Hericium erinaceuse (Lion's Mane)
This is a summary of a full, technical and detailed monograph written by Stuart FitzSimons MNIMH and that can be viewed by clicking here! Remember, you can always call or e-mail Stuart if you have any questions. 07802 408146 / contact page.
Lion's mane is an exceptionally striking mushroom when seen growing in its natural habitat although it is highly unusual to encounter one here in the UK. It's main home in the UK is the New Forest, Hampshire but unauthorised collection is banned.
Main active constituents
A group of several polysaccharides called hericenones have been isolated from the fruit bodies along with many other polysaccharides. There is also lovastatin, which, as the name suggests, is a natural statin.
What does Lion's Mane do? How does it work?
1. The most important activity demonstrated by Lion's Mane is in the nervous system and brain. It has what is termed a 'neurotrophic effect' which basically means a nervous system nourishing effect. To summarise, the neurotrophic effect involves the following mechanisms:
- Increased NGF production.
NGF stands for nerve growth factor. It is a protein that is important in the maintenance, growth and repair of nerve and brain cells. It is receiving a lot of attention currently because of the role it may have in the neuro-degenerative disorders such as senile dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Some hericenones have been shown to both increase the production of our own NGF and also to synergise with it if taken as a drug.
- Stimulation of neurite growth.
This refers to the growth of new nerve fibres and Lion's Mane appears to stimulate this process in conjunction with increasing NGF production.
- Improved myelination.
Myelin is a substance that surrounds certain nerve fibres, like the plastic insulation around electrical wires. The disease MS is the archetypal disease in which myelin is damaged. Maintaining healthy myelin is essential in the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. There are very few substances that can claim to have this effect.
- Increased nerve tissue repair and protein synthesis in damaged nerves.
Nerve tissue is very slow to heal and regenerate when damaged regardless of whether the damage is caused by trauma or ischaemia (lack of blood flow, as in a stroke for example). It appears Lion's Mane may actually help in these cases too. Even in crush injuries Lion's Mane use was associated with far more efficient healing of the damaged nerves.
- Protection of neurons.
This is an area of great interest to all in this day and age with cases of dementia and age associated mental decline rising steadily. Several components of Lion's Mane when tested in isolation have been shown to stop brain cells dying when placed under chemical stress. The whole mushroom in fact, the fruiting body and the mycelia, have components that have demonstrated this protective effect.
- Enhanced cognition and mood.
One of the results of increasing NGF and protecting nerve cells at the chemical and cellular level is that it reflects in improved function of the nervous system as a whole. Indeed, studies have shown that using Lion's Mane can lead to improved cognition (learning and memory) and a more stable mood. This effect has even been demonstrated by mood enhancement in peri-menopausal women.
2. Just like the other mushrooms we have discussed Lion's Mane has an immune stimulating and anti-cancer effect also. Just like the other mushrooms again, this effect is mediated through increased activity of the cells of the immune system and cytokine activity (cytokines are chemicals released by immune cells that control an immune response and allow communication between the immune cells). However, we will not dwell on this effect for this mushroom as the effect it has on the nervous system must take precedence.
3. Stomach/gastric protection effect. Lion's Mane has traditionally been used in China for all kinds of stomach ailments, ulcers (duodenal included), gastritis and to protect from the effects of alcohol and drugs on the stomach lining. In fact, there are Lion's Mane tablets produced in China that are officially registered as drugs for stomach problems. It seems that tradition was quite correct as recently studies have shown that Lion's Mane helps to kill Helicobacter pylori, one specific cause of stomach ulcers.
4. Effect on blood lipids, blood sugar and obesity. Just like Maitake, Lion's Mane demonstrates a cholesterol lowering effect along with a triglyceride and LDL lowering effect. Lion's Mane has also demonstrated an anti-blood clotting action and may prove to be a useful 'blood thinner'. It has also demonstrated blood sugar lowering effects and stimulates the release of insulin. Interestingly, Lion's Mane has been associated with a reduced tendency to accumulate body fat. This was thought to be due to the fact it regulated gene expression related to fat metabolism.
Are there any side effects of Lion's Mane? Are there any other drugs it should not be taken with?
Lion's Mane is perfectly safe even in massive doses.
There is evidence to suggest that it synergises with garlic in the neuro-protective activity. Do not take Lion's Mane if you are taking warfarin, insulin or oral hypoglycaemics (blood sugar lowering drugs). WARNING: If you are diabetic, do not use herbs such as Lion's Mane without first seeking professional guidance. Lion's Mane does not affect the ability to drive or operate heavy machinery and there is no reason why it should not be taken when pregnant of breast-feeding. It is safe for all age groups. Lion's Mane should not be given to patients taking immunosuppressants after organ transplantation such as azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, ciclosporin or corticosteroids (prednisolone). Caution should be exercised in the use of Lion's Mane in patients taking methotrexate for inflammatory conditions such as RA.
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