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Lion's Mane

What You Need to Know About Lion's Mane

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Updated June 26, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a type of medicinal mushroom. Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, lion's mane is widely available in supplement form. Scientific research shows that lion's mane contains a number of health-promoting substances, including antioxidants and beta-glucan.

Uses for Lion's Mane

Proponents claim that lion's mane can help with a variety of health problems, including:

In addition, lion's mane is said to strengthen the immune system, stimulate digestion, and protect against cancer.

Benefits of Lion's Mane

So far, research on the health effects of lion's mane is fairly limited. However, findings from animal-based research, test-tube studies, and small clinical trials indicate that lion's mane may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at some key study findings:

1) Brain Function

Lion's mane may benefit older adults with mild cognitive impairment, according to a small study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2009. For the study, researchers assigned 30 older adults with mild cognitive impairment to take either lion's mane extract or a placebo every day for 16 weeks. In cognitive tests given at weeks eight, 12, and 16 of the study, members of the lion's mane group showed significantly greater improvements compared to members of the placebo group.

In a more recent study (published in Biomedical Research in 2011), scientists examined the effects of lion's mane on brain function in mice. Results revealed that lion's mane helped protect against memory problems caused by buildup of amyloid beta (a substance that forms the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease).

2) Depression

Lion's mane may help alleviate depression and anxiety, suggests a small study published in Biomedical Research in 2010. For the study, 30 menopausal women consumed cookies containing either lion's mane or a placebo every day for four weeks. Analyzing study findings, researchers observed that members of the lion's mane group were less irritable and anxious and had less difficulty concentrating than members of the placebo group.

3) Cancer

Preliminary research suggests that lion's mane shows promise in protection against cancer. For instance, in a 2011 study from Food & Function, tests on human cells revealed that lion's mane may help knock out leukemia cells.

In addition, a 2011 study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that lion's mane extract helped reduce the size of cancerous colon tumors in mice. The study's findings suggest that lion's mane may help fight off colon cancer, in part by increasing activity in certain cells involved in the immune response. However, it's too soon to tell whether lion's mane can help prevent colon cancer in humans.

Safety

Little is known about the safety of long-term use of lion's mane supplements. However, there's some concern that lion's mane may aggravate symptoms in people with allergies and asthma. Therefore, it's important to consult your physician prior to using lion's mane if you have a history of allergies and/or asthma.

Where to Find Lion's Mane

Widely available for purchase online, supplements containing lion's mane are also sold in many natural-food stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Using Lion's Mane for Health

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend lion's mane for any health condition. If you're considering the use of lion's mane for a chronic condition, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen. Self-treating a chronic condition with lion's mane and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Sources:

Kim SP, Kang MY, Choi YH, Kim JH, Nam SH, Friedman M. "Mechanism of Hericium erinaceus (Yamabushitake) mushroom-induced apoptosis of U937 human monocytic leukemia cells." Food Funct. 2011 Jun;2(6):348-56.

Kim SP, Kang MY, Kim JH, Nam SH, Friedman M. "Composition and mechanism of antitumor effects of Hericium erinaceus mushroom extracts in tumor-bearing mice." J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Sep 28;59(18):9861-9.

Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. "Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial." Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72.

Mori K, Obara Y, Moriya T, Inatomi S, Nakahata N. "Effects of Hericium erinaceus on amyloid β(25-35) peptide-induced learning and memory deficits in mice." Biomed Res. 2011 Feb;32(1):67-72.

Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, Hayashi C, Sato D, Kitagawa K, Ohnuki K. "Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake." Biomed Res. 2010 Aug;31(4):231-7.

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