Lion's Mane Mushroom For Mindfulness?
People search far and wide to get the "Limitless effect" from a bevvy of supplements and drugs until they are stacked on top of each other like your grandfather's daily pill planner.
Nootropics, substances that can enhance your cognition, have likely been experimented with since the dawn of mankind and is a hypothesis for why humans evolved cognitively past other animals. 20th-century science and beyond has added extra “go” to the nootropic substances of ancient days and kicked up the stimulus that newer drugs provide to the different neural pathways.
Maybe the answer is not to look towards futuristic nootropics that crank the dial up to 11 on your brain and have you buzzing but to look back to the roots of mankind to the fungi that have been hypothesized to have helped develop the cognition of humans in the first place: mushrooms.
I’ve been very interested in the functional food effects of mushrooms for a long time because I freakin’ love cooking with mushrooms for one thing and you can’t get through an episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast without his sponsor ad for Four Sigmatic’s Mushroom Coffee espousing that it’s the closest thing to the Limitless effect. Being lit up like a Christmas tree sounds too good to be true and the mixed reviews for the product had me waiting on the neutral ground. The product isn’t cheap in Canada, with each packet of instant coffee being as much as a delicious latte fresh from a coffee shop. Once I saw a few more highly positive comments on one of the main ingredients, Lion’s Mane mushroom, from nutrition experts that I trust the word of, I figured I would give it a go and order the product from Four Sigmatic.
A little dab’ll do ya
I figured that the small 50 mg dose of caffeine in the mushroom coffee packets wouldn’t be a major factor in effecting a change in my state, as I regularly drink coffee in the morning.
My first test of the mushroom coffee came on a day when I would need to maximize the use of my afternoon to get more writing done left over from the deep work that I do in the morning.
As I settled into my afternoon of writing and other work, I turned the kettle on and watched the water boil as I carefully read the instructions on how much water I should add to the instant coffee. It’s been many years since the last time I’ve had instant coffee because it usually tastes like someone mixed the dregs of a french pressed coffee with water and then served it to you; very watered down and weak. I didn’t want to add too much water and ruin this experience.
The instructions call for mixing the packet with 8 oz of water but I like to have a bigger cuppa to sip on so I added just a little bit more water.
After allowing it to cool so that I didn’t scald my tongue and be forced to wait 24 hours before my taste buds returned, I inhaled the aroma and took my first sip and it was surprisingly good!
It wasn’t very bitter and was earthy and chocolatey and somewhat more soothing than the usual jolt of java. Taste wise at least, this was something I could get behind.
I then sat down to work and blasted through four uninterrupted hours of focused work.
Now, I know that anecdotal evidence is weak but self-experimentation is usually the first step to unlocking greater realizations in what helps each of us to perform optimally.
It could have been the extra bump in caffeine, which I usually skip for my afternoon work or maybe it was placebo. Even though I was sceptical about the effects of this mushroom coffee based on the reviews, I was hopeful that it would work well and that could very well be enough to get it working.
I also know that many writers talk about how the ritual of a hot cup of coffee is enough to get the creative juices flowing.
There are a lot more reasons for why it wouldn’t be the purported nootropic effects of the mushrooms per se but I digress.
However you take it, this was my first step down the toadstool lane.
It didn’t take me long to look for alternative sources for Lion’s Mane that wouldn’t cost me so much per serving. I found another option that was pure, organic Lion’s Mane mushroom powder, which I thought could be a great option to add to my own coffee (or even tea or juice as the label states).
It would take a while to ship to me, so let’s look at some of the science of Lion’s Mane and the potential confounders in my n of 1 experiment while we wait.
I’m not one for the isolated bubble of self-experimentation and truth be told, I usually take on a few new daily tasks or “experiments” at a time making it truly impossible to correctly correlate any effects. Some of the following changes coincide with my Lion’s Mane experiment.
My reengagement with meditation might be the biggest factor that is playing into how I feel and the positive effects that might rightly be attributed to it and less to the Lion’s Mane.
As I described in my introduction to the Mindful Musings, I’ve set out on a goal to meditate for 20 minutes per day for 100 days straight. As of writing this, I’m now over a quarter of the way to that goal. From my past experience with extended stretches of consistent meditation, I know that it works well for helping me to better control stress and anxiety. I’m able to recognize when my thoughts are spiralling out of control and I’m able to return to a calm state with a few focused breaths.
Meditation truly is the closest thing to magical superpowers that we humans have control over.
In the past I lost connection to meditation as I would do it first thing in the morning and discovered it wasn’t working well for me, as I would wake up earlier and earlier to fit meditation into my schedule, but what happened was I would spend most of the session dozing off and struggling to stay awake. It had lost its effectiveness in this way. Now I meditate mid-day before lunch to reset myself and enter the afternoon in a refreshed state. It’s like taking a mid-day nap but even better.
