What Is Chaga?
Chaga is not the most beautiful of substances in appearances; it is a white rot fungus, or mushroom. It grows on birch trees in cold, northern climates. Despite its looks, it may hold the key to some pretty amazing health benefits. Chaga tea benefits have been realized through ancient history and science is discovering new ways of using chaga tea today.
For many centuries, Chaga has been used as a medicine in Russia and western Siberia.
Recently, many healthy compounds have been discovered in chaga that may help our health, including:
- Ergosterol peroxides
Chaga are the fungus among us that have some crazy amazing health benefits.
Bold headlines have come across news feeds about mushrooms potentially stopping Alzheimer’s disease recently. Granted, these are preliminary results, but by the end of this blog, I’m hoping you realize that you don’t need to wait to reap the benefits.
Chaga’s Potential Health Benefits
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) has diverse effects in the body, including anti-bacterial, hepato-protective, and anti-tumor effects. Research about Chaga’s benefits are early, but are very promising and include:
- Promotes anti-cancer effects
- Calms the nervous system
- Stimulates the immune system
- Improves endurance
- Is rich in antioxidants
- Protects gut health
- Reduces inflammation
Some blogs are very zealous about the beneficial effects of Chaga. I sought out to find out if its health claims are actually proven. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating mushroom.
Can Chaga Tea Improve Energy Levels?
Chaga tea improves exercise endurance in animals by increase compounds involved in metabolism called PPARγ and GLUT4.
Chaga also reduced fatigue in animals undergoing a swimming test.
Chaga also improved an energy compound called glycogen in liver and muscle and decreased an energy-zapping substances called blood lactic acid and serum urea nitrogen levels in these animals.
While no studies have yet been performed in humans, chaga is a safe option to try if you want. No toxicity was seen at very high levels of intake.
Immune response and inflammation
In this decade, we have more awareness of the influence of immunity and inflammation on almost every aspect of our health.
For example, our gut creates an immune response to a food or substance that we eat every single day, either a positive immune response or a negative one.
Chaga seems to get to the root of some of these immune and inflammatory issues.
Chaga tea benefits for immunity include:
- Reduced inflammation
- Reduces histamine release
- Improves both innate and adaptive immune functions
For more information on plants that reduce histamine response, read 13 Natural Antihistamine Remedies.
In an animal model of inflammatory bowel disease, chaga reduced inflammation and resulted in a positive immune response .
Take the following animal studies and cell studies as examples of how Chaga may help our immunity.
In rats, Chaga extract had similar anti-inflammatory effects (COX-2 inhibition) that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen have.
In addition, chaga reduced inflammatory markers (NF-kB) . Therefore, Chaga may have pain-relieving properties.
Chaga likely improves immune responses through secretion of Th1/Th2 cytokines in immune cells and regulates antigen-specific antibody production .
By improving the immune response, it may be useful for allergy issues and other conditions like an autoimmune disease.
Chaga for Cancer Treatment
200 species of mushrooms that have been found to markedly reduce the growth of different kinds of tumors . Chaga is no exception to this.
Chaga mushroom has potent anti-tumor activities. It has been used to help treat cancer in several countries.
Recently, Chaga reduced metastatic cancer as follows: 60% tumor size reduction and 25% reduction of tumor nodules was observed in mice. In this same study, Chaga reduced tumor blood supply and assemblage of tumors .
Chaga contains substances called triterpenes. It contains over 14 known types of these helpful triterpenes, which seem to be useful against basal cell, colorectal and cervical cancer cells .
Triterpenes have anti-cancer activity by causing tumor cell toxicity against mouse breast cancer cells and cell toxicity against the MCF-7 (human breast cancer) cell lines .
Chaga caused cell toxicity to lung cancer cells in culture as well .
In mice, melanoma cells chaga resulted in inhibition of proliferation and induction of differentiation and apoptosis of cancer cells .
In cell studies, Chaga mushroom was able to stop cell growth of liver cancer cells .
Chaga Anti-cancer Effects Through Hormonal Regulation
Chaga has a substance in it called ergosterol peroxide which is a hormone precursor (vitamin D3 and calcitriol). Ergosterol also possesses possible anticancer activity against colon cancer as well .
Vitamin D2 from Chaga may help with prevention of prostate and colon cancer. The peroxide form of ergosterol is common in mushrooms and has been shown to reduce the growth of some cancer cells and to induce cell death of human leukemia cells.
Ergosterol peroxide from Chaga inhibits inflammation and tumour promotion in mice.
Thus, ergosterol peroxide shows antitumor, antioxidative and immunosuppressive properties, but the molecular mechanism of its antitumor action has not been clarified.
Chaga Brain Benefits
As stated above, mushrooms may enhance brain function, and Chaga mushrooms are no exception. In mice, Chaga was able to improve memory through improving antioxidant status of the mice ,
Chaga may help improve the brain’s response to stressors (oxidation) and also improve memory, as was shown in an animal model of chemically-induced brain dysfunction .
Chaga May Reduce Metabolic Syndrome
Diabetes rates continue to grow, yet many tools in nature hold a lot of promise for management and prevention. Chaga and other mushrooms may be very helpful in reducing diabetes complications for all of the many reasons above, such as its high antioxidant content, immune-enhancing functions, and energy production.
