Chaga Mushroom: 5 Health Benefits of this Ancient Remedy
A common star of mushroom coffee and mushroom tea, the chaga mushroom is loaded with impressive health benefits. It actually has one of the highest ORAC scores of any food! Why is this a good thing? ORAC stands for “Oxygen Radical Absorbent Capacity.” The higher the ORAC value, the better a food’s ability to protect the body from disease-causing free radicals. It also means that chaga mushrooms are one of the best sources of antioxidants, with an ORAC value of 146,700. (1)
So why exactly does anyone want to add chaga mushroom to their diets? People have been known to take chaga mushroom (often shortened to just “chaga”) for heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, parasites, stomach pain, and certain types of cancer. (2) Let’s talk more about possible chaga mushroom benefits and why there’s so much buzz about disease-fighting mushrooms these days.
Chaga Mushroom Plant Origin and Nutrition Facts
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a type of fungus. It mainly grows on the outside of birch trees in very cold climates. Chaga mushrooms grow wild in places like Siberia, northern Canada, Alaska, and some northern areas of the continental United States. What do chaga mushrooms look like? They tend to be lumpy with an exterior that looks similar to burnt charcoal.
Chaga mushrooms really are most impressive for their antioxidant content. However, their nutrition content isn’t super impressive. But you can see below that chaga mushrooms are low in calories, very high in fiber and free of fat, sugar and carbohydrates.
Five grams of chaga mushroom contains about: (3, 4)
0 grams fat
0 grams carbohydrates
0 grams sugar
5 grams fiber (20 percent DV)
1 gram protein
5 Health Benefits of Chaga Mushroom
1. Prevent and Treat Cancer
According to the Memorial Sloan Cancer Center, “Laboratory and animal studies show that chaga can inhibit cancer progression. Studies in humans are needed.” (5) In fact, in one study, tumor-bearing mice who supplemented with chaga extract experienced a 60 percent tumor size reduction. Meanwhile, mice with metastatic cancer (tumors spread to other parts of the body) had a 25 percent decrease in their number of nodules compared to the control group. (6)
Another study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology looked at the effects of chaga mushroom on cancerous human liver cells. The research reveals that chaga extract may be able to prevent liver cancer cell growth, making it a potential treatment for cancer in the liver. (7)
2. Stimulate the Immune System
In animal studies, chaga mushrooms have helped to boost the immune system by increasing the production of certain immune cells including interleukin 6 (IL-6) as well as T lymphocytes. These substances help to regulate the immune system and make sure that your body is fighting off any invading bacteria and viruses. Research has shown that chaga extracts can stimulate spleen lymphocytes, which can then have a direct positive effect on immune system function. (8)
3. Potent Anti-Viral
Chaga mushroom appears to have anti-viral abilities when it comes to quite a few viruses. Scientific research published in 2015 found that extracts of chaga had an anti-viral affect on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1. (9) Chaga has also been shown in animal studies to have anti-viral effects when it comes to the hepatitis C virus. Using animal cells, the researchers found that the chaga extract was able to decrease the infective properties of the hepatitis C virus by 100 fold in just 10 minutes. (10) Studies continue, but it looks like chaga is a worthy candidate for use in the development of new anti-viral drugs.
4. Inflammation Reducer
Chaga mushrooms have been shown to reduce inflammation. For example, an animal study has shown that chaga extract can reduce inflammation due to ulcerative colitisin animal subjects. Specifically, the researchers found that the anti-inflammatory effect of the chaga extract in the colon was due to chaga’s ability to suppress the expression of chemical mediators of inflammation. (11) Why is this significant? Because the chemical mediators released during inflammation make inflammation that much more intense and also promote a continuation of the inflammatory response.
