Should You Be Taking Lion's Mane Mushrooms for Your Health? - CNET

There's truth that some food can be a medicine. Lion's mane mushrooms are a good example as eating them can improve your heart, gut and brain health. These fungi earn their name from their unique shape. They look like fungi stalactites, as their icicle shape gives them the formation of a mane, resembling the king of the jungle.

For centuries, lion's mane mushrooms have been used as edible and medicinal mushrooms -- especially in traditional Chinese medicine -- according to the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Like with many Eastern remedies, people in the West began using lion's mane mushrooms as alternatives to traditional medical treatments. They've been found to contain many health benefits, which we'll cover in this guide. 

What are lion's mane mushrooms? 

Also known as Hericium erinaceus, lion's mane mushrooms are unique due to their shaggy shape. As they grow, they sprout downward, forming a lion's mane. These white mushrooms contain bioactive substances known for improving heart, gut and brain health. Most studies on lion's mane mushrooms were conducted on animals (such as rats and mice) and not humans. More studies are needed to determine how lion's mane specifically affects human beings. 

Moreover, lion's mane mushrooms are not drugs. They also don't provide any psychedelic effects like other mushrooms can. According to a 2020 study, lion's mane mushrooms may be beneficial when seeking neurocognitive benefits.

Finding lion's mane mushrooms in stores can be difficult, depending on where you live. Because it isn't a traditional mushroom, you likely won't find lion's mane mushrooms at farmer's markets or regular grocery stores. However, you should be able to find them at specialty health food stores like Whole Foods. You can also buy them in supplement form from vitamin stores, health food outlets and online retailers. 

You can find lion's mane mushrooms in the wild, as they grow on beech, oak and maple trees in North America, Asia and Europe, per the Mycelium Society. If you want to forage for them, the best time to gather lion's mane mushrooms is in the late summer or early fall. Before you embark on a gathering quest, research whether your area allows you to forage for lion's mane mushrooms, as some areas prohibit it. 

If you live where foraging for lion's mane mushrooms is permitted, make sure you can adequately identify these mushrooms before picking them. Or, find an expert who can help, ensuring you do not select the wrong mushroom. Then, see where they grow and check for ripeness. You'll know it's ripe by feeling the mushroom. If it's spongy and soft, you're good to go. Take a knife to remove the mushroom while leaving the roots. When you return home, cook the mushrooms immediately or store them in a paper bag in your fridge for up to three days. 

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Lion's mane mushroom benefits

There are many potential benefits you may receive from lion's mane mushrooms, such as:

  • Anxiety reduction: A 2018 study showed that mice who ingested lion's mane mushroom extract experienced antidepressant-like effects. One human 2010 study, in which menopausal women who ate four cookies with lion's mane mushroom daily for a month, found that lion's mane may reduce anxiety and depression. 
  • Ulcer prevention: Ulcers develop anywhere in your digestive tract due to the overgrowth of H. pylori and mucous layer damage from long-term nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, use. Taking lion's mane mushrooms can inhibit the growth of the bacteria H. pylori and protect the stomach lining. 
  • Heart disease risk reduction: A 2013 study on rats found that taking lion's mane mushroom extract reduced triglyceride levels, one of the main reasons people develop heart disease. In a 2010 study on mice, taking lion's mane mushroom extract prevented hyperlipidemia (aka high cholesterol) and diet-induced obesity, both of which can increase the risk of heart disease.  
  • Fights cancer cells: Several medical studies found that combining lion's mane mushroom with human cells creates a powerful defense mechanism that kills cancer cells faster. These studies included blood, liver and gastrointestinal cancers. Another 2013 study on mice with colon cancer found that taking the mushroom reduced the cancer spread to the lungs by up to 69%. 
  • Improves brain health: Lion's mane earned the distinction as the "smart mushroom" for the benefits it can offer the brain. A 2009 study found that people aged 50 to 80 with mild cognitive impairments who took 250-milligram tablets containing lion's mane powder three times a day for 16 weeks scored higher on cognitive tests than the other group who only took a placebo.  
  • Reduces inflammation: Inflammation can cause many medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease and arthritis. A 2022 study found that taking lion's mane mushrooms can reduce inflammation, while a 2015 study concluded that lion's mane mushrooms may be an effective source of antioxidant compounds, which can prevent or reduce cell damage. 

