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Anti-Dementia Compounds from Lion’s Mane Mushroom
The focus of research on medicinal mushrooms until now has been primarily on their anti-cancer and immune-enhancing properties. However, attention has shifted by researchers in Japan and China to the potential anti-dementia properties contained in a mushroom called Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus).
A study was done in a rehabilitative hospital in the Gunma prefecture in Japan, with 50 patients in an experimental group and 50 patients used as a control. All patients suffered from cerebrovascular diseases causing senility, Parkinson’s disease, or other spinocerebellar and orthopedic diseases that afflict the elderly. Seven of the patients in the experimental group suffered from different types of dementia.
The patients in this group received 5g of dried Lion’s Mane Mushroom per day in their soup for a 6-month period. All patients were evaluated before and after the treatment period for their Functional Independence Measure (FIM), which is a measure of independence in physical capabilities (eating, dressing, walking, etc) and perceptual capacities (understanding, communication, memory, etc).
The results of this preliminary study show that after six months of taking Lion’s Mane Mushroom, six out of seven Alzheimer’s patients demonstrated improvements in their perceptual capacities, and all seven had improvements in their overall FIM score.
In 1991, a novel class of compounds in Lion’s Mane, called “hericenones”, was discovered by Dr. Hirozaku Kawagishi of Shizuoka University in Japan. These “hericenones” were found to stimulate the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in mouse astraglial cells in culture. Dr. Kawagishi saw the possibility of using this novel compound as a natural treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. He speculated that if they could cross the blood-brain barrier and induce NGF production in the brain, this might counteract some of the neurodegenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Massive neuronal cell death is the ultimate outcome of Alzheimer’s disease, so NGF production might conceivably lead to the growth of new neurons to replace those that die.
Dr. Kawagishi’s continuing work on “hericenones” led him to pursue more deeply the mechanism by which damage is done in Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progresses, there is destruction of neurons caused by the formation of plaques containing a molecule called amyloid beta peptide. These plaques are toxic to surrounding neurons in the brain. Dr. Kawagishi discovered that an agent in Lion’s Mane Mushroom inhibits the toxicity of the plaques. He demonstrated that this agent is a phospholipid and can exert a protective effect on brain cells in culture, shielding them from damage by the amyloid peptides. This agent is now called Amyloban (Japanese patent 394,3399).