Medicinal mushrooms have been growing in popularity, and for good reason. Out of all species, my favorite remains the incredible chaga mushroom. Why you might ask?
The chaga mushroom benefits the body in a multitude of ways. Not only does it strengthen our immune system to fight off diseases like cancer, but it battles inflammation at the source (a common ailment among many).
In fact, chaga is so powerful that it has been given one of the highest ORAC values out of any medicinal mushroom that currently exists. It beats the antioxidant capacity of wild blueberries, açaí berries and pomegranate! 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. Chaga is given an ORAC value of 146,700! That is 6.5 times higher than the açaí berry!
What is Chaga?
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) belongs to the Hymenochaetaceae family, which includes other dark, woody fungi that inhabit tree trunks or decaying trees as parasites. It is found in Canada, northern United States, Kazakhstan, Siberia, Ukraine, South Korea, China and northern and eastern Europe.
You might have seen one before without even knowing it! It looks like a giant, black, burnt mass that sticks out of the side of birch trees. The peculiar thing here, is that the growth is not technically even a mushroom! Instead of a fruiting body, chaga is just a big, hard ball of mycelium. If you were to think of chaga as a piece of fruit (like an orange), the mycelium is the tree that causes the orange to fruit with the intention of reproduction.
Chaga has appeared in Russian folklore for centuries, and has been used by Indigenous Nations in Canada and northern United States for time immemorial. It has been traditionally used as a treatment for a variety of ailments and as a general tonic. The world’s most powerful strain of chaga is said to come from the birch forests in Siberia, where chaga mushroom benefits far outweigh those from Canadian strains.
The Source of Chaga Mushroom Nutrients
As one of the most antioxidant-rich food sources on the planet, chaga is truly remarkable at nurturing and protecting the body. It is packed with high levels of naturally-occurring Vitamin B complex, and is rich in more than 215 phytonutrients, beta-glucans, saponins, amino acids, betulinic acids and many other soluble minerals.
The source of chaga mushroom nutrients come from the very tree they grow on – birch trees! Chaga mushrooms quite literally extract their nutrients from living birch trees instead of the soil. This is also why chaga is so densely concentrated with betulinic acid, as this compound comes from birch trees themselves.
This is another reason why you should always source your chaga that comes from birch trees (otherwise known as wild chaga). Many companies out there grow chaga on cheap substrates that contain little to no nutrients. If the chaga does not come from decades of growing on a birch tree (and yes – it takes decades for these mushrooms to grow), you can be rest assured that that chaga does not contain a rich source of betulinic acid – one of the most important phytonutrients found in wild chaga.
8 Chaga Mushroom Health Benefits
Out of any mushroom you should be consuming, chaga should be on top of the list. Here’s why:
1. Cancer Killer
One of the most well-known chaga mushroom health benefits is its ability to selectively inhibit and destroy cancer cells. Chaga has one of the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity) ratings out there, surpassing that of turmeric root, açaí berries, pomegranates and wild blueberries. This rating measures the antioxidant potential of a food – so chaga really ranks up there!
Chaga’s full spectrum of phytosterols like lanosterol, inotodiol, ergosterol and fecosterol are among the many chaga constituents that have been shown to directly inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells.
Studies have demonstrated inhibitory and proapoptotic effects of chaga mushroom extracts against colon, lung, and liver cancer cell lines (1, 2, 3). In some studies, chaga demonstrated selective apoptosis against tumor cells with no effect on healthy cells (4).
In one study, tumor-bearing mice experienced a 60 percent tumor size reduction after being supplemented with 6mg/kg/day of chaga extract for three weeks (5). The same research also found that chaga increased tumor agglomeration as well as inhibited tumor vascularization, further inhibiting the growth and spread of cancer in these mice.
Chaga is also one of the best sources of betulinic acid, which is known to kill cancer cells on contact (6).
These cancer-protective effects are not surprising when taking into consideration the incredible nutrient profile of chaga, which is virtually unmatched in the natural world.
2. Reduces Fatigue & Boosts Physical Performance
Having more energy throughout the day is something we could all benefit from. A study performed on mice found that the polysaccharides found in chaga reduced fatigue and increased stamina during exercise (6). Mice that were given chaga (opposed to the controls) were able to swim longer and recovered faster, because more energy (glycogen) was delivered to their muscles and liver and decreased lactic acid levels in the bloodstream.
While not traditionally categorized as an adaptogen, chaga does possess many adaptogenic qualities, which make it great for helping relieve stress. Chronic stress can make us experience higher levels of fatigue, anxiety and a weakened immune system. Researchers have found that adaptogens (like chaga) can help alleviate feelings of stress (8), and indirectly remediate problems like chronic fatigue.
3. Battles Inflammation
Chaga mushrooms are anti-inflammatory, thanks to their high concentration of antioxidants, which combat free radicals and prevent cellular damage. Most importantly, chaga contains the very powerful antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD).
SOD catalyzes the breaking apart and disarming of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons that try to scavenge more electrons from other molecules, causing damage to DNA enzymes, proteins and cell membranes. As an antioxidant, SOD works to donate an extra electron to the free radicals, thereby preventing any future damage that the free radical would have done.