The pancreas helps control blood glucose levels by secreting insulin in response to the need to manage glucose.
In an animal model of diabetes, chaga mushroom was able to restore the damage of pancreatic tissues in mice.
Chaga also helps:
- Reduce glucose blood levels
- Protect from toxins
- Reduces lipid peroxidation
- Has antioxidant effects
- Improved cholesterol
- Reduces triglycerides
Chaga May Help Fight Viruses
A Chaga extract was able to destroy herpes simplex virus in culture while remaining safe for healthy cells .
Another study found Chaga helpful in fighting herpes simplex virus by leading to the prevention of membrane fusion .
Chaga may also reduce the growth of hepatitis C in cell culture .
Chaga also reduced replication of HIV in cell culture .
Chaga May Help Skin
Chaga contains melanin, which may help protect the skin from sun damage .
Chaga May Help Digestion
Mushrooms are revered for their immune benefits. Experts now estimate that 80% of the immune function begins in the digestive tract, so it makes sense to consider edible mushrooms as an important digestive aid.
Mushrooms can help positively influence just about every aspect of immunity, including the aspects that begin in the digestive tract .
Chaga helps reduce DNA damage and protect immune cells from damage (oxidative stress) in cells from patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis .
In an animal model of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), Chaga reduced inflammation and resulted in a positive immune response .
Mushrooms contain prebiotics: prebiotics support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Mushrooms contain the following prebiotics :
- α- and β-glucans
Chaga and Weight
Chaga also decreased body weight in mice by increasing body temperature in response to light-dark switching in mature adult mice .
Chaga May Help The Liver
Chaga also decreases toxic burden (lipid peroxidation) in rat livers .
Chaga May Reduce Allergies
Chaga may help with allergies by stabilizing the cells that secrete histamine (mast cells) in mice .
Chaga and Mood-Enhancement
What I hoped to find, but didn’t find, was any direct evidence that chaga improves mood. But take the following into consideration: We know that improving gut function by enhancing immunity absolutely plays a positive role in the brain. It’s one of the hottest topics in research right now. So, stay tuned: I’m guessing we will see more about chaga and mood in the near future.
How To Make Chaga Tea
It’s been on my list to try for a long time; Chaga mushroom tea. Any mushroom connoisseur or lover is going to have this mushroom on their list. It is also fondly referred to as black gold, and you will soon find out why.
Certain countries are incorporating mushrooms as part of standard care in cancer treatment (such as in Japan). Hello…United States, anyone home?
Back to Chaga Tasting
Chaga has got some legend about it, among those legends includes, improved natural energy and anticancer benefits. What do I have to lose? So here I go.
My first ¼ tsp chaga (ok maybe a little more than that) goes into the hot water with my usual tea and I carry on about my business. It takes a little bit of extra stirring, bear in mind. Don’t worry, within a couple seconds, it will all be mixed in. Just be a little bit patient.
What do I notice? I feel energized and great fairly instantly.
Maybe I’m influenced by suggestion or “placebo” and that Chaga truly can, under the ideal circumstances, increase energy. Will it increase energy if you continue to eat fast foods? My educated guess is no.
It turns out I’m not the only one who feels this way when drinking Chaga tea. If you read various blogs, many people are saying the same thing about energy as me.
I don’t get a jittery feeling, more of a happy, focused type of energy.
Maybe that makes sense if you think about how you feel when you are at the height of your day. That’s how I felt. Happy. And Focused.
Since trying it for the first time, I’ve had it many other times. It seems like it has the opposite effect if your body truly is tired and needs sleep.
In other words, it won’t keep you wired and awake if your body needs rest.
How Does Chaga Taste?
Let’s talk about the taste. It tastes to me, well, mildly of mushroom. But really, the flavor of my other tea predominates the concoction.
It turns the tea a little murky, but do like I do: put a lid on it and pay no mind.
Yes, I’ll try anything once, and I’m trying it over and over again now because I love it. Let me preface this by telling you that many mushrooms have well-known health benefits, so I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Chaga is typically:
- Consumed as a tea
- Taken as a tincture
- Supplemented in capsules
- In Russia, it can be found as a syrup, a tablet, an aerosol, and even as a suppository
The tea I use is from Medicinal Foods. Here is more information about their Organic Chaga Mushroom Powder. This company offers a variety of other mushroom powders and healthy supplements.
Enough reason to add some chaga into your daily routine? I can’t speak for you, but I definitely see its virtues. I know I will be.
Many websites have said that Tsar Vladimir Monomakh, who ruled in 12th-century Russia, cured his lip cancer using Chaga. I can’t confirm or deny this based on my research of the topic.
During World War II, the Chaga mushroom was also used (by the Finnish) as a coffee replacement because of its energy-enhancing benefits and enjoyable taste.
Many health enthusiasts today are also adding it to coffee to mellow out the stomach acidity effects of coffee.
Limitations and Cautions
An important point to keep in mind: Chaga has been researched in animals and in cell culture, not in humans at this point. That is not to say it isn’t effective, it just needs further confirmation through human trials.
As with anything, do not start eating Chaga without first talking with your healthcare provider.
Theoretically, Chaga may reduce blood sugar, and thus, caution should be used if you are using diabetes medications.
Caution with blood-thinning medications: Chaga may have potent anti-coagulant effects.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling root causes of illness.