Lion's mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, particularly in Asia. Recently, it has gained attention in the Western world for its potential to enhance cognitive function. But what is the science behind this claim? In this blog post, we will explore the research on lion's mane mushroom and cognitive function and examine the mechanisms by which it may work.
What is Lion's Mane Mushroom?
Lion's mane mushroom is a type of edible mushroom that grows on hardwood trees in Asia, Europe, and North America. It is characterized by its long, white, shaggy spines that resemble a lion's mane, hence its name. In traditional medicine, lion's mane mushroom has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive disorders, inflammation, and cancer.
Lion's Mane Mushroom and Cognitive Function
One of the most promising benefits of lion's mane mushroom is its potential to enhance cognitive function. A number of studies have investigated the effects of lion's mane mushroom on cognitive function in both animals and humans.
In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers fed rats a diet containing lion's mane mushroom extract for four weeks. The results showed that the rats had significantly improved cognitive function compared to the control group. Specifically, the rats performed better on a maze test and showed increased levels of a protein called nerve growth factor (NGF) in the brain, which is involved in the growth and survival of neurons.
A human study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology investigated the effects of lion's mane mushroom on cognitive function in elderly Japanese individuals. Participants were randomly assigned to either a group that consumed cookies containing lion's mane mushroom extract or a control group that consumed cookies without the extract. After 16 weeks, the group that consumed the extract showed significantly improved cognitive function compared to the control group. Specifically, they performed better on a test of cognitive function known as the Japanese version of the modified Mini-Mental State Examination.
Mechanisms of Action
The mechanisms by which lion's mane mushroom may enhance cognitive function are not yet fully understood, but there are a few theories. One theory is that lion's mane mushroom may stimulate the growth and survival of neurons in the brain, possibly through the action of NGF. Another theory is that lion's mane mushroom may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the brain, which could protect against cognitive decline.
While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms by which lion's mane mushroom may enhance cognitive function, the existing evidence is promising. Studies in both animals and humans have shown that lion's mane mushroom can improve cognitive function, and there are several theories as to how it may work. If you are interested in trying lion's mane mushroom for cognitive enhancement, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider first.
Mori, K., Inatomi, S., Ouchi, K., Azumi, Y., & Tuchida, T. (2009). Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology, 55(1), 52-54.
Phan, C. W., David, P., Naidu, M., Wong, K. H., & Sabaratnam, V. (2015). Therapeutic potential of culinary-medicinal mushrooms for the management of neurodegenerative diseases: diversity, metabolite, and mechanism. Critical reviews in biotechnology, 35(3), 355-368.
Wong, K. H., Naidu, M., David, P