There are all kinds of Lion’s Mane mushroom supplements: extracts, tinctures, and powders, just to name a few. But, given all the options and few details about their effects, how can you know what is the best Lion’s Mane supplement? Which one will give you the health benefits you are looking for?
Here, we’ll explain exactly what is the best type of supplement to take for Lion’s Mane’s nootropic properties and cognition-boosting effects. If your priorities are the anti-cancer, antioxidant, and immune system benefits, don’t worry. We’ll cover that too!
Table of Contents
- Best supplement for cognitive benefits
- Best supplement for immunity benefits
- What type of supplement (tinctures, powders, etc.) is best?
- Why are alcohol extracts better than water?
- What’s better, fruiting body or mycelium?
Best supplement for cognitive benefits
There are three types of supplements with evidence behind their neuroprotective capabilities. If you are trying to alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression, boost your mood, improve your memory, or even treat neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, the best Lion’s Mane supplement for you may be one of the following:
- alcohol-extracted mycelium (contains erinacines)
- alcohol-extracted fruiting body (contains hericenones)
- combination of the above
These supplements contain certain compounds (erinacines or hericenones) which are known to boost cognition. Not all supplements contain these compounds, because they are only bioavailable after alcohol extraction.
Read on to get more details behind why these supplements ensure you’re getting all the mind-boosting benefits of Lion’s Mane. You’ll also learn why other types of supplements, like water extracts, may not be as effective.
Also, check out our dosing guide to get some advice on what to look out for when purchasing supplements.
Best supplement for immunity benefits
If you’re taking Lion’s Mane for it’s immune-boosting properties, like its anticarcinogenic effects and antitumor potential, then you may benefit more from a supplement that contains polysaccharides. That means the best Lion’s Mane supplement for you may be:
- powdered fruiting body (contains beta-glucan polysaccharides)
- water-extracted fruiting body (contains beta-glucan polysaccharides)
If you currently are taking a supplement not in the designated category of your treatment, don’t worry! You may still get the other benefits. For example, alcohol-extracted Lion’s Mane sometimes contains polysaccharides (Kim, 2011). Pure, powdered fruiting body alone can enhance cognition (Mori, Inatomi, 2008). Just keep these general guidelines in mind the next time you purchase Lion’s Mane.
What type of supplement (tinctures, powders, etc.) is best?
The best Lion’s Mane supplements are extractions, because these provide much higher concentrations of the health-boosting compounds in the mushroom. Plus, most human studies evaluate the health benefits of extracts.
Before diving into the best supplement, we need to first define the different categories of products out there:
- Not extracted
- mushroom (actual fruiting body in original form)
- dried and powdered mushroom (fruiting body)
- extraction (using hot water) of fruiting body and/or mycelium
- extraction (using alcohol) of fruiting body and/or mycelium
- dual extraction (using both alcohol and hot water) of fruiting body and/or mycelium
Non-extractions are the same as consuming the original form of the mushroom (or its dried and powdered representation). These are the most “natural” ways to consume Lion’s Mane, but they are at a disadvantage. Extractions break down the mushroom and make accessible certain health-promoting compounds that are inaccessible in the natural form of the mushroom. Furthermore, certain extractions mean that the health-boosting benefits are concentrated, so you’re getting hundreds of mushrooms worth of benefits in just one small capsule.
Before diving into extracts, it’s worth noting that even simple, dried Lion’s Mane powder is associated with some health-boosting properties. Mice who took H. erianceus dry powder for seven days had an increased level of NGF mRNA expression (jump ahead to see why NGF is important) (Mori, 2008). Benefits have also been reported in humans. 3g/day of dried Lion’s Mane powder for 16 weeks improved cognition for Japanese seniors (Mori, Inatomi, 2008). 2g/day of powdered fruiting body alleviated symptoms of anxiety for some women after 4 weeks (Nagano, 2010).
However, the majority of research on Lion’s Mane’s health benefits is based on extracted forms of the mushroom (Jiang, 2014). You will get way more bang for your buck when purchasing extracts.
Why are alcohol extracts better than water?
Alcohol extracts have more cognitive benefits than other forms of Lion’s Mane.
Before answering this question, let’s remind ourselves of one of the key health-boosting activities of Lion’s Mane: nerve growth factor (NGF).
What is NGF and why is it important?
Nerve growth factors (NGF) are small proteins that play an important role in mental health. They support neuronal plasticity, your brain’s ability to change its structure and re-wire itself, which is also one of the key mechanisms in how antidepressant drugs work (Castrén, 2017). NGF supports many brain processes and aspects of our being such as memory, learning, moods, anxiety, and emotions. Many studies show that increasing NGF levels helps to alleviate depression and anxiety, and to enhance learning and memory (Conner, 2009; Chong, 2019). NGF may also be a a possible treatment for dementia (Jönhagen, 2000).
