Used in Eastern folk medicine for centuries, the health-giving properties of the Chaga mushroom are gaining more attention in the West. As a medicinal mushroom, emerging research has found that Chaga packs quite a punch, and demand for this antioxidant powerhouse has increased over recent years.
Chaga mushrooms grow in cool areas in the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, Russia, Korea and North America. It typically grows on birch trees and can vary in size from five to twenty inches. The shape of Chaga can vary and it grows on different parts of the outside of 'host' trees. It has a hard, cracked exterior similar in appearance to charcoal, and a softer brown-golden yellow interior.
Medicine through the ages
Chaga mushroom has been referred to by a number of different names including, "The king of medicinal mushrooms," "A gift from God" and "The mushroom of immortality." Historically, it has been widely used in Eastern folk medicine to treat many diseases. These range from ailments of the stomach, lungs and kidneys to skin diseases. It has also been used as a general supplement for the vigor of the human body.
Today, Chaga mushroom has not been forgotten and is used as a health supplement in a number of different ways. Most commonly it is made into a tea, but you can also find it in the form of tinctures, powders, capsules and creams. The quality of the supplement depends on the quality of the raw materials, method of extraction, and the dosage.
Let's take a look at the little known benefits of Chaga mushroom from its antioxidant qualities, through to its potential for cancer therapy.
1. An antioxidant powerhouse
Antioxidants are widely known for their ability to help counter the potentially harmful effects of free radicals. Studies have shown that the Chaga mushroom has considerably higher levels of antioxidants when compared with other medicinal mushrooms and popular antioxidant juices.1
Melanin is the primary chemical substance that gives Chaga mushroom its superior antioxidant properties.2 Evidence of the protective antioxidant effects of this fungus was found in a study of patients with inflammatory bowel disease.3 The study also determined that oxidative stress in lymphocytes was reduced in healthy individuals (the control group). These findings highlight the potential of Chaga as a valuable supplement to reduce oxidative stress in general.
2. Potential for cancer prevention and treatment
Phyto-sterols contained in Chaga are linked to its anticancer properties.4 Two of the main phyto-sterols contained in Chaga are lanosterol (45 percent) and inotodial (25 percent). Laboratory and animal studies have highlighted the anti-cancer effects of both of these ingredients. Research on humans is still needed. In one study, Chaga fraction prepared from dried fruiting bodies was subjected to anticancer evaluation. The elicited anticancer effects from the study were attributed to decreased tumor cell proliferation, motility and morphological changes induction.5
Another study using human hepatoma cell lines shows Chaga mushroom as a promising therapeutic option for the treatment of hepatoma.6
3. A proven treatment for psoriasis
A continued regular intake of Chaga can lead to a full disappearance of psoriatic lesions without any extra treatment. One study noted that effective psoriasis treatment was evident after nine to twelve weeks over continuous treatment. Of the 50 patients with different forms of psoriasis that were treated, 38 were completely cured, a further eight showed improvements, and only four did not show improvement.7
The study found that psoriasis therapy with Chaga is especially successful in cases when psoriasis occurs in combination with chronic inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, liver and biliary system. There were no side effects observed during the Chaga treatments.
4. Immune system support
Studies support the immunomodulating properties of Chaga mushroom.8 This means that it can modify immune response or the functioning of the immune system by speeding it up when needed or slowing it down when necessary. This is largely as a result of beta glucans contained in the mushroom. These immune-boosting properties are powerful from a therapeutic point of view. They have seen Chaga used to support gastrointestinal health in Eastern cultures.
5. Treatment for viral infections
Studies have identified evidence of the antimicrobial action of Chaga mushroom. This is possibly due to the antiviral effect of lanosterol and/or the action of betulin and betulinic acid, all of which are components of the Chaga mushroom. Specifically, the benefits have been explored for cells infected by the herpes simplex virus.9,10
Safety and precautions
Chaga does not commonly produce side effects. However, caution should always be exercised, especially for those with medical conditions, or who are on any form of medication. Specifically, Chaga may affect blood-thinning and diabetic medications.11 Research is still emerging as are side effects and safety information. Most of the research has been completed in laboratory and animal studies. More studies on humans are required.
Where to find out more about Chaga Mushrooms
The Chaga 101 website offers a comprehensive guide to Chaga mushroom. It was created by a group of Chaga enthusiasts who wanted to separate truth from fiction and share their first hand experiences with Chaga. Here you can find more information on;
- Where to find Chaga in the wild, and how to identify it
- Harvesting with sustainability in mind
- Preparation, including tried and tested recipes for Chaga tea, coffee and tinctures
- Benefits, medicinal effects and side effects
- Assistance in selecting high quality Chaga. Learn about what to look for during the buying process
- Where to buy Chaga online
The content in this article is not medical advice. All information is generalized, presented for informational purposes only, and presented "as is" without warranty or guarantee of any kind. Readers are cautioned not to rely on this information as medical advice and to consult a qualified medical, dietary, or other appropriate professional for their specific needs. This information has not been evaluated by the FTC, FDA or any other government agency and is not intended to "diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."
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Elly McGuinness, B PhEd, B Com, ACSM
Elly has been inspiring people to make sustainable changes to their health, fitness and lifestyle for the past 15 years. She offers online solutions for people who are looking to get started on, or improve their health and fitness. She blogs regularly, writes for a number of health and wellbeing publications and is the published author of a holistic weight loss book.
Elly is mum to a spirited three year old girl, and along with her partner Colin they embrace a digital nomad, world schooling lifestyle.