Lion’s Mane: Cognitive function, nerve regeneration

Lion’s mane mushroom is a food and natural supplement with a number of potential health benefits. Some of the most well-researched benefits of lion’s mane mushroom extract include:

  • Improved cognitive function
  • Reduced depression and anxiety symptoms
  • Increasing nerve regeneration

This article digs into the research studies on lion’s mane and then makes connections to possibly related genes.

What is lion’s mane mushroom?

Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericeum erinaceus) is a popular edible mushroom in Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan.[ref] While not as well known in the US or Europe, they are available in some areas as fresh mushrooms. Personal opinion: Lion’s mane is delicious fried with a little butter.  Lion’s mane is also known as yamabushitake, monkey’s head, or H. erinaceus. 

Most people, though, are interested in lion’s mane as a supplement in capsules or powder form. The benefits of lion’s mane may include increased neurogenesis, improved cognitive function, anti-inflammatory effects, and decreased depression or anxiety.

Lion’s mane contains phenols, β-glucans, and bioactive metabolites, such as erinacines, hericenones, alkaloids, and sterols.[][ref] [ref]

Mycelium vs. fruiting body: which is best?

What we think of as a mushroom is the fruiting body. It is the stalk and cap, which is the reproductive structure, that emerges when conditions are ideal. The mycelium is the part of the mushroom that is always growing, usually in the soil or in a dead tree.

There are some differences in the composition of the compounds found in the lion’s mane fruiting body vs. the mycelium. When you eat fresh lion’s mane as a mushroom, you’re consuming the fruiting body.

If you are considering different options for supplemental lion’s mane, one thing to look at is whether it contains just the powdered fruiting body, just the mycelium, or other options.

Whether it is better to go with the lion’s mane fruiting body or mycelium may depend on what your goal is for the supplement.

For the research studies and clinical trials below, I’ll make clear whether mycelium or fruiting body is being used in the study, when available.


Neuroprotective effects and cognitive benefits:

Lion’s mane mushroom has been found to have neuroprotective and neurogenesis effects, which means it helps protect the brain and nervous system from damage. Studies have shown that lion’s mane mushrooms can stimulate nerve cell growth and improve cognitive function. Cell studies show that the erinacines in the mycelium of lion’s mane may stimulate neurotrophic growth factors.

Let’s take a look at the research:

Clinical trial, 3,000 mg/day in mild cognitive impairment: A  double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial investigated the cognitive effects of Hericium erinaceus. The study included adults aged 50 -80 years who took 1,000 mg of dried lion’s mane (fruiting body) 3x/ day for 16 weeks. From week 8 to week 16, their cognitive performance scores increased. Their scores then began to decline four weeks after they stopped taking lion’s mane. No adverse effects were observed in the blood tests performed.[ref]

Clinical trial: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group comparative study evaluated lion’s mane for cognitive function in people over the age of 50. The study used 800 mg of the powdered fruiting body for 12 weeks compared to a placebo. Cognitive function was assessed using three different tests, including the MMSE, which is commonly used in Alzheimer’s disease. The results showed improvements in scores that were greater than the placebo after 12 weeks.[ref]

Alzheimer’s patient trial: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in people with mild Alzheimer’s disease, the results showed that lion’s mane was well tolerated and safe at a dosage of 350mg of lion’s mane mycelium 3x/day. The study lasted 49 weeks and Lion’s Mane did not cure Alzheimer’s disease.[ref]

Animal studies: Animal research is more impressive, but this may be due to differences in dosage or other factors.

Research in mice showed that lion’s mane mycelium helped reduce amyloid plaque aggregation and to delay cognitive degeneration in aging brains.[ref]

Studies also show that lion’s mane (fruiting body) increases nerve growth by increasing nerve growth factor.[ref]

Animal and cell studies clearly demonstrate the neuroprotective and cognitive benefits of H. erinaceus. Research suggests that it reduces inflammation by reducing activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome in an Alzheimer’s model and improves memory in human clinical trials.[ref][ref]

Related Genetics Topics:

NLRP3 genes:

Brain fog genes:


Hey! Want to go further with your genetic raw data? Join as a Member! 


Improved nerve function and reduced neuropathy:

The neurogenerative properties of lion’s mane hold potential for people with nerve injuries and neuropathy.

