People have used the fungi lion’s mane for centuries as a culinary and natural remedy. It may have use in the treatment of various neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis (MS).

This is because researchers believe the bioactive ingredient in lion’s mane, erinacine A, induces the nerve growth factor (NGF). This is a protein which regulates the growth, development and maintenance of certain neurons in the brain.

However, studies thus far have largely used animals, and further research is needed to determine if the same results will occur in humans.

MS is an autoimmune condition that affects the central nervous system. The immune system of a person with MS attacks the protective layer which surrounds the nerves. This is called the myelin sheath. MS can cause a wide range of symptoms, including issues with balance and coordination, fatigue, and problems with vision.

This article looks at what lion’s mane is, whether it is effective at treating MS, risks and side effects, its interactions with other neurological disorders, and other remedies for MS.

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Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a type of mushroom that has long shaggy spines. They are edible, and have been used in food and herbal remedies since ancient times in East Asia. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North America.

Lion’s mane is also referred to as the pom pom mushroom, Japanese yamabushitake, the hedgehog mushroom, and the bearded tooth mushroom.

Older research from 2011 suggests that lion’s mane may offer a range of health benefits, such as improving cognitive and heart health, and reducing inflammation in mice.

Lion’s mane may be effective in treating MS in the future, however more research is needed, especially on humans.

As previously mentioned, MS causes damage to myelin. Current treatments for MS can reduce the severity of the disease, and slow its progression. However, they do not directly repair damaged myelin.

Researchers and doctors are now trying to form treatment strategies for MS that include neurotrophins, such as NGF, for myelin repair. NGF also regulates key structural proteins that can compromise myelin. NGF also promotes the production of another neurotrophin involved in myelination, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

Researchers view NGF as a possible therapeutic candidate in treating white matter disorders such as MS.

Researchers previously demonstrated that lion’s mane may induce NGF. However, these studies have so far mostly involved animals.

Since people have been safely consuming lion’s mane mushrooms since ancient times (especially in Eastern Asia), the fungi seem to be safe and pose little to no risk of any side effects. People can consume them raw or cooked, as a tea, or dried.

It is more difficult to determine the effectiveness and safety of lion’s mane supplements, as dietary supplements are largely unregulated.

Researchers who have studied the effects of lion’s mane on animals have not reported any adverse effects in the rodents, even when given in large doses. That said, people should discuss lion’s mane with a doctor or healthcare professional before taking it.

Damage to the nervous system can have varied and significant effects on a person’s health, as occurs with conditions such as MS. These can include:

  • problems controlling the bladder
  • fatigue
  • difficulty walking
  • cognitive issues
  • vision problems

Other disorders that are associated with a damaged nerve system include Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Research suggests that lion’s mane extract may encourage nerve cells to repair and grow more quickly in a laboratory. One older 2011 study found that rats who received lion’s mane extract daily experienced faster nerve regeneration.

Another preclinical study has shown promising results as well. Researchers supplied rats with H. erinaceus mycelia enriched with erinacines in daily meals.

Following this, the areas of their brain that correlate with certain brain diseases were damaged. The rats that researchers had pretreated with the substance, had a delay in brain damage. This could lead to improvements in ischemic stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression.

Although research in the early stages, accumulated evidence suggests that some culinary-medicinal mushrooms, including lion’s mane, may play an important role in the prevention of many neurological dysfunctions — including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases — by reducing chemicals known to cause brain damage.

Other remedies which have been considered as possible supplements for managing symptoms of MS, aside from medical treatment, include:

  • Cannabis: Research suggests that cannabis may be helpful in preventing pain and spasticity associated with MS. However, there is not enough evidence to conclude that cannabis can offer consistent health benefits.
  • Valerian root: Some studies suggest valerian root can help people fall asleep, and may reduce fatigue associated with MS. However, people with MS who experience brain fog may experience worse symptoms after taking valerian root.
  • Exercise: Exercises such as yoga may help alleviate fatigue, moodiness, and irritability associated with MS.

Lion’s mane mushrooms are fungi which people have eaten and used as natural remedies in Asia since ancient times. There are few or no risks and side effects associated with lion’s mane mushrooms.

Extract from lion’s mane show promise as a treatment of MS. However, more studies are needed. Current evidence is largely based on animal studies. The fungi have also shown potential in research for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, however, more human-based evidence is also needed.

Other possible remedies for MS include echinacea, valerian root, cannabis, and exercise.