A new study suggests that lion’s mane mushroom could impact nerve cell growth and improve memory performance. Dr. Joseph Mercola explains on his blog, Mercola.com, writing:
Lion’s mane mushroom has traditionally been used in Asian countries not only for brain health and memory, but to enhance peripheral nerve regeneration, the mechanism of which is targeting nerve growth factor neurotrophic activity.4 Researchers in the featured study5 looked at compounds in lion’s mane mushroom, particularly hericene A, as it impacts nerve cell growth and improvement in memory performance.
The study first purified a biologically active compound with the ability to promote neurite growth in the lab. The isolated compounds were N-de phenylethyl isohericerin (NDPIH) and its hydrophobic derivative, known as hericene A. The researchers found these two compounds effectively stimulated axonal growth and branching in hippocampal neuron cultures.
Normally, these neuron cultures require serum and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the growth medium to support growth and survival. However, in this lab study, it appeared that the lion’s mane mushroom extract promoted growth in the absence of serum and BDNF. Study author Frédéric A. Meunier, professor at The University of Queensland and leader of the Single Molecule Neuroscience Laboratory, explained:6
“Further, at the tip of each of these branches, there is normally a tiny structure called a growth cone that is capable of sensing the environment and orientating the growth of its particular branch.
In the presence of the lion’s mane mushroom compounds, the size of these growth cones was hugely increased with some being even larger than the cell body of the neuron. It would be like having a hand larger than your own body, so even more surprising!
These growth cones are search engines capable of finding target neurons and establishing connections between them. This suggested that the compounds could promote the establishment of new connections between neurons in the brain, which is at the core of memory formation. This is why we tested various paradigms of memory to see if the compound had any effect which we found they had.”
Moving from the lab to an animal model, the researchers used male mice that were divided into several groups, including a control group, a positive control group, and several groups that were given different doses of the extract. The positive control group was given a known memory-enhancing drug.
The group that received the highest dose of the mushroom extract demonstrated greater interaction with novel objects, suggesting the mice had improved short-term memory. Those treated with a lower dose also displayed significant positive increments in spontaneous behavior indicating improved spatial memory.7
Meunier is excited about the results and understands that further study is needed to identify the molecular mechanism of action. Current clinical trials are underway using lion’s mane extract in Alzheimer’s disease. He estimates other novel applications should also be explored. For example, they “could serve as the basis for a new generation of new therapeutics for a range of brain diseases to optimize their efficacies.”8
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms Offer More Health Benefits
One 2020 pilot study9 evaluated the prevention of early Alzheimer’s disease with lion’s mane mushrooms in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The trial was conducted at Chung Shan Medical University in 41 patients who were diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s Disease.
The participants received either three 350 mg capsules containing 5 mg per gram of the active ingredient tested from lion’s mane mushrooms or a placebo. The study began with a three-week screening period during which all participants received no drugs, followed by a 49-week double-blind treatment in which participants were randomized to receive either the intervention or a placebo.
Throughout the 49 weeks, the participants underwent cognitive assessments, biomarker collection, neuroimaging and eye exams. After the baseline assessment, the participants were examined and rated at weeks 13, 25 and 49 to determine the efficacy of the intervention, which was measured by the change from baseline to week 49.10
The researchers found that those taking the intervention capsules had higher scores on the Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument, Mini Mental State Examination and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living when compared to those in the placebo group. The researchers suggest that these capsules were safe, well-tolerated and may offer important neurocognitive benefits.11
Lion’s mane mushrooms have a long history in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and more recently researchers have discovered that they can help reduce high blood pressure, control blood sugar, promote wound healing12 and have antidepressant-like properties13 that may offer an alternative for the treatment of depression.
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