Most of us would love to be smarter, happier and healthier. And while there are many things needed to accomplish that, the research emerging around the highly medicinal Lion’s Mane mushroom is showing that it actually could be a big part of the puzzle. Revered in many ancient cultures and used medicinally for thousands of years, this powerhouse fungi can do everything from protect your brain against cognitive decline, boost memory, support immunity, reduce anxiety, boost mood and enhance a sense of focus throughout your day, among many other things.
Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) grows abundantly throughout North America, Europe and Asia. While native to all four continents, it has been only recently used amongst Western culture, although its value has been widely known and understood throughout Asia in regions like China and Japan for millennia. The mushroom physically looks like the mane of lion—long, white and shaggy—with rich tentacle-like dreadlocks of mushroom wisdom bursting out from all sides. It resembles spongy neuronal tissue, just like that of the brain (often in nature plants very conveniently provide visual cues to the things they are good for). It generally grows on harder surfaces rich in plant cellulose, namely trees in wooded areas.
Lion’s Mane benefits have been studied fairly extensively in animal models and more recently in clinical trials with humans. While Lion’s Mane has revealed itself as a solution for various health concerns, this mushroom has rapidly grown a reputation for its brain-health benefits and mood- and cognitive-boosting properties. While there are more studies needed in humans to truly establish this as one of the great medicinal herbs of all time, there has been fairly extensive research in animal models that are showing some promising results. However, because of its remarkable safety, its use has grown widely in recent years amongst biohackers and wellness seekers, with rave reviews across the board and more research slated to be published on the way.
So what exactly is so special about this superstar mushroom? Read on to find out.
1. Protects and Regenerates the Brain and Nervous System
Lion’s Mane is truly one of a kind. There is no other herb or mushroom that’s been found in nature that seems to have the same effect on stimulating the production of nerve growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). [1,2] These are two remarkable compounds that essentially stimulate the growth of new nerve tissues and brain cells. Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey describes BDNF as “Miracle-Gro for your brain.” BDNF is a powerful protein that essentially stimulates the production of new brain cells and strengthens existing ones. More specifically, when your body releases BDNF, it flips the switch on a series of genes that grow brand new brain cells and pathways. High levels of BDNF make you learn faster, remember better, age slower and rapidly rewire your brain.
As if that wasn’t enough, BDNF also increases your brain’s neuroplasticity. When your brain cells get damaged or if you are facing a stressful situation, BDNF protects them and helps them come back even stronger. It causes your neural pathways to become more flexible instead of shutting down.
And that’s just BDNF. This mushroom is also the closest thing that’s been found in nature to a solution to regenerate nerve cell functioning via its stimulating effects on the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). NGF is similar to BDNF, but it works throughout your nervous system—not just in the brain. It has been shown to repair damaged nerve tissue, cause regeneration of nerve fibers and also improve the communication between neurons and axons. It is currently being tested as an experimental treatment for depression, Alzheimer’s, Multiple sclerosis and other illnesses resulting from nervous system degeneration. [3,4,5] These compounds, among others, are also thought to help protect the brain against environmental toxins and defend against the natural effects of aging. 
2. Improves Cognitive Functioning, Memory and Ability to Focus
If you’re looking for natural, non-toxin brain steroids, then you need look no further than our fungal friend Lion’s Mane. Mounting evidence points to this mushroom as helping to support cognitive functioning, boost mental focus and improve memory. Research in humans found positive results on mental functioning in the elderly,  and the mushroom’s mood-boosting properties (more on that soon) help to promote a focused, calm and peaceful state of mind. Animal models show reduction in beta-amyloid plaque , a major bio-indicator that this mushroom can help to restore brain health; and there is also evidence that Lion’s Mane interacts with parts of the brain’s reward circuitry, specifically kappa-opioid receptors in the brain, that are related to learning and memory.  The biologically active compounds in Lion’s Mane are thought to easily cross the blood-brain barrier for optimal neural-activity.
It’s important to understand too that memory is innately tied to how neurons and nerves function in the brain. If Lion’s Mane has the potential to protect these through its stimulation of NGF and BDNF, then it can improve a lot of different functions, memory included. Early research is indicating this is possible and happening to varying degrees—in one study where test subjects were given extracts of Lion’s Mane mushroom, they demonstrated significant improvements in short-term memory. 
3. Improves Mood and Helps Relieve Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression
A few recent studies seem to indicate a positive, mood-boosting effect from Lion’s Mane. Recently, a study conducted on Japanese menopausal women (they gave them either Lion’s Mane cookies or the control placebo) found positive results in supporting emotional well-being and alleviating stress.  Other compounds such as Amycenone (a patented Lion’s Mane extract) have been tested in mice and have been found in animal models to help reduce depression and anxiety.  Additional studies in mice have also shown that the mushroom boosts levels of acetylcholine, an essential neurotransmitter that’s important for mood and mental functioning. 
Lion’s Mane mushroom benefits may also help to alleviate anxiety and depression through its powerful effects on reducing inflammation. A growing body of research is showing clear links between mental illness and brain inflammation, and Lion’s Mane has been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory proteins. [14–15]
And, finally, preliminary studies on mice are showing that it may achieve its effects on the mood front by upregulating neurogenesis in the hippocampus.  The hippocampus is the area of the brain that neuroscientists believe to be responsible for regulating things like emotional stability and memory.
4. Immune Support
Lion’s Mane, like most medicinal mushrooms, contains beta-glucans and polysaccharides indicated to help support healthy immune functioning.