If you squint, lion’s mane mushroom looks a lot like its namesake — but it also looks like a funky cotton ball, a mophead, or a tiny Komondor dog. Nature, right? It’s weird. Lion’s mane mushroom is also a powerful nootropic (aka smart drug) that has tons of science-backed benefits.
You might have heard of people mixing lion’s mane into their coffee or supplementing with this ‘shroom in capsule form. What gives? Is it really good for you, or is everyone tripping on Mufasa?
As it turns out, if you want to remember better, age slower, and supercharge your brain cells, lion’s mane is worth your time. Here’s what you should know, including a few hacks to take those neuroprotective benefits to the next level.
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With roots in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), lion’s mane mushroom is also known as Hericium erinaceus, yamabushitake, hedgehog mushroom, and houtou. Based on human and animal studies, this humble shroom is a powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunostimulant. Translation: It’s mega good for you.
Your brain naturally slows down over time. The symptoms you associate with aging — like memory loss and lack of focus — are caused by factors like shrinking neurons and damaged brain cells. Studies show that lion’s mane mushroom can actually support your brain health by stimulating the creation of two important compounds: nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
NGF and BDNF are proteins that stimulate the production of new cells and strengthen existing ones. NGF also plays an important role in forming myelin, the sheath around nerve cells that helps brain cells do their job. BDNF increases brain plasticity, which helps your brain cells stay resilient in the face of stress or aging. Find out other ways you can increase BDNF.
In 2008, a double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial found that lion’s mane effectively improved cognitive function in a randomized group of 15 older adults. Rodent studies found that lion’s mane potentially protects against the effects of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, including involuntary movement and memory loss.
In an interview with Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey on this Bulletproof Radio podcast episode, tonic herbalists and superfood specialists Joy Coelho and Jay Denman say lion’s mane “helps to get rid of amyloid plaque as well as build myelin sheaths.” Amyloid plaque is a protein that destroys healthy neurons, impairs cognition, and has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Myelin breakdown is a main component of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
How does it work? Researchers are figuring that out right now, so they can’t say anything definitive — yet. Here’s what they do know. Lion’s mane is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, preventing them from causing inflammation or damaging your cells. Antioxidants help you make more BDNF, and lion’s mane stimulates BDNF and NGF.
That’s a one-two punch of neural health, which may slow or reverse cell degradation — a big deal for your brain right now, and an even bigger deal for the future treatment of brain-related diseases.
Studies show that lion’s mane mushroom may improve mood disorders. In 2010, researchers examined the effects of lion’s mane mushroom on 30 women over a four-week period. The participants were randomly assigned to a test group or a control group, and they were given lion’s mane mushroom cookies or placebo cookies (science!). At the end of the four weeks, the lion’s mane mushroom group reported a small reduction in depression scores. This was a small study, and clinical research on lion’s mane is limited. However, these findings complement a growing body of research that suggests natural treatments can alleviate the symptoms of mood disorders.
Lion’s mane mushroom may alleviate mood disorders by reducing inflammation. A growing body of research links mental illness and brain inflammation, and lion’s mane has been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory proteins. 
Lion’s mane can boost your focus, too. Reduced inflammation improves blood flow, which provides your brain with more oxygen. More oxygen in your brain means better brain performance, period. The antioxidants in lion’s mane also promote learning and memory, possibly by strengthening your brain cells and stimulating the growth of new neurons.
At this point, it’s no surprise to see why lion’s mane mushrooms have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for millennia. So, what’s the best way to add it to your diet?
Yes, it’s fine to add lion’s mane mushroom to your coffee. The problem is that mushroom coffee doesn’t taste very good. Lion’s mane has a distinctly earthy, fishy flavor that doesn’t pair well with coffee. And unlike butter and MCT oil, there aren’t any benefits to blending mushrooms with your java. If you want to enjoy your cup of joe, you’re better off taking lion’s mane separately as a supplement.
Lion’s mane supplements are available as capsules, extracts, and powders. However, you need to do your research and make sure you’re getting your supplement from a reputable company. On the Bulletproof Radio podcast, author and medicinal mushroom pioneer Jeff Chilton says, “There are companies out there that will sell you these parts acting like, oh yeah, take two capsules a day of this and you’re good to go. You’re not good to go.”
You should be able to determine how much of the medicinal active compound you’re getting in your supplement and how much is actually filler. Chilton’s company Real Mushrooms produces lion’s mane capsules that contain 1000mg of lion’s mane extract per serving and less than 5% of starch from vegetable-based filler ingredients. Start with half a serving and slowly increase your dosage based on how your body responds.
To get more bang for your buck, Asprey recommends other, stronger sources of polyphenols that provide the same brain-boosting benefits. Asprey used to take lion’s mane daily until he switched to NeuroMaster because it provides a more powerful way to significantly increase BDNF levels. Asprey also uses Smart Mode in his supplement stack, which is packed with polyphenols to support cognitive performance. Plus, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting in each capsule: These supplements clearly list the amounts of active compounds and capsule ingredients.
“Lion’s mane is magic and it’s one of those early compounds that was discovered to raise BDNF and NGF,” Asprey says. “It’s totally okay to use lion’s mane.” It’s also okay to experiment and see what works best for you. If nothing else, lion’s mane mushroom is a prime example of nature doing what it does best: packing incredible benefits into unexpected places, like funky mop fungi.
Want to learn more? Check out these four natural remedies that fight inflammation. Do you use lion’s mane mushrooms? Share your experience in the comments.
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