Food foundation

The mushroom that benefits the brain and fights cancer

An edible mushroom I came across lately, has intrigued me because of the number of its medicinal properties, and especially as a cognitive enhancer. His Latin name is Hericium erinaceus, but is known by many other names including Lion’s Mane, Pom Pom, Bear’s Head, Yamabushitake (in Japanese) and Houston ( Chinese).

It can be easily identified because of its “furry” look, which consists in long spines, and the color, which varies from white, when young, to a light yellow, when older.

It has been been considered a real gourmet especially because of the distinctive taste that resemble to sea fish, and the spongy texture. In China for long time it was exclusively consumed by Royalty. Now that it is also cultivated, it makes more an appearance to Asian markets. When fresh, the Chinese like it chopped and sautéed with sesame oil, ginger and other fresh herbs, or oyster sauce; when dried, it gets soaked, sliced and then added to soups. It definitely adds an exotic twist to dishes.

This mushroom,  which grows in several places in Europe, US and Asia or wherever  the atmosphere is moist, has been known for hundred of years in China and Japan also because of its medicinal benefits: immune system booster, anti cancer, anti bacteria, anti inflammation, liver and gut protector, but also cognitive promoter, and mood lifter. As for other medicinal mushrooms, the health benefits are due to specific compounds called polysaccharides.

It’s fascinating its therapeutic effects on the brain. Buddhist monks have been using it for thousands of years to increase their ability to concentrate during their meditating practises.

Studies in Japan proved that it has cholinergic effects thanks to its ability to enhance the level of acetylcholine (Ach), a chemical that helps the communication between nerve cells, and to promote choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), an enzyme that produce acetylcholine. Also, it helps to reduce the plaques in the brain. Both, low cholinergic activities in the brain, and presence of plaques are common in people with cognitive impairments and Alzheimer.

It slow down the progression of Parkinson’s diseases by protecting dopaminergic cells from been lost. A Low dopaminergic activity in the brain is also associated with motor deficit and Parkinson.

A study on menopausal symptoms, confirmed the benefit of amycenone, one of his component, on reducing conditions like lack of concentration, irritability, anxiety and depression.

Another unique compound, called erinacines, which can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, stimulate the synthesis of the Nerve Growth FActor (NGF). The NGF, which was discovered by the Nobel Prize Winner Rita Levi-Montalcini, is a protein involved in the regulation of maintenance, regeneration and proliferations on nerve cells. It’s  with no doubts, the most powerful neuroscientific discovery: brain cells get repaired, replaced and new neural connections established at any age; neurodegenerative conditions like dementia, Parkinson and Alzheimer could be reversed, or at least the mood, memory and cognitive functions of unhealthy brains improved, and the ones of healthy ones optimised.

Doctor Levi-Montalcini, who kept working on NGF’s role in neurogenesis and brain health until she passed away at the age of 103, claimed that she felt sharper at the age of 100 then when she was in her twenties. And, the NGF’s eye drops made from the extraction of Lion Mane’s mushrooms she used to take on a regular basis, may have contributed to her exceptional mental acuity.


Sauteed Lion’s Mane Mushroom

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