, look no further than this versatile fungus.
The popularity of nootropics has surged in recent years, resulting in an abundance of different products, foods, and supplements. While many nootropics are worthwhile in their own ways (and you should always strive to find the foods and supplements that work best for you), lion’s mane is hard to beat. It is safer and more well-researched than many of the available synthetic nootropics, and usually less expensive too (the “brain blends” that incorporate many ingredients are particularly pricey).
Here are some of lion’s mane’s brain benefits that researchers are discovering.
Enhancement of memory and cognitive function. Lion’s mane is quickly gaining traction as a nootropic of choice among those looking for an acute brain boost. Animal studies validate this mechanism, showing that lion’s mane improves memory and overall cognitive functioning, in both Alzheimer’s and non-Alzheimer’s models. In another study, it even improved functioning in individuals with preexisting cognitive impairment (other than Alzheimer’s or age-related cognitive decline).
Improvement of brain cell growth. One primary way in which lion’s mane improves cognitive health and function (both acutely and cumulatively over time) is by stimulating brain cell growth.
This is a big deal, considering that not so long ago, neuroscientists thought that neurogenesis (brain cell regeneration) simply wasn’t possible. Research conclusively demonstrates that lion’s mane enhances neurite outgrowth in the brain, thus enhancing cognitive performance and protecting against cognitive decline. One study also found that lion’s mane regenerates cells damaged by peripheral nerve injury, and another indicated that lion’s mane supplementation may protect against the onset and spread of Parkinson’s disease.
Protection against brain cell damage. In addition to facilitating brain cell growth and repair, lion’s mane also protects against further brain cell damage. It’s this synergistic combination of active growth stimulation and passive protection that makes it an unparalleled brain supporter.
Studies have demonstrated that lion’s mane is able to protect against brain cell damage from ischemic injury (such as the lack of blood flow that occurs during a stroke), and that it protects and dramatically delays the cell death of PC12 cells (the health of which is commonly used as a marker of brain health).
Including lion’s mane in your diet is a no-brainer
Just to reiterate: lion’s mane may be most well-known for its brain-boosting properties, but it has a lot more to offer too.
It heals the body on a fundamental level by functioning as a perfect natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant (all in addition to the long list of functions mentioned earlier). So even if your primary goal is to improve and protect cognitive performance, you’ll enjoy plenty of other benefits as part of the deal.
There are lots of way to start putting lion’s mane to work in your own life. Raw mushrooms, dried powder, encapsulated formulas, and concentrated extracts are all readily available online and in well-stocked grocery stores.
Concentrations are especially powerful if you want to feel an immediate mood shift and brain boost, but all forms of lion’s mane work well, provided they’ve been sourced from reliable vendors.
You can even add lion’s mane to your coffee if caffeine is part of your brain-boosting morning ritual (several companies now offer pre-made mushroom coffee blends).
Regardless of which form of lion’s mane you choose, there’s just one important consideration to keep in mind: only purchase products that are made from the fruiting body of the mushroom (which contains all the beneficial components you’re looking for), not from the mycelium. As long as you follow this guideline, you’re bound to experience great results.