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The Health Benefits of Lion's Mane and Other Mushrooms

Susanna Sisson's picture
Lion's Mane Mushroom

Mushrooms may be the easiest plant in the world to grow because they take very little care. There are over 10,000 varieties of mushrooms in North America, but not all are edible. In fact the largest part of them can make you sick. However there are a few varieties that are not only gourmet but also have medicinal properties and can be grown in your home.


Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is known by many names including bearded tooth mushroom, hedgehog mushroom, satyr's beard, dear tail mushroom, mountain priest mushroom, monkey’s head mushroom, and the pom pom mushroom which seems a far better moniker because of its fluffy pom pom like appearance. This mushroom is native to North America, Europe and Asia, and typically grows on hardwood trees, especially beech trees.

Lion’s mane is often used as a meat or seafood substitute and has spines that resemble a sea urchin. They have a flavor and texture that is somewhat like shrimp or lobster and are about 20% protein. The mushroom can get fairly large and actually resembles a head of cauliflower especially when cut open. This variety of mushroom soaks up water like a sponge so it’s best to just brush it off and clean off debris rather than wash but if you do, gently squeeze out excess water. Whether cooking alters the medicinal properties is unknown, so it might be best to eat these mushrooms raw, for instance in a salad although they have a slightly bitter taste. Chefs prepare this delicacy in olive oil or butter with sea salt and white pepper and caramelize until the edges are brown and crispy.

Hericium erinaceus mushroom (HEM) has been studied for a wide variety of physiological effects including its neuroprotective effect and ability to improve memory [1] and brain function.[2] In 1991, Japanese Dr. Kawagishi first identified nerve growth factors (NGFs) in Japanese samples of the mushroom. There are two growth factors which have now been discovered and which stimulate differentiation and re-myelination of neurons. [3][4]

HEM is rich in some physiologically important components, especially β-glucan polysaccharides. These large sugars are responsible for the anti-cancer and immuno-modulating effects seen with use of the mushroom. [5] A study published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, HEM was observed to induce apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in mice with gastrointestinal cancer [6] and in another study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology was found to be more effective than the chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) on gastric, colon and liver cancer. [7]

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In studies on lung cancer in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists discovered extracts of H. erinaceus strongly elicited cancer cell death through apoptosis and inhibited metastasis of cancer cells to the lungs by 66% and 69%. [8]

Lowered blood lipids and blood sugar and anti-oxidant benefits have also been an effect of eating this unusual mushroom. [9] H. erinaceus has also been reported to have anti-microbial properties important in wound healing and there was less scar width at wound enclosure and the healed wound contained fewer macrophages and more collagen with improved circulation and capillary growth. Wound healing is especially problematic in patients with diabetes. [10]

Although the mechamism of action is unclear, multiple studies have shown the efficacy of HEM in patients with Helicobactor pylori. This bacterium associated with stomach ulcers was decreased in the presence of the extract. [11]

A study in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine in February 2015 found Lion’s mane may be helpful in the field of sports nutrition. Scientists found that polysaccharides in the mushroom improved certain biochemical parameters related to fatigue, including blood lactic acid (BLA), serum urea nitrogen (SUN), tissue glycogen, superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and malondialdehyde (MDA). These results suggested that HEM has significant anti-fatigue activity by decreasing BLA, SUN and MDA content, as well as increasing tissue glycogen content and antioxidant enzyme activity and is a potential superfood. [12]

Lion’s mane is an amazingly beautiful mushroom with even more amazing health benefits. One can purchase kits to grow the mushroom at home or find it in some markets. [14]Typically the Asian people are well aware of its many benefits.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18844328
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25954906
3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26481911
4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510212
5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25954912 cancer
6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25703932 gastric cancer
7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24631140 gastric cancer 2
8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23668749 lung cancer
9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24090482 lipids, diabetes, anti-oxidant
10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22135902 wound healing
11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26364939 h. pylori
12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25574220 sports nutrition
13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Hericium+erinaceus
14. http://everythingmushrooms.com/great-gift-ideas/lions-mane-mushroom-block-ready-to-grow-kit/