Lion’s Mane Mushroom

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Lion’s Mane mushroom in neurological therapies, particularly research into aging, dementia and stimulation of nerve growth factor.

Lion’s Mane or Hericium erinaceus mushrooms are some of the oddest looking fungi around.  Picture Santa’s beard growing out of a tree at a fairly high spot and you’ll be close.  Also called monkey head mushroom (China), Mountain hidden mushroom (Japan), Deertail Mushroom (Korea), Bearded Tooth Mushroom, Hedgehog mushroom, Satyr’s Bear and pom pom mushroom, it is native to China, Japan, Europe and North America and grows out of the wounds of trees.

As opposed to its non-Asian counterparts, the Chinese Lion’s Mane has been used as a medicinal mushroom for centuries and its healing powers considered so potent that in the ancient Orient it was only allowed to be eaten by those privileged few who ruled as Emperor.  According to lore, ‘those who eat lion’s mane will have nerves of steel and the memory of a lion.’

Today’s Chinese regularly incorporate its pleasant seafood-like taste into their diet as a gourmet delicacy, often using it as a meat or seafood replacement.

Another of the so-called ‘Superfoods’, Lion’s Mane is used in the treatment of gastric ulcers, esophageal carcinoma, for regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory agent, an aid for concentration and memory function and perhaps most exciting, for the prevention and easing of symptoms associated with Alzheimers and other forms of dementia.

Conventional thinking is that many neurological disorders are related to the breakdown of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a protein molecule synthesized in all the tissues of the vertebrae and an essential component in the crucial nerve populations of the central and peripheral nervous systems.  Their large size, however, means they cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier and therefore are unable to repair damaged or deteriorating nerves in the brain.

Dr. Kwagishi of Shizoke University in Japan, a world leader in Lion’s Mane research, has identified two types of molecules within the mushroom which both stimulate the brain to produce more NGF and are small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier.  This in turn encourages NGF production from right within the brain which then leads to increased neuron production.  Understanding of this process is so critical that those who discovered it, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Stanly Cohen, received the 1986 Nobel Prize for Medicine.  Lion’s Mane is well on its way to being a critical element of treatment options related to this process.

In 2008, Japan’s Tohoku University researched the stimulatory effects of different edible mushroom on NGF in a study reported in the ‘Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin’.  Their conclusion was that Lion’s Mane affects the production of enzymes that signal NGF to be released.  Another study in 2009 from the Mushroom Laboratory in Japan, published in ‘Phytotherapy Research’, also determined that it was an effective complimentary treatment for mild cognitive impairment and for best results recommended that it should be used regularly.

One of the world’s leading mycologists, Paul Stamets, is quoted as saying “Lion’s Mane mushroom mycelium is nature’s nutrients for your neurons.”  Because of its ability to help repair damaged nerves Lion’s Mane is being tested and adapted for a variety of treatment areas;  the pain of HIV-related sensory neuropathy, Parkinson’s Disease, Senility and of course Alzheimers.

A secondary, yet no less important usage may be Lion’s Mane’s apparent ability to help repair myelin sheaths around the nerve cells of the nervous system which lead to such diseases as Multiple Sclerosis.  Research is just beginning in this area, however, though speculation seems to support that Lion’s Mane will prove to have the ability to complement existing treatments for these types of diseases.

Overwhelmingly taking Lion’s Mane is considered to be safe and without the risk of side effects.  In general, however, those with mushroom allergies should be cautious about taking it.  For dosage and interaction information it is best to consult your Physician or naturopathic practitioner.

“Get Health. No labor, effort nor exercise that can gain it must be grudged.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson 

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