Doctors, alternative medicine advocates, and researchers are increasingly interested in the potential health benefits of the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus). Some studies on Chaga mushrooms have yielded promising results.
Nine potential benefits
In this article, we look at the potential health benefits of Chaga mushrooms and the research behind the claims.
1. Nutrient dense superfood
Chaga mushrooms are rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including:
- B-complex vitamins
- vitamin D
- amino acids
2. Preventing and fighting cancer
Increasingly, researchers are taking seriously the possibility that Chaga mushrooms may be able to prevent cancer and slow its growth.
Chaga is rich in antioxidants, which are chemicals that help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals or oxidants. When the body is unable to produce enough antioxidants to prevent this damage, oxidative stress occurs. Oxidative stress can cause cancer and a host of other health problems.
A 2010 study found that Chaga could slow the growth of lung, breast, and cervical cancer cells in a petri dish. The same study also found that Chaga could slow the growth of tumors in mice.
A 2009 study found that triterpenes, the compounds found in Chaga and some other mushrooms, cause tumor cells to self-destruct. Unlike other cancer treatments, however, Chaga does not appear to harm healthy cells.
Although other studies have found similarly promising results, they have all been carried out on animals or in a laboratory. To prove the anti-cancer benefits of Chaga conclusively, researchers will need to conduct extensive studies on humans.
3. Lowering cholesterol
Chaga mushrooms contain many antioxidants that may reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad” cholesterol.
High cholesterol is a significant risk factor for heart disease so Chaga mushrooms could be useful in the fight against cardiovascular disease.
4. Slowing the aging process
Oxidative stress causes physical signs of aging, such as wrinkles, sagging skin, and gray hair. Exposure to sun, pollution, and other sources of damage create too many free radicals for the body to neutralize, which accelerates the aging process of the skin.
In theory, supplying the body with more antioxidants could slow the aging process, or even reverse visible signs of aging.
Although no research has conclusively linked Chaga to anti-aging benefits, its effectiveness in fighting other forms of oxidative stress suggests that it could also fight aging.
5. Lowering blood pressure
Research suggests that oxidative stress is a contributing factor for high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more prone to heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular health issues.
Chaga’s antioxidants could have a potential role in lowering blood pressure and preventing poor cardiovascular health.
6. Supporting the immune system
Cytokines are the immune system’s chemical messengers. They are proteins that play a vital role in stimulating white blood cells, which are the immune system’s first line of defense against a range of illnesses.
Some research on mice suggests that Chaga may help regulate the production of cytokines, supporting the immune system by helping cells communicate with one another. This could help fight infections, from minor colds to life-threatening illnesses.
7. Fighting inflammation
When the body is fighting an illness, inflammation supports the fight. But sometimes, inflammation transitions from a short-term attack to a chronic health problem.
Some illnesses, particularly chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, are linked to inflammation. Recent research suggests that some conditions that are not considered inflammatory, including depression, may be partly due to chronic inflammation.
Chaga’s role in regulating cytokine production may also help control inflammation. This points to a role for Chaga in fighting autoimmune conditions and possibly some other diseases.
8. Lowering blood sugar
Chaga might also have a role in the fight against diabetes.
A 2006 study found that Chaga mushrooms could lower blood sugar in rats. The rodents were genetically modified to have diabetes and to be obese. After eating Chaga mushrooms for 8 weeks, their blood sugar levels were lower.
Though no research has been done on humans yet, this suggests that Chaga might contribute to an alternative treatment for diabetes in the future.
9. Preventing drug side effects
Research is still in its infancy, but if Cchaga proves effective at fighting illnesses such as cancer and arthritis, it could be an alternative to traditional treatments.
Treating people with Chaga mushrooms could prevent them from experiencing the side effects of other treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and various medications prescribed for chronic illnesses.
How to use Chaga mushrooms
Chaga mushroom is available as a supplement and in herbal teas.
People planning to make their own Chaga supplements, or who wish to incorporate Chaga into their diet, should consult a doctor before doing so. The right daily intake of Chaga varies depending on treatment goals.
