Lion’s Mane, A Medicinal Mushroom, Activates Peripheral Nerve Regeneration


Lion’s Mane, a culinary and medicinal mushroom is a well established candidate for brain and nerve health.

Can medicinal mushrooms be tapped to tackle the health concerns of the aging population which is projected to be more than 80-90 million of people age 65 and above in 2050 who may be affected by age-related neurodegenerative disorders.

Scientific validation is needed if these mushrooms are to be considered and this can be achieved by understanding the molecular and biochemical mechanisms involved in the stimulation of neurite outgrowth. Though it is difficult to extrapolate the in vitro studies to what may happen in the human brain, studies have shown that there can be improvement in cognitive abilities of the aged if the mushroom is incorporated in their daily diets.

Mushrooms have been used by humans since thousands of years as food and/or as medicine. More than 14,000 species of mushrooms are recognized, and among them, approximately 2000 are identified as edible.

In the recent years to unravel the mysteries of mushrooms, especially those used in traditional medicines, mushrooms are being investigated for their many ethnomycological claims of medicinal value. The mushrooms are being developed as nutraceuticals or nutriceuticals to garner the essence of mushrooms and to make consumption easy.

In an attempt to scientifically validate the numerous claims of the health benefits of mushrooms, related research are being actively undertaken world-wide. However, at this moment, many of the studies on the efficacy of medicinal mushrooms that are available to the public are based on animal studies (usually in mice) or cultured cells. There is a need to show efficacy in humans via clinical trials.

One of the many diseases that threaten humans, neurodegenerative diseases can be very traumatic as one ages. Neurohealth is the concern for the predicted silver tsunami to hit humans – the aging tsunami is projected to be 80-90 million of 65 –plus population in 2050.

Why the concern? A large percentage of this aging population (projected at about 80%) will have at least one chronic health-related diseases. Alzheimer and neurodegenerative diseases are high on the list of chronic diseases of the aged. Alzheimer’s disease is primarily a disorder of aging with loss of cognitive function. This disease is characterized biologically by the death of neurons in the forebrain, hippocampus, and cerebral cortex accompanied by the presence of amyloid deposition.

Can mushrooms help here? Almost all culinary mushrooms are noted for their polysaccharide components, which play a role in stimulation of immune system and possible applications in cancer management. Many edible genera, however, are also noted for their specific activities. Among the special activities, a number of mushrooms including Sarcodon scabrosus, Ganoderma lucidum, Grifola frondosa, and Hericium erinaceus are reported to have activities related to nerve and brain health.

The culinary mushroom that has been extensively studied for its neurohealth properties is H. erinaceus (Lion’s Mane mushroom). The polysaccharides in an aqueous extract of the Lion’s mane mushroom could induce neuronal differentiation and promote neuronal survival.

The chemical profile of extracts of this mushroom has been actively studied and reported by Kawagishi and co-researchers. Extracts of H. erinaceus induced the expression of neurotrophic factors such as nerve growth factor (NGF) in astrocytes.

Hericium erinaceus (300 mg/kg, continuously fed for 14 days after surgery) significantly decreased the size of the cerebral infarcts one day after the occlusion. In another study, a double-blind trial was conducted with 50- to 80-year-old Japanese men and women diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in order to examine the efficacy of oral administration of H. erinaceus, for improving cognitive impairment, using a cognitive function scale based on the revised Hasegawa Dementia Scale (HDS-R). The subjects in the H. erinaceus group took four 250 mg tablets containing 96% of Yamabushitake dry powder three times a day for 16 weeks. Cognitive function scale scores increased with the duration of intake.

Laboratory tests showed no adverse effect of H. erinaceus. The study suggested that H. erinaceus is effective in improving mild cognitive impairment.

The efficacy of H. erinaceus in vivo has been examined. Mice given feed regime containing 5% (w/w) H. erinaceus dry powder for seven days showed an increase in the level of NGF mRNA expression in the hippocampus.

These studies are very encouraging, and the consumption of H. erinaceus-fresh or processed is acceptable.

There are many preparations available off the counter. However, there should be guidelines and monitoring to ensure safety, efficacy, and other parameters to ensure that these preparations are functional as claimed. The best option will be consumption of fresh mushrooms. The processing has been reported to affect the neurite stimulatory activity of H. erinaceus. Cultivation techniques and conditions may affect the medicinal properties of mushrooms too.

This far, there are no reports on toxicity due to long-term consumption of the mushroom. Further, a number of reported studies showed that this mushroom has potential to be developed into a functional food. The processing techniques, however, have to be optimized so that maximum activity will be retained to enhance nerve health and possibly nerve regeneration.

The studies done by many researchers as well as on-going studies show that selected mushrooms do have neurotrophic properties that can be beneficial to humans. Regular consumption may promote nerve and brain health. This is particularly useful during injury (as in an accidents) or as we age.

Neuronal Health – Can Culinary and Medicinal Mushrooms Help?

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