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Lion’s Mane Mushrooms — Wonder Ingredient, Snake Oil or Just Plain Tasty?

The humble lion’s mane mushroom is believed to make you happier and smarter, but what does the science say?

If you’re a hoe for CBD and other provisions that promise to solve all your problems, you may have heard of lion’s mane mushrooms, a cash cow for natural grocers and supplement stores everywhere. And if you haven’t, you’re about to, because I have lots of problems — I blame Twitter for all of them — and I need someone to talk at. Quick, ask me about lion’s mane mushrooms.

What’s a lion’s mane mushroom?

A shaggy-ass mushroom native to North America, Europe and Asia that tends to grow on dead (or more rarely, alive) hardwood trees. In traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine, it’s long been used to “fortify the spleen, nourish the gut and also as an anti-cancer drug.”

Why’s it called a lion’s mane mushroom?

Because some people say it looks like a lion’s mane, although I personally think it looks like an alien.

Will it get me high?

Sadly, no. You’ll need magic mushrooms for that.

What problems can it solve?

Almost all of them. Dwayne N. Jackson, a professor of medical biophysics at Western University and a mushroom/supplement influencer on Instagram, says lion’s mane molecules have demonstrated anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, neuroregenerative, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-fatigue and anti-aging effects, among other mind and body benefits.

Lion’s mane munchers frequently note its ability to improve memory, reduce depression, decrease anxiety and even improve sleep quality. “Many users of lion’s mane report a boost in mood and mental energy,” says David Tomen of nootropicsexpert.com, a blog dedicated to neuroscience research and “boosting your brainpower.” “Others testify to improved decision-making, the ability to solve problems and learning, likely due to lion’s manes’ ability to improve neuroplasticity.”

For real?

There’s certainly a lot of evidence behind these claims. Loads of studies have been performed on lion’s mane mushrooms, including one in particular where disabled rats were able to walk again after only two weeks of ingesting lion’s mane (that’s some Jesus-level shit right there). Researchers believe that the mushrooms regenerated damaged nerve cells in their brains.

We haven’t seen anything quite as miraculous in humans yet, but there are plenty of testimonials from people who feel happier, less anxious and just generally more level-headed after consuming lion’s mane for a while — they say it takes 14 days to start feeling the effects. Culinary mushroom growers and Instagram influencers Gary and Addie Heferle tell me they’ve been taking lion’s mane capsules for years and “believe in the health benefits for the brain.” They also mention having more intense dreams since starting their lion’s mane regimen.

How do I get lion’s mane in me?

Raw, cooked, steeped in tea or as a supplement, which commonly come as capsules, powder and even gummies. The Heferles also say these shrooms have a lobster/crab-like flavor, making them a prime ingredient for delicacies like “vegan crab cakes.” 

For supplement takers, Tomen suggests capsules that meet these criteria:

  • The lion’s mane was extracted from the spore-producing organ of a fungus, not the roots — the label should specify that it was extracted from the “fruiting body.” Otherwise, Tomen says you get “zero nootropic benefit.”
  • The lion’s mane was water-extracted, not alcohol-extracted.

If you want to get really specific, Jackson recommends a 10:1 lion’s mane extract that contains more than 30 percent polysaccharides, which are carbohydrates that convey many of the mushroom’s benefits. He says you can take 100 milligrams of that three times a day or a whole 300 milligrams with your breakfast. 

If you’re going cooked or raw, Jackson suggests one gram three times a day, or three grams with your brekkie. Keep in mind that mushrooms tend to have tough cell walls, though — cooking makes them more digestible, and therefore, more nutritious and beneficial. 

Are there any side effects?

There have been some documented cases of skin rashes and breathing problems, which were most likely the result of mushroom allergies. But animal studies suggest that lion’s mane is safe, even at high doses.

How lion’s mane affects you, however, is something you can only find out for yourself. Some people say supplementing lion’s mane made them more depressed, prompted OCD-like thoughts and even resulted in depersonalization. Also, remember, supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so it can be hard to really know what you’re getting.

Should I take lion’s mane?

As a supplement, you could try it and see how it goes. Otherwise, you can’t really go wrong cooking up a fresh lion’s mane mushroom. After all, as the Heferles say, mushrooms are “nature’s vitamins.”

Are you on Twitter right now?

Maybe…

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