Lion's mane mushroom side effects

There are some side effects you may encounter when consuming lion's mane mushrooms, like: 

  • Stomach discomfort: When taken orally, lion's mane mushrooms may cause stomach discomfort
  • Slows blood clotting: Because lion's mane mushrooms can slow blood clotting, you'll want to discontinue use at least two weeks before any surgeries and notify your surgeon beforehand. People with bleeding conditions should also take heed and discuss with their doctor before consuming lion's mane. 
  • Skin irritations: According to a 2020 study, lion's mane mushrooms may cause a skin rash in those who consume it. 
  • Lowers blood sugar: Lion's mane mushrooms can lower your blood sugar. If you have diabetes and are on specific medications, you'll want to consult with your doctor first before introducing any new supplements. 
  • Allergic reactions: Some people are allergic to lion's mane mushrooms. If you notice hives, stomach pain or swelling, discontinue use. If you have a known mushroom allergy, avoid consuming lion's mane mushrooms. 
  • Pregnancy and lactation: Since there are no studies available to determine whether lion's mane mushrooms are healthy for you during pregnancy, it's a good idea to discontinue use when you're pregnant or lactating. Consult your doctor with any questions or concerns. 

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Lion's mane mushroom supplements and dosage 

You can find three species of lion's mane mushrooms in North America. They include H. americanum, H. erinaceus and H. coralloides. While you can pick the mushrooms and eat them raw, know they have a seafood flavor on par with crab meat. If you're not a fan of seafood flavors, you can mix lion's mane into your favorite foods, coffee or tea. 

Read more: Mushroom Coffee: How It Works, Potential Health Benefits and Things to Consider

You can find lion's mane mushroom supplements in pill, liquid and powder form. Supplements are inexpensive and you can find options for $11 on Amazon, or go to your local Whole Foods or vitamin store to discover what's nearby. 

You might wonder what lion's mane dosage you should take per day, but there's no standard dosage that works for everyone. That's because dietary supplements aren't regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, so the FDA doesn't approve them for safety before they reach the consumer. If you plan to take lion's mane supplements, follow the directions outlined on the bottle's label. For raw or liquid options, consider speaking with your doctor first since they know your medical history. 

Is lion's mane illegal?

No, taking lion's mane isn't illegal because it isn't a drug, and it doesn't have psychedelic properties. Lion's mane mushrooms grow in regions of North America, where you can go and harvest them. Before harvesting, however, research whether it's legal to forage for these mushrooms in your area, as some places carry restrictions. If you live in the United Kingdom, you can't forage for lion's mane mushrooms as they are protected. 

Since habitats for lion's mane mushrooms are starting to deplete due the ever-changing climate conditions, gather them from responsible sources. Check to see that they're sourcing sustainability and responsibly without causing harm to the environment. 

What to consider before trying lion's mane mushrooms

Lion's mane mushrooms can carry many health benefits, like reducing inflammation and the spread of cancer cells, preventing ulcers and improving both brain and mental health. You can forage for them in areas where it's legal or find lion's mane at health food stores, online retailers and vitamin shops. 

Since it has a crab meat taste, lion's mane works well as a plant-based substitute for dishes requiring this flavor profile. You can also add lion's mane to teas and coffees. 

Before trying lion's mane mushrooms, you'll want to consider the following: 

  • Allergies: You'll want to ensure you're not allergic to them. If you haven't had allergy testing done, see how your body responds to a small dose. If you notice any hives or swelling after ingestion, discontinue use. 
  • Medicine interactions: Lion's mane mushrooms can lower your blood sugar. If you have diabetes and are taking certain medications, consult your doctor before adding lion's mane to your health routine or diet. Monitor your blood sugar levels to ensure they're not dipping too low. 
  • Consult your doctor: If you're on multiple medications or have chronic health conditions, consult a medical care provider first. They know your medical history and can determine if lion's mane supplements are right for you. 

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