Lion’s Mane Mushroom for Brain Health and Longevity

As humans, our brains are one of our biggest assets. Their size and complexity enables the depth of intelligence and emotion that sets us apart from other animals. For this reason, it is vital that we support and protect this organ to optimize its performance and help protect it from the host of potential conditions that inhibit its function.

Medicinal mushrooms have been gaining a lot of popularity in the health industry over the past few years, and rightfully so. In the context of using them medicinally, they may be classified as herbs, though edible varieties are sought by culinary experts worldwide where their use is more comparable to that of a vegetable. 

Despite their usage similar to plant based foods, mushrooms are not a plant at all, but rather a kingdom of their own, the Kingdom Fungi. Instead of seeds or pollen like plants, mushrooms have spores – a microscopic dust that plays a role in their reproduction. Rather than roots, mushrooms have mycellium, a branched network that communicates within the ecosystem, and seeks nutrients for the mushroom.  

Mushrooms come in a wide variety of species, including those that grow on trees, on the ground under forest cover, and in open meadow areas. They can range from soft, squishy jelly mushrooms to woody conk mushrooms. One of the most versatile and valuable species is the lion’s mane mushroom. 

Lion’s Mane mushrooms belong to the tooth fungus group, and grow wild on hardwood trees. They can be found locally in late summer, alongside their relatives including the Bear Head mushroom. These shaggy looking shrooms almost resemble a brain, and are a great example of the doctrine of signatures – a herb resembling a body part can treat ailments of that same system or organ. 

Modern science confirms the traditional use of this mushroom to support brain health. Studies show that due to increasing BDNF (brain derived nootropic factor) and NGF (nerve growth factor), it has potential benefit in improving learning ability, memory recall, focus and mood. A popular choice amongst students and businesspeople, lion’s mane is considered a nootropic, or a cognitive enhancing substance. It also has been shown to increase neurogenesis – the growth of new brain cells. This is beneficial in the case of healing a brain injury from physical trauma or in enhancing recovery from a stroke. 

Lion’s mane also shows notable benefit in protecting from a number of neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. It also has been studied extensively to be beneficial in the prevention of dementia, slowing its progression, and alleviating existing symptoms. This is important research, as dementia and Alzheimer’s are quickly on the rise, and protecting the brain serves to increase quality of life and promote longevity for individuals at risk.

In addition to it’s brain-boosting benefits, lion’s mane also has benefit on the immune system and digestive tract by supporting microbiome health. Risk for diabetes, cancer, and heart disease also decline in long term studies using lion’s mane, likely due to its ability to reduce inflammation and manage oxidative stress in the cell. 

Lion’s Mane mushrooms have both culinary and medicinal uses, making their benefit easy to obtain. Medicinally, a water extraction (tea, infusion) or alcohol extract (tincture) are useful, or the whole mushroom body can be used in whole or powdered form. These forms of the mushroom are also available in concentrated extracts in capsules. Being an edible mushroom, lion’s mane can also be cooked and eaten as is, and is delicious sautéed in grass fed butter, fresh garlic, and local sea salt. So, eat your vegetables, but eat your fungi, too!

 

Kayla MacDonald, R.H.N. for Edible Island Whole Foods Market

Originally published in 50+ Living in the Comox Valley Record, September 2019