Support Memory, Focus and Cognition with Lion’s Mane

by Andrea Bartels NNCP RNT Registered Nutritional Therapist

As we age, we become more aware of our cognitive functions with the occasional short-term memory lapses—otherwise known as ‘senior moments’.  We may find change more difficult to adapt to, and new rules, procedures and policies challenging to learn. Nutritional support of the nervous system should become more of a priority as a result of these realizations, yet we may not know how to modify our eating habits accordingly. Fortunately, simply adding a mushroom like Lion’s Mane could make a difference to our cognitive health!

Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a remarkable mushroom, not only for its unique, white pom-pom or icicle –cluster appearance---but because it may nurture the body in a way you may not expect. Like most edible mushrooms, Lion’s Mane has immune-modulating properties that help control inflammation levels while our immune system fights pathogens and cancer cells. It’s also one of many mushrooms with impressive levels of anti-oxidant activity. But what makes this mushroom unique is its ability to support the brain and the central nervous system. 

Lion’s Mane is an exclusive source of the organic chemicals hericenones and erinacines, which have been shown to increase the production of Nerve Growth Factor. This means that the mushroom may support the regeneration of neurons (nerve cells) that were damaged by poisons (mercury, alcohol, carbon monoxide), poor blood glucose control, or lack of oxygen and blood flow (such as in arteriosclerosis, stroke).

One of the promising human studies that has used lion`s mane was on a group of Japanese men and women between 50 and 80 years of age who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment before the trial began. After 4 months the group that took a 250 milligram tablet of lion`s mane powder three times daily in this double-blind placebo-controlled trial exhibited increasing cognitive function scores as the study progressed.  There were no adverse effects of taking the mushroom, but the improvements were lost in subjects who didn`t continue the supplementation—which is typical of any substance—drug or nutritional—that is removed from one`s lifestyle. After all, if wearing glasses correct one`s vision, we can`t expect the vision to be permanently improved when we take off the glasses.

While the mechanism of action responsible for the cognitive improvements was not investigated by the aforementioned study, there have been in vitro studies (cell cultures grown outside the body) demonstrating new nerve growth among the peripheral nerves as well as in cells of the brain, spinal cord, and retina as a response to lion`s mane.

Besides supporting the synthesis of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), the other mechanism responsible for lion`s mane`s neurological support properties is its antioxidant activity. Since the brain is composed largely of fatty tissue, fat-soluble antioxidants are of great value here. Lion`s mane appears to contain both water and fat-soluble antioxidants, and exposure to these have shown to increase the activity or presence of the body`s own antioxidants: superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase.  Since oxidative stress (a.k.a. free radical damage) and resulting inflammation are well known factors in neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson`s and Alzheimer`s, this finding holds the potential for management and delay of these pathologies.

Whether you`re looking for preventative or management support of your mind, consider adding lion`s mane to your diet. The mushroom is easy to grow indoors on the right medium, and its delicate flavour means it can be added to many a cooked meal when sautéed in butter or oil to create a side dish, or thrown in a soup as a flavour-enhancer. Remember; all mushrooms should be cooked before consuming. Contrary to popular belief, cooking actually improves the absorption of the valuable components within mushrooms. Enjoy!

Andrea Bartels NNCP RNT is a Registered Nutritional Therapist in private practice in Ottawa, Ontario. She is also an Instructor at The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, Ottawa branch. Andrea brings over 20 years of experience working in the nutrition field. She has become an avid mushroom ``hunter``, exploring the forests of the National Capital Region for new finds as often as possible.



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