Lion's mane mushrooms, also known as hou tou gu or yamabushitake, are large, white, shaggy mushrooms that grow in the shape of a lion's mane.
In Asian countries such as China, India, Japan, and Korea, they are used for both culinary and medicinal purposes (1).
Lion's mane mushrooms are delicious raw, cooked, dried, or steeped in tea. Their extracts are frequently included in over-the-counter health supplements.
Many people describe their flavour as "seafood-like," equating it to crab or lobster (2).
Lion's mane mushrooms contain bioactive substances that benefit the body, particularly the brain, heart, and gut.
The following are 9 health benefits of lion's mane mushrooms and extracts.
1. Could Help Prevent Dementia
The brain's ability to grow and form new connections typically declines with age, which may explain why many older adults' mental functioning deteriorates (3).
According to research, lion's mane mushrooms contain two special compounds that can stimulate brain cell growth: hericenones and erinacines (4).
Animal studies have also discovered that lion's mane may help protect against Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative brain disease that causes progressive memory loss.
In fact, lion's mane mushroom and its extracts have been shown to reduce memory loss symptoms in mice, as well as to prevent neuronal damage caused by amyloid-beta plaques, which build up in the brain during Alzheimer's disease (5, 6, 7, 8).
While no studies have been conducted to determine whether lion's mane mushroom is beneficial for Alzheimer's disease in humans, it does appear to improve mental functioning.
In a study of older adults with mild cognitive impairment, consuming 3 grammes of powdered lion's mane mushroom daily for four months significantly improved mental functioning, but these benefits vanished when supplementation was discontinued (9).
Some of the beneficial effects of lion's mane mushroom on brain health may be explained by its ability to promote nerve growth and protect the brain from Alzheimer's-related damage.
It is important to note, however, that the majority of the research has been done on animals or in test tubes. As a result, more human studies are required.
Lion's mane mushrooms contain compounds that promote brain cell growth and protect them from the damage caused by Alzheimer's disease. More human research, however, is required.
2. Assists in the relief of mild depression and anxiety symptoms
Anxiety and depression affect up to one-third of people living in developed countries (10).
While there are numerous causes of anxiety and depression, chronic inflammation may be a major factor.
According to new animal research, lion's mane mushroom extract has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms in mice (11, 12).
Other animal studies have discovered that lion's mane extract can help regenerate brain cells and improve the function of the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for memory processing and emotional responses (13, 14).
Researchers believe that improved hippocampus function may explain the reductions in anxious and depressive behaviours observed in mice given these extracts.
While these animal studies are promising, there has been very little human research.
In one small study of menopausal women, eating cookies containing lion's mane mushrooms daily for one month reduced self-reported feelings of irritation and anxiety (15).
Research suggests that lion's mane mushrooms may help relieve mild anxiety and depression symptoms, but more human research is needed to better understand the link.
3. May hasten recovery from nerve injuries
The nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and various nerves that run throughout the body. These components collaborate to send and receive signals that control nearly every bodily function.
Brain and spinal cord injuries can be devastating. They frequently result in paralysis or loss of mental functions, and they can take a long time to heal.
However, studies have found that lion's mane mushroom extract may help speed recovery from these types of injuries by stimulating nerve cell growth and repair (16, 17, 18).
In fact, when given to rats with nervous system injuries, lion's mane mushroom extract has been shown to reduce recovery time by 23–41 percent (19).
Lion's mane extract may also help reduce the severity of post-stroke brain damage.
High doses of lion's mane mushroom extract given to rats immediately after a stroke helped reduce inflammation and the size of stroke-related brain injury by 44 percent in one study (20).
While these findings are encouraging, no human studies have been conducted to determine whether lion's mane has the same therapeutic effect on nervous system injuries.
Although lion's mane extract has been shown in animal studies to speed up recovery from nervous system injuries, human research is lacking.
4. Protects against Digestive Tract Ulcers
Ulcers can form anywhere along the digestive tract, including the stomach, small and large intestines.
