Medicinal mushrooms have risen in popularity and achieved a bigger spotlight in the world of health and wellness, however they are anything but new.
The use of these mushrooms dates back to thousands of years by our ancestors around the world (1). They have been documented among the Neolithic people, Egyptians, Aztecs, Greeks, Chinese, Vikings, Aboriginals, and Romans.
What's more, mushrooms are more similar to humans than you may think (2). From an evolutionary standpoint, fungi are more closely related to humans than plants.
Medicinal mushrooms may seem intimidating to some however the stigma around them continues to dissipate as the public gains more understanding. There are of course many mushrooms that are poisonous to humans, which should be avoided, but there are also many mushrooms that have shown therapeutic benefits including in the treatment of diseases.
In general mushrooms are quite safe to use when following the appropriate dosing.
That being said, it's always recommended to verify with your doctor if you have any concerns or have been taking pharmaceuticals as potential interactions may occur.
As the interest in medicinal mushrooms has rapidly increased in the last few decades, research is also rapidly improving and providing us with many more answers about what mushrooms can do for us.
Medicinal mushrooms are so powerful because they can be used in the prevention and treatment of diseases but also to enhance overall quality of life.
Though these superfoods possess a variety of benefits and unique effects in the human body, today we would like to zoom in on one particular aspect; brain health.
The mushroom for the mind
When we think of brain health, the first mushroom that will likely come to mind is lion's mane.
Lion's mane is well known and celebrated for its cognitive enhancement abilities and nootropic effects and has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has been shown to improve mood, memory, learning, and even prevent cognitive decline. This mushroom has been increasingly researched for its neuroprotective effects and nerve renegerative properties (3).
Lion’s mane mushroom contains two groups of unique compounds called hericenones and erinacines. These compounds promote the formation of "nerve growth factor", also known as NGF, a protein that supports the growth and maintenance of nerve cells (4). It basically acts as a fertilizer for your brain cells.
NGF is responsible for the production of new neurons in the brain and the growth and maintenance of existing ones.
The compounds found in this brain boosting mushroom stimulate the regrowth of neurons by triggering the process of re-myelination, which helps to keep your brain cells healthy and speed up the communication between neurons (5).
Lion's mane for brain function
Often referred to as the "smart mushroom", regular consumption of lion's mane mushroom may promote nerve and brain health and as a result improve memory, focus, and concentration.
In one study, lion's mane was shown to improve brain function among those with cognitive impairment (6). This may help those experiencing symptoms such as poor focus and brain fog.
Animal studies have also suggested that lion's mane can help to slow progressive memory loss by reducing amyloid beta plaques in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, which are associated with cognitive decline and conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease (7).
Lion's mane for cognitive decline
Lion's mane mushroom is one of the most well-established medicinal mushrooms for neuronal health. It not only works at improving cognitive health in healthy adults but it also may be a potential natural treatment for neurodegenerative disorders (8).
One of the ways it works to protect the brain is by enhancing "neurite outgrowth" which may help to slow or reverse cell degeneration in the brain, an important contributing factor in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases (11)(12)(13).
In addition, mice studies have demonstrated the ability of lion's mane to prevent neuronal damage caused by amyloid-beta plaques, which is implicated in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease (12).
The majority of the research available to date suggests that not only is lion's mane safe but it also offers many neuroprotective benefits and may be particularly useful in the prevention of cognitive dysfunction. (13)(14).
Lion's mane for anxiety
It turns out that this mushroom may also help to relieve anxiety by impacting the autonomic nervous system and acting as an anti-inflammatory agent.
A study done on mice, found that the anti-inflammatory effects of lion's mane also acted as an antidepressant and anxiety reliever (15).
Lion's mane for depression
Can lion's mane help with the case of the blues? It turns out this mushroom may also have antidepressant effects.
An animal study showed that lion's mane exerted anti-inflammatory and antidepressant effects in an inflammation-induced mouse model of depression and may be a potential supplement to prevent inflammation-related depression (17).
In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, studies have shown that lion's mane can improve depressive symptoms through additional actions such as the modulation of monoamine neurotransmitters and the activation of BDNF pathways (14).
How to take lion's mane
Lion's mane usually comes in powder form however there a variety of ways that you can take it to reap the benefits. This mushroom can be taken in capsule, powder, tincture, or tea form. It is also consumed as a culinary mushroom by grilling, frying, or baking it.
Though your method of consumption does come down to personal preference and convenience, the way that you do consume it may also impact the potency of the supplement and the dosing required. For example, tinctures typically have a higher absorption rate and you will usually need to take multiple capsules to get the full benefits.
Ultimately, the best way to take lion's mane is the one that works best for your routine and that you remember to take! After all, a supplement can't do its job when it's sitting on the shelf.
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