NGF in Lion’s Mane
Hericium erinaceus extracted using alcohol (ethanol or ethyl acetate) promotes NGF mRNA expression, whereas H. erinaceus extracted using water does not (Mori, 2008). Alcohol extracts are better because only they can extract the compounds responsible for NGF activity: hericenones and erinacines.
There is one notable disadvantage of alcohol extractions, which is that polysaccharides precipitate out in alcohol and won’t be present in the final product. The beta-glucan polysaccharides in Lion’s Mane contribute to a range of health benefits. They promote anti-cancer, antioxidant, immuno-modulating and neuroprotective activities (Khan, 2013).
However, alcohol extracts do not necessarily precipitate all polysaccharides. For example, one study evaluating the anti-cancer properties of Hericium erinaceus found that both ethanol and water extracts reduced tumor weights in mice. More importantly, both extracts had a similar content of beta-glucan polysaccharides (Kim, 2011).
What’s better, fruiting body or mycelium?
Both the fruiting body and mycelium contain compounds which provide health benefits. The fruiting body evidence is based more on human studies whereas mycelium research is based on cell analysis.
Hericenones and erinacines
There are two classes of compounds in Lion’s Mane that are associated with the biosynthesis of NGF: hericenones, which are only in the fruiting body, and erinacines, which are only in the mycelium. Although plenty of articles and papers group these two compounds together, they are distinct and have different kinds of evidence to back them up. By figuring out the benefits of each, we can actually put to rest the question of fruiting body versus mycelium.
Both hericenones and erinacines stimulate NGF, and because they have very low molecular weight, they can pass through what is called the blood-brain barrier. This is important because plenty of substances that may contain health-boosting compounds (or compounds that would stimulate NGF) may be beneficial, but if they are too big, they can’t access the brain. Given the size of these compounds in Lion’s Mane, they actually can access the brain and improve our mental health.
Below, we’ll dive into the evidence for each.
Hericenones (fruiting body)
Hericenones have been shown to induce NGF activity (Kawagishi, 1991). Other compounds (dictyophorines) in the fruiting body also promote NGF in rat cells (Kawagishi, 1997). However, the evidence that hericenones have this ability in people is not as readily available. Three types of hericenones (C, D, and E) were specifically evaluated to see if they induced NGF activity in mice, rat, and human cells. Although they did induce NGF mRNA activity for the brain cells of mice, they did not do so for humans or rats (Mori, 2008). Basically, the evidence is inconsistent across species and thus inconclusive. Further studies are needed to see if hericenones are effective in activating NGF synthesis in humans.
Regardless of whether hericenones are responsible, it does seem that the fruiting body provides certain cognitive benefits. Studies on its use for depression and anxiety are limited, but indicate that the fruiting body may help alleviate symptoms (Vigna, 2019, Nagano, 2010, Inanaga, 2014). Compelling studies demonstrate that fruiting body extract (Amycenone), or just dried fruiting body, increases cognitive functioning in seniors (Saitsu, 2019; Mori, 2009; Inanaga, 2014).
Erinacines have neuroprotective benefits, because most erinacines (A-I) show an ability to increase mRNA expression in NGF synthesis in mouse or rat cells. The following erinacines have been shown to stimulate NGF secretion:
- Erinacine A in human cells (Shimbo, 2005; Zhang, 2017)
- Erinacines A, B, and C in mouse cells (Kawagishi, 1994)
- Erinacine D in rat cells (Kawagishi, 1996)
- Erinacines E and F in rat cells (Kawagishi, 1996)
- Erinacine H in rat cells (Lee, 2000)
Erinacine A is particularly well-studied. It has been demonstrated to increase NGF in human cells, to alleviate depression, and to improve conditions of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in mouse models (Shimbo, 2005; Zhang, 2017).
If you are taking Lion’s Mane for its nootropic benefits, to enhance your memory or cognition, or to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety, then the best Lion’s Mane supplement for you is an alcohol-extract (from either mycelium or fruiting body). This ensures you’re getting the NGF-boosting compounds. You can also take alcohol-extracted mycelium supplements, erinacine A-enriched fruiting body supplements, or fruiting body alcohol-extracts. If you’re taking Lion’s Mane for its anti-cancer or immunity benefits, then take the pure, powdered fruiting body.
Check out our dosage guide to read about how much Lion’s Mane to take, and see our comprehensive, unsponsored product review and 3-point buying guide for tips on buying supplements and what to watch out for in mycelium-based supplements.