Animal study: In rats with nerve injury, an aqueous extract of lion’s mane fruiting body promoted the regeneration of nerve axons. The injured rats treated with lion’s mane had an earlier return to normal function and better nerve regeneration than the control group (which received vitamin B12). [ref]

Another animal study, also using an aqueous extract of lion’s mane fruiting body, found that “H. erinaceus is capable of promoting peripheral nerve regeneration after injury. Potential signaling pathways include Akt, MAPK, c-Jun, and c-Fos, and protein synthesis has been shown to be involved in its action.”[ref]

A study in mice showed that extract of lion’s mane mycelium counteracted neurotropic pain along with reducing neuroinflammation.[ref]

Yet another animal study on lion’s mane for neuropathy pain found that it could improve diabetic neuropathy along with improving total antioxidant activity.[ref]

Related Genetic Topics:

Small fiber neuropathy: 


Depression and anxiety: Lion’s mane affects mood

Several studies suggest that Lion’s Mane has a positive effect on mood, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. For some, depression or anxiety may be caused by elevated inflammatory cytokines.

Clinical trial: A small clinical trial in women going through menopause found that lion’s mane reduced depression and anxiety scores. The placebo-controlled study used 500 mg of the powdered fruiting body (in a cookie) for 4 weeks. [ref]

Animal study: A study involving sleep disruption and stress in mice showed that lion’s mane ameliorated anxiety and reversed the NREM sleep disturbance.[ref]

Lion’s mane mushroom extract has been shown to increase BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) levels in animal studies. The study used  H. erinaceus mycelium, and the results showed decreased inflammatory cytokines and increased BDFN pathways.[ref]

Related Genetics Topic:

Depression and Inflammation Genes:

BDNF Genes:


Energy booster:

Many people report a sustained increase in mental and physical energy with lion’s mane. This may be due, at least in part, to anti-inflammatory properties.

Animal study: In frail, aging mice, supplementation with H. erinaceus “partially recovered the age-related decline of locomotor performances”. [ref]

Increased activity without altering circadian rhythm: A recent animal study shows Lion’s mane mushroom extract (Hericium erinaceus) alters the sleep/wake activity timing without altering the core circadian clock genes. The study found that the animals given the lion’s mane extract were active earlier in their normal activity period and then also went to sleep earlier. This didn’t affect the expression of the PER genes or BMAL1 (core circadian clock genes).[ref]

If you are working to shift towards being more active in the morning without more caffeine, lion’s mane may help. Lion’s mane is available as a powdered supplement that blends well with coffee or a smoothie, or you can get it in capsules.

Related Genetics Topic:

Fatigue Root Causes


Anti-inflammatory properties:

Low-grade, persisting inflammatory cytokine levels are at the root of many chronic diseases. Lion’s mane has several studies showing how and why it can reduce inflammation.

Research:  Animal and cell studies clearly show neuroprotective and cognitive benefits to lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus). Research points to reducing the activation of the NRLP3 inflammasome in an Alzheimer’s model and improving memory in human clinical trials.[ref][ref]

Animal study: Using a ‘primordium extract’, which seems to be an ethanol extract of lion’s mane, researchers showed a decrease in inflammatory cytokines and markers of oxidative stress.[ref]

Another animal study specifically showed lion’s mane to decrease TNF-alpha, IL-1B, and IL-6 in animals with inflammatory bowel disease.

Related Genetics Topic:

APOE and Alzheimers — click link if you want to know your Alzheimer’s risk

TNF-alpha Inflammatory SNPs


Safety and Side Effects:

Lion’s mane has historically been consumed as a food in many regions of the world.

Clinical trials with supplemental lion’s mane powder and capsules at 3+ g/day note no adverse effects, suggesting that lion’s mane is safe for most people.[ref] (see the genetic interactions section for one possible exception)

However, talk with your pharmacist or doctor if you are on any medications to make sure that lion’s mane – or any supplement – is right for you.

If you are foraging for lion’s mane in the wild, be sure to know the similar-looking mushroom species and how to determine freshness.

Related Genetics Topic:

Ergothionine is one normally beneficial compound found in lion’s mane (and many other mushrooms) which acts as a powerful antioxidant.

However, ergothioneine exacerbates intestinal issues in people with IBD and a specific genetic variant in the OCTN1 gene:[ref][ref]

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Alzheimer’s Gene: APOE from your genetic raw data






About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and also an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.

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