Ask The Pharmacist: Lion’s mane helps your brain

Suzy Cohen

Lion’s mane mushroom, scientifically known as hericium erinaceus, is a hairy-looking mushroom with a name that conjures up visions from the wild kingdom. It literally looks like a white lion’s mane! 

Lion’s mane has some interesting beneficial effects on your body. It contains many active ingredients, among them beta-glucan and some antioxidants. You can take it in supplemental form, or you can cook with it, like you do Portobello’s! 

File: Lion’s mane mushroom, scientifically known as hericium erinaceus, is a hairy-looking mushroom with a name that conjures up visions from the wild kingdom.

Lion’s mane helps your brain and keeps you sane. It can help to boost cognitive performance, improve mood, and protect neurons from damage. But how can a shroom protect your mind?
It’s a valid question, one that scientists have wondered too. Studies prove that compounds in lion’s mane increase nerve growth factor, or NGF. This is a critical protein in your nervous system. It plays a variety of roles actually, including the most important which is to grow new brain cells.  

Lion’s mane increases NGF and since you can’t supplement directly with NGF, lion’s mane could be a consideration. It’s a nootrope, and nootropes support brain function, memory, focus and learning. 

This next part is fascinating. Lion’s mane can suppress certain pro-inflammatory cytokines involved in neurolgical diseases. Given that excessive inflammation is believed to be involved in many different disease processes, including some of the most common brain diseases (from depression to Alzheimer’s disease), this effect can help lion’s mane to protect the brain. It’s also been shown to increase levels of acetylcholine, your memory molecule. 

There was a great study that suggests that lion’s mane can help reduce symptoms of both anxiety and depression after just four weeks. Unlike traditional SSRIs and other anti-depressants or psychoactive drugs, there is no risk of addiction, tolerance withdrawal or receptor down-regulation. Side effects are minimal, unless you have allergies to the mushroom.

In people with mild cognitive impairment (the precursor to full-blown dementia), taking lion’s mane significantly improved cognitive performance, with the positive benefits increasing over the duration of the 16-week trial. 

More research is needed and being conducted. I’m not suggesting that we throw away important prescribed pills or disregard your physician’s orders over this body of research. But of course, it is enticing, and exciting to think a shroom could have this much power on brain-boosting chemicals. It certainly gets my attention. You can cook with it or take it in supplemental forms.

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Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit