Chaga Mushrooms: Health Benefits, and Side Effects
Chaga mushrooms have been used for centuries in Siberia and other parts of Asia as a medicine to boost immunity and improve overall health.
Though ugly in appearance, the Chaga mushroom is gaining popularity in the Western world for its potential health benefits.
What’s more, a cup of tea made from Chaga is packed with antioxidants.
However, the consumption of this special mushroom may come with some risks.
This article examines the uses, benefits, and potential side effects of Chaga mushrooms.
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is a type of fungus that grows mainly on the bark of birch trees in cold climates, such as Northern Europe, Siberia, Russia, Korea, Northern Canada, and Alaska.
Chaga is also known by other names, such as black mass, clinker polypore, birch canker polypore, cinder conk, and the sterile conk trunk rot (of birch).
Chaga produces a woody growth, or conk, which looks similar to a clump of burnt charcoal — roughly 10–15 inches (25–38 centimeters) in size. However, the inside reveals a softcore with an orange color.
For centuries, Chaga has been used as a traditional medicine in Russia and other Northern European countries, mainly to boost immunity and overall health.
Traditionally, Chaga was grated into a fine powder and brewed as an herbal tea.
Nowadays, it’s not only available as a tea but also as a powdered or capsule supplement.
Nutritional-dense SuperfoodChaga mushrooms are rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including:
- B-complex vitamins
- vitamin D
- amino acids
Boosts Your Immune System and Fights Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural response of your immune system that can protect against disease. However, long-term inflammation is linked to conditions like heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Animal and test-tube studies suggest that Chaga extract can positively impact immunity by reducing long-term inflammation and fighting harmful bacteria and viruses.
By promoting the formation of beneficial cytokines — specialized proteins that regulate the immune system — Chaga stimulates white blood cells, which are essential for fighting off harmful bacteria or viruses.
As a result, this mushroom could help fight infections — from minor colds to serious illnesses.
Preventing and fighting cancer
Increasingly, researchers are taking seriously the possibility that Chaga mushrooms may be able to prevent cancer and slow its growth.
Chaga is rich in antioxidants, which are chemicals that help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals or oxidants. When the body is unable to produce enough antioxidants to prevent this damage, oxidative stress occurs. Oxidative stress can cause cancer and a host of other health problems.
A 2010 study found that Chaga could slow the growth of lung, breast, and cervical cancer cells in a petri dish. The same study also found that Chaga could slow the growth of tumors in mice.
Lowers Blood Sugar
A 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.
Though no research has been done on humans yet, this suggests that Chaga might contribute to an alternative treatment for diabetes in the future.
The Chaga extract may also benefit cholesterol levels, reducing your risk of heart disease.
In an eight-week study in rats with high cholesterol, Chaga extracts reduced “bad” LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides while increasing antioxidant levels.
Researchers believe that the antioxidants present in Chaga are responsible for its effects on cholesterol.
Again, more research in humans is needed to clearly understand Chaga’s cholesterol impact.
Lowers blood pressure
Research suggests that oxidative stress is a contributing factor to high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more prone to heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular health issues.
Chaga’s antioxidants could have a potential role in lowering blood pressure and preventing poor cardiovascular health.
Slows the aging process
Oxidative stress causes physical signs of aging, such as wrinkles, sagging skin, and gray hair. Exposure to sun, pollution, and other sources of damage create too many free radicals for the body to neutralize, which accelerates the aging process of the skin.
In theory, supplying the body with more antioxidants could slow the aging process, or even reverse visible signs of aging.
Prevents drug side effects
Treating people with Chaga mushrooms could prevent them from experiencing the side effects of other treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and various medications prescribed for chronic illnesses.
Prevents liver injuries
Chaga may help prevent or slow the progression of certain liver problems, suggests a 2015 study in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. The Korean research team reported that a water-based extract of Chaga was able to protect biopsied liver tissue from the oxidative effects of a chemical (tertbutyl hydroperoxide) known to cause liver damage.
As with other supplements and medications, Chaga carries some risks. It can also trigger side effects and may interact dangerously with some medications.
Because Chaga lowers blood sugar, it can be dangerous for people taking insulin and other blood sugar-lowering medications.
Chaga also contains a protein that can prevent blood clotting. Therefore, if you are on blood-thinning medications, have a bleeding disorder, or are preparing for surgery, consult with your doctor before taking Chaga.
To reduce the risks of using Chaga mushrooms, a person should consider the following:
- Continue taking all prescribed medications, as Chaga is not a substitute for traditional medicine.
- Tell a doctor about all medications being used. As with other drugs and supplements, Chaga may alter the effectiveness of various medications.
- Write down any side effects from Chaga's use. Though rare, Chaga can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Trouble breathing, changes in heart rate, and loss of consciousness are medical emergencies.
- Avoid using other herbal supplements while taking Chaga, unless a doctor advises otherwise.