If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you may wonder about the therapeutic potential of lion’s mane, an edible medicinal mushroom. “Has anyone heard of taking lion’s mane mushrooms for MS?” one MyMSTeam member wrote. “If you do take it, does it work for you?”
Scientists are investigating several chemical compounds in lion’s mane that may be neuroprotective. This means that they protect against damage to your central nervous system. Some researchers are evaluating whether lion’s mane could be part of a comprehensive approach to treating MS. It is still too early to determine whether lion’s mane relieves MS symptoms and whether it’s safe to take. Talk to your neurologist before adding lion’s mane (or any dietary supplements) to your treatment program.
Here’s what you need to know about lion’s mane mushrooms and MS.
A member of the basidiomycetes family of fungi, the lion’s mane mushroom goes by many names, including yamabushitake, monkey’s head, and Hericium erinaceus. Lion’s mane mushrooms grow naturally in Asia, Europe, and North America. Lion’s mane is said to smell and taste a bit like seafood. In fact, these mushrooms are often used as vegan-friendly substitutes for recipes that call for crab or shrimp. They can be eaten cooked or raw.
Lion’s mane mushrooms have been used in both Asian cuisine and medicines for centuries. In the U.S., the use of lion’s mane for health purposes is considered to be integrative, alternative, or complementary medicine. Lion’s mane is believed to have antineoplastic, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Some people believe these mushrooms also support immune function, cognitive function, mental health, and general well-being.
In addition to the actual mushrooms, some people choose to take lion’s mane supplements. To create these products, the bioactive compounds are extracted from the mushroom’s fruiting body and mycelia. These lion’s mane extracts are processed into different formulations (capsules, pills, powder, tincture, etc.). The diversity of formulations means the supplement can be consumed in many ways — including in cooking and baking.
“I take lion’s mane mushroom powder,” said one MyMSTeam member. “I don’t like pills, and the powder has no flavor, so I can put it in my yogurt.” Another shared, “I take lion’s mane in powder form, usually in a smoothie for breakfast.”
There aren’t many published studies about lion’s mane and its specific impact on MS. Research into lion’s mane and neurological conditions is still in its early phases and mostly in animal models. More research is necessary to determine whether lion’s mane effectively treats MS symptoms.
Lion’s mane has several chemicals, called bioactive compounds, that are believed to affect the central nervous system. Scientists are researching many of these compounds, which are believed to give lion’s mane its potential health benefits.
Neurotrophic, or neuroregenerative, compounds can be found in lion’s mane mushrooms. These compounds are said to encourage the growth of nerve cells (neurons) and axons. Erinacines and hericenones are bioactive compounds thought to protect against nerve damage and stimulate nerve regeneration and repair.
Some people believe lion’s mane has neuroprotective compounds that may protect against the inflammatory effects of MS. “I have taken it for over a year. I do not have cognitive problems and feel it is wonderful,” a member of MyMSTeam said. “I will not quit taking it!”
Lion’s mane contains certain carbohydrates (e.g., oligosaccharides and polysaccharides) that may reduce the buildup of abnormal proteins, called amyloids. These amyloid buildups (also called plaques) may contribute to cognitive problems caused by MS lesions.
Certain antioxidants in lion’s mane may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress while stimulating the production of neuroprotective chemicals that extend the life and function of nerves.
Many of these results are anecdotal or appear in very limited research, so it’s important to speak with a medical professional before adding lion’s mane to your diet.
Lion’s mane mushrooms have been safely eaten for hundreds of years. No major adverse effects have been reported in the clinical studies done on both animals and humans. Keep in mind, however, that reports of safety data are limited, and clinical research is in its very early stages regarding lion’s mane safety in those with MS.
As with any drug or supplement, there are possible risks associated with adding lion’s mane supplements to your MS treatment regimen. Always seek medical advice before adding any dietary supplements to your MS treatment regimen.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has policies, programs, and personnel to ensure the lion’s mane mushrooms in the produce section of your grocery store are safe and meet (or exceed) quality standards. Supplements, however, do not fall under the FDA’s concern, and safety standards for dietary supplements are much less strict.
This lack of quality control can make it hard to ensure dietary supplement quality or monitor the conditions the lion’s mane mushrooms were grown and processed under. Supplement manufacturers do not have to report safety issues if any arise. This lack of reporting can lead to incomplete or incorrect safety data and delays in warning people or recalling these types of products.
Although there are no specific known risks, lion’s mane may cause side effects. If you are allergic or have a history of mushroom allergies, or if you’re nursing or pregnant, you should get a medical professional’s explicit approval before consuming lion’s mane mushrooms.
Dietary supplements can interact with medications and with each other. There are no guidelines regarding how MS drugs and dietary supplements or herbal remedies might interact. There is currently no data on the effects of lion’s mane on MS drugs like disease-modifying therapies. Remember to tell your health care provider about the other drugs and supplements you’re taking before starting any new herbal remedies, medications, or supplements.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and their loved ones. MyMSTeam is a community of more than 185,000 members where people come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories.
Have you used lion’s mane mushrooms medicinally? How did they work for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.
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