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Lions Mane: Benefits, Uses and Risks

Lions mane is a type of mushroom native to North America, Europe and Asia. It has a very distinctive globe shape with long, shaggy spines.

Like most mushrooms, lion’s mane offers plenty of health benefits

Mushrooms are a good source of dietary fibre and also packed with vitamins and minerals.

What is lions mane

Lion’s mane is also thought to be a powerful adaptogen, which offers a similar function to CBD oil

If you are looking for a supplement to help support balance within the body, this could offer some promise.

Adaptogens help to counteract the effects of stress in the body. They are also often praised for their immune boosting and anti-inflammatory qualities.

What's in this Guide?

What is an Adaptogen?

Adaptogens are plants and herbs that are thought to help the body to adapt to stress. Like CBD, adaptogens are thought to help contribute to the maintenance of homeostasis

While the term adaptogen has only been used since the 1940s, many of the ingredients have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Chinese medicine will often address imbalances within the body.

Lion’s mane is commonly used in Chinese medicine to support the liver, lungs, spleen, heart and kidneys

It is also thought to help support the brain, cognitive processes and mental health.

Adaptogens are often sold as a way to “hack” biological processes. When you are putting your body under a great deal of stress, adaptogens are thought to help your body to cope with these changes and find a new state of balance.

This could be stress from working long hours, or stress from a feat of physical endurance such as training for a marathon

Adaptogens are thought to help the body to adapt to this new state so that it doesn’t suffer adverse effects.

Lion’s mane is one of the most common adaptogens available. You may see it sold in health food shops in capsule, tincture, tea or powdered form

Lion’s mane is rich in antioxidants and beta-glucan. It is commonly sold as a supplement to support mental acuity, immunity and digestion

But is lion’s mane really worth the hype?

What Are The Benefits Of Lion’s Mane?

Lion’s mane is often promoted as a remedy for many common health problems, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • High cholesterol
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Ulcers
  • Inflammation
 

At the moment, scientific support for any of these health claims is very limited, but there are some clinical studies worth paying attention to. While there are limited human trials, there are findings available from animal trials and test-tube studies.

It’s important to remember that, although this supplement may be sold with aggressive marketing promising amazing results, it is not a medicine

Only medicines can make marketing claims to cure or treat conditions

Anti Inflammatory

Lion’s mane mushrooms are rich in antioxidants which help to fight inflammation and oxidation throughout the body. 

In a study of 14 mushrooms, lion’s mane was found to have the fourth highest antioxidant levels.

Inflammation is linked to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and some autoimmune conditions. Reducing inflammation and oxidation is also thought to help boost immune function.

Immunity 

Research on mice has found that lion’s mane mushrooms helped to boost immune activity in the intestines

And another study in mice found that lion’s mane mushrooms helped to promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which is also linked to a strong immune system.

Lower cholesterol

Lion’s mane mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans, which are sugars found in the cell walls of fungi. 

They are an excellent source of dietary fibre, but are also thought to help to reduce cholesterol.

Cancer treatment

One study found that when lion’s mane was mixed with human cancer cells in a test tube, the cancer cells died off at a faster rate.

However, other studies have failed to replicate this result, so more research is needed to understand if this could be a potential cancer treatment.

Anxiety and depression

Those looking at adaptogenic mushrooms for mental health disorders may be interested to learn that lion’s mane has been proven to reduce depressive behaviour in mice. 

Again, this is thought to be linked to the anti-inflammatory benefits.

A small scale study in Japan found that women with a range of health complaints including menopausal symptoms and poor sleep found some relief when taking lion’s mane. 

The participants ate cookies with lion’s mane extract or a placebo for four weeks. The group taking the extract reported a reduction in their symptoms, including irritation and anxiety.

Read more: CBD oil and anxiety

Cognitive health

Lion’s mane has also been the subject of research into cognitive health and associated conditions. 

In one study, mice given lion’s mane supplements demonstrated better object recognition and memory.

And in a small scale study in Japan, participants aged between 50 and 80 were given a daily lion’s mane supplement for 16 weeks. 

Those taking the supplement scored higher cognitive function scores than those taking a placebo. 

The study also found that their scores dropped when they stopped taking the supplement.

Benefits of lions mane
Lions mane shouldn't be used as an official medication or treatment, but is rather a supplement

How To Use Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

If you are adding whole lion’s mane mushrooms to your diet, you should always cook them until the outer layer is crisp. The taste can be quite bitter if they are undercooked. 

An easier way to add lion’s mane to your diet would be with a supplement

Lion’s mane is available in many health food shops and online. It is commonly sold as a capsule, tincture, tea, coffee or powder.

Lion’s mane supplements will often include other ingredients that help to increase absorption rates. This commonly includes ingredients like black pepper, cumin and ginger.

However you choose to take lion’s mane supplement, it’s important to follow the instructions on the packaging. 

This will help you to avoid taking too much.

How to use lions mane mushrooms
Capsules and tea tend to be the most popular way to take lions mane

Is Lion’s Mane Safe?

Animal studies suggest that lion’s mane is safe, even in high doses. However, if you have a mushroom allergy, you should avoid taking supplements containing lion’s mane and any other adaptogenic mushrooms. 

There have been some reported cases of allergic reactions to lion’s mane. An allergic reaction could lead to skin rashes or breathing problems.

There is also the risk of an allergic reaction to additional ingredients in your supplements. And if the supplements are poor quality, there is always the risk of contamination.

There isn’t enough research available to know if lion’s mane is safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding

In the absence of further knowledge, it’s always best to avoid supplements while pregnant or nursing.

Is lions mane safe
Lions mane is safe as long as you're buying from a reliable supplier - it's best to check with your doctor as well

Will Lion’s Mane Get You High?

No, lion’s mane is not a hallucinogenic mushroom. It is not a controlled substance, so you don’t need to worry about getting high. 

Lion’s mane will not alter your perception so it is safe to use while driving

And anyone concerned about drug testing shouldn’t have any cause for concern while taking lion’s mane. 

This supplement is not a drug, so standard testing would not pick up traces of the supplement in a drug test.

Will lions mane get you high
Lions mane is not psychoactive at all - it's not like psychodelic mushrooms

Is Lion’s Mane Addictive?

Taking lion’s mane regularly does not lead to an increased tolerance or addiction

This means when you stop taking the supplement, you should have no adverse side effects or withdrawal symptoms.

This is why it is an attractive alternative to medication for depression, including SSRIs. 

If you are taking SSRIs and want to explore alternative options, always consult with your GP before making any changes. 

Lion’s mane is not a medicine and should never be treated as such. 

If you have been prescribed medication for anxiety or depression, consult with your GP before making any changes.

Is lions mane addictive
If you need prescription medication, you should take the advice of your doctor - but lions mane may be a helpful supplement

Who Shouldn’t Use Lion’s Mane?

If you are allergic to mushrooms, you should avoid lion’s mane and other adaptogenic mushrooms. There is an increased risk of a reaction.

Pregnant and breastfeeding individuals should also avoid using lion’s mane. There isn’t enough evidence to confirm if this supplement is safe for pregnant or nursing women. 

In the absence of studies into the effects of lion’s mane on a child’s development, it is always best to err on the side of caution.

If you are taking any medication, you should check with your GP or pharmacist before adding any supplements to your routine. 

Lion’s mane could decrease blood clotting and lower blood sugar levels, so it’s important to be aware of how this could impact other medications.

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