Tiger Milk | Could It Be The New Lion’s Mane? | This Rare Malaysian Mushroom Is Finally On The Prowl

Tiger Milk | Could It Be The New Lion's Mane? | This Rare Malaysian Mushroom Is Finally On The Prowl

Lignosus rhinocerus, also known as tiger milk mushroom, is one of the most exciting newcomers to the functional mushroom space. This mushroom has historically been incredibly rare. It is almost impossible to come by in meaningful quantities. This is largely due to the fact that tiger milk mushrooms do not grow close to each other. In wild jungles, single mushrooms are instead separated by vast distances. This is also partially where Lignosus rhinocerus gets its ‘tiger milk mushroom’ nickname from. In folklore, people believe that drops of milk from a lactating tiger fall, and the mushroom grows there. Of course, tigers are rare and travel incredible distances every day. Within folklore, this seems reasonable.However, this is more of an old wives tale.

It does not need to grow on the spots where a mother tiger’s milk fell. Even so, the name stuck, and now everyone refers to it as tiger milk mushroom. Similarly, people call Hericium erinaceus lion’s mane mushroom, despite it having no relation to lions. Even with tiger milk mushroom’s rarity, there is a very long history of human use associated with it. People primarily gather the Lignosus rhinocerus in the wild. Indigenous Malaysian people hunt for it in the jungle and consume it. Many prize this amazing fungi for its numerous beneficial effects!

Historical References

John Evelyn’s Encounter: 1664

Throughout history, Lignosus rhinocerus has piqued the interest of many individuals. The first Western reference to this mushroom occurred in 1664. It appeared in the diary of English writer John Evelyn. In a section of his diary, he describes a collection of rarities from Asia. One of these rarities is the tiger milk mushroom. At the time, tiger milk mushroom was referred to as ‘Lac Tigridis’, Latin for ‘tiger milk’.

“One Tomson, a Jesuit, showed me such a collection of rarities, sent from the Jesuits of Japan and China to their Order at Paris, as a present to be reserved in their repository, but brought to London by the East India ships for them, as in my life I had not seen divers drugs that our druggfists and physicians could make nothing of, especially one which the Jesuit called Lac Tigridis: it looked like a fungus, but was weighty like metal, yet was a concretion, or coagulation, of some other matter;”

This diary entry reveals two very interesting pieces of information. The name “tiger milk” has been around for at least 358 years. This suggests that the folklore about how tiger milk mushrooms grow has endured for centuries. Secondly, the inclusion of Lignosus rhinocerus in a list of spectacular rarities from Asia indicates its high regard, even in 1664.

Henry Nicholas Ridley’s Interest: 1890

More than 200 years later, in 1890, British botanist Henry Nicholas Ridley also showed great interest in Lignosus rhinocerus. He noted that the Lignosus rhinocerus was crucial for the health of indigenous communities in Malaysia. With this in mind, he aimed to cultivate the Lignosus rhinocerus. However, he was not successful, and this is because Lignosus rhinocerus are incredibly hard to cultivate! Cultivating it proved so tricky that success came only more than 100 years after Henry Nicholas Ridley’s initial attempt.

How Is Tiger Milk Cultivated?

Due to its complexity, there haven’t been many attempts throughout history to cultivate tiger milk mushrooms. This also suggests that indigenous populations primarily used tiger milk mushroom as a traditional remedy. They relied on its unique health benefits after finding it in the wild. Some foraged tiger milk mushrooms reached people within a limited range from its habitat, but global consumption was minimal.

Dr. Tan Chon Seng’s Inspiration: 2002

This all changed one day, when Dr. Tan Chon Seng was attending the ‘The International Convention on Biotechnology’ in 2002. During the conference, Dr. Tan Chon Seng listened to a talk by the Malaysian prime minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir. In this talk, Tun Dr. Mahathir discussed how he used tiger milk mushroom to alleviate a cough he had. This fascinated Dr. Tan Chon Seng. He couldn’t believe a practitioner of modern medicine praised a mushroom so highly.

