Nootropic is a term that originally described a highly specific set of chemicals. Presently it is widely understood as any natural or manufactured substance that positively impacts mental acuity.
Nootropics gained popularity thanks to society becoming insanely competitive. Many people use them to improve their memory, creativity, intelligence, focus, and motivation.
Generally, nootropics fall into three categories:
- Diet supplements
- Prescription drugs
- Synthetic chemical compounds
The concept that you can swallow a pill that enhances your brain function is highly appealing. The big question is whether it works and if it does, is it safe?
Health experts are on board with the idea of taking prescription nootropics for medicating certain conditions such as ADHD and Alzheimer’s. However, the use of brainpower enhancers in healthy people still rakes in a fair amount of controversy.
What is Lion’s Mane?
This is a mushroom, unique in several aspects. The scientific name for Lion’s Mane is Hericium erinaceus.
For a mushroom, it has a very specific structure. Most mushrooms have a cap and a stem, but this one spouts long, white tendrils that hang like a lion’s mane.
This unique appearance has earned the mushrooms a couple of nicknames:
- Pom Pom Blanc
- Satyr’s beard
- Monkey’s head
- Hedgehog Mushroom
- Bearded Tooth
In Japan, the mushroom is known as Yamabushitake. In English, it roughly translates to those who sleep on the mountain. It is compared to the Shugendo monks who wear long and flowing robes.
The Hericium erinaceus mushroom has proven medicinal benefits to the immune system, brain, and nerves. This led to the manufacture of lion’s mane nootropics.
You can find this fungus growing on logs and trees. However, its naturally occurring form is geographically confined to Europe, North America, and Southeast Asia.
Lion’s Mane as a Nootropic
Lion’s mane has proven to be effective in stimulating the production of a protein called Nerve Growth Factor found in the brain.
Throughout the lifespan of a human being, the hippocampus area of the brain produces NGF. The presence of NGF is crucial to the growth and regeneration of neurons that transmit temperature, pain, and sensory neurons.
The mushroom contains two rare stimulators of nerve growth factors that can travel through the blood-brain barrier:
Like other nootropic mushrooms, Lion’s Mane contains high levels of the antioxidant beta-glucan xylan and four types of polypeptides and polysaccharides. This gives it immune-boosting effects and the potential for slowing the spread of cancer.
Another huge health benefit is its function in reducing the occurrence of amyloid plaque. Amyloid β (25-35) Peptide is associated with causing Alzheimer’s and a host of other neurodegenerative ailments.
Beta-amyloid proteins form clumps that block the passage of signals between neurons.
Furthermore, Lion’s Mane mushroom is known to exhibit beneficial effects on the immune system. Other than its neuroprotective properties, it helps with the following health problems:
- Depressive disorders
- Excess cholesterol
- Parkinson’s disease
- Protection against certain types of cancer
In this article, we’ll talk about the effect of the Lion’s Mane mushroom on brain health and chemistry.
Why is Lion’s Mane Unique as a Nootropic Ingredient?
There are several other medicinal mushrooms used as nootropic supplements, so what makes Lion’s Mane special?
It turns out that the mushroom is the only kind with the ability to support brain regeneration. The other reason is the fact that it plays a key role in cognitive enhancement.
Even though the mushroom is a highly sought-after ingredient in nootropic supplements, it remains rare. This is because the production of the Lion’s Mane mushroom is still confined to only a few geographical areas.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom stimulates the natural production of NGF in the brain. There are incredibly few nootropic ingredients that can produce the same effect in nerve cells. Equally diminished are any nootropic mushrooms that can support the synthesis of NGF in the brain cells.
In addition to the long list of wonderful qualities of the Hericium erinaceus, it is capable of maintaining brain plasticity. Brain plasticity is instrumental in the growth of the brain from childhood to adulthood and brain repair in the event of an injury.
The broad spectrum Mane extract contains the neurotrophic factors in the classes of hericenones and erinacines. These two compounds, when extracted from the mushroom promotes neurite outgrowth.