Chaga is not a substitute for other forms of medical care, so people who have conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure should continue with their usual treatment.
Instead, Chaga can be incorporated as a supplement under the direction of a doctor.
Risks of Chaga mushrooms
As with other supplements and medications, Chaga carries some risks. It can also trigger side effects and may interact dangerously with some medications.
Because Chaga lowers blood sugar, it can be dangerous for people taking insulin and other blood sugar-lowering medications.
To reduce the risks of using Chaga mushrooms, a person should consider the following:
- Continue taking all prescribed medications, as Chaga is not a substitute for traditional medicine.
- Tell a doctor about all medications being used. As with other drugs and supplements, Chaga may alter the effectiveness of various medications.
- Write down any side effects from Chaga use. Though rare, Chaga can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Trouble breathing, changes in heart rate, and loss of consciousness are medical emergencies.
- Avoid using other herbal supplements while taking Chaga, unless a doctor advises otherwise.
- Research supplement brands and buy from reputable sources, as Chaga is not monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Chaga Mushroom: The Immune-Boosting Superfood
Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus) is a mushroom that typically grows on birch trees in colder climates across the Northern Hemisphere. At first glance, the mushroom doesn’t look very appealing; actually, it doesn’t even look like a mushroom at all! Appearances can be deceiving, however, as this special mushroom packs a punch when it comes to its health value.
What Is Chaga Mushroom?
Chaga has been consumed for centuries in the East, most typically as tea, where its health benefits are well established. More recently, Chaga has been gaining popularity in the West, where its numerous health benefits are now being recognized by many health gurus. Technically, Chaga is a highly-concentrated black mass of mycelium that protrudes from birch trees infected with parasitic–but non-toxic–fungus Inonotus Obliquus. The dark, hard and cracked exterior, which often appears like burnt charcoal, is called the sclerotium. The interior has a rusty yellow brown color.
What Are the Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms?
The health benefits of Chaga are numerous, many of which can be attributed to its immune-boosting ingredients and antioxidants. Let’s go through each of the top 6 health benefits:
1. Supports Immune System
Chaga has an abundance of Beta-D-Glucans which help balance the response of the body’s immune system. This means that Chaga help boosts the immune system when necessary, but slows it down when it’s overactive. This makes Chaga a natural Biological Response Modifier (BRM). Research has also shown that Chaga activates immune cells responsible for combating cancer initiation. Research is still ongoing, as more studies are needed to determine Chaga’s full role in cancer. Chaga has proven effective in supporting standard cancer approaches, such as chemotherapy, by compensating for the program’s negative side effects. I’m certainly not saying that Chaga will ease cancer progression; however, evidence suggests there may be vital compounds in the mushroom that warrant further investigation into its role.
2. Soothing Properties
Chaga supports the integrity of blood vessels and provides soothing properties in times of irritation. This can be helpful for those suffering from pain, neuropathy, and even diabetes.
3. Ulcers and Gastritis
Due to its immune-boosting properties, Chaga has long been used to support gastrointestinal health in Eastern culture. Most ulcers are caused by bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori, so a well-functioning immune system can fight off this pathogen. Ulcers may be soothed by the use of Chaga, depending on the severity and the patient.
4. Normalize Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels
Studies have shown that the betulinic acid found in Chaga is able to break down LDL cholesterol–bad cholesterol–in the bloodstream.
5. Antimicrobial Activity
In one study, the chemical characterization and biological activity of extracts of Chaga mushroom were examined and showed high antioxidant and antimicrobial activity.
6. DNA Damage Protection
In one study, cells were pretreated with a Chaga mushroom extract, then treated with H202 to induce oxidative stress. The pretreated cells displayed less damage than cells that did not receive the Chaga extract.
7. Antiviral Properties of Chaga Mushroom
A limited amount of studies have been done to learn about the antiviral activity of Chaga mushroom. In two recent studies, Chaga mushroom showed protective support against harsh skin blemishes.
So what are the ingredients behind Chaga that provide all these health benefits? Let’s go through the 6 key ingredients that make Chaga so healthy.
