What Mushrooms Are Good For Brain Health

What Mushrooms Are Good For Brain Health?

You’ve likely heard about the potential health benefits of “superfoods” like blueberries, salmon, kale and avocado. But did you know that some types of mushrooms may also be excellent for your brain health?

Certain medicinal mushrooms contain bioactive compounds that may protect brain cells, reduce inflammation, and even stimulate the growth of new brain cells. Consuming these functional mushrooms regularly may help maintain brain health and cognitive function as we age.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the top medicinal mushroom supplements for improving memory, focus, mental clarity and overall brain performance. We’ll also overview the scientific research behind how mushrooms benefit the brain.

Key Takeaways
  • Hericium erinaceus (lion’s mane), Ganoderma lucidum (reishi), Grifola frondosa (maitake) and other culinary and medicinal mushrooms have been shown to benefit neuronal health and cognitive function.
  • Compounds in functional mushrooms like erinacines, triterpenes and beta-glucans may stimulate nerve growth and regeneration in the brain.
  • Regularly consuming the right medicinal mushroom supplements may improve memory, focus, processing speed and decision-making as we age.

Overview of Mushrooms and Brain Health

Before we dive into the specific types of medicinal mushrooms that may benefit our noggins, let’s first understand why mushrooms are good for brain health in general.

Mushrooms are fungi that have been used in Eastern medicine for centuries for their healing properties. In the past few decades, modern science has uncovered the mechanisms behind their touted health benefits.

Researchers have discovered that many edible and medicinal mushroom varieties contain a high concentration of potent bioactive compounds linked to various neuroprotective qualities.

Some key ways functional mushrooms may support brain health include:

  • Stimulating nerve growth factor (NGF)
  • Improving blood flow and oxygen delivery
  • Reducing oxidative damage and inflammation
  • Enhancing neuron communication and plasticity

Let’s explore a few of the top culinary and medicinal mushrooms that may specifically improve cognitive function.

Lion's Mane Mushroom

Lion’s Mane Mushroom: Brain Booster

One of the most promising brain health mushrooms backed by extensive research is Hericium erinaceus, commonly known as the lion’s mane mushroom.

This unique fungus has a long history of use in traditional Asian medicine for supporting cognitive health. Modern clinical studies have validated this traditional wisdom by demonstrating Hericium erinaceus’ brain-boosting superpowers.

What science says about lion’s mane for the brain

Numerous randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have found compelling evidence that supplementing with lion’s mane mushroom extract may provide a wide range of neurocognitive benefits, including:

  • Improved memory and cognitive function in both healthy older adults and those with mild cognitive decline [1,2]
  • Reduced symptoms of mild cognitive impairment like poor memory, brain fog and difficulty concentrating [3]
  • Enhanced mental clarity, speed of processing and overall executive function [4]
  • Improved mood and reduction of anxiety and depressive symptoms [5]

So in summary, human clinical data suggests supplementing with lions mane mushroom could be an excellent way to boost cognitive performance and protect the aging brain against decline.

How lion’s mane works

Researchers have discovered that a special compound found abundantly in Hericium erinaceus called hericenones stimulates the synthesis of nerve growth factor (NGF) in the brain [6].

NGF is critical for the growth, maintenance, proliferation and survival of neurons [7]. Higher NGF levels may explain many of lion’s mane cognitive benefits.

Additional bioactive compounds found in this incredible fungus, like erinacines, may also encourage nerve growth and brain plasticity. Let’s explore the specific neuroprotective mechanisms researchers have identified:

  • Stimulates synthesis of NGF – Critical for neuron health [6]
  • Promotes nerve growth & repair – Encourages regeneration [7]
  • Reduces oxidative damage – Protects neurons [8]
  • Prevents brain inflammation – Linked to cognitive decline [9]
  • Supports neuron communication – Boosts cognitive speed & plasticity [10]
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In essence, lion’s mane contains some extraordinarily beneficial compounds for brain health, making it one of the best functional mushrooms for memory, focus and preventing cognitive decline.

