Summary

Lion’s Mane is an ancient Chinese medicinal mushroom that’s developing a strong following in the world of nootropics. Its proven neuroprotective qualities,‍[1] its ability to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF),‍[2] and potential for cognitive enhancement‍[3] and relief of depression and anxiety‍[4] make 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, and ancient physicians used it to treat what we would now describe as neurodegenerative diseases.‍[5]‍[6]

The considerable nootropic potential of Lion’s Mane has recently come to the fore, sparked in large part by the discovery of its connection to NGF,‍[7] a protein that is crucial for the survival and function of nerve cells. Animal studies suggest that Lion’s Mane increases the amount of NGF in the brain,‍[8] which enhances cognition by reducing inflammation, encouraging neural growth, and improving overall brain health.‍[9]

Cognitive enhancement is among the most significant of Lion’s Mane’s potential benefits, but it’s far from the only one; studies suggest that Lion’s Mane is a powerful neuroprotectant that could be useful in the treatment of a variety of conditions ranging from cardiovascular health‍[10] to obesity‍[11] and even some types of cancer.‍[12]

Lion’s Mane is a unique nootropic; just about everything about it, from effects to timeframe to methods of action are quite different from modern nootropics like the racetams. Ongoing research continues to confirm its potential as a brain and cognition enhancer, and many are finding Lion’s Mane to be a valuable addition to their supplementation regimen.

Benefits and Effects

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),‍[13] a specific type of brain protein which plays an essential role in brain plasticity, learning, and memory.‍[14]

High levels of NGF are associated with optimal brain health, function, and resilience. NGF protects existing neurons and is also key 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. Testing at the end of the study showed that the Lion’s Mane successfully prevented the cognitive impairments and dysfunction the peptide typically produces, a result the researchers attributed largely to increased NGF.‍[15]

Lion’s Mane has also been shown to have significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,‍[16] 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 effects 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 and their cognitive function scores increased with each test, but dropped again when the treatment with the supplement ended.‍[17]

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.‍[18]

The results of these and similar studies suggest that Lion’s Mane mushrooms may have serious potential both as a cognitive enhancing supplement for healthy individuals as well as in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

Depression and Anxiety

Lion’s Mane may help improve depression and anxiety symptoms.‍[19]

In a 2010 Japanese study involving 30 women, half the participants were given Lion’s Mane and half received placebo over a period of four 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 had taken placebo.

Though this is the only documented human study on how Lion’s Mane effects depression and anxiety, animal testing confirms the positive results. In a 2015 study, mice given Lions Mane extract displayed fewer depressive behaviors and showed blood markers indicative of lower depression than mice that did not have supplemental Lion’s Mane.‍[20]

In both the 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.‍[21]

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.‍[22]

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,‍[23] and it was also shown to prevent blood platelet aggregation that is associated with thrombosis.‍[24]

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, or NGF, in the brain.‍[25]

NGF is a neurotrophin, a small secreted protein that is 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.‍[26]

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, and there is increasing evidence that low NGF levels are strongly implicated in neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.‍[27]

Another way in which NGF enhances cognition is by promoting myelination, the development of the lipid/protein sheath that encases and protects axons.‍[28] Myelin acts much like 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 of Lion’s Mane are erinacines and hericenones, small diterpenoid molecules which have low molecular weight and 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 extended periods to realize its benefits; in studies, it was supplemented over a period of at least several weeks.

Dosage

Typical dosage recommendations 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.‍[29]

Commercial preparations of Lion’s Mane vary considerably in strength, purity, and composition, which makes it impossible to identify a universally applicable optimal dosage; the amount needed in order to experience its benefits depends largely on the potency of the extract, so follow the directions on the product.

As with any nootropic, it’s best to start with the lowest possible effective dose and adjust as necessary.

Side Effects

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.‍[30]

The most commonly reported side effect is a sensation of itchy skin, which may be explained by an increase in nerve growth factor.‍[31]

Stacking

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

For an immediate cognitive boost, Lion’s Mane can be stacked with fast-acting nootropics like piracetam, pramiracetam, aniracetam, or oxiracetam.

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.

2x per day

Note: Aniracetam can be substituted by another racetam (such as piracetam, pramiracetam, oxiracetam), at its respective recommended dosage.

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.

1x per day

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 relatively easy to 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 sticking to either Host Defense Lion’s Mane Extract or BrainForza’s Lion’s Mane Capsules as a source of high-quality Lion’s Mane.

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.

Closing Thoughts

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.

References   [ + ]

Planning to start a new supplementation regimen? See our medical disclaimer.

This page was last updated on November 15, 2018.