Maybe it is the meditation, although I haven’t made it back to being as proficient a meditator yet as I have been. For this 100-day challenge I’ve been using the Muse headband to retrain myself as a meditator and so I know that I’m still not back to where I was in being so calm with my meditation. Typically only about 50% of my time meditating is spent in a calm state, whereas when I was most consistent previously, I would be around 70-80% in a calm state on average. It will be interesting to see what happens as I meditate more, but for now, I’ve still got work to do.
Writing it Down
Writing down goals, tasks to-do, and a planned schedule primes your brain to focus and act on things that are conducive to achieving your goals. Many top performers in all walks of life talk about this in many different ways as priming, productivity, systems thinking, and affirmations. Whatever you want to call it, writing it down equals getting it done. I’ve found a system of planning that works really well for me and it involves a lot of writing and reviewing of schedules and goals. Perhaps the writing itself is priming me for greater creativity and focus on work and the reviewing it keeping me on track as well.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Science
Lion’s Mane mushroom is the most common name for the fungus Hericium erinaceus. It gets its name from the look of it, which resembles the mane of a lion. Some people have also suggested it looks like a human brain and suggest there is some sort of connection there other than merely coincident. While that may be a stretch, it is still very bizarre looking and fascinating.
The primary interest in Lion’s Mane for nootropic effects is due to the support for its ability to produce Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and thereby create a neurogenesis effect. This means that Lion’s Mane can support the development of nerve cells and synaptic connections between nerve cells in the brain.
The support for these incredible effects includes demonstrations of enhancing memory and recall, as well as focus and attention. It will be great progress in science and nutrition if we can start to see more adults with cognitive decline or students facing attention difficulties in school use natural nootropics like Lion’s Mane instead of harmful drugs.
Studied dosages range from 500 - 3000 mg per day. Most bulk Lion’s Mane mushroom extract products recommend a teaspoon amount per day which equates to 2000 mg.
Four Sigmatic lists that there’s only 250 mg of Lion’s Mane per serving of their mushroom coffee, so if Lion’s Mane is the key nootropic mushroom in the mix, I could see it as more beneficial to get more than that daily for the stimulation of NGF.
Lion’s Mane isn’t even a one-trick pony though. While most people are drawing their attention towards the potential brain-boosting effects of the ‘shroom, it also has the potential to treat digestive ailments. Lion’s Mane extract contains ß-glucans, a type of prebiotic fibre that can nourish beneficial bacteria to promote gut health; furthermore, extracts have been shown to have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects that can also help to treat sensitive stomachs and fight off pathogens.
Back to the Journey
My package with Lion’s Mane arrived last week and I’ve since then been able to incorporate it into my morning coffee. The first day that I received it I actually tested it out with some green tea in the afternoon, to somewhat compare it to how I’ve felt with the mushroom coffee packets, but with less caffeine. I had another greatly productive afternoon with this new form of Lion’s Mane and new dose.
The next day I would start it out in my morning coffee.
It’s been 8 days now and I feel like my creativity has been jacked to a whole new level. A large part of it seems to be an enhancement in memory. While meditating, working, and dreaming I’ve been having tons of vivid memories about things I haven’t thought of in years, if at all since I originally experienced those moments.
On the subject of dreams for a minute; I’ve been recalling my dreams with incredible detail every night since starting the daily Lion’s Mane routine. I’ve always thought the idea of writing down dreams to enhance your ability to recall them, and maybe someday experience lucidity whilst dreaming was cool yet I always failed to catch my dreams drifting away like smoke as I awaken and try to write them down.
Like having a word stuck on the tip of your tongue, you can almost visualize what happened in the dream you just had, but putting the words to paper is futile.
In the past 8 nights, I have recalled and written down the details of no less than 17 dreams that I remember vividly in that time. This has been the coolest effect that I see as somehow different from what I get out of meditation and priming through writing. I also seem to be waking up before my alarm and fired up and ready to get started for the day, which is also nice.
The other thing I have noticed that may be more the effect of meditation is a deeper level of introspection and focus on physical things which has allowed me to have some really great flow while training several times in the past week. I can see how this could have a potential benefit on enhancing technique during training.
Being able to maintain a higher level of present-state awareness and creativity is an incredible feeling, whether you use mindfulness or some sort of brain-boosting supplement to help you achieve it. Self-experimentation can be thrilling but should be approached rationally to avoid any dramatic shifts in cognition that may be unsettling. I will be sure to continue to provide updates as my meditation journey continues and as the dream train keeps rolling on with the help of Lion’s Mane mushroom.