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Despite its long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is only now getting the attention it deserves in the West. Research shows that it contains a plethora of health-enhancing constituents, including antioxidants and immune-boosting beta-glucan, and proponents maintain that it can address a slew of health problems.
This time-honored herb is known to help with brain and mood issues, including anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. It also has a reputation for easing high cholesterol, inflammation, ulcers, and digestive concerns. And if that’s not enough, it also exhibits cancer-preventive effects.
While these may seem like a wide range of disparate conditions, they’re all linked by one thing—inflammation. One study evaluating the potential of 14 different mushrooms held that this leonine remedy had the fourth-highest antioxidant activity, which may explain its benefits for inflammatory conditions.
Benefits for Your Brain
Lion’s mane may help older adults with mild cognitive impairment, according to a study in which researchers assigned 30 cognitively impaired older adults to consume either a mushroom extract or a placebo for 16 weeks. In cognitive tests given throughout the study, patients in the mushroom cohort showed significantly greater improvements compared to those taking a placebo. Another study examined the effects of lion’s mane on brain function, concluding that the fungus helped protect against memory problems caused by brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Preliminary studies have shown that lion’s mane demonstrates a possible protective benefit for ischemic stroke, and research is ongoing.
Natural Mood Booster
This functional fungus helps alleviate depression and anxiety, according to a 2010 study that tracked 30 menopausal women who ate daily cookies made with either lion’s mane or a placebo for four weeks. Scientists found that the mushroom group was less likely to be irritable and anxious and had better concentration than those who took the placebo. In 2020, a paper from the Department of Translational Research and New Technologies in Medicine and Surgery at the University of Pisa in Italy found encouraging indications for the use of a combination of lion’s mane, Baikal skullcap root, and rhodiola for depression and anxiety.
Lion’s Mane & Cancer
Preliminary research holds that this multitasking mushroom also shows promise for cancer prevention. For instance, in tests on human cells, lion’s mane was shown to help kill leukemia cells. A different investigation found that an extract of the mushroom reduced the size of colon tumors, and another study found that the fungus reduced the spread of colon cancer cells to the lungs. A 2020 study showed that active constituents from lion’s mane demonstrated suppressive activity in human lung carcinoma cell lines. Another experiment from 2020 revealed that the mushroom enhanced the action of anticancer gut bacteria, and a third 2020 study published in Food and Function showed that the polysaccharides from the mushroom knocked out human colorectal cancer cells.
How to Use Lion’s Mane
You can enjoy these medicinal mushrooms raw, cooked, dried, or prepared as a tea. Many people compare their flavor to crab or lobster. Supplements, especially extracts, are also available, but doses haven’t yet been standardized, so read labels carefully. It’s possible that people who are allergic to fungi might react to lion’s mane, so it’s prudent to be cautious.
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