The fungi kingdom belongs to the domain of eukaryotic organisms, distinguishing itself from the animal and plant kingdoms as a separate realm. Several important members of the fungi kingdom are likely familiar to many, such as yeasts, molds, and the common guest on our dinner tables, mushrooms. To date, more than 2,000 edible mushroom species have been discovered, and some of them have gained recognition in both academic and commercial circles. Here, we’ll introduce a mushroom with clinical benefits – Hericium erinaceus, commonly known as lion’s mane mushroom.
Getting to Know Lion’s Mane Mushroom – What Is It?
The life cycle of many fungal organisms, including mushrooms, typically involves three distinct stages – the mycelium, the fruiting body, and spores. When spores find themselves in a suitable environment with the right temperature and humidity, they first develop into mycelium. Mycelium absorbs moisture and minerals from its surroundings to provide the nutrients necessary for fungal growth. Once the mycelium accumulates to a certain extent, it has the potential to grow into a fruiting body. The fruiting body is primarily a structure required for fungal reproduction. When the fruiting body matures, it produces spores, which can then be dispersed by wind or water to continue the fungus’s life cycle elsewhere.
Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) gets its name from its appearance, with its surface covered in fine, hair-like structures resembling the mane of a lion. It is also known as lion’s mane mushroom in Europe and as Yamabushitake in Japan. Lion’s mane mushroom goes by various other names, including monkey head mushroom, bear’s head mushroom, mountain priest’s cap, and hedgehog mushroom. This mushroom is mainly found in Asia, Europe, and North America, with Taiwan being a notable region of distribution, including areas like Nantou and Yilan.
Lion’s mane mushroom possesses several functional characteristics. It is rich in dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals while being low in calories, making it a nutritious food choice. Additionally, mushrooms like lion’s mane contain volatile alcohols, ketones providing unique aromas, nucleotides, organic acids, and more, contributing to their distinctive flavors. Furthermore, the components found in mushrooms and their metabolites include various bioactive compounds such as polysaccharides, terpenoids, and more. Many studies have indicated that lion’s mane mushroom has potential health benefits, including anticancer effects, immune modulation, antioxidant properties, and liver protection, among others.
While wild lion’s mane mushrooms can grow on 40 to 45 different tree species, modern cultivation primarily involves artificial methods. Traditional cultivation relies on solid-state cultures and solid substrates, taking up to six months to grow to a harvestable stage. Through fermentation techniques, this time can be reduced to one month (solid-state fermentation) or even just a week (liquid-state fermentation).
What Nutrients Does Lion’s Mane Mushroom Contain?
Lion’s mane mushroom contains a wide range of nutrients commonly found in regular food, including carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, minerals, and more. It is estimated that lion’s mane mushroom possesses at least 70 different nutrients, which can be categorized into high-molecular-weight compounds like polysaccharides and low-molecular-weight compounds like terpenoids, phenols, and polyketides, among others.
In the mycelium of lion’s mane mushroom, there is a specific type of terpenoid molecule called erinacines, which are small aromatic compounds. In the fruiting body, you’ll find a special phenolic substance known as hericenones. Both erinacines and hericenones have been shown to stimulate the synthesis of nerve growth factors. Some subtypes are believed to be able to pass through the blood-brain barrier, suggesting potential neuroprotective effects. Erinacines and hericenones have some overlapping functions, but they also have distinct properties.
Here are some differences in nutritional composition between the mycelium and fruiting body of lion’s mane mushroom:
|Secondary Metabolites||Ergosterol, polysaccharides, terpenoids, glycoproteins|
|Special Secondary Metabolites||Erinacines A~K, P~S||Hericenones A~J|
💡 Active components of lion’s mane mushroom:
- Most studied are lion’s mane polysaccharides.
- Unique metabolites found in lion’s mane mushroom:
- In the mycelium, there are erinacines.
- In the fruiting body, there are hericenones.
What Are the Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
As mentioned earlier, lion’s mane mushroom contains a variety of bioactive compounds, with erinacines and hericenones being particularly special. But what are the specific benefits these compounds can offer to our bodies? Here, we’ll summarize the eight main benefits of lion’s mane mushroom:
Enhanced Cognitive Function
Clinical studies in Japan found that continuous supplementation of 4 capsules of lion’s mane mushroom dried powder (each containing 250 mg) for four months effectively improved cognitive function in individuals aged 50-80 with mild cognitive impairment. A 2020 experiment also confirmed that lion’s mane mycelium, rich in erinacines, can improve the cognitive function of patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.
Consumption of lion’s mane mushroom extract (80% mycelium and 20% fruiting body) for two months significantly improved symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep quality in 77 overweight or obese participants.
Lion’s mane mushroom fruiting body’s water-soluble polysaccharides exhibit antioxidant activity. Animal experiments have shown that lion’s mane mushroom polysaccharides can effectively reduce lipid peroxidation caused by kidney disease and enhance antioxidant enzyme activity.
Lion’s mane polysaccharides have been found to increase cellular immunity, macrophage phagocytic capacity, and activate natural killer cell activity. Research has also revealed that lion’s mane mushroom fruiting bodies produce different types of polysaccharides at various stages of maturity, stimulating the production of nitric oxide and activating macrophages.
Hericenones found in the lion’s mane mushroom fruiting body can inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells. The glycoproteins in the mycelium of lion’s mane mushroom can inhibit cancer cell growth by suppressing the cell cycle and promoting apoptosis.
Stabilized Blood Sugar
Lion’s mane mushroom fruiting body extract can slow down the increase in blood sugar levels. In diabetic animal models, supplementation of lion’s mane mushroom dried powder increased serum insulin levels and reduced serum glucose levels, thus preventing hyperglycemia.
Blood Lipid Regulation
Animal experiments have shown that supplementation with lion’s mane mushroom, whether mycelium or fruiting body extracts, can lower total cholesterol (TC), low-density lipoprotein (LDL-C), triglycerides (TG), and even increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL-C) levels.
In cell experiments, lion’s mane mushroom fruiting body extract effectively inhibited the growth of Helicobacter pylori and Staphylococcus aureus, with a stronger antibacterial effect at higher extract concentrations. Animal experiments have also found that lion’s mane mushroom fruiting body water extract effectively reduces ulcer area, decreases structural damage in the stomach, and maintains gastric mucosal integrity. Recent clinical research has revealed that the polysaccharides from the fruiting body can activate gastric repair and defense mechanisms, reducing gastric inflammation and oxidative damage, thereby preventing gastric mucosal damage.
Are There Any Side Effects of Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
Based on animal studies that tested for sub-acute and subchronic toxicity over 28 and 90 days, respectively, lion’s mane mushroom extracts, both at low and high doses, did not show any adverse effects. In other words, lion’s mane mushroom and its extracts have been deemed safe in animal experiments.
Regarding human consumption, there is only one reported case in 2003 where an individual had a severe allergic reaction to lion’s mane mushroom extract, resulting in acute respiratory failure.
Lion’s mane mushroom offers numerous health benefits and, in recent clinical trials, has shown promise not only in improving cognitive function but also in alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is indeed a valuable addition to a healthy diet and can be considered for regular health and wellness maintenance.