An aqueous extract of Hericium erinaceus mushroom exhibits neuroprotective properties by reducing oxidative stress. This property reduces tumor growth in individuals with cancer.
All these contributions to brain health and other cognitive benefits are the reason why Mane mushroom is unique as a nootropic ingredient
Used together with other natural nootropic supplements, it creates a synergistic pairing. The bioactive compounds in these natural medicines have a positive effect on brain optimization and cognitive functions.
Human studies on specific medicinal effects of Lion’s Mane remain limited. However, animal studies have been conducted extensively.
Additional research involving clinical trials and test-tube analysis has found evidence that the mushrooms contain medicinal values.
How Lion’s Mane Works
The action of the Mane mushroom is distinct from the activities of other classes of nootropics.
Synthetic nootropics such as racetams and others do their job by regulating the production of different brain neurotransmitters. Hericium erinaceus nootropic significantly deviates from this mode of operation.
Lion’s Mane activity is centered around enhancing the increase of nerve growth factor in the brain.
Explaining Nerve Growth Factor
NGF is a neurotrophin secreted in the brain. This protein is vital for the growth, repair, generation, and the life-span of neurons.
The original discovery of NGF was made in the 1950s. Subsequent studies revealed that this protein is one of the major building blocks of the brain which collectively contribute to its overall well-being. It is also responsible for neuroplasticity.
When the brain has a sufficient amount of NGF, it enhances cognitive activity in the following ways:
NGF stimulates the growth and branching of axons. Axons are long, thready extensions of nerve cells that conduct impulses.
When there are a lot of axons, and they are in good health, they will transmit impulses faster and more efficiently. This quick and effective neural function translates to overall better mental well-being and improved brain function.
When there is insufficient levels of NGF, neural decay of nerves commences and the cells eventually die. As a result, scholars have made connections between low NGF levels and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The myelin sheath is a lipoprotein covering that encapsulates the axons. The sheath also protects the nerves from damage.
Myelin enhances the functions of the axons given its insulating properties. This increases the rate at which electrical impulses transmit along the axons.
The myelin sheath provides the foundation upon which damaged and severed axons will undergo repair and regeneration as nerve regeneration activity takes place along this membrane.
Conclusion on How Lion’s Mane Works
Erinacines and Hericenones are the active compounds in Lion’s Mane responsible for the stimulation of NGF. These compounds consist of small molecules that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
Modern nootropics produce noticeable results shortly after taking the adequate dosages are taken. Lion’s Mane medicinal effects, however, only become apparent after long-term use. The minimum amount of time you need to take the recommended dosage to begin to experience the benefits to the brain is several weeks.
Lion’s Mane Dosage
If you are wondering how much of your nootropic supplement to take, the answer lies in the strength of the extract.
Lion’s Mane 10:1 Extract
This strength of extract contains 30% polysaccharide. The daily dosage ranges from 500 –1000 mg which is taken in totality over 1-3 doses.
This means that if your recommended daily dosage of Lion’s mane is 1000 mg daily, then you should consume 500 mg in the morning and another 500 mg in the afternoon.
Standard Lion’s Mane Extract
Other recommended dosages of Lion’s Mane commonly packaged for retail range from 300 -3000 mg. This should also be taken over 1-3 doses.
In general, the correct dosage that should be taken is the one that the manufacturer recommends on the label.
Precautions When Taking Lion’s Mane Dosage
If it is your first time using the Lion’s Mane supplement, it is safer to let your body get used to it first. Do this by introducing a low dosage and wait to see how your body reacts to this before moving to a higher dosage.
Studies have indicated that there are no adverse effects of high dosages of Lion’s Mane.
No severe effects were observed in rats used in the study. Some groups were subjected to high doses of 2.3g of extract per pound of body weight every day. The dosage was sustained for a month.
Despite this study proving that the mushroom extract is safe at various doses, certain groups of people should still avoid taking it completely.
