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The lion’s mane mushroom may be comical to behold, with its pom-pom-like appearance, but researchers are taking this fungus seriously because of its valuable neuroprotective effects.
In Natural Medicine we have explored the diverse role medicinal mushrooms may have in activating our immune systems, supporting cancer treatment and so much more. You may recall our articles on chaga, reishi and maitake, but the lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), in particular, has drawn the attention of researchers for its notable nerve-regenerative properties. It also goes by the names sheep’s head, bear’s head, pom-pom blanc and the Japanese yamabushitake.
This edible mushroom has been consumed in China and Japan for thousands of years. It’s not a normal-looking cap-and-stem mushroom, but a bushy hairy-looking herb with cascading tendrils. It is traditionally used for energy and digestive health.
PROPERTIES OF LION’S MANE In 1991, a novel class of compound in lion's mane, called hericenones, was discovered by Dr H. Kawagishi of Shizuoka University in Japan.1 Another molecule called erinacines has also been discovered. These compounds were found to stimulate the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the brain.
NGF is a protein produced by the body, responsible for the differentiation and re-myelination of neurons with the potential to help treat several diseases of the nervous system. As shown in numerous clinical trials, NGF reduces neural degeneration. NGF also plays a role in a number of cardiovascular diseases such as coronary atherosclerosis, obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.Dr Kawagishi further discovered another agent called amyloban, a phospholipid that can exert a protective effect on brain cells in culture, shielding them from damage by the amyloid peptides.
According to researcher and educator Mark Kaylor from Mushroom Wisdom, NGF, administered directly into the brain, can counteract some of the neurodegenerative effects of Alzheimer's disease: ‘Obviously you don’t want to be walking around with a hole in your head prone to infections, so the search was on for natural substances that would cross the blood-brain barrier, get into the brain and stimulate the brain’s own NGF. The discovery was made that hericenones, found in lion’s mane, was able to get into the brain and stimulate the production of NGF which has benefits for Alzheimer’s and dementia.’
Supporting researchAmyloid plaque formation (interfering with healthy neuron transmission) is seen in Alzheimer’s patients, and is indicated in nerve degeneration. According to well-respected leading mycologist Paul Stamets, about a dozen studies have been published on the neuroregenerative properties of lion’s mane mushrooms since Dr Kawagishi first identified NGFs in Japanese samples.
In 2009, researchers at the Hokuto Corporation and the Isogo Central and Neurosurgical Hospital published a small clinical study.2 Mild cognitive impairment responded with significant benefits for as long as the participants consumed lion’s mane.
A small Japanese study3 with a randomised sample of 30 women ingesting lion’s mane showed it has the potential to reduce depression and anxiety. In an article published in the Huffington Post,4 after stating the need for more clinical research, Stamets asked the following questions: ‘If lion’s mane enhances memory and is an antidepressant, can consuming this mushroom alter the course of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases? Could this mushroom help Parkinson’s patients or those with multiple sclerosis, or maybe maintain your mental acumen as you age?’
CONCLUSIONNew data support the role of fungi in biosecurity and the health of the bees and the role of bears. Just follow Stamets’s groundbreaking work if you want to learn more.
She is editor, publisher and founding member of Natural Medicine and Dreamcatcher Publications. She has a passion for knowledge and strives to share the work of the brightest minds and biggest hearts in healing. For Daleen natural medicine is more than taking a pill for an ill philosophy. Natural medicine also encompasses nutrition, lifestyle, spiritual health, exercise, and emotional and mental well-being. She is the mother of three children.
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