Among the many functional mushrooms out there, chaga is certainly one of the most popular. Chaga, scientifically called Inonotus obliquus, is an edible mushroom that grows in temperate and frigid regions in the Northern hemisphere, particularly in the Baltic and Siberian areas.
It has been used medicinally in many ancient cultures, such as the Ainu, First Nations, and other indigenous cultures, as well as in China, Russia, and Korea.
Like many functional mushrooms, chaga has now made its way into the Western world as more and more people are starting to realize its benefits.
Notably, chaga is rich in a number of healthful compounds, such as polysaccharides, triterpenoids, polyphenols, unsaturated fatty acids, steroid compounds, coenzyme Q, and vitamin K.
And as far as its medicinal uses, chaga mushrooms initially gathered attention in cancer prevention research, but there are a number of other benefits that are now known about chaga mushrooms.
We’ll dig into these below.
Table of Contents
What is Chaga?
Chaga is a type of mushroom that primarily grows on the bark of birch trees in cold northern climates. It can be found growing throughout Siberia, Northern Europe, Russia, Korea, Canada, and Alaska.
Chaga grows as a parasitic fungus on birch trees. Since it tends to grow at high latitudes, the extremely low environmental temperature makes the fungus grow very slowly.
Known scientifically as Inonotus obliquus, chaga produces a woody growth on the outside of the bark of its host tree, called a conk, which absorbs nutrients from the wood.
Chaga has a long history of use as a medicine. As early as the 16th century, chaga mushrooms were used as a folk medicine in Russia, Siberia, and a handful of other Asian countries.
Modern research has looked at the benefits of chaga mushrooms for cancer research, immune support, and a handful of other health benefits.
Health Benefits of Chaga Mushroom:
There are many purported health benefits of chaga mushrooms. Most of the scientific research on this herb has been done via test-tube research or animal studies, so there are only a handful of human clinical trials.
1. May Have Anti-Tumor Activity
Perhaps one of the most intriguing benefits of chaga is its potential for fighting cancer.
For example, research has shown that a triterpenoid extract from chaga mushrooms is able to inhibit the growth of lung cancer cells.
And many other studies on cancer cells have found that chaga mushroom extracts have anti-tumor actions in liver cancer, leukemia, colon cancer, cervical, and other forms of cancer.
Additionally, polysaccharide compounds in chaga mushrooms are able to specifically target and destroy cancer cells without causing toxicity to healthy cells.
And finally, polysaccharide-triterpenoid complexes from chaga mushroom have been found to inhibit cancer cell proliferation.
Summary:In review, chaga mushroom appears to have many potential benefits to prevent or inhibit cancer growth. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these promising findings.
2. Immune System Support
Another promising benefit of chaga mushroom is its ability to support immune function.
One study found that immunosuppressed mice who were given a water extract of chaga had significantly enhanced immune responses compared to mice given a placebo.
Other research in splenic cells has shown that polysaccharide extracts, particularly endo-polysaccharides, from chaga offer immune-enhancing activity, such as increasing macrophages and antibody production.
Additionally, an animal study showed that a heat extract from chaga mushroom was able to induce anti-allergic activity via immune response regulation.
Summary:Lab-based research shows that chaga has promise as an immune-supporting herb. Human clinical trials are needed to verify the benefits of chaga for immune health.
3. Antioxidant Activity
Chaga is also known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, this is due to its high polyphenol content.
Recent in vitro research shows that a few compounds extracted from chaga offer potent antioxidant activity and can even offer neuroprotective benefits.
Other research has shown that chaga mushroom has powerful free-radical scavenging activities.
The antioxidant benefits of chaga have a carry-over effect on other ailments since inflammation is involved in many forms of chronic disease.
Summary:Lab research indicates that chaga has strong antioxidant properties.
4. May Support Blood Sugar Management
There also appear to be a few ways chaga may be able to benefit diabetes and related conditions.
For example, a mice study found that using chaga in diabetic mice was able to decrease blood glucose, free fatty acids, total cholesterol, and LDL, while also increasing HDL, insulin level, and liver glycogen content.
Additionally, research has shown that a similar chaga treatment in diabetic mice increases levels of antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide disabilityutase and glutathione peroxidase. On top of that, the polysaccharides specifically are able to restore the damage in pancreatic tissues.
And other research in diabetic rats has shown that treatment with chaga can lower blood glucose, possibly due to an increase in free radical-scavenging and antioxidant activity.
Summary:Animal studies indicate that chaga benefits the body’s ability to stabilize blood sugar. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
5. Antimicrobial Properties
The fifth and final chaga benefit is its antimicrobial properties.
A couple of studies have found that metabolites from chaga mushrooms have antimicrobial actions against various bacterial strains.
Additionally, research has shown that silver nanoparticles extracted from chaga are able to deliver antibacterial activity against both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria.
This is complemented by research that has shown that various types of chaga extracts offer antimicrobial effects against seven different bacterial strains and one pathogenic yeast.
Summary:Lab studies show that chaga has antimicrobial properties.
How to Incorporate Chaga into Your Diet:
One is unlikely to find whole chaga mushrooms, so often the best way to integrate chaga into one’s diet is through supplementation.
Common ways to incorporate chaga into the diet are by adding chaga powder into tea, shakes, and smoothies, or by consuming chaga tinctures.
Chaga is a safe mushroom that is well tolerated by most individuals.
A lab-based study found that the polysaccharides in chaga are non-toxic.
It’s been theorized that since chaga can lower blood sugar, it could potentially be dangerous for those taking insulin or other blood sugar-lowering medications.
No clinical trials have assessed chaga’s safety.
The standard dosage for chaga is as follows:
Extract: take 2-3 full droppers (2-3mL) per serving under the tongue.
Tea: To make chaga tea, use 1/2 tsp (2.5g) of chaga powder. Pour 6oz of boiling water over it. Let steep for 2-5 minutes.
Drink 1-2 6oz cups of chaga tea per day. Daily intake should not exceed 5g per day.
As always, talk with your healthcare providers before taking chaga supplements or tea.
Chaga mushroom has been used for thousands of years due to its many benefits. Current research has identified a number of different health benefits from chaga and its bioactive compounds.
Specifically, chaga has the potential to prevent or reduce tumor formation, enhance immune system function, increase antioxidant activity, protect against diabetes, and enhance antimicrobial activity.
With so much to offer from one mushroom, adding chaga to one’s diet is definitely worth looking into.