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Is Lion’s Mane the Best Food for Your Brain? This Is What Scientific Research Says

| Leestijd 7 Minuten

When looking for the best food for your brain, fish, nuts, and vegetables always come to mind first. Salmon, walnuts, and green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, contain essential nutrients for a well-functioning brain.

However, as fungi enthusiasts, we are also specifically interested in the power of mushrooms. To what extent do mushrooms, particularly Lion’s Mane (also known as the wig mushroom), contribute to a smart brain?

Quantitative research vs. traditional wisdom as sources of knowledge

If you’re anything like us, you appreciate quantitative research, numbers, and hard results. We prefer to see evidence before believing anything.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t value qualitative research; on the contrary, we recognise the importance of deeply understanding perceptions, experiences, and practices through content analysis and observations.

Therefore, we cover both modern scientific studies on the effects of functional mushrooms and a touch of the history of traditional herbal medicine. Let’s start with the latter.

Lion’s Mane in traditional herbal medicine

is lion's mane the best food for your brain?

In herbal medicine, plants, herbs, flowers, bark, seeds, roots, and mushrooms are used to balance health. A well-known example of traditional herbal medicine is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which has been practiced for more than 2,000 years.

In TCM, Lion’s Mane is known as ‘Hou Tou Gu’ or ‘Yamabushitake’ and is used for its purported ability to support the digestive system, strengthen the immune system, and promote brain function.

Traditionally, the mushroom has been used for conditions such as digestive problems and stomach upset, as well as a tonic for the mind.

In recent years, Lion’s Mane has attracted the attention of scientists and modern nutritionists because of its possible positive effects on the brain. The mushroom’s reputation for cognitive health has even earned it the nickname ‘mushroom for the brain.’

Properties of Lion’s Mane mushrooms

Why is this the case? What properties does Lion’s Mane possess that can contribute to increased focus, better memory, and a mood boost?

Well, Lion’s Mane is packed with polysaccharides, especially beta-glucans, and other active nootropics (smart substances that support your brain), such as hericenones.

These substances can stimulate brain cell growth through Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). Hericenones are lightweight compounds that can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to produce NGF.

This supports brain plasticity, influencing memory and new learning. Research has shown that Lion’s Mane Mushroom can accelerate nerve regeneration, crucial for recovery from damage (e.g., from alcohol) and for a properly functioning nervous system.

Food for thought: Lion’s Mane’s benefits for the brain

Now, let’s explore whether Lion’s Mane truly qualifies as brain food. What does scientific research reveal about the effects of Lion’s Mane and the components of this particular mushroom?

Lion’s Mane and the improvement of cognitive functions

In a double-blind study, where both the researcher and the participants were unaware of who was in the experimental or control group, it was demonstrated that Lion’s Mane can be effective in improving mild cognitive impairment. The results of this study suggest a potential beneficial effect on mild dementia.

The study involved 30 Japanese men and women aged between 50 and 80 years, all diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. The group was divided into two: a control group of 15 people and an experimental group of 15 people.

Over 16 weeks, the experimental group received four 250-mg tablets containing 96% Lion’s Mane powder three times daily, while the control group received a placebo.

At 8, 12, and 16 weeks, the experimental group exhibited significantly better scores on the cognitive function scale based on the Revised Hasegawa Dementia Scale (HDS-R). After the experimental group stopped taking the tablets for four weeks, the scores dropped again (1).

Lion’s Mane for depression, anxiety, and stress

In recent years, numerous studies have investigated the impact of Lion’s Mane on depression, anxiety, and stress. Although the studies are not yet conclusive enough to assert that Lion’s Mane can reduce depression and anxiety disorders, the results offer hopeful perspectives on the power of mushrooms.

One example of such research demonstrates that the long-term administration of Hericium erinaceus could have antidepressant-like effects by stimulating the growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus in mice (2).

Another study, involving 30 menopausal women, reveals that after four months of daily administration of Hericium erinaceus (in the form of biscuits), scores on the CES-D (Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale) and the ICI (Indefinite Complaints Index) are significantly lower than before.

Lion’s Mane and the reduction of oxidative stress

Animal studies demonstrate that Lion’s Mane reduces oxidative stress, a crucial factor in protecting neurons in the brain (3). Oxidative stress can lead to cell damage, including damage to neurons in the brain.

This imbalance occurs when there is an excess production of harmful free radicals compared to the body’s capacity to neutralize them with antioxidants. Lion’s Mane contains natural antioxidants, such as polyphenols.

Furthermore, beta-glucans exhibit immunomodulatory properties, strengthening the immune system. This, in turn, aids in countering and reducing inflammation, a potential source of oxidative stress.

