Lion's Mane – A Star Among Medicinal Mushrooms
Lion’s Mane is an edible, tasty mushroom that has been used for centuries as a dish and medicine in Eastern cultures.
Lion’s mane is a parasitic fungus that grows on deciduous trees such as beeches, oaks, and apple trees. The Hericium cultivars belong to the group of hydnoid fungi, whose characteristic features are the reproductive stamens that look like icicles or lion’s mane. By giving the stamens this shape, the mushroom increases the surface area available for spore production and optimises the chances of its reproductive success. A wise beast!
All varieties of Hericium are excellent food, but one of them is a true star. This is Hericium Erinaceus, that is, the lion’s mane. The world of science has researched it quite well, and we can see that there is an equation between Western science and the wisdom of the East.
Natural support for the stomach and intestines
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Lion’s Mane was used to treat digestive ailments. It has been used to treat stomach ulcers and intestinal cancers, and it has also been used to completely support the body’s immune functions. The lion’s mane is the tonic of Chi (Qi) energy, which I will return to later in this article.
Modern research shows (a complete list can be found at the end of the article) that the use of Lion’s Mane actually contributes to the improvement of the functioning of the digestive system. Water-soluble chemicals help protect the stomach lining against ulcers and inflammation. It is a cocktail of beta-glucans and terpenes that significantly affect our immunity. We also know that the compounds contained in Lion’s Mane effectively inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the digestive system. That again confirms the historic use of the Lion’s Mane in the treatment of serious diseases of the stomach and intestines. Another category of compounds that can be found in Lion’s Mane is a number of antioxidants and compounds that regulate the level of insulin and blood lipids. For this reason, Lion’s Mane can also be useful for people who are struggling with diabetes.
However, this is not the end of the use of Lion’s Mane. This is actually just a prelude to what this remarkable mushroom can offer us.
Rocket fuel for the brain
In 1986, a team of scientists led by Professor Rita Levi-Montalcini was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering a group of proteins that play a key role in shaping brain patterns and body movement patterns. This category of compounds found in the central and peripheral nervous systems has been called the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).
As proven in groundbreaking research, the level of the Nerve Growth Factor directly affects our mental abilities. It impacts the speed and clarity of thought processes, the effectiveness of problem-solving, memory functions, the ability to concentrate and resistance to stressful factors coming from the environment. It is the fuel for the development of our brains and bodies, thanks to which our mental and biological processes can run smoothly and uninterrupted. As evidenced by numerous studies, Lion’s Mane mushroom stimulates the Nerve Growth Factor in humans. This means that it supports the formation of new neural connections, ensuring optimal functioning, development and protection of the nervous system.
With age, the amount of NGF proteins in the body decreases, which translates into neurological problems associated with ageing. Examples include Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. For this reason, Lion’s Mane will be a great supplement for older people who begin to have issues with memory, and concentration and experience mood swings associated with a decline in cognitive functions. Nerve Growth Factor also plays a vital role in treating serious diseases such as multiple sclerosis, which naturally affect people of all ages.
The Growth Factor not only supports the process of building new neural connections (called neurogenesis) but also repairs those connections that have been damaged. E.g. as a result of old age, accident or chronic stress) and would otherwise undergo the so-called apotheosis or natural disintegration. The appropriate level of NGF proteins means that the damaged connections have a chance to come back to life, and the newly formed ones are protected against uncompromising attacks of stress factors.
With this, Mycosis can help: with stress, anxiety and depression
Chronic stress, the most common and disguised civilisation problem in the world today, attacks nerve cells and inhibits the formation of the Nerve Growth Factor. As a result, when we go through prolonged states of anxiety or depression, we limit our body’s ability to heal itself and produce compounds that could help us deal with psychological difficulties. Since Lion’s Mane promotes the formation of the Nerve Growth Factor, it enables us to deal with unfavourable mental states more effectively.
In this respect, there is a certain similarity between Lion’s Mane and psilocybin mushrooms, which also stimulate the formation of new neural connections and, under appropriate conditions, can show a strong antidepressant effect. However, unlike magic mushrooms, Lion’s Mane is not a hallucinogen, does not lead to changes in perception, and can be used to support mental health by people of all ages.
