Experts push for acute trials on mushrooms to support cognitive health claims

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

© Monty Rakusen / Getty Images
© Monty Rakusen / Getty Images

Related tags lion's mane mushroom extracts Cognitive function Brain health

Acute trials on healthy subjects are necessary as interest in mushrooms continues to grow for cognitive health, experts agreed.

"It's going to be really important in this cognitive health category to run trials on healthy subjects to understand both acute and long term benefits," Jennifer Cooper, chief scientific officer at the American public school program LPS Health Science, said during a panel on ‘The Mushroom Revolution’ at Vitafoods in Geneva.

Cooper suggested measurements, such as quality of life questionnaires, should be introduced earlier in trials to offer quick access to data without compromising the aim of a longer study.

"I'm exhausted by studies that don't start doing measurements until four-to-eight and 12 weeks, especially because some of this data is on standardized questionnaires and is easy to introduce," she said. "I beg the researchers to start sooner."

Earlier measurements will benefit product developers in marketing, Cooper explained, noting that "from a product development standpoint, it's a tough sell to get people to take something that might help them in the future, especially in mental health."

"Communicating to a consumer that they may have to wait 12 weeks to feel better is a real barrier, so running these acute studies and quality-of-life questionnaires in tandem with the clinical outcomes I think is going to change how we can get the products to market."

Current research​ 

Ellen Smith, research fellow at Northumbria University, UK, explained that existing research on the effects of lion's mane mushroom on cognitive function and mood is limited and has primarily focused on older adults with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer's disease. 

These studies generally indicate improvements in cognitive function and reductions in depression and anxiety scores when lion's mane is taken over 12 to 49 weeks, she explained. Yet as the evidence is derived from preliminary pilot trials that often examine specific cognitive functions, there is a need for more comprehensive research.

Recently, research reported to be "the first study to examine the effects of lion’s mane (LM) on cognitive performance in healthy subjects"​ revealed the acute effect of lion’s mane extract on cognitive performance..  

The results​ suggested lion's mane improved working memory, complex attention, reaction time and perceptions of happiness two hours post ingestion. 

Now, Smith’s research team is running an ongoing trial that focuses on the potential reduction in stress and other areas of well-being in a specific demographic: Gen Z women, who Smith explained have a higher diagnosis rate of mental health issues as well as an interest in alternative treatments. 

“It's a demographic that is really interested in seeking out alternative treatments or medications in a mental illness capacity so could have translatable results,” she noted. 

The aim of the research is to design a larger multidisciplinary program that includes cognitive performance, mood assessment and biological measures like the gut microbiome to better understand the mechanisms behind lion mane's potential cognitive and mood-enhancing effects, Smith explained. 

Garnering attention

The focus on mushroom derivatives for neurological wellness and mental health is gaining significant attention in the U.S., said Kenn Israel, founder and manager at Innovation Nutrition Consulting LLC. 

But while this climb continues, Israel warned that industry should be careful not to let gaps in science stand in the way of empirical and historical evidence. 

"I'm certainly an advocate of peer-reviewed research, but humans have been using these plants for thousands of years, and dismissing literally millennia of experience because we don't have a clinical trial may be unwise—there’s tremendous history here."

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