Lion’s Mane – Therapeutic Potential

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Lion’s Mane contains over 70 bioactive ingredients and can be considered one of the most interesting mushrooms for gaining and maintaining good health. Very few mushrooms cover such a wide spectrum of therapeutic potential. 

Science has been researching Lion’s Mane mushrooms for several decades now, but barely scratched the surface so far. Below the main research subjects are listed.

• Its potential for Immunomodulation
A shared property of all mushrooms is immune-modulation. Key ingredients are mainly the water-soluble beta-glucans. Water extracted Lion’s Mane can have high levels of beta-glucan. Always check the supplement facts label to verify ! 

Considering that our immune system is the core of our health this is a very important property – allergies, inflammations, infections, auto-immune diseases and many old-age health issues are all immune-related. Also see our dedicated article about the immune system.
• Its potential for Anti-Gastritis and Anti-Ulcer effects
Traditionally hot water-extracted Lion’s Mane was used to treat peptic ulcers and chronic gastritis. Beta-glucans are the main bioactive compounds responsible for this.

• Its potential for balancing good and bad cholesterol
Beta-glucans support a healthy balance between good and bad cholesterol. In the EU this health claim has been ratified by the EFSA. 
A healthy balance between LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol helps with preventing high blood pressure and supports a healthy cardio-vascular system: less plaque, stronger arteries.  
Lion’s Mane also contains trace amounts of Lovastatin.

• Its potential for Anti-Diabetic effects
Like all mushrooms high in beta-glucans, Lion’s Mane supports maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels are very damaging in the long run. Nerve damage / diabetic neuropathy is a major side effect of long-term high blood sugar levels. 

In recent years a lot of research has been conducted into Lion’s Mane’s potential to help repair damaged nerves. Beta-glucan (normalising blood sugar levels) and terpenes (NGF-induction / nerve-repair) are the key factors here and are both present in good quality Lion’s Mane.

• Improving cognitive functions and stimulating the Nerve Growth Factor
Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a secreted protein that is important for the growth, maintenance, survival and regeneration of nerve cells, and is considered critical for their survival. Without it, these nerve cells / neurons will die, causing both cognitive and motoric problems. The discovery of the NGF was in the 1950s, and the scientists responsible received the Nobel Prize in 1986 for this, when the importance of the NGF was finally acknowledged. 

The presence of NGF prevents or reduces the degeneration of nerve cells such as caused by neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s) and aging. A positive effect on myelination was also found. 

Lion’s Mane contains several compounds that appear to stimulate NGF production. NGF is stimulating nerves that are damaged due to e.g. accidents or declining due to aging to regrow to a certain extent*. Its main effect however appears to be slowing down the decline of the nerve system due to age. The main compounds responsible are alcohol-soluble terpenoids, and these are classified in two groups: 

• Hericenones (found in the fruiting body)
• Erinacines (found in the mycelium) 

Apart from those two groups research suggests there might be other yet-to-be-discovered compounds or synergetic combinations of compounds in Lion’s Mane with similar potential. 

These are so far the only active substances found in natural products that can induce the production of the NGF and the related BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor). These bioactives therefore might have great potential for -indirectly- repairing neurological damage, improving cognition and reflexes and, even more significant, to help slowing down the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. 

We quote from a recent case study (duration: 16 weeks) performed with 50- to 80-year-old Japanese men and women diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment: […] At weeks 8, 12 and 16 of the trial, the [Lion’s Mane] group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group. The [Lion’s Mane] group’s scores increased with the duration of intake.[…] The results obtained in this study suggest that [Lion’s Mane] is effective in improving mild cognitive impairment.” 

• Its potential effects on menopausal problems, depression, anxiety
The NGF / BDNF-inducing bioactives in Lion’s Mane also appear to have an effect on other areas of the brain, including areas that are related to Rett Syndrome and bipolar disorder. Like, the menopause and obesity also include a mental element. Stress and/or anxiety are usually a precipitating factor in these and might negatively affect the levels of NGF. 