Pregnant women are one of those groups. They should not take the mushroom extract because there is insufficient scientific evidence suggesting whether it is safe to use during pregnancy.
Another group of people who should not take this nootropic is anyone with sensitivities or an allergy to mushrooms. Regardless, if you take Lion’s Mane, the documented side effects include itchy skin, rashes, and difficulty breathing.
Forms of Lion’s Mane Nootropic
Lion’s Mane is an edible mushroom that is safe to consume after cooking. To add it as part of your diet, you should cook it until you notice a crispy outer layer. Anything less than that, and you’ll end up with an unpalatable bitter mushroom on your plate.
As a dietary supplement, the nootropic is available in stores and online in the following forms:
The cheapest form available is sold as a powdered and freeze-dried pure mushroom. You can consume this by adding it to water, a smoothie, or juice.
Lion’s Mane 10:1 Extract
This is a more powerful form of Lion’s Mane mushroom that should be taken in controlled dosages. The extracts are often packaged as 14:1 and 10:1 extracts. This means that 14 or 10 pounds of the extract are reduced to 1 pound of extract.
Standard Lion’s Mane
This is a processed form of the nootropic mushroom. It comes packed with the exact composition of active ingredients. You will find these packaged as 30% or 50% polysaccharides. It also contains secondary metabolites of hericenones and erinacines.
Lion’s Mane Tea
The mushroom is already an ingredient in the kitchen so in a different form, you can make tea with it. The taste is alright for drinking on its own. However, consuming it as a tea may make it hard to track how much of the active compound you are actually ingesting.
This is a branded and pricey form of Lion’s Mane that is exported from Japan. It is processed and standardized to contain 0.5% Hericenones and 6% Amyloban.
Amyloban is a fairly unknown active ingredient of Lion’s Mane. It is an extremely useful mushroom compound that combats the formation of beta-amyloid proteins.
Sometimes it can be found in a supplement sold under the brand name Amyloban 3399.
Note: If you choose to collect and eat the wild mushroom in its original form, take great care to ensure that you have the correct mushroom. If you pick the wrong one, there can be dire consequences such as mushroom poisoning.
Which Supplement is Better?
There are a lot of arguments when it comes to the form of mushroom supplement that offers the maximum benefits. Some advocate for hot water extraction while others argue alcohol extraction is the best method. Each group believes that their method is better.
That said, unfortunately, there is no simple way to deliver the judgment about which form of extraction is best. There is a lot of science and craft that goes behind answering the question of which result in the most potent supplement.
However, to get the full benefits from the mushroom, look at the product literature, stick to the correct doses, and read reviews. Very soon you’ll figure out what will work best for you.
How Lion’s Mane is Good for The Brain
There are several ways that Lions Mane benefits the brain. However, we are going to examine the three major positive effects in this section.
1. It Stimulates the Production of Nerve Growth Factor
We have already mentioned the role of Lion’s Mane in enhancing NGF production so we will only briefly look at an overview of a scientific study in this section.
Neurons are strong and healthy because when the brain produces a sufficient amount of NGF. When one experiences neurological illnesses, the brain is unable to manufacture an adequate supply of the neurotrophic protein.
Research has shown Lion’s Mane to be tremendously impactful for older individuals experiencing moderate cognitive impairment.
In 2009, a group of researchers from Japan conducted a double-blind study involving two groups of fifteen subjects. The ages of these subjects ranged from 50-80 years old. They were both male and female diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.
The purpose of the study was to find out whether the daily administration of Hericium erinaceus to one group would improve cognitive function. The other group received a placebo daily.
The study went on for 16 weeks with cognitive tests administered in intervals at weeks 8, 12, and 16. The Lion’s Mane group recorded significantly better improvements in cognitive function compared to members of the placebo group.
