You would be forgiven for thinking the dark lump that is a Chaga mushroom is no more than a common tree burl, or even a dangerous and poisonous fungus.
These mushrooms, which are native to the cold taiga regions, have an outward appearance that looks anything but appetizing.
However, despite their unappealing appearance, Chaga mushrooms were revered by ancient cultures for their potential medicinal properties, and they used them in a variety of traditional remedies.
Modern science has started delving deeper into these claims and seeks empirical evidence for what was once anecdotal.
No studies have yet conclusively proven the efficacy of chaga mushrooms in the treatment or prevention of diseases, but there is a growing body of animal and test tube research that suggests these fungi may have significant health benefits.
Here’s what is known so far about the benefits and side effects of chaga mushrooms.
What Does Chaga Do To Your Body?
As with other mushrooms, chaga mushrooms have a nutrient profile that is relatively unique in comparison to plants and animals. They have a rich profile of bioactive compounds, each potentially contributing to various health benefits.
These compounds include antioxidants, beta-glucans, polysaccharides, triterpenes, plant sterols, betulinic acid, polyphenols, melanin, and trace minerals such as copper, zinc, and iron. These are the basis for many of the potential health benefits of chaga mushrooms (5).
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Possible Support for Your Immune System
One of the most intriguing properties of chaga mushrooms is their potential ability to bolster the immune system. Beta-glucans that are present in chaga may stimulate the immune system’s cells and help fend off illness (14).
In addition, research has found that chaga may help with the regulation of cytokine production, specialized proteins that play an important role in white blood cell stimulation, the body’s first line of defense against several diseases (15). Once activated, these cells help prevent infections while also fighting against harmful pathogens (16).
Potential Anti-Inflammatory Effects
One of the most significant potential benefits of chaga mushrooms lies in their anti-inflammatory properties (22).
Chaga is rich in antioxidants, which may play a significant role in combating oxidative stress, a leading cause of inflammation (3). Oxidative stress occurs when an imbalance exists between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects (18).
By potentially scavenging these harmful free radicals, the antioxidants in chaga mushrooms potentially contribute to reducing inflammation.
Furthermore, the beta-glucans that are found in chaga mushrooms may also play a role in this anti-inflammatory action. As natural polysaccharides, it has been found that beta-glucans modulate the immune response, potentially reducing inflammation (13).
So, How Does Anti-inflammatory Action Benefit Your Body?
Inflammation is the natural response of the body to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can contribute to a variety of diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, and cancer (11).
Therefore, incorporating foods and supplements with anti-inflammatory properties, such as chaga mushrooms, into your diet may help reduce your risk of developing these conditions.
Potential Benefits for Heart Health
The bioactive compounds (antioxidants, triterpenes, and plant sterols) that are found in chaga mushrooms may also positively impact heart health.
Antioxidants play a crucial role in protecting the heart and blood vessels from the harmful effects of oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which contribute significantly to heart disease (4).
By scavenging free radicals, the antioxidants in chaga mushrooms can help prevent the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (1). This is significant, as oxidized LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of blood vessels, resulting in atherosclerosis, a condition that increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes (17).
Chaga mushrooms also contain plant sterols, which are structurally similar to the body’s own cholesterol. When they are consumed, plant sterols can compete with cholesterol for absorption in the digestive system and potentially reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the body (19).
Lower levels of LDL cholesterol mean there is less cholesterol available to contribute to atherosclerotic plaque, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.
Potential Role in Cancer Prevention
Chaga mushrooms may also have potential cancer-fighting properties. They contain triterpenes, some of which have been found to be cytotoxic against tumor cells (10).
Unlike other cancer treatments, substances that contain triterpenes only target cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Early research has suggested that chaga mushrooms may inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells in vitro and in mice (8) (12). As promising as this sounds, it is important to remember that human studies are required to confirm the potential cancer-fighting benefits of chaga mushrooms.
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What Does Chaga Do To Your Brain?
Chaga mushrooms are full of antioxidants, which are known for their possible protective effects against oxidative stress, a factor that can contribute to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (2).
One of the most compelling properties of chaga mushrooms is their high melanin content (20). Melanin is the same pigment that gives color to our skin, eyes, and hair, and it is also present in large quantities in the human brain, where it plays a role in protecting neurons from damage (6).
The melanin in chaga mushrooms contributes to their dark color and provides potent antioxidant effects, which may also extend some protection to our neurons. However, this is only a hypothesis based on the known antioxidant properties of melanin and no specific studies have been conducted to confirm this.
Another intriguing component of chaga mushrooms is triterpenes. These compounds are known for their potential anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (20).
In the context of brain health, reducing inflammation and combating oxidative stress can be beneficial. However, this is based on the general actions of triterpenes, and no specific research on how chaga’s triterpenes may affect the human brain has been conducted.
These potential benefits are promising, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal or based on animal and in vitro studies. Human studies are required in order to determine whether chaga mushrooms can provide these benefits to our brains.