While these studies indicate positive results, scientific research on Lion’s Mane is still in its early stages. More research is needed to substantiate these findings.

7 x other good food for your brain

good food for your brain

Since we take a holistic view of health, we cannot assert that one particular type of food is the ultimate food for your brain. Everything is interrelated, and each component relies on the other for the whole to function properly.

For a healthy brain, it is necessary to follow general tips: no alcohol, plenty of exercise, minimize processed products and sugar, and reduce excessive stress, etc.

Of all the organs in your body, your brain consumes the most energy. Provide it with the right fuel, and it will keep running smoothly.

1. Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)

  • Nutrients: Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).
  • Why: Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in building cell membranes in the brain. They are essential for cognitive function and reducing inflammation.

2.Nuts and seeds (walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds)

  • Nutrients: Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin E.
  • Why: The combination of healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E can protect against oxidative stress and support brain function.

3. Leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli)

  • Nutrients: folic acid, vitamin K.
  • Why: Folic acid is important for reducing homocysteine, an amino acid associated with cognitive decline. Vitamin K plays a role in protecting brain cells.

4. Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)

  • Nutrients: antioxidants, vitamin C.
  • Why: antioxidants help fight oxidative stress and inflammation, which is beneficial for your brain health. Vitamin C is also essential for collagen formation in the brain.

5. Eggs

  • Nutrients: choline, vitamin B12.
  • Why: choline is a precursor of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in mood and memory. Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of myelin, which improves communication between nerve cells.

6. Whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, wholemeal bread)

  • Nutrients: fibre, vitamin E, B vitamins.
  • Why: fibre contributes to healthy blood flow, which is important for proper brain function. B vitamins, including B6, B12 and folic acid, play a role in neurotransmitter production.

7. Mushrooms (white mushrooms, Lion’s Mane)

  • Nutrients: rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, choline, minerals and polysaccharides.
  • Why: antioxidants reduce oxidative stress, B vitamins support neurotransmitter production, choline promotes acetylcholine for memory, minerals play a role in enzymatic reactions, and polysaccharides modulate inflammation. Together, they contribute to neuroprotection and healthy brain function.

Why a varied diet is so important

A varied diet typically provides you with all the essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Each of these nutrients plays a unique role in supporting health.

If you are eating too one-sidedly, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which may have negative consequences for both your physical and mental health. Therefore, make sure to put together a varied diet of all the best foods for your brain.

Is Lion’s Mane the ultimate food for your brain?

lion's mane supplements

As much as we love mushrooms, both functional and culinary, we cannot claim that Lion’s Mane is the ultimate and best food for the brain. After all, you can’t say that of any product! If you come across such claims elsewhere, do yourself a favour and scroll on quickly.

There is no ultimate food or perfect superfood. What does exist is the power of a varied diet, and Lion’s Mane is an exceptionally valuable addition.

Order your organic Lion’s Mane supplements now

Experience the benefits of Lion’s Mane for your mental health with MushPeak’s organic mushroom supplements. All our products are certified and tested by third-party external laboratories, based on only high-quality fruiting bodies. Choosing MushPeak means choosing top quality.

Discover our mushrooms!

More about medicinal mushrooms

Disclaimer

Supplements should not be used as a replacement for a diverse diet, a healthy lifestyle, or as a treatment for any medical condition. Keep this product out of the reach of children. If you are ill, pregnant, or in doubt, always consult with your healthcare provider. The information provided on this website is intended for general informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. While traditional Chinese medicine has a history spanning thousands of years and has been tested on numerous individuals, MushPeak does not make claims indicating the proven medicinal properties of herbs or mushrooms, in accordance with current EU legislation. Detailed information about mushrooms is available from publicly accessible sources on the Internet. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

References

  1. Nagano M., Shimizu K., Kondo R., et al. (2010). Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomedical Research. 31(4):231-237. https://doi.org/10.2220/biomedres.31.231
  2. Ryu S., Kim H.G., Kim J.Y., Kim S.Y, & Cho K-O. (2018. Hericium erinaceus Extract Reduces Anxiety and Depressive Behaviors by Promoting Hippocampal Neurogenesis in the Adult Mouse Brain. Journal of Medicinal Food. 21(2).
  3. Wong, K. H., Naidu, M., David, P., Abdulla, M. A., Abdullah, N., Kuppusamy, U. R., & Sabaratnam, V. (2011). Peripheral Nerve Regeneration Following Crush Injury to Rat Peroneal Nerve by Aqueous Extract of Medicinal Mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae). Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 2011, 580752. https://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/neq062
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