Health Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms

Chaga mushrooms grow on birch trees in parts of the northern hemisphere, including Europe, Asia, Canada, and the northeastern United States. People in Northern Europe and Russia have used chaga mushrooms for hundreds of years, consuming them in herbal teas to boost their immunity. Today, we find chaga mushrooms in teas, powders, extracts, and supplements. 

Health Benefits

Chaga mushrooms began attracting attention over the past few decades due to their health benefits. Some early animal and lab studies on chaga mushrooms have shown promising results for strengthening the immune system and fighting cancer, among others. More studies and clinical trials are needed to confirm whether these potential benefits hold true for people.

Protects from Liver Damage  

Chaga mushrooms may also prevent or reduce certain liver diseases. One study found that chaga extract was able to protect liver tissue from the effects of tetra-butyl hydroperoxide, a chemical known to cause liver damage. However, whether chaga extract will have the same effect in human trials is still undetermined.  

The antioxidants in chaga mushrooms may also reduce oxidative stress, which fuels chronic liver diseases like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Supports the Immune System 

Chaga mushrooms contain beta-glucans, which are naturally occurring carbohydrates that can boost your immune defense.  

Other early research on mice shows that chaga extract may also help regulate the production of cytokines, which can stimulate blood cells and strengthen the immune system’s means of communication. This can help fight infections from minor colds to more serious illnesses. However, more research is needed to confirm the link between chaga mushrooms and cytokine production.

Reduces Inflammation
When the body is fighting off an illness, inflammation acts as a defense mechanism against infection. However, sometimes inflammation can damage the body or even develop into a chronic condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, or autoimmune diseases. Even depression may be partly linked to chronic inflammation.  

According to a study on chaga mushrooms and cytokines, chaga extract can help prevent the production of harmful cytokines, reducing inflammation in the body.

Prevents Cancer

Researchers are beginning to explore the possibility that chaga mushrooms can prevent cancer or slow its growth. Chaga mushrooms are a rich source of antioxidants, which can prevent cell damage caused by free radicals or oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can cause cancer, as well as a number of other health problems.  

One study found that chaga extract could slow the growth of lung, breast, and cervical cancer cells in a petri dish. The same study found that the extract can also slow the growth of tumors in mice. Another study found that triterpenes, a compound found in chaga mushrooms, can destroy tumor cells without harming healthy cells. Although these studies have found promising results, more extensive research on humans is necessary before researchers can prove the anti-cancer benefits of chaga.

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Health Risks

As with other supplements, the health risks of chaga mushrooms can include unexpected side effects. For example, it may interact poorly with blood-thinning medications and diabetes medications.  

Chaga mushrooms can lower blood sugar, which can make it dangerous for those taking insulin or other blood sugar-lowering medications. Consuming chaga could cause hypoglycemia, or a serious drop in blood sugar. 

Chaga may also interfere with blood clotting. Therefore, those with bleeding disorders should avoid it, and anyone taking blood thinning medication should use it with caution.  

Chaga mushrooms are high in oxalates, which can increase the risk of kidney stones. Those who have kidney disease, a prior history of kidney stones, or who are at risk of kidney stones should not take chaga. To avoid complications, speak to your doctor before using an herbal supplement. 

Amount and Dosage

Chaga mushrooms are available as a powder, extract, or herbal tea. While they can be taken as a supplement, it may be easier for the body to absorb chaga mushrooms when they brewed in hot water.

It’s important to remember that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements the same way it does foods. There are no set recommendations on appropriate chaga mushroom dosages, so follow the recommended dosage guidelines on the product itself and always buy from reputable sources. When in doubt, you can check with your health care provider for a recommendation and to confirm the product you’ve selected isn’t cause for concern. While chaga mushrooms may be effective in preventing or treating the symptoms of certain conditions, they should never be used as a substitute for other forms of medical care. Instead, chaga should be used to supplement your usual treatment under your doctor’s guidance.
 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 20, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

BioMed Research International: "Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Inonotus obliquus in Colitis Induced by Dextran Sodium Sulfate."

Current Psychiatry Reports: "Is Depression an Inflammatory Disorder?"

FDA: “What You Need to Know about Dietary Supplements.”

International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms: "Hepatoprotective Activity of Water Extracts from Chaga Medicinal Mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Higher Basidiomycetes) Against Tert-Butyl Hydroperoxide−Induced Oxidative Liver Injury in Primary Cultured Rat Hepatocytes."

Journal of Ethnopharmacology: "Inonotus Obliquus Extracts Suppress Antigen-Specific IgE Production Through the Modulation of Th1/Th2 Cytokines in Ovalbumin-Sensitized Mice"

Medicina: "Effects of Beta-Glucans on the Immune System."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Chaga Mushroom.”

Nutritional Review: "Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber."

Nutrition Research and Practice: "Anticancer Activity of Subfractions Containing Pure Compounds of Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) Extract in Human Cancer Cells and in Balbc/c Mice Bearing Sarcoma-180 Cells."

Phytotherapy Research: "Antitumor Activity of Water Extract of a Mushroom, Inonotus Obliquus, Against HT-29 Human Colon Cancer Cells."

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