Anyone initiated into the world of health and cooking will know that the array of culinary delights available in the form of edible mushrooms is vast, yet what is known of the medicinal qualities of these seemingly innocuous damp-dwelling organisms? Most likely, you’ll be familiar with Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) for its immune-stimulating effects or the performance enhancing qualities of Cordyceps sinensis (Cordyceps). Now, there is a mushroom coming to the forefront of scientific research for its ability to act on the central and peripheral nervous system. Hericium erinaceus commonly known as Lion’s Mane, has demonstrated an ability to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) (Lai et al., 2013) a group of proteins that not only ensures the maintenance of healthy nerves but the regeneration of nerves in the aging human – and aren’t we all just aging humans?
“I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature” – Paul Stamets – mycologist, author and medicinal mushroom advocate.
Within the study of mycology, it is understood that a huge network of fungal mycelium exists around us, not dissimilar to the almost invisible bacteria with which we share our bodies and environment. Up to 30% of the carbon in healthy soil is from fungal matter, forming a mycobiome, a communication network right beneath our feet. Where am I going with this? It reminds me of the old doctrine of signatures. Could fungi, which resemble a huge communicative network on the earth, bring benefit and regeneration to our own complex network of nerves?
Lion’s Mane mushroom shows potential for the treatment of neurological disease states, at relatively low cost. Take for instance Alzheimer’s disease, wherein amyloid plaque formation on nerve cells results in impaired function and cell death, affecting memory and behaviour. Lion’s Mane has demonstrated an ability to restore memory, learning and alleviate behavioural changes in rodents with induced Alzheimer’s disease (Zhang et al., 2016). In adults with age related cognitive decline, Lion’s Mane supplementation led to improved memory scores (Mori, Inatomi, Ouchi, Azumi, & Tuchida, 2009).
Lion’s Mane may also offer protection against stress induced nerve cell death (Nagai, Chiba, Nishino, Kubota, & Kawagishi, 2006) whilst repairing damaged nerves. Could this be harnessed as an adjunctive treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Motor Neuron Disease (MND) where nerve function is so devastatingly affected? In terms of peripheral nervous system function, Lion’s Mane has exhibited beneficial effects following nerve damage in rats (Wong, Naidu, David, Bakar, & Sabaratnam, 2012). If this could be replicated in humans, it could have a profound impact on the peripheral neuropathy experienced by diabetics, or those with nerve damage from trauma. If nothing else, Lion’s Mane as a nootropic, may help students to form new neural pathways in the brain to aid learning and memory.
Amazed? I was. This edible mushroom could be both a tasty addition to the diet and a tool for prevention as well as treatment. It can be cooked, consumed in capsule or liquid form and the powder mixed into various drinks and dishes. It’s nutty, slightly bitter flavour means it can bring extra flavour to coffee and hot chocolates or added into bliss balls.
Lai, P.-L., Naidu, M., Sabaratnam, V., Wong, K.-H., David, R. P., Kuppusamy, U. R., … Malek, S. N. A. (2013). Neurotrophic Properties of the Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 15(6), 539–554. https://doi.org/10.1615/IntJMedMushr.v15.i6.30
Mori, K., Inatomi, S., Ouchi, K., Azumi, Y., & Tuchida, T. (2009). Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research, 23(3), 367–372. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.2634
Nagai, K., Chiba, A., Nishino, T., Kubota, T., & Kawagishi, H. (2006). Dilinoleoyl-phosphatidylethanolamine from Hericium erinaceum protects against ER stress-dependent Neuro2a cell death via protein kinase C pathway. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 17(8), 525–530. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2005.09.007
Wong, K.-H., Naidu, M., David, R. P., Bakar, R., & Sabaratnam, V. (2012). Neuroregenerative Potential of Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Higher Basidiomycetes), in the Treatment of Peripheral Nerve Injury (Review). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 14(5), 427–446. https://doi.org/10.1615/IntJMedMushr.v14.i5.10
Zhang, J., An, S., Hu, W., Teng, M., Wang, X., Qu, Y., … Wang, D. (2016). The neuroprotective properties of hericium erinaceus in glutamate-damaged differentiated PC12 cells and an alzheimer’s disease mouse model. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 17(11). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms17111810
About Alexandra McPhee
Alexandra (Lexie) McPhee is a senior Naturopathy student at Endeavour College Melbourne campus. Her special interests include writing, communication with the natural world, the history of medicinal plant use and creating her own herbal oils and salves.
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