Lion's Mane vs. Ashwagandha: How They Differ | Botanic Tonics

Lion's Mane vs. Ashwagandha: How They Differ | Botanic Tonics

Reviewed by Jamal Bouie

Exploring Natural Supplement Differences: Lion’s Mane vs. Ashwagandha

From ginkgo biloba to holy basil, Mother Earth offers its residents a phenomenal number of nootropics and adaptogens—plants that have the potential to help you harness optimal wellness.[1]

Yet, few have commanded as much attention on TikTok and beyond as ashwagandha and lion’s Mane. These two ancient herbal remedies have garnered a robust following, with everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Gisele Bundchen swearing by their benefits.[2,3]

But just because lion’s mane and ashwagandha both enjoy celebrity status doesn’t mean they’re one and the same. Here’s our ashwagandha vs. lion’s mane breakdown—and details on which one (or both!) of these natural substances might be best suited for your wellness goals.

Ashwagandha: The Ancient Adaptogen for Stress and Vitality

Whether you’re a casual consumer of health trends or a bonafide devotee of nutrition and dietary supplements, you’re probably well-acquainted with adaptogens—plants and herbs that may help you cope better with stress, whether that’s:[4]

  • Emotional upset
  • Physical tension
  • Hormonal disruptions
  • Mental angst

To date, it’s assumed there are more than 70 plants that fall into the adaptogen camp.[5] Ashwagandha is one of them, and it’s one of the most studied, and revered, in the bunch.[6]

How Do Adaptogens Work?

The magic of adaptogens like ashwagandha rests in their capacity to impact the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. 

This brain-body alliance has a direct effect on the central nervous and endocrine systems and persistently works towards finding equilibrium when you’re presented with acute or chronic stress.[7]

Adaptogens shoot to counteract disturbances to this ever-important axis by curbing the production of cortisol—one of the primary hormones your body generates when it senses a threat. It also facilitates the release of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which may naturally enhance energy.[8,9] Because, really, who doesn’t need a blast of fuel to endure a stressful situation—or a demanding life era?

The Benefits of Ashwagandha

In addition to much-admired adaptogens like rhodiola rosea and ginseng, ashwagandha has risen in prominence because it may:

  • Diminish stress – Stress impacts a vast proportion of the population—to the tune of 55% of American adults.[10] But this isn’t an issue unique to U.S. citizens: a recent survey conducted in the U.K. indicated that 74% of respondents experience stress so severe they’re either overburdened or can’t deal.[11]

  • Ashwagandha might mitigate the body’s stress response by tempering activity in the HPA axis and reducing the production of DHEA—a steroid hormone, often linked to general wellness, that’s also been implicated in stress.[12]

  • Enhance sleep – Stress and anxiety usually have an inevitable (and unwelcome) bedfellow: insomnia. Ashwagandha may help in this regard as well. A clinical study on the effects of ashwagandha found that it resulted in substantial improvements in the participants’ sleep when the Ayurvedic herb was ingested at high doses.[13] One reason for the sounder slumber? Reduced cortisol levels.

  • Meanwhile, additional research suggests that ashwagandha may help you recalibrate your circadian rhythms and restore healthier sleep patterns.[14]

  • Promote muscle health – Stress affects nearly every aspect of your well-being, including your muscles. (This may explain why you feel tender and achy after a particularly taxing day.) Ashwagandha might organically foster muscle health in two essential ways—by elevating muscle strength and accelerating muscle recovery after a vigorous workout.[15]

  • Additional Benefits of Ashwagandha

    The possible bonuses of ashwagandha are only now starting to be understood. Presently, the herb is being studied for its potential to:

    • Minimize the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS)
    • Decrease inflammation 
    • Boost your immune system
    • Support fertility
    • Improve brain function

    As wonderful as ashwagandha may be, it differs wildly from lion’s mane. Let’s unpack some facts about this trendy, functional mushroom. 

    Lion’s Mane: A Powerhouse for Brain Health

    Among other medicinal mushrooms, Hericium erinaceus, or lion’s mane earned its moniker from its wooly, bearded appearance. Lion’s mane mushrooms “bloom” on the trunks of broadleaf trees (mainly oak and beech) throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.

    But don’t be fooled by its almost cartoonish, Seuss-like appearance: there are countless benefits of lion’s mane when it comes to cognitive performance.[16]

    Whereas ashwagandha qualifies as an adaptogen, lion’s mane is characterized as a function mushroom. What are functional mushrooms, exactly? Otherwise known as nootropics, they are characterized as a group of synthetic and herbal medications (or “smart drugs”) that may clear brain fog and prompt mental clarity.[17] This can mainly be seen in their potential ability to:

    • Heighten motivation
    • Enrich memory
    • Improve attention
    • Deepen concentration

    Sound terrific? You’re not alone in thinking so: The global nootropic market peaked at approximately $375 billion in 2022 and is only supposed to swell as time marches forward.[18]

    How Do Nootropics Work?