Stomach ulcers are frequently caused by two major factors: H. pylori overgrowth and damage to the stomach mucous layer, which is frequently caused by long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (21).
By inhibiting the growth of H. pylori and protecting the stomach lining from damage, lion's mane extract may protect against the development of stomach ulcers (2, 22).
Several studies have found that lion's mane extract can inhibit the growth of H. pylori in a test tube, but no studies have been conducted to determine whether it has the same effect inside the stomach (23, 24).
Furthermore, an animal study discovered that lion's mane extract was more effective than traditional acid-lowering drugs at preventing alcohol-induced stomach ulcers — and with no negative side effects (25).
In other areas of the intestine, lion's mane extract can reduce inflammation and prevent tissue damage. In fact, they may aid in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease (26, 27, 28).
After three weeks, taking a mushroom supplement containing 14 percent lion's mane extract significantly reduced symptoms and improved quality of life in people with ulcerative colitis, according to one study (29).
However, when the same study was repeated in Crohn's disease patients, the benefits were no better than a placebo (30).
It's worth noting that the herbal supplement used in these studies contained a variety of mushrooms, making it difficult to draw specific conclusions about the effects of lion's mane.
Overall, research suggests that lion's mane extract may aid in the prevention of ulcers, but more human studies are needed.
In rodents, lion's mane extract has been shown to protect against stomach and intestinal ulcers, but human research has been contradictory.
5. Lowers the risk of heart disease
Obesity, high triglycerides, high levels of oxidised cholesterol, and an increased tendency to form blood clots are all major risk factors for heart disease.
According to research, lion's mane extract can influence some of these factors and lower the risk of heart disease.
Lion's mane mushroom extract improves fat metabolism and lowers triglyceride levels in rats and mice, according to research (31).
After 28 days, rats fed a high-fat diet and given daily doses of lion's mane extract had 27 percent lower triglyceride levels and 42 percent less weight gain, according to one study (32).
Because obesity and high triglycerides are both risk factors for heart disease, lion's mane mushrooms can help with heart health in this way.
In vitro studies have also revealed that lion's mane extract can help prevent cholesterol oxidation in the bloodstream (33).
Oxidized cholesterol molecules tend to attach to artery walls, hardening them and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. As a result, lowering oxidation is beneficial to heart health.
Furthermore, lion's mane mushrooms contain a compound known as hericenone B, which can slow blood clotting and reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke (34).
Lion's mane mushrooms appear to be beneficial to the heart and blood vessels in a variety of ways, but human studies are needed to back this up.
Animal and test-tube studies suggest that lion's mane extract can reduce the risk of heart disease in a variety of ways, but human research is needed to confirm these findings.
6. Aids in the management of diabetes symptoms
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body's ability to control blood sugar levels deteriorates. As a result, levels are always elevated.
Chronically high blood sugar levels can lead to kidney disease, nerve damage in the hands and feet, and vision loss.
The lion's mane mushroom may help with diabetes management by improving blood sugar control and alleviating some of the side effects.
Several animal studies have demonstrated that lion's mane can significantly lower blood sugar levels in both normal and diabetic mice, even at daily dosages as low as 2.7 mg per pound (6 mg per kg) of body weight (35, 36).
Lion's mane lowers blood sugar levels by inhibiting the activity of the enzyme alpha-glucosidase, which breaks down carbohydrates in the small intestine (37).
When this enzyme is inhibited, the body is unable to digest and absorb carbohydrates as efficiently, resulting in lower blood sugar levels.
Lion's mane extract may reduce diabetic nerve pain in the hands and feet in addition to lowering blood sugars.
Six weeks of daily lion's mushroom extract reduced pain, lowered blood sugar levels, and even increased antioxidant levels in diabetic nerve damage mice (38).
Lion's mane mushroom has the potential to be used as a diabetic supplement, but more research is needed to determine how it might be used in humans.