We quote from a recent case study (2010; duration: 4 weeks) performed with 30 women in the menopausal age: […] “Concentration”, “irritating” and “anxious” tended to be lower than the placebo group. Our results show that LM intake has the possibility to reduce depression and anxiety […]“. 

• Side effects and safety
There are no side effects worth mentioning. Some very sensitive people might experience mild side effects due to their genetic wiring. Some people using concentrated water extracts have reported a loss of libido, but this is most likely due to their personal wiring. Research has never reported such side effects.

Caution: mushroom extracts with a high level of beta-glucans should never be used together with immune-suppressants, like those prescribed after a transplant.  

The blood sugar lowering effects can cause fatigue in those that are highly susceptible. In general these people are also very susceptible to e.g. caffeine and alcohol, or are diabetic. Taking the extract together with a sugar-containing liquid can neutralise this effect. Diabetics might have to adjust their medication; it’s best to discuss this with a medical professional.

Three out of five human case studies were using non-extracted dried Lion’s Mane fruiting body powder; the two most recent clinical studies (2019/2020) used pure mycelium.

Concentrated water extracts are not in line with LM research because all non-soluble matter was filtered out, including the NGF-inducing terpenes, sterols and other interesting bioactive compounds. They are only relevant if you are after immune support, healthy levels of cholesterol and gut-health.

The clinical studies noticed significant effects on cognition, moderate depression and anxiety. When fruiting bodies are used, hericenones are usually pointed out as being responsible for the NGF-inducing effects. However, there is also research explicitly stating that hericenones have zero effect on cognition / NGF-induction. Very confusing !

So it is possible there might be other yet unknown bioactive compounds or synergetic combinations of compounds responsible for the observed effects. It therefore makes sense to use an unfiltered 1:1 full-spectrum extract in this case; all fruiting body compounds are present in a bioavailable form. 

Oriveda ‘s pharma-grade mycelium extract is currently the worlds first and only alcohol extract based on pure liquid-grown mycelium. The emphasis is on the alcohol-soluble terpenes / terpenoids; i.p. a group of diterpenes known as erinacines. 

Erinacines are seen as the most powerful NGF-inducers in Lion’s Mane. They are only found in the mycelium. Oriveda used a special formula for the liquid substrate in which the mycelium is growing; its purpose is to increase the production of erinacines, I.p. erinacine A. 

NGF is a secreted protein that is important for the growth, maintenance, survival and regeneration of nerve cells in the human body, and is considered critical for their survival. Without it, these nerve cells / neurons will decline and die, causing both cognitive and motoric problems. The NGF was discovered in the 1950s, and in 1986 the scientists responsible received the Nobel Prize for this.

NGF is slowing down or reducing the degeneration of nerve cells such as caused by aging and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s).

Unfortunately, the NGF production itself is declining with age as well and science so far has not been able to come up with an answer for that. Neurodegenerative diseases, spinal cord injuries and other nerve-related injuries affect approximately 50 million people worldwide, bringing the total related healthcare cost to over 600 billion dollars (estimate) per year.

Overview of the NGF-stimulators found in Lion’s Mane. According to research, erinacines are the most important. These are only found in the mycelium, as is shown in this overview. (source)

Oriveda’s L+ product contains the whole spectrum of NGF-stimulators in bioavailable form, and on top of that 30% of beta-D-glucans (for immune support). This is a great tool to battle age-related, declining health.

At the time of writing there are no alcohol-extracted Lion’s Mane pure mycelium products on the market, with Oriveda’s L+ as the only exception. Most products use mycelium grown on grains or rice (biomass). Such products are without exception contaminated with undigested grains/rice in the form of starch and because of that usually have a low therapeutic potential.

If they list bioactive ingredients (such as polysaccharides), keep in mind starch is also a polysaccharide, but without therapeutic potential.
Only if a percentage of beta-glucans is also listed you can be sure you have a decent product, at least if you are after immune-supporting properties. Beta-glucans are not that relevant for NGF-boosting, but terpenes are.