Increasing interest in natural remedies has brought cures and compounds found in traditional Chinese folk medicine to the forefront. Within this botanical pharmacopeia are medicinal mushrooms, providing a range of solid effects on your well-being. For that reason, it's important to understand the differences between different types of medicinal mushroom. Chaga mushroom induces a number of changes in the body, from defeating cancer cells to boosting the immune system and much more.
Technically a woody fungal parasite grown on birch trees in the Northern Hemisphere, extract of chaga has a history going back to Otzi the Iceman and 12th-century Tsar Vladimir Monomakh to treat cancer of the lip, but was first documented in Russian and northern European medical texts from the 16th century. Let's take a look at what the chaga mushroom is, how it helps the body, any potential risks and how you can optimize your benefits from this medicinal mushroom.
What are Chaga Mushrooms?
Chaga mushroom inonotus obliquus is a great natural treatment for a range of health issues, including suppressing and killing cancer cells, boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation, improving energy and focus, supporting the liver and kidneys, and providing relief from allergies by reducing histamine reactions and reducing swelling. Due to its bitter flavor, it is not used in culinary circles, but its aqueous extracts deliver strong benefits to many people worldwide. Growing on birch logs, it resembles burnt charcoal, but it actually has one of the highest scores for anti-oxidant activity, making it a healing powerhouse and a great option for detoxing and refreshing your body.
What are the Health Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms?
Cancer-Fighting Effects of Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga is anti-mutagenic, antitumor and strongly anti-oxidant — in fact, it has almost the highest ORAC, or oxygen radical absorbent capacity, of any food. It's been used for centuries to suppress cancer as well as to slow the progression of the disease once it's caught on, being especially effective against lung, breast, colorectal and melanoma cancers. In animal studies, treatment with chaga reduced tumor size by 60% while in late-stage metastasized cancers, it reduced the number of nodes by 25%.
The high OARC score helps keep your body's cells operating properly in the first place, reducing the risk of cancer, and it contains many other compounds believed to boost the body's production of killer cells, which go directly after cancer cells without impacting the surrounding tissues. However, the specific combination of compounds means that it not only reduces the risk, but cell studies have shown that the compounds also inhibit the spread of cancer.
Liver Support from the Chaga Mushrooms
The chaga mushroom provides a wide range of phenolic compounds that can improve your liver health, from anti-inflammatory actions to anti-viral compounds that provide a strong defense against several serious virus-based illnesses. The mushroom can reduce the infectivity of the hepatitis C virus, while the anti-inflammatory effects can reduce inflammation in alcohol- and drug-induced liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and viral hepatitis, and the anti-oxidant effects can reduce damage to the liver cells as a whole, making it a solid tonic for anyone facing liver issues.
Cardiovascular Effects of the Chaga Mushroom
The chaga mushroom is also linked to increased endurance, improving overall cardiovascular function. It's suspected that it mainly helps age-related losses in endurance, specifically by reducing oxidative stress on the overall system while also improving the health of heart muscle cells. However, another effect you may not have considered is the ability of chaga to reduce blood lactate levels, which reduces and delays exercise-related fatigue and soreness. Studies have also shown that chaga mushroom extract lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol and overall cholesterol levels, including triglycerides, while boosting levels of good (HDL) cholesterol.
Immune-Boosting Effects of the Chaga Mushroom
In addition to its other effects on the body, chaga also has antiviral properties against herpes, hepatitis C and even HIV, making it a strong candidate for chronic virus-based illnesses. Studies have shown the mushroom to be antiviral against HIV while decreasing the infective properties of the hepatitis C virus by a hundredfold. But beyond antiviral effects, it also boosts the body's production of immune cells, especially interleukin 6 (IL-6) and T lymphocytes.
Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Chaga Mushrooms
The polysaccharides that form in chaga mushrooms have strong anti-inflammatory effects, helping with a wide range of related bodily conditions. However, the effects are most strongly seen in soft tissues, such as the lungs and airways in asthma, the bowel in inflammatory bowel disease, in the liver in chronic liver diseases such as substance-induced liver disease, fatty liver disease and viral hepatitis. That being said, compounds found in chaga also regulate your body's cytokine production, reducing the effects of arthritis as well.
Diabetes Improvements from the Chaga Mushroom
The activities of polysaccharides found in chaga mushrooms help improve diabetes through better metabolism and blood sugar management. Part of this process has to do with the anti-inflammatory features of the polysaccharides, which reduce inflammation in the pancreas, allowing the organ to produce proper levels of insulin and maintain appropriate blood sugar levels. Animal studies showed a 31% reduction in blood sugar levels over a three-week period.
Allergy Reduction with Chaga Mushroom
In addition to reducing the inflammation of your allergic response due to its cytokine-moderating effects on the body, chaga also reduces histamine response to allergens. When you have an allergy attack, your body produces histamine in response, so lowering this response also lowers your overall symptoms and the severity of your allergy attacks.
Digestive Improvements from Chaga
Because of its history and ability to reduce soft-tissue inflammation, chaga provides a range of benefits to the digestive system. However, in addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, chaga also regulates your gut biome, keeping your gut flora active and flourishing. Polysaccharide anti-oxidant activity also improves chronic pancreatitis.
Are There Any Risks to Using Chaga Mushrooms?
If you have a mold or fungus allergy, you'll want to avoid using chaga mushrooms. However, except for a handful of potential interactions that can make it too effective, there are no studies that suggest that chaga is unsafe. If you're diabetic and using chaga to control blood sugar, keep a close eye on your blood sugar when you start, and start with a small dose in case it drops your blood sugar too far. Because it acts similarly to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin, be careful with it if you're on blood thinners, as it may further prevent blood from clotting, and you should stop taking chaga two weeks prior to surgeries. It can increase immune response, which may make it a bad choice for those with auto-immune conditions. Finally, as with so many medications and supplements, it hasn't been tested on pregnant or lactating women, so be sure to consult your doctor in these situations. Beyond these precautions, there have not really been any reported side effects from chaga mushrooms.
There is a single case of mushroom induced oxalate nephropathy or kidney disease in a 72-year-old Japanese woman who had been diagnosed with liver cancer the year before and began ingesting 4-5 teaspoons of powdered chaga daily for six months. Considering the lack of other patients who have suffered these issues, chaga is still relatively safe, given that you don't go overboard as this woman did, leading to chaga mushroom induced oxalate, and take precautions with any medications that may boost the effect of the chaga mushroom.
How to Get the Best Benefit from Chaga Mushrooms
There have not been a lot of scientific studies performed on chaga mushrooms, so the dosage for specific issues has not yet been determined. However, chaga has traditionally been taken as a tea, even working as a coffee substitute in Finland during WWII. Start slow, with a relatively small amount of chaga tea, then increase the dosage until it's working well for you.
When you take the time to gain a solid understanding of how chaga mushrooms can impact your health, you can make a smarter decision about whether it's the right option for you. Make sure to talk to your doctor for medical advice about whether chaga mushrooms are a good fit for your health needs.