We get a lot of questions about how lion's mane and reishi stack up to one another as medicinal mushrooms. In this blog post we explain: How are their health benefits similar, and in what ways are they different?
How They're Alike
One very important way these mushrooms are similar is that they both contain pretty high levels of antioxidants, which help to lower inflammation. Here we should make a quick distinction between the two types of inflammation: acute vs. chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation is the body's response to a specific and sudden damage, such as a cut or a bruise. As the name suggests, it's a more localized response, where the immune system sends out inflammatory cells to a particular area, such as your finger or your ankle, to heal a specific injury.
This is a natural and essential part of the healing process, but chronic inflammation, on the other hand, happens when the body is still sending out inflammatory cells even though there is no longer any injury or outside danger. Chronic inflammation is more persistent and more difficult to detect, which also makes it more hazardous. Some of the most common factors which may cause chronic inflammation are constant stress, unhealthy habits like smoking or not exercising enough, or exposure to harmful toxins such as pollutants or industrial chemicals. When ongoing chronic inflammation is left untreated, it is associated with diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and asthma.
So chronic inflammation is not the deadly disease, but it is the underlying cause that does put us at risk of developing serious health problems. Our best bet is to go to the source and fix our lifestyle habits & choices that are contributing to chronic inflammation in the first place. But also, foods that are high in antioxidants, as these two mushrooms are, can help reduce inflammation because they protect cells and tissue by neutralizing the effect of free radicals.
Another area where the two mushrooms overlap is in how they support the endocrine system, which is a system of glands that produces hormones for the body. Hormones act as chemical messengers, and the body releases them at certain times for specific purposes, but the primary goal of the system is maintaining of homeostasis. When we experience hormone imbalance, we may feel tired, stressed, grumpy, or sad. These mushrooms are able to help the body stabilize hormone levels and re-balance. The word for this feature is adaptogenic, and even though it gets used a lot lately as a buzzword for medicinal mushrooms, it's actually a pretty good description of how they work, because they can modulate their effects depending on the person and a number of other factors.
A third and very important thing they have in common is that they both seem to draw their medicinal powers from the beta-glucan polysaccharides and triterpenes they contain. Of course, each mushroom species has its own unique set of compounds, and there can even be some variability within a species, depending on the substrate available and the cultivation methods used, but the operative mechanism in their healing potential seems to be similar.
In a separate post, we'll get into more detail talking about polysaccharides, beta-glucans, triterpenes, and all that good stuff, but that's a story for another day.
How They're Different
Although they are both known for strengthening the immune system, the way each mushroom does this is a little different. The Reishi mushroom takes a more direct approach, by working through the white blood cells and activating a balanced immune response. Reishi is inherently anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-cancer. The Lion's Mane, however, is more indirect in its immune boosting benefits, since it works through the digestive system. By balancing the microbiome, it promotes gut health, which it turns out, is an excellent way to have a properly functioning immune system.
Why is gut health important? Known as the enteric nervous system, this network of nerve cells is made up of over 100 million neurons lining the gastrointestinal tract, which is why many scientists refer to it as the 2nd brain. Not quite as good at reasoning and logic as the "main brain", but somehow more attuned to our intuitive instincts. So when people say, "trust your gut", there's actually some solid truth behind it! The digestive system and the immune system are known to work together, and it makes sense since the digestive tract is a possible entry point for pathogens that could make us sick. So, in other words, a healthy digestive system leads to a healthy immune system.
When it comes to nootropics and cognitive brain function, the lion's mane is pretty much in a class of its own. Several research studies have shown a positive correlation between the active compounds in the mushroom and the growth of NGF (nerve growth factor). So basically, it stimulates the growth of neurons in your central nervous system and it also repairs damaged nerves in your entire peripheral nervous system. This is why many people take it as a brain booster for focus, memory, and mental clarity.
Reishi is known for its calming, relaxing effect, and it's also advertised often as something that helps you sleep better. This is because the particular triterpenes in reishi help to regulate the hormones in our endocrine system. When our hormones are in balance, we feel more centered and we are not anxiously anticipating or reacting to any perceived threats (real or imagined), and we are more likely to go about our usual business with a sense that all is well... So while it doesn't make you sleepy, it does help you feel more relaxed, making it more likely that you will find that deep, restorative sleep that really helps charge the batteries.
What Does the Science Say?
These two mushrooms have a long history as medicinal mushrooms. Although their reported benefits have not all been corroborated fully by modern science, we tried to stick to the facts from the research that is available. For more information on the scientific literature behind these mushrooms and their benefits, please visit our resources page, where we link to a lot of clinical studies on this matter.
Although lion's mane and reishi are two of the most widely studied species of mushrooms, it remains true that more research is needed, especially with humans in clinical trials, in order to further understand and quantify the effects. It seems this is one of those things that some cultures have known for ages, while the rest of us, as well as the science, are barely catching up.
So, What Does It All Mean? Which One Should I Take for What?
As with any health decision, it's important to get informed, do your research, and if you have any questions, talk to a doctor. But here this Venn Diagram shows an outline of the health benefits in a visually convenient chart.
If you're looking for brain-boosting benefits, or anything related to the nervous system, or if you're dealing with gastrointestinal issues, try the Lion's Mane Elixir. If you're looking for strengthened immunity, or anti-aging benefits, or overall wellness, try the Reishi Elixir. With either one, you'll also be getting anti-inflammatory benefits and improved mood.
What always stands out when discussing these mushrooms, is how the health benefits seem to work in an interconnected way. Their solutions are rarely compartmentalized, and they seem to always seek better coordination between the parts, for the benefit of the whole.
Pretty often one health benefit will lead to another, which corresponds to yet another, and there's a nice synergy to the whole thing. If paired with a few other healthy habits, it feels like a positive feedback loop of delight! Just to be clear, we're NOT saying this is a perfectly reliable effect or that it will happen for every single person who tries a mushroom supplement. But when the puzzle pieces are in order, the interconnectedness of the organism is a truly remarkable thing.
So, this has been a quick introduction to learn more about these two awesome mushrooms, and hopefully it may be useful in helping you, dear reader, decide which of them (if any) is right for you. In one word, the lion's mane is better for doing, while the reishi is better for being, but in the end, it all depends. Or, you can just take both.