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Q
Lion's Mane Mushrooms for Nerve Damage?

I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis a few months ago. It affects the strength in my left leg. I've read that you suggested Lion's Mane mushroom to help with nerve growth. Would it be helpful to me? I am also doing acupuncture and have adopted an anti-inflammatory diet. If it is appropriate for me to take Lion's Mane, can I do so while breastfeeding?

A
Answer (Published 2/11/2014)

Originally published November 21, 2006. Updated February 11, 2014.

Transverse myelitis (TM) is a neurological disorder that stems from inflammation across a segment of the spinal cord. The inflammation can damage or destroy myelin, the fatty substance that insulates nerve cell fibers. Symptoms include muscle weakness or paralysis, usually beginning in the legs and sometimes affecting the arms, as well. Abnormal sensation, including pain and diminished ability to feel changes in temperature, occurs below the level of the spinal cord inflammation. Many of those affected describe the feeling of a tight band or girdle around the trunk. This area may also be sensitive to touch.

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Transverse myelitis (TM) typically affects younger people. Peak incidence is among those between the ages of 10 and 19 and 30 and 39. The cause is unknown but may be a viral infection, an abnormal immune system reaction or insufficient blood flow through the blood vessels in the spinal cord. TM can also develop as a complication of measles, syphilis, Lyme disease, and rarely after vaccinations for chickenpox and rabies.

About one-third of all patients recover fully; another third may be left with some deficiencies in their walking gait, urinary urgency or incontinence, and some sensory loss. Unfortunately, the other third do not improve at all. Treatment focuses on maintaining body functions via physical therapy, as well as occupational and vocational therapy. Conventional medicine treats the earliest stages of the disorder with corticosteroids for about five days or longer in an effort to reduce the inflammation and increase chances of a speedy recovery. If this doesn’t help, other drug treatments may be used in an attempt to salvage neurological function. Pain killers may also be prescribed. Bed rest often is recommended during the early days and weeks of the disorder.

Following initial therapy, the most critical part of the treatment consists of keeping the patient’s body functioning while hoping for either complete or partial spontaneous recovery of the nervous system. This is usually done in a hospital or a rehabilitation facility where a specialized medical team can prevent or treat problems that may occur. Often, even before recovery begins, caregivers may be instructed to move patients’ limbs manually to help keep the muscles flexible and strong and to reduce the likelihood of pressure sores. Later, if patients begin to recover limb control, physical therapy can help improve muscle strength, coordination, and range of motion.

Lion's Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is a nontoxic medicinal (and culinary) mushroom believed to stimulate nerve growth. While there haven’t been a lot of scientific studies on how it works, an animal study published in 2012 suggested that Lion’s Mane is useful in nerve repair. It may prove helpful in your case. It is nontoxic and completely safe, so I see no problem using it while you are breastfeeding.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Sources:
M.A. Khan, M. Tania, M.M. Rahman "Hericium erinaceus: an edible mushroom with medicinal values. Journal of Complementary Integrative Medicine", doi: 10.1515/jcim-2013-0001.

K.H. Wong, et al, "Neuroregenerative potential of lion's mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (higher Basidiomycetes), in the treatment of peripheral nerve injury (review)" International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2012;14(5):427-46. Accessed November 23, 2013, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510212

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