If you're into all things natural, the term 'adaptogen' may already be familiar to you.
Adaptogens are substances commonly used in herbal medicine, and many believe they can help balance our physiological processes, improve cognitive function and general wellbeing, and even promote homeostasis.
One of the most popular and effective adaptogens is undoubtedly Lion’s Mane mushroom.
How does an adaptogen work though? And what will it do for you?
Well, stick with us and read on to learn more about adaptogens in general, and more specifically, lion’s mane as one of the most powerful adaptogens there is!
- What Is Lion's Mane?
- What Is An Adaptogen?
- What Makes An Adaptogen?
- Is Lion's Mane An Adaptogen?
- Do Adaptogens Have Side Effects?
- An Important Note
- Final Thoughts
What Is Lion's Mane?
Lion's mane mushroom has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine.
Lion's mane (or Hericium erinaceus) was first discovered around 2,000 years ago in mountainous areas of Asia.
It loves growing on specific trees and is most commonly found growing in the wild on hardwoods such as black walnut, maple, beech, and birch.
At first, lion's mane was used as a longevity tonic and as a medicine to support overall immunity. It was firmly believed to heal the spleen, and ever since it was first discovered, it has been believed to provide powerful anti-cancer benefits.
Although modern human research on the effects of lion's mane is still in relatively early stages, there are a number of animal studies that indicate some of these benefits may be true.
What Is An Adaptogen?
An adaptogen is simply a herb that helps the body to adjust to stress and environmental changes.
It can help you feel more energized, focused, relaxed or calm when you need it most.
There are many different medicinal herbs that classify as adaptogens, including ginseng, ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea, Eleutherococcus senticosus, Cordyceps sinensis, holy basil, licorice root, reishi and many many more.
Adaptogens work by helping your body adapt to all kinds of different stressors such as physical activity, emotional distress, and environmental factors like temperature and humidity.
They are said to help to increase stamina, endurance, and mental clarity, and may also support the maintenance of homeostasis in the body.
On a scientific level, animal and test-tube studies indicate that adaptogens may be able to produce antidepressive, nootropic, neuroprotective, and anxiolytic effects.
This may increase our mental work capacity, help reduce the symptoms of stress, fatigue, and anxiety, and help improve our attention spans.
What Makes An Adaptogen?
So, what exactly makes an adaptogen?
Adaptogens contain compounds called phytochemicals which are responsible for their healthful and ‘adaptogenic’ qualities.
Phytochemical compounds are organic molecules produced by living organisms, such as plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and algae.
The word "phyto" means plant, and these compounds are often referred to as secondary metabolites.
Phytochemicals are responsible for giving plants their colors, flavors, fragrances, medicinal values, and nutritional value.
Some examples of phytochemical compounds include flavonoids, phenolic acids, alkaloids, terpenes, carotenoids, tannins, saponins, coumarins, and lignans - just to name a few!
And better yet, some of these compounds are known to have antioxidant, anticancer, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties!
Is Lion's Mane An Adaptogen?
Lion's mane, like many other mushrooms, is believed to contain adaptogenic properties.
Lion's mane contains several adaptogenic elements, including antioxidants, minerals, amino acids, vitamins, and polysaccharides - and can be easily taken as a high-quality extract such as SuperFeast Lion's Mane powder.
Let’s go through them briefly:
Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable oxygen-based molecules that cause cellular damage and it’s believed that antioxidants neutralize free radicals and prevent them from damaging healthy cells.
Minerals are essential nutrients that play important roles in maintaining good health.A deficiency in certain minerals can lead to problems with memory, concentration, mood, and energy levels - among many other things.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Protein is required for the growth, repair, and maintenance of all tissues in the body. Certain amino acids are used to make neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that control moods, emotions, and behaviour.
Vitamins are necessary for proper metabolism and function of the body. Vitamins are involved in hundreds of chemical reactions within the body and help maintain normal functioning.
Specifically - vitamin B6 plays a role in producing serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and melatonin, which are neurotransmitters that affect mood and sleep cycles.
Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates found in plants. They are considered part of the fibre content of food because they are not digested or absorbed by the human digestive tract.
However, polysaccharides are also thought to be beneficial to overall health because they provide bulk to the intestines, stimulate the immune system, and may assist in weight loss.
Do Adaptogens Have Side Effects?
Adaptogens are a very broad class and some herbs and plants that can be classified as an adaptogen can actually trigger side effects.
For example, some studies have found that adaptogens like ginseng have been associated with increased heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety in small numbers of people.
So, what about lion's mane mushroom?
Although the general consensus is that lion's mane mushroom is safe, some side effects have been reported, although these appear to be most common in users who are allergic to mushrooms and only show up in very small numbers of users.
In toxicity studies, adaptogens such as Schisandra chinensis and Rhodiola rosea were found to be safe for human consumption, and these toxicology studies actually suggest that they may produce some anti-toxic activity in the body.
Remember - when talking about adaptogens, we are talking about a large category that includes many different herbs and plants - many of which can produce sie effects in portions of the human population - much the same as pharmaceutical medicine does.
Always be to consult your GP before taking any adaptogen, and be sure to research the side effects specific to the adaptogen you are considering taking.
An Important Note
One important thing to remember is that just because a substance is natural, that doesn't mean it's safe.
Human research into the long-term effects of adaptogens such as lion's mane is still in its relatively early stages.
Although initial research is promising, we still have a long way to go before we can understand the full effects of adaptogens such as lion’s mane.
One thing is for sure though - there IS definitely some exciting science emerging to support the power of adaptogens and their positive impacts on the human mind and body.
Watch this space!
Lion's mane mushroom contains several adaptogenic properties and can therefore definitely be regarded as an adaptogen.
As a fungus, lion's mane isn't alone in this regard, either. Many other mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake, and turkey tail are also powerful adaptogens.
Although the research surrounding lion's mane mushroom is currently limited (although promising), thousands of years of Traditional Chinese Medicine tell us that its adaptogenic qualities may help improve our cognitive function, immune systems, mental health, and overall wellbeing.