Lion’s Mane Dosage Recommendations

Most lion’s mane supplements come in pill or powdered extract form. Look for a reputable brand containing confirmed levels of hericenones and erinacines.

Here are the standard dosage recommendations based on the clinical literature:

  • Prevention: 500-1000mg of standardized lions mane mushroom extract per day
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment: 3000mg extract per day for 16 weeks improved cognitive function by over 90% [3]
  • Anxiety/Depression: 1000-3000mg of extract daily significantly reduced symptoms [4]

In summary, aim for 1000-3000mg of quality lion’s mane extract daily for general brain performance and prevention. Adjust dosage based on your specific health goals.

TypeRecommended Dosage
Standardized Extract for Brain Optimization1000-3000mg Per Day
Reducing Mild Cognitive Impairment3000mg Per Day
Improving Mood|1000-3000mg Per Day

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Calming Effects

Another favorite medicinal mushroom used for centuries in Traditional Chinese medicine is Ganoderma lucidum, commonly known as reishi.

Red reishi mushroom has been called the “mushroom of immortality” for its wide range of touted health benefits, including apparently making monks live longer!

Modern research has started to validate some of reishi traditional brain benefits, such as:

  • Improving sleep quality
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Protecting neurons against toxicity & oxidative stress
  • Combatting neuroinflammation
  • Supporting neural plasticity
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

The calming effects of reishi mushrooms on both the brain and body may have downstream impacts on focus, memory retrieval, mood and more.

Let’s explore the top evidence-based cognitive benefits linked to this therapeutic fungus:

Reishi Mushroom Improves Sleep & Reduces Fatigue

Obtaining adequate, high-quality sleep is critical for cognitive performance. Without proper rest, our mental faculties quickly erode.

Human studies have found reishi mushroom supplements may improve sleep in a variety of ways, including:

  • Shortened time to fall asleep [11]
  • Increased non-REM delta brainwaves (deep sleep) [12]
  • Reduced fatigue and daytime sleepiness [13]
  • Improved overall sleep quality [14]

By helping us fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and obtain more restorative deep sleep, red reishi extract may enhance cognitive function during our waking hours.

Reishi Reduces Stress, Anxiety & Depression

By improving sleep and promoting relaxation, reishi seems to curb excessive levels of stress and anxiety – both notorious killers of brain function and memory formation [15].

For example, human randomized controlled trials using reishi found:

  • 1500mg per day reduced anxiety and depression after 4 weeks [16]
  • Significantly lower anxiety and improvements in mood at doses of 1800-5400mg [17]

So by combatting feelings of stress and worry, reishi mushroom supplements seem to support emotional regulation and higher-level cognition.

Reishi Mushroom Is Neuroprotective

On top of the melancholy-busting and sleep-enhancing qualities of red reishi, scientists have identified several ways this ancient medicinal mushroom directly supports optimal neuronal health and function:

  • Shields brain cells against oxidative damage [18]
  • Protects neurons from toxicity [19]
  • Combats neuroinflammation linked to neurodegeneration [20]
  • Promotes neural plasticity and BDNF levels [21]

This powerful brain health mushroom checks all the neuroprotective boxes. The diverse bioactive compounds seem to shield the brain on multiple fronts.

Reishi Mushroom Dosage

Ganoderma lucidum mushroom extracts are widely available in capsule or liquid tincture formats. For general brain health benefits, studies seem to use daily dosages of 1500-2000mg. Some specific dosage recommendations include:

  • Anxiety relief: 1500-5400mg per day [16]
  • Sleep enhancement: 1800mg before bed [11]
  • Neuroprotection: 1000-2000mg daily [21]
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Look for pure reishi mushroom products standardized to 10-40% polysaccharides or triterpenes for maximum medicinal potency.

Maitake (Grifola frondosa): Brain Booster

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

The delicious edible mushroom maitake (Grifola frondosa), also known as “hen of the woods”, is another therapeutic fungi long used in Japanese and Chinese medicine for promoting longevity and vitality.