In mice, lion's mane mushroom can help lower blood sugar and reduce diabetic nerve pain, but more research is needed to determine whether it is a viable therapeutic option in humans.
7. Could Aid in Cancer Treatment
Cancer develops when DNA is damaged, causing cells to divide and replicate uncontrollably.
According to some research, lion's mane mushroom has cancer-fighting properties due to several of its unique compounds (39, 40).
In fact, when lion's mane extract is mixed with human cancer cells in a test tube, the cancer cells die more quickly. This has been demonstrated with a variety of cancer cells, including those from the liver, colon, stomach, and blood (41, 42, 43).
However, at least one study failed to replicate these findings, indicating that more research is required (44).
Lion's mane extract has been shown to slow the spread of cancer as well as kill cancer cells.
In one study of mice with colon cancer, taking lion's mane extract reduced cancer spread to the lungs by 69%. (45).
In another study, lion's mane extract was found to be more effective than traditional cancer medications at slowing tumour growth in mice, as well as having fewer side effects (42).
However, because the anti-cancer properties of lion's mane mushroom have never been tested in humans, more research is required.
Animal and test-tube studies show that lion's mane extract can kill cancer cells and slow tumour spread, but more human research is needed.
8. It lowers inflammation and oxidative stress.
Many modern illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disorders, are thought to be caused by chronic inflammation and oxidative stress (46).
According to research, lion's mane mushrooms contain potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that may help reduce the severity of these illnesses (47).
In fact, one study that looked at the antioxidant abilities of 14 different mushroom species discovered that lion's mane had the fourth highest antioxidant activity and recommended it as a good dietary source of antioxidants (48).
Several animal studies have found that lion's mane extract reduced inflammation and oxidative stress markers in rodents and may be particularly useful in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, liver damage, and stroke (20, 26, 49, 50).
Lion's mane mushrooms have also been shown to reduce the amount of inflammation released by fat tissue, which may help reduce some of the health risks associated with obesity (51).
More research is needed to determine the potential health benefits in humans, but lab and animal studies are promising.
The lion's mane mushroom contains potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that may help to mitigate the effects of chronic illness.
9. Immune System Booster
A strong immune system protects the body from bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that cause disease.
A weakened immune system, on the other hand, increases the body's susceptibility to infectious diseases.
According to animal studies, lion's mane mushroom can boost immunity by increasing the activity of the intestinal immune system, which protects the body from pathogens that enter the gut via the mouth or nose (52).
These effects could be explained in part by beneficial changes in gut bacteria that stimulate the immune system (53).
According to one study, taking lion's mane extract on a daily basis nearly quadrupled the lifespan of mice given a lethal dose of salmonella bacteria (54).
The immune-boosting properties of lion's mane mushrooms are very promising, but research in this area is still in its early stages.
Lion's mane mushrooms have been shown to boost immune function in rodents, but more research is needed.
Side Effects and Safety
There have been no human studies on the side effects of lion's mane mushroom or its extract, but they appear to be very safe.
Even at doses as high as 2.3 grammes per pound (5 grammes per kg) of body weight per day for one month or lower dosages for three months, rats showed no adverse effects (55, 56, 57).
However, because lion's mane is a type of mushroom, anyone who is allergic or sensitive to mushrooms should avoid it.
There have been documented cases of people having difficulty breathing or developing skin rashes after being exposed to lion's mane mushrooms, which were most likely caused by allergies (58, 59).
Animal studies indicate that lion's mane mushroom and extracts are extremely safe, even at high doses. However, allergic reactions in humans have been reported, so anyone who is allergic to mushrooms should avoid it.
A variety of health benefits have been demonstrated for lion's mane mushroom and its extract.
According to studies, lion's mane may help prevent dementia, reduce mild symptoms of anxiety and depression, and repair nerve damage.
It also has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-boosting properties, and has been shown in animal studies to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, ulcers, and diabetes.
While current research is encouraging, more human studies are required to develop practical health applications for the lion's mane mushroom.