We all know that our bodies change in many ways as we age. So too do our brains. Just because the changes aren’t visible doesn’t mean they aren’t happening!
One of the ways our brains change with age is a decrease in the production of two proteins that support healthy neurons and neural pathways—nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
A reduced amount of these compounds affects our brain’s ability to respond to stimuli and change. Our brains are less nimble and flexible as we age. Neurons aren’t as healthy, neural pathways don’t grow as well, and myelination decreases.
What if there was a way to increase these proteins and help our brains maintain their ability to adapt? We know that diet can have enormous effects on health, both positive and negative. But can what we consume help us think more clearly and have better memories?
What is Lion’s Mane?Lion’s Mane goes by many names, including the bearded hedgehog mushroom and the pom pom mushroom. Scientifically known as Hericium erinaceus, it is a type of tooth fungus.
Found in Europe, Asia, and North America, it looks very much like its many names. It has long spines and tends to be found on hardwood trees in clumps, with the spines hanging down.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms are edible and can be found in some Asian cuisine. They are also sometimes dried and used in tea or added to coffee, or eaten raw.
Lion’s Mane is also found in extract form as an herbal supplement.
The Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
BDNF and NGF
NGF and BDNF are both neurotrophic factors, meaning that they support the health of developed neurons. That means that in an adult’s brain, these proteins protect the neurons we have and may help us grow more.
They also support the neural pathways that allow our brains to adapt, a function called neuroplasticity. Children’s brains have an enormous amount of neuroplasticity, but it decreases as we age. Think of how quickly a child can learn a new language, a process that is usually arduous for adults. That is neuroplasticity in action.
You’re probably wondering why you need to know about the inner workings of the brain in a mushroom article. Well, lion’s mane mushrooms have many health benefits, and one of the biggest is helping maintain levels of NGF and BDNF in our brains.
Researchers believe that lion’s mane mushrooms contain what is called a neuroactive compound. A neuroactive compound is simply one that interacts with nerves or the nervous system.
In the case of lion’s mane, the compound stimulates the production of NGF. It appears to promote the growth of neurites as well, which project from healthy neurons.
There is also evidence that lion’s mane mushroom extract can improve mild cognitive impairment. Researchers believe that lion’s mane mushrooms promote activity similarly to BDNF, allowing for neuron and neural pathway growth and improved myelination.
Adequate BDNF can help balance your mood and improve memory and focus. It is thought that by supplementing your diet with lion’s mane, you can reap the brain benefits of increased BDNF across the board.
There is even animal research being done on the ability of lion’s mane to help the body regenerate nerves damaged by injury.
Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatories
Lion’s mane has been used in traditional medicine, particularly in China and Japan, for hundreds of years. It is used to treat a variety of conditions and illnesses including insomnia, ulcers, and inflammation.
Its broad benefits could be the result of its plentiful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. The reduction in oxidative stress and chronic inflammation may have wide-ranging benefits.
From helping prevent heart disease to helping control diabetes, and even to alleviating arthritis pain, decreasing chronic inflammation is thought to have myriad benefits. Those free radical busting antioxidants may help prevent cancer, age-related macular degeneration, and heart disease.
Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories can also help protect brain health. Antioxidants protect cells from damage, including brain cells. Chronic inflammation is one of the culprits in forming excess free radicals, so lion’s mane mushrooms’ properties may tackle both the cause and the effect.
Reducing inflammation can also increase circulation and blood flow. Good circulation is sometimes overlooked, but it can have wide-ranging benefits including improved mood, focus, and clarity, younger-looking skin, and a healthier heart.
Research is also studying the potential for lion’s mane mushrooms to help alleviate depression and anxiety. While there doesn’t appear to be complete consensus on the mechanism, it seems that people who took lion’s mane extract exhibited lessened symptoms of both conditions.
While these studies aren’t large, they do suggest that lion’s mane has benefits for psychological as well as physiological wellbeing.
Animal and test-tube studies even show the possibility that lion’s man mushrooms can help lower cholesterol, help with weight loss, and reduce the blood clotting that can lead to stroke or heart attack.
This research is in its infancy, but it highlights the intensity with which scientists are studying lion’s mane. Like other ancient and traditional medicines, they are looking for the mechanisms that support the continued use and popularity of these age-old practices.
The potent combination of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and neurotrophic properties make lion’s mane something of a superstar in the world of herbal medicine. These mushrooms are not magic, but they do have properties that may help us remain focused and clear, as well as help mood, memory, depression, and more.
There are some risks to lion’s mane that anyone considering using it as a supplement should know. It can cause allergic reactions in some people, and you should always talk to your doctor before adding an herbal supplement to your routine.
At Proerba, we recognize the power of nature and natural ingredients to make lives better. We use lion’s mane mushrooms in our Focus Support Drops and our Stress Support Drops.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms are among the most versatile of herbal remedies. From promoting brain health to helping ease anxiety and stress, Mother Nature outdid herself with this remarkable fungus.