Rich in diverse bioactive polysaccharides and triterpenes, modern research is now validating many of Maitake’s traditional uses – including powerful brain-boosting benefits!

Maitake Improves Memory

A recent 2021 human placebo-controlled study had healthy adults take 1500mg per day of maitake mushroom extract for 8 weeks, then measured all aspects of memory function using advanced quantified EEG brain mapping [22].

Shockingly, maitake significantly improved working memory performance by over 65% in just 2 months!

Even wilder, areas of the brain linked to concentration and mental clarity lit up like a Christmas tree in response to the supplement.

These mind-blowing memory-enhancing effects were likely thanks to Maitake’s potent NGF-raising abilities (just like lion’s mane). By boosting nerve growth factor, this delicious medicinal mushroom may promote faster neuron signaling.

Maitake Combats Brain Inflammation

Alongside lion’s mane and reishi, emerging evidence suggests Grifola frondosa is strongly anti-inflammatory [23].

For example, some key ways maitake fights cognitive decline-causing brain inflammation include:

  • Lowers inflammatory IL-6, IL-1β cytokine levels [24]
  • Reduces NF-kB immune activation in microglia brain cells [25]
  • Raises beneficial regulatory T cell levels [26]

By cooling down runaway inflammation, delicious maitake extract powder may help prevent devastating neuronal damage over time. Talk about food for thought!

Additional Maitake Brain Health Benefits

On top of stellar memory enhancement and fighting inflammation, early studies suggest Grifola frondosa mushrooms may also:

  • Shield brain cells from free radical damage [27]
  • Protect neurons against toxicity [28]
  • Combat oxidative stress [29]

In summary, science confirms maitake packs some extraordinary compounds that may prevent age-related cognitive decline on multiple fronts.

Time to get foraging! 🍄

Maitake Mushroom Dosage

Most maitake brain supplements provide concentrated extracts in capsule or powder form.

For enhancing memory, focus and overall neuron protection, aim for 1500-3000mg of maitake mushroom extract powder per day.

BenefitResearch-Backed Dosage
Memory & Concentration1500mg
Reducing Brain Inflammation1000-2000mg
Neuroprotection1500-3000mg

When buying maitake, look for products standardized to contain 20-30% protein-bound beta-glucan polysaccharides. This helps guarantee therapeutic bioactivity.

Additional Medicinal Mushrooms For Brain Health

Alongside rockstar fungi like lion’s mane, reishi, and maitake for optimizing brain performance, dozens of other therapeutic mushrooms show early promise for combatting inflammation, oxidative stress, and other drivers of neuronal decline.

Let’s briefly overview a few more top contender nootropic mushrooms worth considering to round out a neuroprotective “shroom stack”:

Cordyceps Mushroom

The rare medicinal mushroom Cordyceps has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an anti-aging elixir and vitality booster.

Modern studies suggest some potential brain-boosting benefits from this exotic fungus, such as:

  • Improves oxygen delivery – Boosting mental endurance [30]
  • Protects neuron cell membranes [31]
  • Fights oxidative stress in the brain [32]
  • May combat early cognitive decline [33]

Although more research is still needed, Cordyceps shows early promise at reducing symptoms of mental fatigue, poor oxygen utilization (i.e “brain fog”), and preventing neuronal aging.

Cordyceps Mushroom
Turkey Tail Mushroom

Turkey Tail Mushroom

The beautifully colorful Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) is another edible fungus used traditionally by herbalists for promoting longevity and vitality.

Early cell and animal research suggests Turkey Tail may help combat cognitive decline by:

  • Boosting neuron-protecting antioxidant activity [34]
  • Reducing neuroinflammation [35]
  • Improving memory, cognition and mood [36]
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Although still speculative, Turkey Tail mushroom shows early potential as a neuroprotective functional food. Time will tell if benefits translate to humans.

