CHAGA MUSHROOMS: HEALTH BENEFITS, NUTRITIONAL VALUE, USES, DOSAGE AND SIDE EFFECTS
Inonotus Obliquus, commonly known as CHAGA, is a type of slow-growing, non-toxic fungus typically found on Birch trees in Northern Europe, Asia, Canada and Northeastern United States. Chaga Mushrooms have been used for centuries in Siberia and other parts of Asia as a medicine to boost Immunity and improve overall health. [i] It is also commonly known as Birch Mushroom, Siberian Chaga, Black Mass, or ‘Cancer Fungus’. Long used in folk medicine, Chaga contains massive amounts of the pigment Melanin. This odd-shaped mass produces a woody growth, called as conk, when exposed to the sun; the exterior of the mushroom will turn a deep black colour similar to a clump of burnt charcoal, while the interior will remain soft with bright orange-ish color. Though ugly in appearance, the chaga mushroom is fast gaining popularity in the Western World for its potential health benefits, and is used to make medicine due to its powerful anti-oxidant abilities.
How is Chaga Harvested?
Chaga should only be harvested from living trees and great care must be taken to ensure that the tree is not damaged or that the chaga is over-harvested as it may compromise its nutritional value. The chaga is then dried or powdered and used to make Chaga tea extracts or tinctures. The tea may feature chaga alone or in combination with other mushrooms such as Cordyceps. Less commonly, the powder is packed into capsules for use as a dietary supplement. Taking chaga with either warm or cold water is believed to release its medicinal properties.
How does Chaga work?
Chaga might stimulate the immune system. It contains chemicals that have antioxidant effects. It might also lower blood sugar, cholesterol levels, may be used to treat diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease. Though the research is ongoing, some scientific indicate that chaga extract may provide certain health benefits. Also keep in mind that reliable information on chaga’s nutritional content is extremely limited.
Potential Health Benefits
Alternative practitioners believe that Chaga offers numerous health benefits. Among them, Chaga is believed to fight inflammation, lower blood sugar, reduce blood pressure, alleviate arthritis, and even prevent or slow the progression of cancer. Since Chaga Mushroom is an Adaptogen, it helps to bring the body back to balance, reducing oxidative stress and boosting immune function. It also has positive effects on:
- Nervous System
- GI Tract
- Cardiovascular System
- Endocrine System
Anti – Inflammatory Action:
By having these adaptogenic effects, it helps the body to cope with stress, boost health during the cold and flu season, and fight cancer. Animal and test-tube studies suggest that chaga extract can positively impact immunity by reducing long-term inflammation and fight harmful bacteria and viruses. By promoting the formation of beneficial Cytokines (specialized protein that regulate the immune system), chaga stimulates white blood cells which are essential in fighting off harmful bacteria and viruses.[ii][iii]
Anti – Cancer and Antioxidative properties:
Chaga is rich in fiber and essential nutrients like Vitamin D, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese and calcium. Due to its high melanin and antioxidant content, chaga is found to have a certain anticancer potential where various lab studies on mice[iv] and human liver cells[v] suggest that its extract prevented cancer growth and reduced tumor size by 60%. High Melanin content in Chaga makes it a potent antioxidant with one of the highest Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) food.
Lowers Blood Sugar Levels:
Several animal studies have concluded that Chaga mushroom extracts help in lowering Blood sugar levels by as much as 31%[vi] over several weeks. Another recent study in obese, diabetic mice observed that chaga extract reduced blood sugar levels and insulin resistance compared to diabetic mice who did not receive the supplement.[vii]
Chaga extract is also shown to benefit cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the risk of heart diseases. In an eight week study in rats with high cholesterol, chaga extract reduced bad LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing good cholesterol and antioxidant levels.
Though chaga extracts are well tolerated, human studies on its safety and dosage are very limited. However, it should be noted that chaga extracts could pose risk for people on insulin due to its impact on blood sugar. Also, it contains proteins that prevent blood clotting, therefore people on blood thinning medication need to be extra cautious. Due limited data research, there is no indication for pregnant or lactating women. The safest option is to avoid consumption.
How to make Chaga tea and what does it taste like?
The easiest way to make Chaga tea is with Chaga tea bags. If using Chaga powder, add a teaspoon to a cup of boiling water, allow steeping for 5 minutes, and straining with a fine tea strainer. Some people described the taste as earthy and coffee-like; others will tell you that it tastes like dishwater. To make the tea more palatable, add honey or sweetener which brings out its slight vanilla-like essence.
Chaga extract has a lot medicinal benefits and antioxidant effects which has anti-cancer benefits along with improvement in immunity, inflammation, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Since human studies are limited, one may want to proceed with caution if they have any underlying conditions.
[i] Chemical and medicobiological properties of chaga (review) M. Ya. Shashkina, P. N. Shashkin & A. V. Sergeev, Pharmaceutical Chemistry Journal 40, 560-568 (2006)