Neuroscience

Lions Mane, a proven cognitive enhancer……for rats!

WHAT IS LION’S MANE?

Lion’s Mane is a mushroom with long, hairy spines resembling a lion’s mane. It is considered a very tasty ingredient in many Chinese dishes and other oriental cuisines.

Lion’s Mane is used as a remedy in traditional Asian medicine for digestive problems, such as indigestion, heartburn, reflux, and gastritis. It is thought to soothe the mucous membranes and harmonize the digestive tract by modulating the responses of the Vagus nerve and the intestinal nervous system.

Currently, the hype around Lion’s Mane focuses on its ability to increase Nerve Growth Factor or NGF. Natural NGF produced in our body is responsible for growth, maturation, and maintenance of brain cells.

A decrease in NGF is linked to degeneration of brain cells. Patients suffering from Schizophrenia, autism, and Rett syndrome have lower NGF levels. However, in humans, there is no clear evidence whether the lack of NGF causes these diseases or the diseases cause a shortage in NGF. Surprisingly, NGF levels in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s Diseases are increased!

IS LION’S MANE AN EFFECTIVE NOOTROPIC?

ALL evidence for any beneficial effect of Lion’s Mane comes from either cells grown in a dish, or rodent studies. Clinical studies in humans to evaluate the effects of this mushroom were either conducted in very small populations (30 individuals) or in uncontrolled conditions (other medications, other diseases..) and did not follow FDA guidelines. So far, all tests on human cells with Lion’s Mane extract failed to increase NGF levels.

The only source for beneficial effects of Lion’s Mane come from anecdotal reports from traditional medicine. Now, that does by no means disqualify Lion’s Mane as a remedy, which has been used for thousands of years before the appearance of modern medicine. But the current oversell of Lion’s Mane as a potent neuroprotectant, nootropic, memory enhancer, and anxiolytic does not rely on facts found in human testing.

THE ACTIVE INGREDIENT IN LION’S MANE IS UNKOWN

Scientist have been unable to pinpoint the active ingredients in Lion’s Mane. Currently, a group of substances called Erinacines might be the active ingredients in this mushroom. However, there is no evidence that Erinacines can pass through the blood-brain-barrier, a very restrictive obstacle that tightly controls access of substances to the brain.

Other candidates for active ingredients of Lion’s Mane are polysaccharides (similar to starch and cellulose) or alpha-galactosidase. Again, neither can penetrate the blood-brain-barrier and reach the brain to exert a direct effect.  Furthermore, chemists haven’t figured out if alcohol extraction or water extraction is the best way to extract the potentially active ingredients from this mushroom, since no one is sure what the active ingredients of Lion’s Mane are.

IN SUMMARY

  • All evidence for Lion’s Mane’s benefits come from mice or rats, cell cultures made from mouse or rat brains, or “clinical” studies that do not follow FDA guidelines
  • The active ingredient in Lion’s Mane is unkown
  • Candidates for active ingredients are known to be unable to reach the brain
  • The best extraction method for these candidates is in iknown
  • The recommended dosing for Lion’s Mane is not established

Many people who have tried Lion’s Mane do not see any effect or experience unwanted side effects. Those that do see an effect are often taking a mix of Lion’s mane with other nootropics that are more effective.

If you do want to try Lion’s Mane, you would need to take it for at least 2-3 months before you would see an sort of an effect.

In my opinion as a brain health expert, neither the hype or cost of Lion’s Mane as a potent nootropic is justified. Instead, I would recommend taking other nootropics that are know to have cognitive enhancing effects, such as Huperzine A, Rodiola, Baccopa and alpha GPC choline.

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