LION’S MANE, THE FUNGUS THAT HELPS YOUR BRAIN AND IMPROVES YOUR GASTROINTESTINAL HEALTH
Víctor Blasco, PhD in Chemistry. Specialist in Medicinal Chemistry.
Fungi and humans have been closely related since the beginning of civilisation, and they have played an important role in the development of humanity since time immemorial.
When we think of fungi, we all think of mushrooms, mushrooms, and even yeast, species known for their nutritional properties and commonly used in traditional cooking. On the other hand, for thousands of years, mushrooms have been used in ancient cultures for their neurotropic properties, being able to affect the central nervous system and cause hallucinogenic effects. Another of the applications that has recently attracted most interest is their ability to decontaminate agricultural soils, given their chelating effect, which allows them to capture metals and other types of pollutants in a process known as mycoremediation.
Over time, a large number of new pharmacological properties have been discovered that have aroused the curiosity of the scientific community. Examples include the fungus Penicillium Notatum, whose observation led to the development of penicillin and antibiotics, and the fungi of the Ganoderma family, which are said to have anti-tumour properties.
Nowadays, numerous mushrooms are attributed with a wide variety of medicinal properties and are frequently used to treat a multitude of pathologies affecting human beings. They have been used, especially in Asian countries, for the treatment of infectious diseases, although nowadays they are also of great importance in the treatment of lung diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, intestinal diseases, mental disorders and even in the fight against cancer. In addition, it has been observed that certain species can help to strengthen the immune system.
For the case in point, we are going to focus on a species of edible mushroom known for its imposing visual image, which resembles a frozen waterfall or a majestic lion’s mane, hence its curious popular name: Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erináceus). This fungus grows mainly on old or dead trees and is widespread in many regions of the world. It has a rounded body covered with spines that all emerge from the same point and cascade like a mop.
Hericium contains a multitude of active biomolecules that give it some really interesting pharmacological properties. It is composed of beta-glucans, polysaccharides, erinacines, hericenones, ergosterol (provitamin D2) and natural GABA, among others. They are considered to play a role in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, as an antidepressant, to strengthen gastrointestinal health and to boost the immune system.
Firstly, it is worth mentioning that this fungus has an important nootropic effect, capable of boosting the brain’s cognitive functions, attention and memory. This is possible because it stimulates the production of nerve growth factor (NGF) , a small protein directly involved in the development of neurons in the central and peripheral nervous system. In particular, it enhances the growth and branching of axons, optimising overall brain function. 
As mentioned above, this mushroom extract contains erinacines and hericenones, which play a key role in the protection, regeneration and repair of neurons through the stimulation of NGF, which also enhances the renewal of the protective myelin sheath that covers the axons, reinforcing the cognitive functions described above. 
With all of the above, there are studies indicating that extracts of Hericium Erinaceus, by preventing neuronal deterioration and nerve cell apoptosis, may behave as a neuroprotective agent for the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. 
On the other hand, one of the major problems suffered by a large number of people living in developed countries is related to anxiety and depression. Although there are various causes, one of the factors that regularly manifests itself in these disorders is inflammation. Well, lion’s mane extracts have been shown to possess certain anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce the symptoms associated with these conditions. 
In conjunction, extract of this mushroom has also been shown to promote neurogenesis in the hippocampus,  the region of the brain responsible for emotional responses, which may also translate into a significant reduction in anxiety and stress experienced by individuals.
However, current research into the antidepressant action of Hericium erinaceus is still in the early stages and the specific mechanisms of its mode of action still require further investigation.
Another of the mushroom’s most notable uses is its ability to improve gastrointestinal health. Several scientific studies have highlighted its importance in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, as it is able to regulate the intestinal microbiota and, consequently, the immune system. 
There is a close link between the balance of the gut microbiota and the immune system, so the consumption of certain bioactive substances can have a significant impact on our immunity. In this regard, it is thought that the polysaccharides present in the mushroom Hericium erinaceus may act as prebiotic agents, helping to stabilise the gut flora. Beta-glucans, on the other hand, are considered to be immunomodulatory substances capable of strengthening the immune system, thus helping to combat the harmful action of certain external agents that can cause problems for our gastrointestinal health.
Finally, given their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, extracts of this fungus also help to combat inflammatory problems in the intestine, such as ulcers, Crohn’s disease or chronic inflammation of the intestinal mucosa.
These are the most notable properties attributed to this mushroom, whose active ingredients promote the well-being of our body in general. The Lion’s Mane mushroom is becoming very important for the treatment of a large number of disorders related to the nervous system and cognitive function. Also, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, it has important benefits for gastrointestinal health and strengthening the immune system. The antidepressant action of this mushroom is also being studied, with potential effects for counteracting this pathology. All in all, it is considered an ideal complement for improving individual health, and there is increasing research into its potential benefits for many other physiological systems in the body.
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