5. Improve Physical Endurance
In animal studies, chaga has significantly improved physical endurance. One study published in 2015 found that when mice were given chaga mushroom polysaccharides the mice were able to swim longer (yes, mice can swim!), the glycogen (fuel) content of both muscles and liver increased while lactic acid levels in the bloodstream decreased. Put that all together and it’s a recipe for less fatigue and better endurance. (12)
Chaga Mushroom History and Interesting Facts
The name “chaga” comes from the Russian word for mushroom. Chaga mushrooms have also been called “black gold.” Chaga has been a traditional medicine in Northern European countries as well as Russia for hundreds of years. (13) What for? The chaga mushroom has been used traditionally to treat diabetes and gastrointestinal cancer, along with heart disease, in these areas of the world. (14)
When chaga mushrooms grow on birch trees, as they commonly do, they are quite a sight to see. Not only do they look like burnt wood, they also can grow in a clump that ends up being as big as a human head! Like other medicinal mushrooms, the chaga mushroom requires the introduction of hot water or alcohol to break down its tough cellular walls to make its benefits available for human consumption. Nowadays, mushroom coffee and tea are picking up popularity. This may seem like a new idea, but chaga mushroom actually was used as a coffee substitute during World Wars I and II. (15)
Researchers have investigated chaga mushroom for its use in combating cancer for a very long time. Ironically, chaga mushroom is sometimes called a “tree cancer.” Why on earth is that? It’s because the presence of chaga mushrooms eventually kills its host tree. As interest in chaga for medicinal purposes only continues to gain steam, there has been more and more wild harvesting of this mushroom. However, this is tricky since since the species’ existence is now being threatened by over-harvesting. (16)
How to Use Chaga Mushroom
So how can you include chaga mushroom in your life? Chaga mushroom is available as a supplement in the form of a capsule, tablet or tincture online and in health food stores. You can also find mushroom coffee or mushroom tea that includes chaga mushroom alone or in combination with other mushrooms such as cordyceps.
Some of the most common medicinal mushrooms in mushroom tea and mushroom coffee are:
Mushroom coffee is said to be less acidic and have less caffeinecompared to regular coffee. A cup of mushroom coffee typically has around half of the caffeine content of a regular cup of joe. What about the taste of mushroom coffee? Makers and drinkers of this interesting brew claim it doesn’t taste like mushrooms and that the added mushrooms taste similar to the coffee itself!
If you want to make chaga mushroom tea at home, it’s not difficult at all. Of course, first you’ll need some raw chunks of chaga mushrooms or chaga mushroom powder.
To make chaga mushroom tea, you can use either whole chaga mushroom chunks (roughly 10 grams). Or you can grind the chunks into powder using a coffee grinder and use about 2 teaspoons of the powder.
1. Insert the mushroom chunks into a mug or the mushroom powder into a diffuser and into the mug.
2. Pour 1 cup of boiled water into the mug.
3. Let the mushroom chunks/powder steep for 3 minutes.
4. If you would like, you can add a little lemon juice, raw honey or maple syrup to taste.
If you have any questions or concerns, always speak to a health professional about the best dosage of chaga mushroom for you.
Possible Side Effects and Caution
I do want to point out that chaga mushroom side effects and safety are currently unclear. To date, there are no clinical trials that have evaluated the safety of chaga mushrooms in humans. So there is also no standard dosage of chaga mushroom for humans. However, there is a case report of kidney damage/disease in a 72 year-old Japanese woman with liver cancer, caused by taking chaga daily for 6 months. Chaga is also high in oxalates, which may prevent the absorption of certain nutrients and can be toxic in high dosages. (17)
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid chaga mushrooms because their use has not been studied in pregnant and breastfeeding women.
If you are currently taking any medication or being treated for any medical condition, check with your doctor before you add chaga mushroom to your diet.
There are concerns about chaga and the following conditions: (18)
Auto-immune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) — Chaga mushroom can make the immune system more active, which could lead to increased symptoms of auto-immune disease.
Diabetes — Chaga may decrease blood sugarlevels in diabetics.
Bleeding Disorders — Chaga may raise the risk of bleeding. So it’s best not to use chaga mushroom if you have a bleeding disorder.
Surgery — Stop using chaga at least two weeks before any type of surgery since chaga may increase bleeding risk and/or affect blood sugar control during and after surgery.
If you have any negative side effects while taking chaga mushroom, discontinue use and seek medication attention if needed.
People have used chaga mushrooms traditionally for centuries in Russia and Northern European countries. To date, researchers have conducted the majority of chaga mushroom studies using animal subjects or human cells. Hopefully, research with human subjects will become more common. Either way, the studies to date due look very promising when it comes to all kinds of major health concerns.
Mushroom coffee or mushroom tea is a great, easy way to incorporate a moderate amount of chaga mushrooms into your diet. Drinking coffee that contains mushrooms may sound really strange, but drinkers actually say it tastes great and gives them more balanced energy. Homemade chaga mushroom tea will definitely give you more of the mushroom flavor and is super easy to make.