Hericium erinaceus: the memory mushroom that makes athletes fitter

You can buy supplements with extracts of the mushroom Hericium erinaceus in online stores. They are especially popular with people wanting to improve their memory. But the same Hericium erinaceus is also interesting for athletes, report researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Physical Education in China. A capsule containing 500 mg Hericium erinaceus should be capable of improving an athlete’s endurance capacity.

Hericium erinaceus is an edible toadstool that grows on birch trees. It’s also known as Lion’s Mane. It contains chains of sugars, including beta-glucans, heteroglucans and heteroxylans, plus a group of compounds that chemists refer to as hericenones [structural formulas shown below].


In China traditional healers have used extracts of Hericium erinaceus for centuries for a variety of purposes including improving failing memory. Animal studies have shown that supplementation with Hericium erinaceus speeds up the recovery of damaged nerve pathways [Int J Med Mushrooms. 2012;14(5):427-46.] and stimulates the development of brain cells. [Cytotechnology. 2002 Sep;39(3):155-62.] A Japanese human study suggests that supplementation with Hericium erinaceus might also negate the first stages of age-related mental decline. [Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72.]

Supplements containing Hericium erinaceus can be bought online. They usually contain 500 mg extract per capsule. The supplement is used above all as a cerebrogenic – by people looking to improve their mental capacity.

The researchers wondered whether Hericium erinaceus might be interesting for athletes so they did an experiment with mice. They gave the animals alcohol-based extracts of Hericium erinaceus for a period of 28 days and then got them to swim until the point of exhaustion. By the way, the researchers used extracts from mushrooms growing on trees, and not from the mycelium.

As you can see, Hericium erinaceus extended the amount of time that the mice were able to keep swimming. The higher the dose, the greater the endurance capacity. When the researchers then went on to study the muscles and livers of the mice, they found more glycogen than they did in the muscles of the mice that had not been given Hericium erinaceus.


Supplementation boosted the concentration of antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase [GPx] in the muscles and reduced the amount of protein that had been broken down into urea. The concentration of malondialdehyde, a marker for free radical damage, also decreased as a result of supplementation.


“The results of the present study suggest that Hericium erinaceus possesses significant antifatigue activity by decreasing lactic acid, serum urea nitrogen and malondialdehyde content, and increasing tissue glycogen content and antioxidant enzyme activity”, the researchers summarised. “Based on these results, this study provides theoretical support for the application of Hericium erinaceus in the field of sports nutrition.”

Anti-fatigue activities of polysaccharides extracted from Hericium erinaceus.


Hericium erinaceus (HEP) is a notable medicinal fungus grown in China and other oriental countries. Polysaccharides from HEP have recently attracted considerable attention due to their numerous physiological activities. The objective of this study was to evaluate the anti-fatigue activity of HEP in a mouse model. After one week of acclimation, mice were randomly divided into four groups: a control group, a low-dose HEP-treated group, a moderate-dose HEP-treated group, and a high-dose HEP-treated group. The treated groups received HEP (50, 100 and 200 mg/kg, ig), while the control group received saline solution. Following treatment for 28 days, the mice performed a forced swimming test until they were exhausted, then the exhaustive swimming time was recorded along with certain biochemical parameters related to fatigue, including blood lactic acid (BLA), serum urea nitrogen (SUN), tissue glycogen, superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and malondialdehyde (MDA). These results suggested that HEP has significant anti-fatigue activity by decreasing BLA, SUN and MDA content, as well as increasing tissue glycogen content and antioxidant enzyme activity. Based on these results, this study provided theoretical support for the application of HEP in the field of sports nutrition.

PMID: 25574220 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC4280918

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25574220