2. Lion’s Mane Reduces Anxiety and Depression Symptoms
The WHO ranks depression as the leading cause of disability globally. As of 2020, more than 264 million people worldwide were estimated to suffer from the disease. The causes of depression and anxiety vary, however, Lion’s Mane can effectively manage one of these; chronic inflammation.
During its use as an anti-depressant, the nootropic mushroom improved memory and cognition in the affected patients. This led to it being coined as a “smart mushroom”. Animal research done in mice revealed that Lion’s Mane exhibits anti-inflammatory properties that help to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety in rodents.
Further animal studies found that the extract of this mushroom aids in regenerating brain cells. It also optimizes the functions of the hippocampus. This is the region of the brain responsible for emotional responses and processing memories.
The research concluded that when the Lion’s Mane extract enhanced the functions of the hippocampus, it reduced anxiety and depressive symptoms in the mice. Animal research continues to show encouraging progress, however, there is limited research on the same effects in humans.
3. Speedy Recovery in Patients With Nervous System Damage
The nervous system is made up of many components that work together to send signals that dictate every bodily function. The system is made up of the brain, the spinal cord, and a collection of nerves located across the entire length of the body.
Spinal cord or brain injuries are traumatic. They have devastating effects such as paralysis and diminished mental faculties. They also require long periods of time to heal. Research done on rats with various nervous system injuries gives hope for faster recovery from these injuries.
Lion’s Mane extract was found to stimulate the redevelopment and repair of nerve cells. Scientists observed that the recovery time in rats was reduced by as much as 23 to 41%.
The research done on rats further discovered evidence of complete reversal of neural damage in rats. The rats had exhibited forms of gluteal nerve damage that made them completely disabled.
The rats were actually able to use their limbs and walk again after consuming water laced with Lion’s Mane extract. The extract initiated and enhanced neuron regrowth after disablement was inflicted.
In the event of a stroke, the Lion’s Mane extract has shown promise in reducing the gravity of the resulting brain injury.
In a study, high doses of Lion’s Mane extract were administered to rats immediately after they experienced a stroke. It was observed that it helped to lower inflammation and reduce the severity of the brain injury resulting from the stroke by at least 22 – 44%.
Even though these are encouraging results, similar studies have not been replicated in humans. It is unknown if human stroke victims would exhibit similar positive results after taking Lion’s Mane.
The Aftermath of a Dose of Lion’s Mane
It is rare to immediately experience the effects of taking a Lion’s Mane supplement. However, long-term users have reported some changes after taking the nootropic. Many users have reported experiencing an elevation in mood and mental energy.
Other users say that they experienced changes in depth perception accompanied by a better sense of smell.
There have been reports of users making better decisions, improved problem-solving skills, and easier learning. These effects are likely attributed to Lion’s Mane’s ability to improve brain plasticity.
However, everyone who took the supplement agrees that is effective in reducing anxiety and depression and also that it enhances focus. The flavor of the cooked mushroom is similar to eating seafood and reportedly tastes like lobster.
Red Flags When Purchasing Lion’s Mane Nootropic
You need to exercise extreme due diligence when it comes to purchasing products claiming to be Lion’s Mane nootropic or its extracts.
We have some red flags that you should look out for and avoid.
- Products claiming to have scientifically proven benefits in human studies. This is false because most of the research around Lion’s Mane has been severely restricted to animals.
- Supplements being marketed with claims to help with weight loss, heart disease, and brain health. Some of these claims are completely unsupported.
The FDA does regulate the marketing of Lion’s Mane and vendors making false claims can get into serious trouble with the agency.
The bottom line is that Lion’s Mane nootropic extracts have scientifically-backed health benefits. However, there has also been a limitation on the number of studies performed on its impact on a variety of health conditions in humans.
Due to this, prescription of Lion’s Mane Nootropics for specific ailments is not widely embraced by health professionals.
If you intend to use Lion’s Mane supplements to help you manage a chronic condition, consult your doctor first. Only move forward with a regimen when your primary care physician approves it. Self-treating such health conditions can result in consequences.