Our evidence-based analysis of Lion’s Mane Mushroom features
What Is Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
Lion’s Mane is an ancient Chinese medicinal mushroom that is becoming universally recognized as a supplement that provides a wide array of benefits.
Its proven neuroprotective qualities, its ability to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), and potential for cognitive enhancement and relief of depression and anxiety makes Lion’s Mane one of the most popular and promising natural nootropics.
Used for centuries as a general tonic and health treatment, the Lion’s Mane Mushroom (also known as Hericium Erinaceus, Yamabushitake, or Satyr’s Beard) is native to China, Japan, North America, and Europe. Though it was traditionally prescribed as a restorative, its effect on the brain has always been recognized. Ancient physicians used it to treat what we would now describe as neurodegenerative diseases.
Modern research has discovered that Lion’s Mane extract enhances the production of nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is a protein that, in the brain, plays a critical role in the survival and function of neurons responsible for attention, arousal, motivation, memory, and consciousness. Increased levels of NGF have been shown to enhance memory and learning.
Benefits and Effects of Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Neurogenesis, Neuroprotection, and Nerve Growth Factor
One of the most exciting aspects of Lion’s Mane is that it significantly increases levels of nerve growth factor (NGF), a specific type of brain protein that plays an essential role in brain plasticity, learning, and memory.
High levels of NGF are associated with optimal brain health, function, and resilience. NGF protects existing neurons and is also crucial to neurogenesis, or the regeneration of neural connections impaired by age, injury, or disease.
Research confirms that Lion’s Mane is a powerful neuroprotectant. In a notable Japanese study, mice were fed a diet containing both Lion’s Mane and a peptide known to create learning and memory impairment. Lion’s Mane successfully prevented the cognitive impairments and dysfunction the peptide typically produces, a result the researchers attributed to increased NGF.
Lion’s Mane has also demonstrated significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which add to its neuroprotective capability.
Enhanced Memory and Brain Function
Though there is only one documented study on how Lion’s Mane affects learning and memory in humans, the results suggest that it has real potential as a cognitive enhancer.
In a 2009 Japanese clinical trial, healthy adults with mild cognitive impairment received 3 g per day of Lion’s Mane extract over 16 weeks. The participants were tested throughout the trial. Their cognitive function scores increased with each test but dropped when supplementation ended.
Animal studies also support claims for the supplement’s ability to enhance memory and cognition in healthy subjects. Healthy mice that received Lion’s Mane as a dietary supplement displayed a significant improvement in both spatial and visual recognition memory.
The results of these and similar studies suggest that Lion’s Mane mushrooms may have potential as a cognitive enhancing supplement for healthy individuals as well as in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.
Reduces Depression and Anxiety
Lion’s Mane may help improve depression and anxiety symptoms.
In a 2010 Japanese study involving 30 women, half the participants were given Lion’s Mane, and half received a placebo over 4 weeks. Tests at the end of the trial indicated that the women who were given Lion’s Mane had better sleep quality and significantly less anxiety and depression symptoms than those who took the placebo.
Though this is the only documented human study on how Lion’s Mane affects depression and anxiety, animal testing had similar results. In a 2015 study, mice given Lion’s Mane extract displayed fewer depressive behaviors and showed blood markers indicative of lower depression than mice that did not have supplemental Lion’s Mane.
In both human and animal studies, researchers primarily attributed the reduction in depression and anxiety to the anti-inflammatory effects of Lion’s Mane.
Other Health Benefits
The most traditional use of Lion’s Mane in Chinese medicine is to treat stomach problems, and recent studies have supported its gastroprotective effects.
Lion’s Mane may be useful in the treatment of obesity. Animal studies show that it has an anti-obesity effect because it decreases the ability to absorb lipids.
Lion’s Mane may be beneficial in the treatment or prevention of cardiovascular problems. An ethanol extract of Lion’s Mane improved the lipid metabolism of mice fed a high-fat diet, and it was also shown to prevent blood platelet aggregation associated with thrombosis.
How It Works
Lion’s Mane’s mechanisms of action are quite different from those of other nootropics.
While racetams and other synthetic nootropics work by modulating the production of various neurotransmitters, Lion’s Mane works by increasing the amount of nerve growth factor (NGF) in the brain.
NGF is a neurotrophin, a small secreted protein essential for the growth, maintenance, proliferation, and survival of neurons.
First identified in the 1950s, NGF has been extensively studied and shown to be one of the primary building blocks of brain health and neuroplasticity.
