There’s an old saying among natural healers that for every disease out there, Mother Nature has provided a cure. And if you want proof of that, you don’t have to look any further than the humble mushroom.
There are thousands of varieties of mushrooms growing all over the world – and many
have been used for centuries to help fight everything from infections to cancer.
But now scientists say that a weird-looking mushroom – one that may be growing right near where you live – may be the most impressive we’ve ever seen.
And if you’re battling mood disorders, dementia, or even Alzheimer’s, it may be the key
to protecting your brain – and saving your precious memories.
Together, these tiny troops are as mighty as a lion
This miracle (and quite edible) mushroom is Hericium erinaceus, commonly called ‘lion’s mane.’ It grows in North America, Europe and Asia, and it doesn’t really look like a mushroom at all. It has no ‘cap’ like the Portobello, crimini, and white mushrooms you see lining supermarket shelves. Instead, it’s got long shafts (called ‘spines’) that hang down, which have earned it some pretty colourful other nicknames like ‘Bearded Tooth’
and ‘Pom Pom’ mushroom.
Now, while lion’s mane wouldn’t be out of place in a gourmet meal (or starring in a ‘B’ horror movie!), there’s somewhere very important that this versatile mushroom SHOULD be a staple: in the fight against neurological illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
For centuries, traditional Chinese medicine has been using lion’s mane for its antioxidant effects, to help fight everything from stomach ailments to cancer.
But it’s only relatively recently that we’ve begun to understand how important it is for your brain. And it all comes down to a group of compounds called hericenones, first isolated by Japanese researchers in the early 1990s.
And now, at least eight different hericenones (classified with letters A through H) have
been discovered in total, with remarkable potential for the neurological system.
It turns out that hericenones can stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein produced by the body that is critical in communication between nerve cells and the brain.
NGF is necessary for brain cells to function and to heal, and it has an important role in the activity and survival of spinal cord sensory neurons and cholinergic neurons of
NGF is so essential that depriving mice of it in a lab resulted in an increase in beta amyloids AND in cell death – as well as the development of Alzheimer’s-like dementia.1
Now, because NGF doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier, no attempts to administer it
orally or by injection ever succeeded in getting the protein into the brain cells where it
needed to be. That meant we needed to find something else… something that could promote the production of NGF in the brain and neurological system… that could be given orally or by injection… and that would be small enough to pass the bloodbrain barrier.
The compounds found in lion’s mane fit the bill on all counts – and that’s not where
their benefits end.
Protecting your brain, one cell at a time
Not only have they been shown to promote NGF synthesis, but hericenones also
lower the cell damage caused by beta amyloid peptide, one of the presumed culprits of
Alzheimer’s). They also appear to lessen the apoptosis (cell death) of neurons and other brain cells.
The first lab study to show that lion’s mane could stimulate NGF synthesis was published in 1991. Using beta amyloid, Japanese researchers induced a dementia state in laboratory mice and then fed them a powdered extract of lion’s mane mushroom (containing hericenones C, D, and E).2 This was an important study, whose results suggested that hericenones could prevent the damage that leads to Alzheimer’s
and similar dementias.
It also overcame a very basic obstacle, demonstrating that hericenones could, in fact, be taken orally and pass through the blood-brain barrier.
A human study published in 2009 demonstrated intriguing results as well. Thirty men and women aged 50 to 80 with mild cognitive impairment from dementia were studied
in a double-blind, placebocontrolled trial. Half the group was given powdered lion’s mane and half a placebo. When tested at eight, 12, and 16 weeks, the cognitive function of the treated group improved significantly, compared to the placebo group.3
Interestingly, when the lion’s mane therapy was halted after 16 weeks, the effects wore off within a month.
Your recovery could be downright miraculous
But there’s even more magic to be had from these mushrooms – because the hericenones turned out to be just the FIRST of several phenolic substances
to be extracted from lion’s mane mushrooms.
A fat-soluble phospholipid molecule with a tongue-twister of a name (called dilinoleoylphosphatidylethanolamine, or DLPE for short) can also be extracted from lion’s mane – and it’s yet ANOTHER component that appears to protect the brain cells from the kind of oxidative damage that could lead to cell death in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (a.k.a. ‘Mad Cow Disease’).
Natural combinations of hericenones and DLPE, called amyloban, have popped up in several animal studies, which have produced encouraging results. In one rat study out
of China, for example, a preparation containing 9.5 per cent hericenones and 6 per cent
amyloban was compared to a prescription drug used to treat Alzheimer’s, called donepezil. When each were given to a respective group of dementiainduced
rats, the lion’s mane extract proved superior in memory tests.4
In fact, the combo almost completely REVERSED the effects of the dementia.
Clear the dark clouds and feel sharp as a tack
The applications of this amazing fungus almost seem endless, as studies have also
suggested that people with mood disorders and mental illness might also reap its benefits.
In one study of 30 women with depression and/or anxiety – some who received the
powdered extract, and others who didn’t – the treated group scored significantly lower on standardized tests for depression and anxiety after just four weeks.5
In another small study, schizophrenic patients who were given a lion’s mane extract
for several weeks showed improvement in a standardized test of symptoms.
But you don’t have to be experiencing ANY health issues at all to have reason to start
loving this mushroom.
In one small study, healthy subjects with no prior cognitive issues experienced a measurable improvement in their wellbeing, energy and mood after just two months on the lion’s mane extract.6
Obviously, larger studies must be conducted to further support these other potential
benefits. But to me, the findings so far are enough to suggest that this tasty and
versatile mushroom should be added to the growing list of natural breakthroughs for
preventing and helping to slow down the progression of neurodegenerative diseases…
and to your stir-fry, while you’re at it.
Just don’t try to go foraging for them on your own. Many types of fungi in the forest are
NOT edible and are actually quite toxic. You can find safe, natural, and effective lion’s
mane supplements in the form of a pill, liquid extract, or a powder that you can add to your smoothie or even cook with.
Choose a high quality supplement from a maker you trust, like Mushroom Matrix.
Their products are certified 100% organic, gluten-free and raw.
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 10, Issue 5 • May 2016
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.