Mushrooms seem to do just about everything, medicinally-speaking. Let’s dive into what they do for the brain. A good topic for me considering the mild concussion I got several months ago from a wayward heal in jiu jitsu along with the family history of dementia.
Tradition tells us that several mushrooms may help keep our brain cranking as we grow older. More recently, a 6-year-long study of over 13,000 adults in Japan found that folks who ate mushrooms 3 or more times weekly were less likely to develop dementia over than those who ate mushrooms less than once a week (1). While this didn’t focus on any particular mushroom, we know that there are some that may be particularly good allies for the ol’ noggin. Here are four mushrooms to try if you want to give your brain an extra boost!
Lion’s Mane (Hericeum erinaceus)
Lion’s Mane is the best known mushroom when it comes to brain function. And this gourmet mushroom tastes really good…let’s hear it for delicious functional foods. This one’s been in my daily formula since getting kicked in the head.
Research has shown that Lion’s Mane improved brain function in folks with mild cognitive impairment after just 8 weeks (2). The study used 250 milligrams of dried Lion’s Mane powder 3 times a day compared to placebo. Brain function continued to improve further until the study ended at 16 weeks. 4 weeks after the study ended, brain function started went back down (2), suggesting that either the time on the mushroom wasn’t sufficient for long term effects to stick or that the mushroom needs to be continually taken for benefit.
More mechanistic studies show that lion’s mane reduces memory impairment caused by β-amyloid, the brain-damaging substance that accumulates in Alzheimer’s Disease (3). Lion’s mane may even be able to stimulate nerve regeneration after injury (3).
In addition to cognitive ability, Lion’s Mane may also impact mood. A small study in menopausal women found that eating cookies spiked with Lion’s Mane mushroom improved mood after just 4 weeks compared to cookies lacking the added mushroom (4).
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi, aka “Mushroom of Immortality,” has been used for millennia as a longevity tonic. Reishi shows antioxidant effects in the brain, protecting cells from damage by free radicals. Think of it as protection against “brain rust.” Reishi also has the potential to reduce inflammatory damage to the brain.
Like Lion’s Mane, Reishi may reduce the problems caused by β-amyloid accumulation in the brain (5). Also like Lion’s Mane, Reishi may be able to promote regeneration of nerve cells (5).
Reishi is great as a simmered tea, powder, double extract or encapsulated powdered extract. Make sure the powder has been heat-treated (you can call the company from which you bought it). This makes bioavailable the goodies the mushroom has to offer.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris, C. sinensis)
Cordyceps is another mushroom that may be capable of stimulating nerve growth, at least based on cell culture models (6). The relevance of this in people remains to be determined. Commercially grown Cordyceps will come as a powder that you can add to soups, stews or smoothies. As with other mushroom powders, make sure it’s been heat treated to break open the cell walls. Or Cordyceps can be used as a double extract or encapsulated powdered extract.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake is yet another mushroom that stimulates nerve growth in cell culture (6). Like Lion’s Mane, Maitake is a delicious edible mushroom. Have them sauteed or added to soups, stews, etc. Consider combing with Lion’s Mane for a delicious dynamic duo for a happy palate and brain.
This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider before beginning any new regimen. aAny information relating to specific medical conditions, health care, preventive care, and healthy lifestyles, is presented for general informational purposes only.
1) Zhang, S, et al (2017) Mushroom Consumption and Incident Dementia in Elderly Japanese: The Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 65(7):1462-1469.
2) Mori, K, et al (2009) Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 23(3):367-72.
3) Nagano, M, et al (2010) Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomed Res. 31(4):231-7.
4) Phan, C-W, et al (2014) Therapeutic potential of culinary-medicinal mushrooms for the management of neurodegenerative diseases: diversity, metabolite, and mechanism. Crit Rev Biotechnol. 35(3):355-68.
5) Huang, S, et al (2017) Polysaccharides from Ganoderma lucidum Promote Cognitive Function and Neural Progenitor Proliferation in Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease. Stem Cell Rep. 8:84-94.
6) Phan, C-W, et al (2017) Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms: Emerging Brain Food for the Mitigation of Neurodegenerative Diseases. J Food Med. 20(1):1-10.