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Daisy Daisy Daisy HAGFISH!
You've noticed it on your nature walks several times now—that unearthly thing stuck to the side of the fallen hardwood tree you always walk by?
It looks like a ... brain dipped in hot wax, all dripping tendrils and white, tissue-like coloration. Yuck! I mean,"Wondrous!"
Lion's Mane. A Scary-Looking Neuronal Savior.
That brain dipped in hot wax and stuck to the side of a dead tree? It's a friendly mushroom, if you can believe it. Hericium erinaceus, to be exact. More commonly know as Lion's Mane (clearly "Hot Waxy Brain" came up short during the voting), this dramatic looking shroom is found bulging from the sides of decaying and fallen hardwood trees throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
Lion's Mane: Yes on Nootropics
Nootropics are drugs and supplements that purport to improve cognitive function. Lion's Mane is a much-studied, much written-about natural nootropic whose effects have been observed at the chemical/molecular level by avid science-types. For the longest time it was thought nerves didn't regrow or repair. Au contraire. Here is what they've found. And published.
1. Nerve Growth — Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) is a biomolecule that acts as a nanny to neurons.
Lion's Mane has been shown to increase mRNA expression of nerve-growth factor (NGF) in isolated astrocytes1. These specialized star-shaped glial cells repair damaged tissue in the nervous system, broker communications between neurons, and maintain the so-called blood-brain barrier that keeps toxins in the blood from entering the brain from the bloodstream.
2. Guard Dog for Your Neurons — Scientists induced, by degrees, the death of neurons by specifically stressing them in the lab. An isolate from Lion's Mane with the musical name 3-hydroxyhericenone, acted as a protector of the stressed neurons, preserving them from cell death for longer than would naturally have been the case2. Brain cell death is a contributor to dementia, though the exact mechanism connecting neuronal call death and dementia is still being studied.
3. The Nerve! (Regrowth, that is) — Lion's Mane extract was found to promote regrowth of neurites after a crushing injury. A damaged gluteal nerve seemed to rehabilitate after the subject drank Lion's Mane-laced water3. Researchers are studying applications of Lion's Mane in the treatment of neurological disorders.
4. Cognition Ignition — A study using "3g of 98% Lion's Mane powder in capsule form" showed there were measurable improvements in the degree of dementia in a group suffering broad cognitive decline4. Four weeks after the administration of Lion's Mane stopped, cognition showed a marked decline, but at baseline was still higher than when the study began.
Lion's Mane and Your Heart, Liver, Blood ... aw just read the list.
Once the talk turns to the Brain, all other subjects seem to become secondary. Heart? Blood? Liver? Ho hum! But Lion's Mane has been road-tested through the eons by practitioners of traditional medicine (first adopters were the Chinese), and does more than just polish the gray matter.
Following several thousand years of indigenous "field testing", Western science comes strolling onto the scene with their nagging questions and clipboards, and is just now catching up with traditional user experience of Lion's Mane; catching up in a jiffy, it must be said. Once Lion’s Mane began to give up its secret medicinal identity in controlled studies, researchers begun plumbing its depths in earnest.
Clinically reported properties of the mushroom include antibiotic, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective (liver-loving), anticarcinogenic, antidiabetic, antifatigue, antihypertensive, antihyperlipodemic ("bad" cholesterol-whipping), nephroprotective (kidney-kindness), and, notably, its neuroprotective (brain food!) properties5.
Why nature saw fit to pack all that medicine into a fright wig that grows on dead trees? Hey, if we understood how All This works, we would be nature, right? ... Hello?
Lion's Mane, Metabolites, and Fortuitous Fungal Fabulousness
Research is being done on this unusually potent fungus across a wide range of studies. So far about 70 bioactive metabolites inherent to Lion’s Mane are being pursued for
their possible roles in battling progressive neurological diseases. Yes, the scientists are all over this one. To our common benefit.
Traditional Asian culture has long made manifold use of Lion's Mane as an ulcer-fighting, stamina-gifting, cancer-battling, immune system-buffing, mind-sharpening superfood. Though they would not have phrased it that way.
Today, Lion's Mane is under the modern microscope for everything from Alzheimer's research to cancer therapy studies. Which is to say, this Lion has been making noise for several millennia to those who had ears to hear.
Now that modern Western science is paying scrupulous attention to this weird-looking new partner-in-survival, the music of nature's healing roar is more audible than ever. May we open our hearts, cells, and minds to nature’s pharmacopeia. It really is time, isn’t it?
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