Latest Study Suggests Lion’s Mane Mushrooms May Boost Brain Heath

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New research suggests that the lion’s mane mushroom can boost brain cell growth and improve memory. Tatjana Zlatkovic/Stocksy
  • Lion’s mane mushrooms have been used medicinally for centuries.
  • A new study looked at how the compounds in these fungi affect brain cells.
  • There is some early evidence that lion’s mane may have cognitive benefits.

Mushrooms: Everyone’s favorite mushroom.

All over the world, mushrooms are enjoyed for their culinary uses. They’re an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, and also a heart-healthy food thanks to their low levels of sodium, fat, and cholesterol.

And in the case of Hericium erinaceus— commonly referred to as lion’s mane mushrooms because of their shaggy appearance — they might just be brain food.

in one learn recently published in Journal of NeurochemistryResearchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have teamed up with scientists in South Korea to study how the compounds in lion’s mane mushrooms might affect brain cells.

The idea is not entirely new; Traditional medicine practices across Asia and India have been known to use lion’s mane mushrooms for hundreds of years. The researchers wanted to use modern techniques to determine what benefits these mushrooms might have on brain cells, and there were some encouraging results.

But before you start putting together a new and delicious mushroom-centric diet, let’s take a closer look at how the study was conducted, what it found, and what experts recommend.

In this study, the scientists specifically wanted to find out whether the naturally occurring compounds in lion’s mane mushrooms could trigger neurons, the primary cell type in your brain, to grow and form new connections.

If this could be achieved, one of the effects could be improved memory.

Researchers began by extracting a compound called N-de Phenylethyl Isohericerin (NDPIH) from the fungi. After isolation, NDPIH as well as its derivative Hericen A were tested in a laboratory.

The tests were performed with neurons from the hippocampus. This region of the brain is believed to be responsible for learning and memory formation.

In laboratory tests, hippocampal neurons grew after exposure to NDPIH and Hericen A. It was also noted that these cells had larger growth cones.

A neuron is shaped a bit like a tree, with the main cell body acting as the trunk and branching off from processes called dendrites and axons. These branching sections communicate with the branches of other nearby neurons, essentially serving as a pathway for all brain chemistry.

A growth cone is a collection of hair-like filaments at the ends of these branches. Think of them as similar to the fluffy white seeds on a dandelion’s head. On a neuron, these filaments “sense” for signals from other neurons, so that as the dendrites and axons of a brain cell grow, they don’t randomly grow toward other neurons.

When the researchers found that the compounds in lion’s mane mushrooms caused neurons in the hippocampus to have larger growth cones, they were thrilled with the results. This meant that the neurons not only grew, but grew more efficiently and formed more connections.

In addition to the laboratory tests, the researchers also ran memory tests on mice that had been fed these compounds. In some tests, mice were repeatedly exposed to a simple maze, while in other tests, they were allowed to explore both new and familiar objects.

In both tests, the results showed that mice given lion’s mane extracts showed improved spatial memory over their control group counterparts.

Although initial results are positive, there is a big difference between the time a mouse spends in a maze and your own ability to remember complex information.

And while the study focused on memory, the implications go further. If the compounds in lion’s mane mushrooms could consistently cause neuronal growth in humans, they could potentially be used to prevent, treat, or even reverse the effects of brain damage from injury or degenerative diseases.

So how excited should we be about these results? Well, that might depend on who you ask, but cautious optimism seems to be the consensus.

In an interview with Healthline, Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist at the Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, California: “It’s very difficult to extrapolate whether a study in which Korean mice were fed lion’s mane mushroom and then researched a new subject faster has any clinical application in humans.” .”

“In my world, central nervous system nerves have never been shown to regrow,” he added.

“Unfortunately, if someone breaks their back in 2023, I will not advise them to take a vitamin to be able to walk again. I’m waiting for a drug that regrows central nervous system nerves, and lion’s mane hasn’t been shown to do that in animals or humans,” Segil said.

Kalipada Pahan, PhD, a professor of neurology, biochemistry and pharmacology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, gave Healthline a different perspective.

“Lion’s mane mushroom is good for stimulating neural nerve growth. It has been extensively studied and a number of studies have shown that it is good for cerebral and sensory development and neurite outgrowth,” said Pahan.

“It has been shown to be useful for spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, as well as some diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s,” Pahan added.

However, experts agreed on one thing: Compounds like NDPIH and Hericen A both need additional preclinical testing in humans before they can be used as treatments.

Lion’s Mane is currently available in two forms.

You can buy the mushroom itself to use in cooking. As long as they are washed properly like other products, they are perfectly safe for most people (although some people can experience allergic reactions).

Lion’s Mane can also be purchased in supplement form, either as capsules or as a powder.

But should you consume it? And what should your expectations be?

“When a patient asked me if they should take lion’s mane, I would reply, I don’t think it will help and I don’t think it will hurt. You’re welcome to try,” Segil said.

“I would advise you to try it for 30 or 90 days and then tell me if you notice a difference. I would say the same thing to a patient I was starting on a medication for memory loss or dementia that would require a prescription. I don’t think lion’s mane can do any harm,” Segil advised.

“Lion’s mane isn’t something patients will get in rehab centers, hospitals, or doctor’s offices in 2023. Hericerin derivatives in this study … showed some benefits for cells looked at under a microscope, and to make the jump there, it helps people are quite large,” Segil said.

“It’s okay to take as a supplement,” Pahan said.

“Studies have shown that it is beneficial in neurological diseases. It can prevent or slow progression. It’s hard to say it can reverse a progressive condition like Parkinson’s disease,” Pahan added.

Segil summed up his feelings: “These studies are fueling conversations about compounds and drugs that may regrow damaged nerves or protect nerves from damage.”

This new study adds to that conversation and offers a new avenue of research into drugs that could help with a variety of brain disorders.

But are lion’s mane mushrooms a panacea?

No. At least not today.

That being said, if you still want to eat lion’s mane mushrooms, they’re still an exceptionally healthy food. And if you’re planning on visiting a simple maze in the near future, there’s a small chance they’ll give you a little help.


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