Is It Safe To Take Chaga Everyday?
There’s no specific research on chaga dosage due to the lack of extensive human clinical trials. Therefore, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions or consult a healthcare provider.
Experts recommend taking it in cycles, such as three weeks on and one week off. It’s essential to listen to your body and adjust the dosage accordingly, particularly if you experience any adverse effects.
Can Chaga Cause Side Effects?
Many people can consume chaga without experiencing any adverse effects, but for some, there are some potential chaga mushroom side effects that must be considered.
Chaga mushrooms are rich in oxalates, compounds that potentially contribute to kidney stones in susceptible individuals. People with kidney disease or who have a history of kidney stones may wish to avoid or limit their chaga consumption (9).
Chaga may interact with certain medications. For example, it can enhance the effects of anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, which leads to an increased risk of bleeding (7).
Chaga may also interact with diabetes drugs by lowering blood sugar levels, potentially causing hypoglycemia (7).
There is also a likelihood that these fungi could trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals, characterized by symptoms including itching, rash, or breathing difficulties.
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Who Should Not Eat Chaga?
Due to its potential health benefits and risks, there are certain population groups that should avoid consuming chaga mushrooms, including:
Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women
There is insufficient scientific evidence to establish the safety of chaga mushroom consumption during pregnancy and lactation.
Due to the absence of conclusive data, it is advisable for pregnant or breastfeeding women to avoid chaga mushroom intake to safeguard against potential unknown risks.
Individuals with Autoimmune Diseases
Chaga mushrooms stimulate the immune system, which can be problematic for those with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
With these conditions, the immune system attacks the body’s own cells, and stimulating the immune system can potentially exacerbate these conditions.
People Scheduled for Surgery
Chaga has been found to have antiplatelet properties, meaning that it can slow blood clotting. This can increase the risk of bleeding during and after surgery.
Therefore, it is advisable for those who will undergo surgery to stop their consumption of chaga mushrooms at least two weeks before the scheduled procedure.
People with Diabetes on Antidiabetic Medication
Chaga may lower blood sugar levels and there’s a concern that it may make blood sugar control more difficult in people with diabetes who are taking antidiabetic medications (21). This could potentially lead to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels.
Those on Anticoagulant or Antiplatelet Drugs
Due to its potential to cause slow blood clotting, chaga could enhance the effects of these drugs, thereby increasing the risk of bruising and bleeding (7).
The Bottom Line
The benefits of chaga mushrooms are still mostly anecdotal or based on animal and in vitro studies. Although they have shown promise in potentially fighting cancer, improving brain health, and reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, more research is required to confirm these benefits.
Before adding any new supplement to your diet, we recommend consulting a healthcare professional, particularly if you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking medication.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Anti-diabetic effects of Inonotus obliquus polysaccharides in streptozotocin-induced type 2 diabetic mice and potential mechanism via PI3K-Akt signal pathway (2017, sciencedirect.com)
- Antioxidant Compounds from Edible Mushrooms as Potential Candidates for Treating Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases (2023, mdpi.com)
- Antioxidant effect of Inonotus obliquus (2005, sciencedirect.com)
- Antioxidants, inflammation and cardiovascular disease (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Bioactive Compounds and Bioactive Properties of Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) Mushroom: A Review (2020, researchgate.net)
- Biochemistry, Melanin (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Chaga Mushroom (2023, mskcc.org)
- Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) induces G0/G1 arrest and apoptosis in human hepatoma HepG2 cells (2008, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) t
- Chaga mushroom-induced oxalate nephropathy that clinically manifested as nephrotic syndrome (2022, journals.lww.com)
- Chemical constituents from Inonotus obliquus and their antitumor activities (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Chronic Inflammation – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Continuous intake of the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) aqueous extract suppresses cancer progression and maintains body temperature in mice (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Edible Mushrooms and Beta-Glucans: Impact on Human Health (2021, mdpi.com)
- Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Immunomodulatory Activity of the Water Extract from Medicinal Mushroom Inonotus obliquus (2005, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Macrophage Cytokines: Involvement in Immunity and Infectious Diseases (2014, frontiersin.org)
- Mechanistic Insights into the Oxidized Low-Density Lipoprotein-Induced Atherosclerosis (2020, hindawi.com)
- Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health (2017, hindawi.com)
- Plant sterols and plant stanols in the management of dyslipidaemia and prevention of cardiovascular disease (2014, atherosclerosis-journal.com)
- Recent Developments in Inonotus obliquus (Chaga mushroom) Polysaccharides: Isolation, Structural Characteristics, Biological Activities and Application (2021, mdpi.com)
- Terpenoids with alpha-glucosidase inhibitory activity from the submerged culture of Inonotus obliquus (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Chaga Extracts Obtained by Different Extraction Methods against LPS-Induced RAW 264.7 (2022, mdpi.com)