Mushrooms are having a moment. One fabulous fungus in particular, lion’s mane, may help improve depression and anxiety symptoms.

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Deirdre Malfatto/Stocksy United

If you’re living with anxiety or depression, you may be curious about all the treatment options out there — including the natural ones.

Mushrooms have long been celebrated as a delicious and nutrient-dense food. Now, researchers are looking deeper to explore other possible health benefits.

Studies on the benefits of lion’s mane mushroom using human subjects are still limited. Still, the current research does show promise in a range of areas, including brain health.

Named for its white, shaggy appearance and dangling spines resembling fur, lion’s mane mushrooms grow naturally in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Known scientifically as Hericium erinaceus, this mushroom has been used for centuries both as a popular cooking ingredient and medicinal supplement, particularly in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Lion’s mane is known to taste similar to lobster or crab. It has a texture that’s “meaty” and chewy, yet tender.

Lion’s mane can be:

  • cooked
  • eaten raw
  • steeped in tea
  • taken as an extract
  • consumed in capsule form

The best way to get the benefits of lion’s mane (and most other foods) are by consuming them whole, cooked, or in tea. Extracts and capsules may not contain the pure product, since supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Currently, more research is still needed in humans, but lion’s mane mushrooms have been noted in animal studies to have several benefits, including being:

Over time, its healthy compounds may help reduce some physical and mental health symptoms of certain conditions.

Typically, benefits have been measured over a series of weeks or months in studies, suggesting that small changes take place over time — not all in one go.

Is lion’s mane psychoactive?

Lion’s mane mushrooms are not psychoactive, meaning they won’t make you feel “high,” alter your perception, or drastically change your mood.

So far, animal studies have found that lion’s mane mushroom is safe to consume, even at high doses.

But it’s important to note that, as of now, the FDA has not approved lion’s mane as a safe or effective supplement to treat any health conditions or diseases, despite its long-standing use as a natural remedy for many ailments.

In general, it’s typically a good idea to check with your doctor before incorporating lion’s mane mushroom or any other supplements into your diet, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you do want to try lion’s mane in supplement form, you can look for one from a reputable brand with a third-party certification you trust that uses high-quality ingredients sourced sustainably.

From brain benefits to cardiovascular health, the research on lion’s manes’ benefits is growing all the time.

Antidepressant effects

A 2018 study found that lion’s mane extract had an antidepressant effect on stressed-out mice after 14 days of use.

Researchers noted that this positive effect could be due to a combination of factors, like increased neurotransmitters in the hippocampus and a reduction of brain inflammation.

Anxiety relief

Another 2018 study in mice found that lion’s mane mushroom promoted the production of new brain cells in the hippocampus after just 4 weeks of once-a-day treatment, which may be behind its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects.

Improved cognitive function

Lion’s mane is often sold as nootropics — a cognitive-enhancing supplement.

One 2017 study in mice found that daily supplementation of lion’s mane mushroom prevented the decline of two functions commonly associated with Alzheimer’s: loss of spatial short-term memory and decreased recognition memory.

During the experiment, these same mice started seeking out new stimuli, which engages new neural pathways and delays the onset of cognitive impairment.

A 2020 survey also reported that participants who supplemented 3 grams of lion’s mane 2 times a day (for a total of 6 grams) reported enhanced memory.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants help your body get rid of “free radicals,” or molecules that can damage cells.

Research has shown that lion’s mane is rich in several antioxidants, especially phenol, an antioxidant absorbed in the gut to reduce inflammation.

In an older study in 2011, lion’s mane was placed in the “relatively high” category on their antioxidant index, along with reishi and split gill mushrooms.

A 2021 study found that antioxidant activity remained stable in mushroom extracts for at least a month, decreasing by half around the 4-month mark.

Boosted immunity

With all the antioxidants, it’s no surprise that lion’s mane may help support your immune system. But researchers have discovered another route to better immunity: the gut.

A 2017 study in mice found that the protein in lion’s mane mushrooms could improve the immune system by supporting the colony of healthy bacteria in the gut, much like prebiotics and probiotics.

Other health features

Lion’s mane mushroom boasts many other health benefits beyond mental health, including:

  • lowered cholesterol
  • cancer prevention
  • diabetes management
  • preventing ulcers

The benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms may run the gamut — from preventing ulcers and some cancers to improving cognitive function. But since the current research has mainly been conducted on mice and rats, more research in humans is needed.

This mushroom can be incorporated into your life in many ways, such as cooking lion’s mane on the stove or steeping for tea or coffee.

While lion’s mane may help with some symptoms of depression and anxiety, mushrooms are not a cure-all.

Before you start taking lion’s mane, you may want to first check in with a doctor to see if it makes sense to include in your wellness routine. These mushrooms might be a good complement to your overall treatment plan, but it’s best to work this out with a healthcare professional to avoid any interactions.