This jogged Dr. Tan Chon Seng’s memory, recalling his mother’s frequent use of tiger milk mushroom during his youth. Inspired by Tun Dr. Mahathir’s talk and his own memories, Dr. Tan Chon Seng embarked on a quest to learn more about tiger milk mushroom. Dr. Tan Chon Seng discovered a cultivation technique for tiger milk mushroom, a process that took 8 years to develop.

Overcoming Challenges in Cultivation

The first challenge in cultivating tiger milk mushroom was to get hold of a viable culture. Unlike with plants and trees, mushrooms do not produce seeds. Instead they produce mycelium, and capturing mycelium in order to cultivate mushrooms can be quite tricky. First of all, you actually have to find the mushroom in the wild. With tiger milk mushroom, this is clearly quite a difficult task since they are so rare in their natural habitat. Dr. Tan Chon Seng spent time with indigenous Malaysians, hunting tiger milk mushrooms and learning their traditional use in the jungle. Dr. Tan Chon Seng’s team obtained tiger milk mushroom biomass, needing tricky cloning or culturing from spores.

Cloning and Cultivation Techniques

To clone a mushroom, take a small tissue sample and place it on a sterile agar dish. Because of susceptibility to contamination, extreme care is necessary to obtain a clean tissue sample for this process stage. Typically, one sprays the mushroom with a disinfectant like isopropyl alcohol. Then, one carefully takes a tissue sample. All tasks must be conducted under a laminar flow hood to maintain constant sterile airflow and prevent external contamination. While staying in the laminar flow hood’s sterile airflow, place the clean tissue sample onto a sealed sterile agar dish.

After a few days, small wisps of mycelium should start to become visible if you are lucky. When working with wild mushrooms, contaminants like molds may also grow on the agar plate. If contaminated, separate healthy mycelium from contaminants under laminar flow hood, transferring it to another sterile agar plate. This process helps clean up the culture, resulting in a healthy mycelium culture.

Cultivating the Sclerotium

Another way in which a viable culture can be generated from a wild mushroom, is via a more natural process. In this process, the spores are isolated from the gills of the fruiting body. Using aseptic technique and a laminar flow hood, use the spores to inoculate another sterile agar dish. Mycelium will grow from the spores on the petri dish, similar to how they inoculate soil in nature.

Challenges in Sclerotium Cultivation

After a viable mycelium culture was obtained, the actual cultivation could start. This proved tricky because tiger milk mushroom forms a sclerotium, where most beneficial compounds are concentrated. The sclerotium is a very dense bundle of mycelium, which condenses underground to create a tuber-like structure. The sclerotium enables the tiger milk mushroom to survive extreme weather, remaining dormant until conditions favor fruiting body formation. Most conventional mushroom cultivation knowledge is catered towards producing fruiting bodies rather than producing sclerotium.

Research and Implications

With the ability to produce large quantities of high-quality tiger milk mushroom sclerotium, research on it has surged. It’s a fascinating mushroom, and recent scientific insights make it increasingly intriguing in the functional mushroom arena. We partnered to introduce one of the first lab-tested tiger milk mushroom sclerotium products in the US! The blog will focus on tiger milk mushroom’s unique health benefits, especially its nootropic effects.

As An NGF Mimetic

Unique Neurological Effects

Tiger milk mushroom’s unique attribute is its ability to mimic nerve growth factor (NGF) effects. It seems to achieve this by binding to the TrkA receptor, similar to how NGF drives neuroplasticity. Multiple studies corroborate this finding, suggesting that tiger milk mushroom stimulates neuritogenesis via unknown bioactives. This is occurring in a manner that is very similar to NGF induced neuritogenesis, without affecting the synthesis or secretion of NGF. This then indicates that tiger milk mushroom itself can stimulate the TrkA receptors, without relying on endogenous NGF.

