Recently, I was asked what’s the #1 best-selling memory herb.
The reality is that there are many herbs and dietary supplements available for memory and cognitive function, and it can be difficult to determine which one is the best-selling or #1.
So my answer is it’s the one that people can remember the name of: Lion’s mane.
Known botanically as Hericium erinaceus, this medicinal (and edible) mushroom has gained a lot of attention and has been clinically studied in recent years as a dietary supplement due to its well-documented cognitive benefits, so it’s definitely a strong contender for the title of “best-selling” herb for memory. Lion’s mane is what’s called a nootropic. That’s a buzzword that kind of means “smart pill” but it’s nothing like Adderall or Ritalin. It’s a naturally-derived, medicinal mushroom with clinically-proven benefits to cognition. You might be interested in my other article, Nootropics Can Make You Wordle Faster.
Did you know that lion’s mane mushrooms got their name because they look like a lion’s mane? That’s right, these shaggy mushrooms have long, flowing tendrils that resemble a lion’s mane.
Several studies have shown that lion’s mane extract may improve cognitive function, memory, and concentration. For example, a 2009 STUDY found that the extract (also known as Yamabushitake) improved cognitive function in elderly Japanese men and women. More recently, a 2019 STUDY found that the edible fungus improved cognitive function in individuals with mild cognitive impairment. More specifically, the researchers concluded, “We speculate that various chemical compounds, including hericenones, in the mushroom have multiple effects to the brain neural networks and improve cognitive functions. Oral intake of H.erinaceus is safe and convenient method for dementia prevention so far.”
The neuroprotective properties come from the compounds called erinacines and hericenones that stimulate the growth and regeneration of nerve cells in the brain and protect them from damage. Some studies have shown that lion’s mane extract may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
The aforementioned compounds can activate a protein in the body called nerve growth factor (NGF), which is essential for the growth and survival of nerve cells (neurons).
While not on the topic of brain health, one other useful potential benefit of lion’s mane right about now is its ability to boost the immune system! Animal studies have shown that the mushroom extract can increase the activity of natural killer cells and macrophages. This action helps your body fight off infections and diseases.
As for mood improvement, a 2013 paper outlined how lion’s mane extract reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, at least in menopausal women who were the study participants. And this 2022 STUDY shows the same.
Lion’s Mane and Alzheimer’s
Lion’s mane may impact the progression of dementia, which is the term given to a group of symptoms that affect cognitive function, memory, mood, learning, and communication. Alzheimer’s is a specific neurodegenerative disease that causes cognitive decline and memory loss, and symptoms of dementia. There is currently no cure. This condition is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. In 2021, an estimated 6.2 million Americans (over age 65) were dealing with it. Despite the advent of various prescription medications, we have seen an increase in deaths by 145% since the turn of the millennium!
Several animal studies have suggested that lion’s mane extract may have potential benefits for Alzheimer’s disease. For example, a 2011 STUDY found that lion’s mane extract improved cognitive function and reduced the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Beta-amyloid plaques are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and are thought to contribute to the development and progression of the disease.
Additionally, a 2015 study found that lion’s mane extract reduced cognitive impairment and reduced the levels of beta-amyloid in the brains of rodents with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. The study also found that lion’s mane extract reduced inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.
Some people with Alzheimer’s also take a popular medication called Namenda® and you may wonder if lion’s mane interacts with it. The way the herb works and the drug works are completely different so I’d say it’s probably fine but definitely ask your physician if he/she minds the combination.
Again, there is currently no evidence of a significant interaction between lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) and Namenda (memantine), which is a medication commonly used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
What About Cautions?
Lion’s mane is generally considered safe and well-tolerated. It is often found in memory supplements including my own Memory Script which is patented. You can buy it as tea. You can eat it too – it’s in the produce section at many supermarkets. However, like any dietary supplement, lion’s mane may cause side effects in some individuals.
Usually, these are diarrhea, nausea, and stomach discomfort and are somewhat dose-dependent meaning the higher the dose, the more likely you are to experience side effects.
Additionally, individuals who are allergic to mushrooms may experience itching, swelling, and/or difficulty breathing. Individuals who are allergic to mushrooms should avoid lion’s mane. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider before taking any new dietary supplement, including lion’s mane. As with any dietary supplement, it is important to follow the recommended dosage and to discontinue use if any adverse effects occur.
⚠️ One last caution. If you have elevated intracranial pressure from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion, you should seek medical attention from a healthcare provider and NOT use an herb! For those of you unfamiliar, these conditions may occur after a fall, a car accident, or other head injuries. Symptoms are serious and usually include headaches, cognitive impairment, and memory problems. Concussions are common in football players! It increases blood pressure in the brain.
There are various treatment options available depending on the underlying cause of the elevated pressure, including medications and surgical interventions. Dietary supplements, including lion’s mane, should not be used as a
replacement for medical treatment, however, studies suggest they may be useful as adjunctive therapy. And this is interesting, emerging research suggests that lion’s mane extract may benefit learning and decision-making. It might help you remember the whole sequence of your credit card number for example, or retain a person’s name upon meeting them.
What Combinations Work?
Lion’s mane may be taken in combination with other nootropic supplements such as bacopa, ginkgo biloba, phosphatidylserine, acetyl L-carnitine, and green tea extract to further support cognitive function and memory.* Additionally, essential fatty acids like fish oils which provide omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to have potential benefits for brain health and cognitive function.*
It is important to note that individuals should speak with their healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplements or making changes to their treatment plan. Dietary supplements may interact with certain medications or may not be safe for individuals with certain medical conditions. It is also important to follow the recommended dosage for each supplement and to discontinue use if any adverse effects occur.
Lion’s mane is a medicinal mushroom sold as a dietary supplement. It’s also eaten as a food, similar to portobello and shiitake mushrooms – you can cook with it! It has been studied for its potential cognitive benefits. Studies suggest that it may improve cognitive function, memory, and concentration. Additionally, lion’s mane may have potential benefits for learning and decision-making. It contains compounds called erinacines and hericenones that can stimulate the growth of nerve cells and protect them from damage.
Lions mane has undoubtedly gained a lot of attention in the health and wellness community. However, it’s important to remember that no single herb or supplement can guarantee improved memory or cognitive function, and lifestyle factors such as regular exercise and healthy eating habits play a crucial role in maintaining cognitive health. So if you want to improve your memory, don’t forget to exercise your brain along with your body! It’s a great idea to consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking any dietary supplements, including lion’s mane.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.