    Put simply, nootropics offer both stimulating and neuroprotective benefits. These are two of several reasons why prescription nootropics like adderall and memantine are a recommended form of treatment for health conditions such as:[19]

    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • ADHD
    • Narcolepsy

    How do nootropics help? 

    Research points to their facility to promote blood flow to the brain while also adding to the supply of your mind’s glucose and oxygen stores. What’s more, nootropics may shield your brain cells from neurotoxicity and against oxidative stress, which may hasten aging and lead to neurodegenerative disorders like dementia. 

    The Benefits of Lion’s Mane

    Lion’s mane (or Hericium erinaceus) has gone from a cornerstone of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to a global trend because of the potential advantages it offers—particularly, again, in the realm of brain health. 

    Specifically, lion’s mane may have the power to:

  • Encourage cognitive speed – Studies show that ancient Chinese medical practitioners were onto something. In addition to possessing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects, lion’s mane is one of the best mushrooms for cognitive function, and may help you perform mental tasks—such as tests and assignments—at a faster pace.[20,21]

  • A small, pilot study featured in Nutrients discovered that lion’s mane expedited test times taken an hour after consumption. Additionally, lion’s mane appeared to decrease subjective stress—which some researchers believe is a solid indicator of overall health.[22]

  • Inspire a brighter mood – We may point to fissures in a relationship or dreary winter weather as possible causes of low mood and fatigue. While these issues may certainly play a part, inflammation can also be a potential culprit—one that lion’s mane may be able to help.[23]

  • A small study discovered that administering lion’s mane to mice increased the production of key neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine) and toned down pro-inflammatory compounds.[24]

  • Boost memory – Longing for a sharper memory? Consider fungi your friend: A 2023 animal study found that bioidentical lion’s mane mushroom extract stimulated  nerve growth in the hippocampus—a part of the brain that has an incredible influence on memory and learning.[25,26]

  • Additional Benefits of Lion’s Mane

    More and more research is being poured into investigating the potential of natural gems like lion’s mane—and for a good reason. An estimated 80% of the global population turns to “traditional” medicine (such as TCM) for their ailments.[27] Lion’s mane is presently being studied as a means to ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, as well as for its potential to:

    • Spur recovery from nervous system injuries such as paralysis
    • Nurture intestinal health
    • Prevent ulcers
    • Decrease oxidative stress
    • Moderate blood sugar levels

    Lion’s Mane vs. Ashwagandha: Which One Reigns?

    In a word: Neither—and this is an awesome thing.

    Both ashwagandha and lion’s mane have excellent benefits that may put you on the path toward holistic wellness. Your best bet is to assess what you hope to accomplish before investing in a high-quality supplement: 

    • Are you searching for a respite from stress and enhanced energy to navigate whatever may come your way? Perhaps opt for an adaptogen like ashwagandha. 
    • Are you intent on honing your focus at work (and in life) and bolstering your mood and memory? A nootropic such as lion’s mane might just do the trick.

    Bear in mind that taking an adaptogen doesn’t preclude you from weaving a nootropic into your regime. Indeed, blending the cognitive enhancement from nootropics with the stress-busting potency of adaptogens may leave you feeling like a million bucks.

    Understanding the Side Effects of Ashwagandha and Lion’s Mane

    Natural products seem to suggest they’re unequivocally safe; then again, we’re all familiar with the deleterious effects of tobacco. 

    If you receive your doctor’s approval to start taking lion’s mane or ashwagandha (or both), keep an eye out for the following potential side effects:

  • Lion’s Mane – Lion’s mane is believed to be safe and well-tolerated, but those who have an allergy to mushrooms, and those who have asthma or are expecting a child, may want to search for an alternative nootropic.[28] The possible side effects are rather mild and may include:[29]
      • Stomach discomfort
      • Nausea
      • Skin rashes
  • Ashwagandha – Like lion’s mane, ashwagandha is deemed safe for most people (the exception being pregnant women, as well as those with thyroid complications). What side effects have been reported are minimal:[30]
      • Nausea and vomiting
      • Gastrointestinal upset
      • Diarrhea

    Further, as with all supplements, it’s important to purchase only from a reputable manufacturer who conducts lab testing to ensure their products are free of contaminants. 

    Savor a Stronger Sense of Self with Botanic Tonics

    Ultimately, the ashwagandha vs. lion’s mane debate isn’t a battle whatsoever, as both may reward you. The bottom line? Take what you feel matches your needs (with your primary healthcare practitioner’s assent, of course), and remember that plant-based remedies are meant only to supplement a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.