In the context of antidepressant activity, it is also worth mentioning the Lion’s Mane’s ability to create new connections in the Hippocampus region. It is a region of our brain that plays a key role in the regulation of emotions and memory processes. Research indicates that regular use of the Lion’s Mane leads to neurogenesis in the Hippocampus (and thus the construction of new neural highways). This effect is closely related to a number of anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects that can be felt with the regular use of Lion’s Mane.
What compounds are responsible for stimulating the Nerve Growth Factor?
Hericenons and Einacins are secret fungal agents that initiate the production of the Nerve Growth Factor in the central and peripheral nervous systems. These compounds belong to the group of terpenes known and liked (especially by cannabis lovers). They are polyphenols, active substances that are soluble only in alcohol. For this reason, when buying Lion’s Mane extract, make sure that it is an alcoholic extract. Otherwise, the supplement will not be able to offer effects on the nervous system, but will only show effects on the digestive system. Many of the products available on the market, unfortunately, do not meet the condition of alcohol extraction, so you cannot have spectacular effects on the nervous system and cognitive functions. Marketing and industrial production do not always go hand in hand with quality.
Myelin, a protective barrier for nerve fibres
There are many in-vitro and in vivo studies showing that Lion’s Mane protects the neural network by producing myelin, the oily substance that surrounds nerve cells. It is a natural protective barrier that allows new connections to develop safely.
When myelin is depleted, such as due to long-term, chronic stress, old age or environmental pollution, our mental health deteriorates. When there is enough of it, the nerve fibre cells are safe and the brain can act like an oiled machine. A nerve cell protected from stressors by an oily-watery coating will work much more efficiently than a nerve cell that lacks such a barrier. This obviously translates into mental health, mood and broadly understood the resistance to stress.
Lion’s Mane in Traditional Oriental Medicine
The difference between Western medicine and Eastern systems, simplified, is that in the case of Western medicine, man is seen as a set of parts (each of which requires a separate specialisation). In the case of the Eastern approach, only a holistic view of a person can lead to discovering the cause of his ailments.
Western medicine is invaluable in the case of a broken arm, heart surgery or procedures that require the use of specialised equipment. However, it doesn’t have much to offer in terms of lifestyle (apart from the cliché of “eat healthy and move”), let alone maximise the health potential of the human body and mind.
In Eastern cultures, human health is seen as the result of many interdependent elements, of which an important element overlooked in the West is the energy dimension. In China, as well as in Tibet and India, systems developed that explored this invisible dimension of human existence. Apart from the structural layer of our body (its physical parts and organs), these systems also rely on a layer that is invisible to the eye, vital energy (in Chinese medicine: Jing, Chi and Shen, in Prana Yoga). Although the various systems of Eastern medicine differ from each other in specific methods, they share many similarities. One of them is that within the structure of the human body they specify the existence of 72,000 energy channels. Bringing the patient to health and harmony largely depends on the unblocking of the flow in these channels. Many practices lead to the harmonisation of the energy of the body. As a rule, they rely on balancing the basic elements that make up the matter of the body and mind, the indivisible, subatomic particles of fire, water, air, earth, and space (Akash). It is the harmony of these elements in a person’s life that determines his health or illness.
In traditional Chinese medicine and the Tibetan system, Lion’s Mane is considered the tonic of wind energy. It is believed to stimulate energy channels related to our nervous system. The results of research showing the neurological properties of the lion’s mane confirm the validity of this approach. For the body and mind to function optimally, however, it is not enough to strengthen the wind energy, e.g. by observing your breathing during meditation. It is also necessary to address others. Here once again the magic of Lion’s Mane reveals itself. The oily-watery myelin corresponds to the water element and beta-glucans to the earth element. Skilfully harmonising these subtle, inner energies is a form of the alchemy of health and well-being with the light help of nature.
When we look at the structural structure of the mycelium and the human neural network, we see that the similarities between them are striking. There is nothing surprising in this. Mushrooms share more DNA with us than they do with plants. What they do for themselves and the ecosystems in which they exist, can also offer us. They become trustworthy allies who will help maintain mental clarity, emotional balance, and resilience in a world that puts each of these mental health factors to the test daily.
Author, Piotr Zaborowski