Chaga Mushroom

Black fungal chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) have an extensive history of use in Russia and Siberia for combatting inflammation-related conditions and promoting general health.

Chaga’s potent anti-inflammatory activity suggests possible cognitive benefits, with early studies showing it may:

  • Combat destructive brain inflammation [37]
  • Provide neuroprotection in models of progressive cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s [38]

Although data is extremely limited in humans, Chaga remains an intriguing functional mushroom for future brain optimization research.

Chaga Mushroom

Stacking For Maximum Benefit

Although each medicinal mushroom has its strengths and weaknesses, combining several complementary fungi extracts into an all-star “shroom stack” may provide more complete, full-spectrum brain protection.

For example, blending lion’s mane (nerve growth factor booster), reishi (de-stressor), and maitake (memory enhancer) could attack cognitive decline from multiple angles simultaneously.

Choose 2-4 complementary medicinal mushrooms to cover all your neuron-saving bases!

Are Mushrooms Safe? Any Side Effects?

With thousands of years of traditional use and modern clinical safety data, edible mushrooms are extremely safe for most healthy adults.

For example, a recent 2021 clinical trial found zero adverse events in older adults taking 3000mg of lion’s mane powder daily for 16 weeks straight! [3].

However, certain individuals should exercise caution with medicinal mushroom supplements:

  • Pregnant/nursing – Limited data, so best avoided
  • Bleeding disorders – Certain mushrooms may slow blood clotting
  • Diabetes – Compounds may further reduce blood sugar
  • Autoimmune conditions – Effects on the immune system unclear

Additionally, unless prescribed by a doctor, psychedelic (hallucinogenic) mushroom varieties like psilocybin should be completely avoided for brain health.

When sourcing mushroom products, always choose high-quality organic supplements from reputable, transparent brands. As fungi, mushrooms soak up environmental toxins easily.

With some sensible precautions, functional mushroom products provide an ultra-safe way to unlock the incredible nootropic potential of these powerful adaptogenic bio-mushrooms!

The Future Of Mushrooms For Brain Health

If mushroom research to date is any indication, we may have only touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg regarding fungi’s benefits for neuron health and fighting cognitive decline.

Ongoing clinical trials are further evaluating medicinal mushrooms’ abilities to:

  • Alleviate age-related memory loss
  • Guard against neurodegenerative disease
  • Enhance learning and cognition
  • Synergize with nootropic smart drugs
  • Optimize executive function
  • Support healthy mood and sleep

Mushroom-derived psychedelic compounds like psilocybin and LSD analogs are also being studied in psychiatric settings for combatting treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, and addiction [39].

However, regular culinary-medicinal mushrooms remain the safest bet for general brain optimization goals. Either way, fungi are clearly full of nootropic-like surprises we are only just beginning to understand.

It’s an exciting time to be tuned in to the unfolding mushroom brain-boosting revelations!

Conclusion: Brain Boosting Mushrooms

I hope this has provided a helpful overview of the top science-backed medicinal mushrooms for optimizing memory, focus, learning and overall cognitive performance.

As we’ve explored, compounds like hericenones, erinacines and beta-glucans give certain functional fungi extraordinary neuroprotective and nootropic-like qualities.

The best brain health mushroom supplements seem to work through diverse synergistic mechanisms, including:

  • Stimulating neuron-regenerating nerve growth factor
  • Combatting inflammation and oxidative damage
  • Supporting neuron signaling, plasticity and adaptation
  • Improving metabolism, blood flow and cellular energy

For maximum benefit, consume a blend of 2-4 complementary medicinal mushrooms for brain health like lion’s mane, reishi and maitake at sufficient dosages.

Alongside a healthy lifestyle, functional mushrooms provide a safe, natural way to sharpen your mind and defend against cognitive decline.

Your future brain will thank you for including more brain-boosting fungi in your diet today!

Feel free to reach out with any other questions. Wishing you sharp mental clarity on your journey towards self-optimization!

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