    If you believe that lion’s mane might just make your mind roar louder, give Botanic Tonics a whirl. The functional mushroom is one of the stars of the show in our plant-based energy drink. This product also includes kava, kola nut, and rhodiola—herbal plants with their own accolades. Together, these ingredients give you the boost of plant-based caffeine to get you through the day. 

    Benefit from nature’s bounty with Botanic Tonics.

    Sources: 

    1. The New York Times. Can supplements help you focus? https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/22/well/supplements-focus.html
    2. Chicago Sun Times. What’s ashwagandha, and why is Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest goop craze all the rage? ​​https://chicago.suntimes.com/2019/3/28/18393719/what-s-ashwagandha-and-why-is-gwyneth-paltrow-s-latest-goop-craze-all-the-rage
    3. Veg News. Gisele Bundchen loves these mushrooms for their big benefits. Here’s why. https://vegnews.com/vegan-news/gisele-bundchen-lions-mane
    4. UCLA. What are adaptogens and should you be taking them? https://www.uclahealth.org/news/what-are-adaptogens-and-should-you-be-taking-them
    5. WebMD. Adaptogens: what to know. https://www.webmd.com/balance/adaptogens-what-to-know
    6. Healthline. The no bs guide to adaptogens for hormonal balance and stress. https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/smart-girls-guide-to-adaptogens#which-one
    7. Very Well Health. What is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis? https://www.verywellhealth.com/hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-hpa-axis-5222557
    8. Journal of Functional Foods. The effect of adaptogenic plants on stress: a systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464623002955
    9. Cleveland Clinic. What are adaptogens and are they healthy? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-are-adaptogens-and-what-do-they-do
    10. The American Institute of Stress. What is stress? https://www.stress.org/daily-life#
    11. Mental Health Foundation. Stress: statistics.  https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/statistics/stress-statistics
    12. Medicine. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6750292/#
    13. New York Presbyterian Health Matters. What is ashwagandha?  https://healthmatters.nyp.org/what-is-ashwagandha/
    14. Pharmaceutics. Ashwagandha (withania somnifera)—current research on the health-promoting activities: a narrative review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10147008/
    15. Healthline. 9 health benefits of lion’s mane mushroom (plus side effects). https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lions-mane-mushroom
    16. Nutrients. Nootropics as cognitive enhancers: types, dosage and side effects of smart drugs.
    17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9415189/
    18. Grand View Research. Nootropics market size & trends. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/nootropics-market
    19. MedicineNet. What are nootropics? https://www.medicinenet.com/what_are_nootropics/article.htm
    20. Nutrients. The acute and chronic effects of lion’s mane mushroom supplementation on cognitive function, stress and mood in young adults: a double-blind, parallel groups, pilot study. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/38004235/
    21. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Therapeutic potential of hericium erinaceus for depressive disorder. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6982118/
    22. Stress Health. Why is subjective stress severity a stronger predictor of health than stressor exposure? A preregistered two-study test of two hypotheses. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35599238/
    23. Frontiers in Immunology. The role of inflammation in depression and fatigue.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6658985/
    24. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Erinacine a-enriched hericium erinaceus mycelium produces antidepressant-like effects through modulating BDNF/PI3K/Akt/GSK-3β signaling in mice. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29364170/
    25. Journal of Neurochemistry. Hericerin derivatives activates a pan-neurotrophic pathway in central hippocampal neurons converging to ERK1/2 signaling enhancing spatial memory. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jnc.15767
    26. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology. Hippocampus in health and disease: an overview. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548359/
    27. World Health Organization. WHO establishes the global centre for traditional medicine in India. https://www.who.int/news/item/25-03-2022-who-establishes-the-global-centre-for-traditional-medicine-in-india
    28. Very Well Health. The health benefits of lion’s mane. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-benefits-of-lions-mane-89474
    29. Forbes. Health benefits of lion’s mane. https://www.forbes.com/health/body/health-benefits-of-lions-mane/
    30. Cleveland Clinic. Benefits of ashwagandha and how much to take. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-ashwagandha

    About The Author

    Jamal Bouie Botanic Tonic

    Jamal Bouie

    Jamal Bouie is an accomplished professional with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from Lemoyne-Owen College in Memphis. Currently, he is pursuing his PhD in Biomedicine at Salus University. Jamal has worked in several industries; he began his career in pharmaceutical manufacturing and transitioned to the cannabis industry, where he specialized in analytical testing and manufacturing, playing a vital role in ensuring product safety and compliance. Now, Jamal has turned his attention to the dietary supplement field, combining his scientific acumen with his passion for health and wellness.

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