Love Your Brain with Lion's Mane

by Travis Gerhart
Love Your Brain with Lion

Mushrooms are considered nutritionally functional foods and a source of physiologically beneficial molecules.* Hericium erinaceus, also known as Lion's Mane Mushroom or Hedgehog Mushroom, is an edible fungus with a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). [1] This mushroom is rich in β-glucan polysaccharides, which have been associated with a host of nutritional, health, and wellness support.* [2] Lion's Mane includes a plethora of secondary metabolites called terpenoids, such as erinacines, hericenones, hericerins, hericenes, hericenols, and erinacerins. The majority of these compounds are classified as diterpenoids and exist in the fruitbody, mycelia, and extracellular matrix. Lion's Mane contains 20 out of 24 known diterpenoids. [3]

Memory • Mood • Focus 

Plants produce terpenes or terpenoids as a part of self-defense mechanisms for survival or to attract pollinators. Different compounds are made throughout the life cycle. They have varied effects on the local environment that directly relate to the plant's ability to survive and thrive. [4]

The bioactive compounds in Lion's Mane are found in the mushroom mycelium, primordia, fruiting bodies, and extracellular compounds. Using the mushroom life cycle's full-spectrum gives access to all available bioactive molecules. Lion's Mane mushroom's nutritional composition and health-promoting aspects have been shown to support immune, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant responses in healthy individuals.* [5]

The bioactive properties of Lion's Mane have shown benefit to the healthy brain and other normally functioning organ systems throughout the body due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.* Antioxidants react with free-radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). Oxidative stress can cause damage and inhibit optimal function. Antioxidants work to limit the destructive activity of ROS. Lion's Mane mushroom has been shown to enhance and support the body's own natural antioxidant processes.*

Does Lion's Mane Support Memory?

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is fundamental for learning and long-term memory, producing new brain cells, and strengthen existing ones. Nerve growth factor (NGF) is critical for the growth, differentiation, and survival of sensory neurons. They are both responsible for keeping the brain young. These compounds reduce with aging due to various factors contributing to the overall umbrella of age-related cognitive decline. [6]

Conversely, eating a diet considered the 'typical western diet,' high in saturated fat and refined sugar, has been shown to reduce circulating BDNF, neural plasticity, and learning. [7]

In 2008, a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that Lion's Mane effectively improved cognitive function in a group of 15 older adults. While this is a small study, and further clinical testing needs to be performed, it suggests potential benefits to the aging brain.* [8]

Is Lion's Mane Mood-Boosting?

Other researchers found that supplementing with Lion's Mane extract may improve mood and sleep by increasing the circulating levels of BDNF and Pro-BDNF [9]. Additionally, Lion's mane diterpenes significantly increased downstream pathways that enhanced test subjects' learning and memory. Suggesting that Lion's Mane extract can promote BDNF-like activity in neurons and improve recognition memory [10]. Wow, my brain feels better already!

Circulating levels of BDNF have been linked to difficulties getting a restful night's sleep. A small 2013 study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, indicated that subjective sleep impairment was associated with lower serum BDNF levels. In contrast, self-reported good sleep was related to higher serum BDNF levels of the 50 adult participants. [11] Clinical research involving double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials using Lion's Mane mushroom powder, extract, or tincture is limited. However, these findings are part of an ever-expanding body of research suggesting that natural treatments have the potential to positively affect mood. 

Can Lion's Mane Improve Focus?

The diterpenoids of Lion's Mane have been shown to stimulate BDNF and NGF synthesis by providing nutritional support to healthy and normally functioning cells that produce these compounds.* NGF and BDNF are proteins involved in the maintenance, survival, and regeneration of neurons and boost neurite growth.

The inability to focus, concentrate, or think clearly is something all of us have dealt with from time to time, some more than others. Stress and overcommitting yourself can lead to mental fatigue, decision fatigue, and feelings of exhaustion. None of this feels good. It isn't healthy for you either. 'Brain fog' can get in the way of productivity and ultimately make you spend more time doing something you maybe aren't super excited to do. This also makes it challenging to feel fulfilled in your life or career. BDNF increases brain plasticity, boosting your brain's resiliency to the effects of stress or aging and promoting learning and memory. [12-15] Sign me up!

How to Take Lion's Mane Mushroom

Lion's Mane mushroom can be consumed in a variety of ways. It can be eaten as a culinary mushroom that is honestly pretty tasty and resembles scallops in texture. The most common way to consume Lion's Mane mushroom is through dietary supplement forms. At its most basic, it can be dried and ground into a powder where it can mix with food or drink or consumed in capsule form.

Extracts of Lion's Mane are made using a water extraction process or water and alcohol extraction. Some companies use specific or individual components of the mushroom only, and others use all-phases of the growth cycle. Extracts will remove portions of mushrooms' non-absorbable components (chitin) and concentrate the bioactive properties. Chitin is a fibrous substance that makes up fungi' cell walls and is an indigestible and insoluble fiber. The level of chitin can negatively affect the bioavailability of the supplement. Chitin can also prevent the absorption of the bioactive molecules naturally occurring in mushrooms, as humans do not have enzymes to properly break it down.

My favorite form of Lion's Mane is an extract powder. I like the freedom that individual powders offer. I can add them to coffee, tea, RAW cold-pressed juice, yogurt, and baked goods. Typically with Lion's Mane, I add it to coffee in the morning. My morning coffee is a 'catch-all' for my powdered supplement regimen. Anything that doesn't taste the best is typically masked by the coffee, ghee, and MCT-oil combination. It's my favorite way to start the day. 

Final Thoughts

Lion's Mane mushroom seems to have a broad impact on various organ systems in healthy individuals. It is part of my own wellness routine, and I'll take it in the morning on the days I need to rely on focus and concentration or in the evening when I am looking for support while I sleep.

For the most part, I consider myself a good sleeper, but there are nights that I toss and turn, according to my sleep tracker, and wake to feel less than well-rested. Stress, eating too late, temperature control, and others can get in the way. I'm always on the look-out for ways to optimize sleep as deep and restorative sleep is associated with so many health benefits. [16]

For evenings when I want to support a restful night's sleep, I'll add Lion's Mane to a Turmeric Gold tea and combine it with Reishi Extract for additional calming and stress-relieving effects. Personally, I find that I sleep better, toss and turn less, and wake feeling more rested. My sleep tracker results also agree. Here's to a day of productivity or a night of deep and restorative sleep!

Travis Gerhart, DC, BS, BA, RYT-500

Travis Gerhart, DC, BS, BA, RYT-500

Owner & Founder of Best Health Co, offering premium extracts to nourish the mind, body, & soul.
Dr. Gerhart has done extensive study in biochemistry, phytochemistry, biomechanics, epigenetics, longevity, and aging.
@besthealthco @travis.gerhart @besupervital

*Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Information provided by this website or this company is not a substitute for individual medical advice.


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