Mechanism of Action: TrkA Receptor Stimulation

When TrkA receptors are stimulated, either by NGF or in this case tiger milk mushroom, a large signaling cascade is initiated. TrkA stimulation mainly triggers PI3K/AKT and Raf/ERK signaling pathways, which play a major role in neuroplasticity. In fact, the PI3K/AKT pathway is crucial for the process of longer term potentiation (LTP). For those unfamiliar with the process of LTP, this is one of the primary mechanisms by which we store memories. Thus, by enhancing LTP via TrkA mediated PI3K/AKT activation, tiger milk mushroom may be able to enhance memory consolidation. While there is currently no research on tiger milk mushroom’s ability to enhance memory, anecdotal reports suggest that tiger milk mushroom has a palpable memory enhancing effect after a few weeks of regular supplementation.

Neuroprotective Effects and Nerve Health Support

Activation of the PI3K/AKT and Raf/ERK signaling pathways via TrkA stimulation, also promotes cell survival, thus offering neuroprotective effects. These effects also extend towards peripheral nerves, and this is why lion’s mane, which also acts on NGF pathways, is a popular mushroom for overall nerve health. With this in mind, tiger milk mushroom, via its TrkA modulating effects, should also be a great option for supporting nerve health!

Respiratory & Immune Function

Respiratory Health Benefits

Tiger milk mushroom has traditionally been used primarily for its effects on respiratory health, and this is also where the majority of tiger milk mushroom research has been focused on. In fact, there is even a human clinical trial on tiger milk mushroom which demonstrates its respiratory function promoting effects! Tiger milk mushroom has both acute and long term effects on respiratory function, and as many initial adopters of tiger milk mushroom have noticed, it seems to have an acute benefit on breathing. This is not surprising when reading through recent research which indicates that tiger milk mushroom appears to be a good bronchodilator! This means that it can relax our airways, allowing us to breathe slightly deeper.

Mechanism of Action: Bronchodilation

It is currently somewhat unknown how tiger milk mushroom is producing its bronchodilatory effect, however, current evidence has ruled out beta-adrenoreceptors being involved in the bronchodilatory effect of tiger milk mushroom. This is very unique because most compounds which promote bronchodilation are achieving this via the beta-adrenoreceptors, and this can actually bring with it a host of unwanted effects.

Instead, the current evidence seems to be pointing towards tiger milk mushroom modulating calcium channels. Calcium plays a major role in bronchial tone, and thus by modulating calcium activity, tiger milk mushroom appears to be able to produce a more relaxed bronchial tone. With this unique mechanism in action in mind, it is no surprise that tiger milk mushroom has been used for hundreds of years for its respiratory benefits, and that most research efforts on tiger milk mushroom are currently investigating these respiratory effects!

Long-Term Respiratory Benefits

Tiger milk mushroom produces more long term effects on the respiratory system too, which bolster its acute bronchodilatory effects. Tiger milk mushroom can dampen the production of two of the primary inflammatory cytokines found in our respiratory system, interleukin 1-beta (IL 1-beta) and interleukin 8 (IL-8). By dampening the production of these two inflammatory cytokines, tiger milk mushroom has the ability to balance the inflammatory tone in our respiratory system. Tiger milk mushroom likely suppresses IL 1-beta and IL-8 production by suppressing tumor-necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). TNF-alpha normally triggers the synthesis and release of IL 1-beta and IL-8, thus by suppressing TNF-alpha, tiger milk mushroom dampens the levels of IL 1-beta and IL-8!

In a recent study on humans, it was also found that tiger milk mushroom could double the levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA) after three months of supplementation. IgA is one of the major regulators of respiratory immune function, and serves as one of the primary defense mechanisms for our respiratory system. Thus, by significantly elevating IgA levels, tiger milk mushroom has a robust effect on supporting respiratory immune function! Tiger milk mushroom also has much more broad effects on general immune function too, helping to sensitize various immune cells and sensors. The overall effect, especially in combination with the IgA elevating effects, makes tiger milk mushroom very useful for supporting overall immune function. This is a great combination for dialing in overall respiratory function!