Chaga contains structural polysaccharides within its chitin walls, which provide energy, cardiovascular health, intestinal and liver health, and promote healthy blood sugar levels. It’s also said to improve one’s mood.
Beta-D-Glucans are known for their ability to modulate the immune system. Beta-D-Glucans also help with normalizing cholesterol levels and blood sugar.
Of the phytosterols present in Chaga, 45% is Lanosterol, 25% is Inotodiols and the remaining 30% consists of Ergosterol, Fecosterol, and several others. In vivo and in vitro testing shows a direct effect of both Lanosterol and Inotodiols on cancer cells, with lanosterol imparting a positive effect on viral compounds.
4. Betulin and Betulinic Acid (Triterpenes)
Betulin and betulinic acid are powerful therapeutic agents that are currently being researched for their effects on supporting healthy cholesterol levels. In addition to their favorable benefits for maintaining a healthy cholesterol profile, betulin and betulinic acid are also being studied in relation to cancer and viruses.
Chaga sclerotium contains massive amounts of the natural black pigment known as melanin, which has high antioxidant levels due to a number of polyphenols it contains. In fact, Chaga has the highest ORAC score (the measure of antioxidant potency) of any superfood.
SODs are another important antioxidant present in Chaga. SOD refers to a group of enzymes called Super Oxide Dismutase. These enzymes play an important role in protecting our body against the destructive effects of uncontrolled oxidation and free radicals. SOD potency is measured by the S-ORAC score.
Chaga Mushroom vs. Superfoods
When it comes to health benefits, Chaga performs very well when compared with several popular superfoods.
Quinoa vs. Chaga
Quinoa provides a great source of flavonoids, vitamins, and antioxidants. The high quantity of quercetin that it contains can help cardiac and respiratory health, in addition to protecting cells from free radical damage. Chaga contains a much higher level of antioxidants that provide the same benefits within the bloodstream.
Goji Berries vs. Chaga
Similar to Chaga, goji berries contain high amounts of polysaccharides. Although unlike Chaga, the main polysaccharide in goji berries is pectin. In contrast, Chaga’s source of polysaccharides comes from chitin, a structural polysaccharide that is very beneficial for human consumption and much harder to the source. The typical modern diet includes plenty of pectins and little to no chitin.
Avocado vs. Chaga
Avocado contains many beneficial nutrients such as folate and vitamin D. The combination of these nutrients plus lipids promotes lower cholesterol and heart health. The Beta-D-Glucans found within Chaga also improve cholesterol levels by preventing cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream during the digestion process.
Where to Find Chaga Mushroom
Chaga is not easy to find and people often mistake the mushroom for knots in the tree or burnt patches. You’ll find Chaga growing predominantly on birch trees in cold habitats throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including northern parts of Europe, Russia, Korea, Canada, and the U.S. In North America, Chaga is almost exclusively found on birches in the northeast. In particular, it’s most commonly found on paper and yellow birch trees. Paper birch is a common forest tree with a white bark that exfoliates in broad, curling sheets. It’s found at low and high elevations in the northeast of North America. Yellow birch is another common forest tree and usually has a yellow bark that exfoliates as small, curling shreds. Most typically, well-developed Chaga is found on birch trees older than 40 years and grows in all shapes and sizes on the outside of the birch trees it infects. You’ll typically see it in the form of a dome, cone, and horn with crusty ridges. To learn more about harvesting Chaga, check out www.chagahq.com/harvest-chaga/.
How to Make Chaga Tea
The most popular way to consume Chaga is by drinking a delicious cup of Chaga tea. Below is my favorite simple Chaga tea recipe for you to try at home.
- Break the whole Chaga into roughly 10g chunks.
- Grind one chunk into powder using a blender or coffee grinder.
- Place one teaspoon (two if you like a stronger tea) into a tea infuser.
- Place the tea infuser into your favorite large mug and pour in about 400 ml of hot water.
- Leave the Chaga and hot water steeping for at least 5 minutes, but the longer the better to extract more of the bioactive ingredients.
- Remove the infuser from the mug and add maple syrup or honey to taste.