The presence of sufficient NGF enhances cognition by encouraging the growth and branching of axons, the long threadlike nerve cell extensions along which impulses are conducted. The more axons that exist, and the better their health, the more rapidly and efficiently impulses can be transmitted, and the better the cognition and overall brain function.
Insufficient NGF impairs cognition by leading to neuronal decay and the eventual death of nerve cells. There is increasing evidence that low NGF levels are associated with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
NGF also enhances cognition by promoting myelination, the development of the lipid/protein sheath that encases and protects axons. Myelin acts as an electrical insulator, increasing the speed at which impulses travel along the axons. It also lays the groundwork for the repair and regrowth of severed or damaged axons, providing a track along which regrowth can occur.
The active components in Lion’s Mane that are responsible for stimulating NGF are erinacines and hericenones. They are small molecules that can easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
Unlike most modern nootropics, Lion’s Mane does not produce immediately noticeable effects and must be taken for a minimum of several weeks to experience its benefits.
Lion’s Mane dosage recommendations typically range from 500–3000 mg per day.
Because human studies on Lion’s Mane are limited, no optimal dosage standard has been determined. Participants in the Japanese study on cognition received a cumulative total of 3,000 mg daily of 96% pure Lion’s Mane extract, administered in 3 oral doses. This amount appeared to be effective and well-tolerated by research participants, with no adverse side effects noted.
Commercial preparations of Lion’s Mane vary considerably in strength, purity, and composition, which makes it impossible to identify an optimal dosage. The amount needed to experience its benefits depends largely on the potency of the extract, so follow the directions on the product label.
Lion’s Mane appears to be well tolerated and associated with very few side effects. In animal testing, no signs of toxicity were observed even at very high dosages of up to 5 g/kg.
The most commonly reported side effect is a sensation of itchy skin, which may be explained by an increase in nerve growth factor levels.
Lion’s Mane is very effective on its own, but it can also be combined, or “stacked,” with other supplements for even greater results.
Lion’s Mane Stack for Immediate Cognitive Boost
When racetams are part of a stack, it’s particularly important to include a high-quality choline supplement like Alpha GPC, CDP Choline, or centrophenoxine to ensure that there is sufficient choline available for transformation to acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter most closely associated with cognition.
Lion’s Mane Stack for Long-term Cognitive Enhancement
Lion’s Mane’s most desirable benefits lie in long-term supplementation (several weeks to months), resulting in lasting improvements to brain function.
Some of the supplements that best complement Lion’s Mane include uridine and fish oil, both of which protect cellular membranes; zinc, which regulates synaptic function; and ALCAR or Acetyl-L-Carnitine, which reduces brain cell death.
Other possible additions to a Lion’s Mane stack would be Pregnenolone or P5, which encourages the production of new neurons, and melatonin, which reduces neuronal death.
Lion’s Mane Stack for Universal Cognitive Enhancement
For a preformulated nootropic that contains a blend of 11 cognitive enhancing supplements, including Lion’s Mane, designed to optimize a wide array of cognitive functions, we recommend Mind Lab Pro.
Mind Lab Pro’s strategy aims at all aspects of memory, mental performance, mood and stress resistance, and brain repair, and maintenance. Their combination of nootropics is designed to affect brain energy, neurotransmitters, brain blood flow, brain waves, neuroprotection, and regeneration.
Read our Mind Lab Pro review for a detailed overview.
Where to Buy
Lion’s Mane supplements are widely available for purchase.
Lion’s Mane extract is available in both bulk powder and capsule form from various online vendors.
We recommend buying Lion’s Mane extract online from PureNootropics.net, as they are a one-stop-shop for cognitive enhancing supplements. Their Lion’s Mane is derived from organic whole fruiting body extracts, with not only testing to verify the percentage of active beta-glucans, but also that starch content is low, and that there are no pesticide residues.
If you prefer doing your shopping on Amazon.com, we recommend VitaJing 20:1 Dual Extract Lion’s Mane Powder.
Alternatively, if you’d like to take a supplement that contains a blend of 11 cognitive enhancing nootropics, including Lion’s Mane, we recommend Mind Lab Pro. Read our Mind Lab Pro review for a detailed overview.
Lion’s Mane is a unique and exceptionally promising natural nootropic that has been proven to improve brain health, enhance cognition, and protect the brain against injury, disease, and the effects of aging.
Though it doesn’t have the immediate effects of modern synthetic nootropics, it may be a highly beneficial supplement that deserves a close look from anyone that wants real, long-lasting improvements to memory and overall brain function.
Planning to start a new supplementation regimen? See our medical disclaimer.
This page was last updated on July 16, 2021.