Comparison With Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Comparing With Lion’s Mane

Due to the fact that tiger milk mushroom has an effect on NGF, it has naturally been compared quite extensively with the most famous NGF modulating mushroom, lion’s mane! As we discovered earlier, tiger milk mushroom appears to mimic NGF, directly activating the TrkA receptor which NGF acts on. Due to this, it has a more direct and targeted effect in regards to NGF mediated effects, when compared to lion’s mane. Lion’s mane approaches NGF in a much different way.

The active compounds present in the lion’s mane mycelium, for example erinacine A, stimulate the synthesis of NGF. The active compounds present in the fruiting bodies, for example hericenone E, appear to potentiate the effects of NGF, and other unknown compounds present in the fruiting bodies also appear to stimulate NGF synthesis. With this in mind, it is clear to see why tiger milk mushroom and lion’s mane are being compared!

Cognitive Effects: Tiger Milk Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane

Lion’s mane has much more research on it, so we have a better understanding of what it is doing cognitively, when compared to tiger milk mushroom. Due to this, we know of many more targets on which lion’s mane acts, for example it can also enhance brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and monoamine levels. Lion’s mane also appears to activate kappa-opioid receptors, specifically via the compound erinacine E. Lion’s mane may also mildly inhibit the 5-alpha reductase enzyme which converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Taken together, this would indicate that lion’s mane has a much more full-spectrum effect than tiger milk mushroom. However, do keep in mind that due to the fact that the research into tiger milk mushroom and cognitive function is still very much lacking, we may learn a lot more about it in the coming years. For now, we mostly have to rely on anecdotal reports when comparing tiger milk mushroom to lion’s mane mushroom.

Anecdotal Comparisons and Unique Effects

Anecdotally, we have found that tiger milk mushroom produces a zippier and cleaner effect than lion’s mane. It seems to be a little bit better at dialing in focus, while it loses out to lion’s mane in terms of enhancing mood and mental clarity. Similar types of anecdotal reports have also started to pop up on Reddit. It seems that the effects of tiger milk mushroom are a little bit more acute, and are especially beneficial for those looking to gain a quick mental edge. In terms of the long term effects, tiger milk mushroom and lion’s mane mushroom start to converge after some time. Both seem to be excellent at dialing in memory over time, which makes sense since they are both producing a large portion of their memory effects via NGF related pathways.

Respiratory and Immune Benefits

Tiger milk mushroom also stands out from lion’s mane mushroom for its respiratory function promoting effects. These effects are quite unique to tiger milk mushroom and we did not notice similar respiratory function benefits with lion’s mane. That being said, both should have fairly equal effects on overall immune function.

Compatibility and Stacking

Anecdotally we have also seen reports that individuals who did not respond well to lion’s mane mushroom, do end up responding well to tiger milk mushroom. This likely has something to do with tiger milk mushroom’s overall “cleaner” effects profile. Thus, if you have previously not responded well to lion’s mane mushroom, but would like to experience similar benefits, then tiger milk mushroom could be a great choice! We’d also be remiss to not mention that for those who do respond well to lion’s mane mushroom, a combination of tiger milk mushroom and lion’s mane mushroom seems to be an incredible combination. In fact, tiger milk mushroom really seems to lend itself to stacking, so let’s dive into that topic next!

Nootropic Tiger Milk Mushroom Stacks

Due to the very clean and focused effects tiger milk mushroom provides, it also makes it quite easy to incorporate it into various different stacks. In properly designed stacks, tiger milk can slot in gently and help elevate the other ingredients in the stack, whilst not drawing all too much attention to itself. For example, if you are putting together a streamlined nootropic stack, and need a little bit more oomph in the memory enhancement department, then tiger milk mushroom does a great job at dialing in memory without adding distracting effects to the mix. With this in mind, tiger milk mushroom definitely shines in stacks catered towards cognitive function. To give you an idea of what a nootropic stack could look like with tiger milk mushroom, we came up with a few nicely balanced stacks.

Also read our blog on Astaxanthin

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