Damage from free radicals triggers inflammation, with chronic inflammation producing even more free radicals, which in turn creates more inflammation. It’s like a vicious cycle that damages many systems in the body. By donating an extra electron to free radicals to prevent further damage to our cells, SOD in chaga has the potential of becoming an effective anti-inflammatory aid.
Studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory potential of chaga by collecting lymphocytes from 20 patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and 20 healthy volunteers. The researchers treated the cells from both groups with variable doses of chaga extract. They found that the chaga extract reduced oxidative stress in lymphocytes from IBD patients and also healthy individuals when challenged in vitro (9).
Another study found that chaga extract can reduce inflammation due to ulcerative colitis in animal subjects. They found that chaga extract helps suppress the expression of chemical mediators of inflammation, helping to dampen the inflammatory response, and thus, lessen the pain response (10).
4. Potent Anti-Viral
When it comes to preventing viruses, chaga makes a bold statement. A study from Russia published in 2014 showed that chaga mushroom extract protected a cell culture from the cytotoxic effects of a herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) infection (11).
To enter a cell, enveloped viruses (like herpes) undergo a process called membrane fusion. Without it, they cannot infect a cell. A cell culture study found that chaga mushroom extract helped to prevent herpes simplex entry into cells by acting on viral glycopeptides and preventing cell membrane fusion (12).
The anti-viral activity of chaga has also shown promising results against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In 2015, scientists from the Vector Research Institute in southwestern Siberia found that extracts of chaga demonstrated toxic effects against HIV type 1.
The antiviral effect, the researchers found, was due to the strong presence of betulinic acid, which possesses both anti-inflammatory and antiretroviral properties. Because of this, the researchers theorized that it could successfully be used to treat HIV infections and other similar conditions. “The extract of the birch fungus can be used for development of new antiviral drugs, inhibitors of HIV-replication when used both in the form of individual drugs and as a part of complex therapy.” (13).
5. Stimulates the Immune System
Cytokines are the immune system’s chemical messengers. They play an extremely important role in stimulating white blood cells, which are the immune system’s first line of defense against many different illnesses.
When consumed, chaga promotes the formation of beneficial cytokines, which are essential for fighting off harmful bacteria or viruses (14).
Compounds found in chaga have been found to help the immune system differentiate between the body’s cells and foreign cells. In one study, the anti-tumor activity of an aqueous extract of chaga was mediated by protecting lymphocytes in the spleen from tumor-induced apoptosis (cell death), and by triggering apoptosis of tumor cells (15). This is extremely important for anyone dealing with a suppressed immune system (such as those with cancer), because while our healthy cells are being protected from invading tumor cells, the tumor cells themselves are also being destroyed. This includes protection of immune cells like lymphocytes, which encourages a stronger immune system overall.
6. Slows the Aging Process
High levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD) in chaga make it a popular mushroom for slowing down the aging process and helping you look your best. SOD is an enzyme that protects against oxide damage – one of the main processes that ages us. By neutralizing free radicals, SOD helps slow visible effects of aging, such as wrinkles, as well as more physical effects like atherosclerosis, stroke and arthritis.
A recent study published in Chromosoma found that increased levels of SOD suppress meiotic segregation errors in aging oocytes. What does this mean? It means that SOD is able to potentially reduce the risk of maternal age-related miscarriage and birth defects that are predominantly a consequence of chromosome segregation errors during the first meiotic division (16).
Chaga was also found to restore cognitive dysfunction in animal models by increasing levels of glutathione (another major antioxidant) and SOD. The result was enhanced cognitive function, specifically learning and memory, as measured by two tests. Their results suggest that oxidative stress plays a role in improved brain function, and that chaga can improve aspects of cognition (17).
7. Cardiovascular System Support
When it comes to the heart, chaga provides some serious support. As I’ve outlined above, chaga is high in the enzyme and super-antioxidant SOD, which combats the oxidative stress often responsible for high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more prone to heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular issues.
Chaga also contains many antioxidants that may reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol that most people try to keep at a healthy level. High cholesterol is associated with increased risk of heart disease, so chaga could be useful in helping prevent cardiovascular disease.
Betulinic acid in chaga also balances blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity (19), making it a great mushroom of choice for diabetics. In fact, researchers have found that betulin was as (or more) effective than cholesterol-lowering drugs (20).
How to Use Chaga Mushrooms
To take full advantage of the chaga mushroom benefits outlined above, you’ll want to make sure you’re preparing and using the mushroom in the proper way.
To take full advantage of the chaga mushroom benefits outlined above, you’ll want to make sure you’re preparing and using the mushroom in the proper way.
The most common way people consume chaga is by preparing it into a tea. You can do this with chaga mushroom chunks, or chaga that has been ground into a fine powder. It tastes almost like you’re drinking coffee – it is very dark once brewed and has a very earthy/grounding feeling to it.
Alternatively, you can purchase conveniently pre-brewed and crystalized chaga mushroom powder from one of my favorite suppliers – Bear Medicine. I’ll talk a bit more about them below under where you can purchase chaga from.
How to Make Chaga Tea
To make chaga tea, use whole chaga mushroom chunks (about 10-12 grams) or grind the chunks using a coffee grinder to form a fine powder (2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoons worth).
To reap the full benefits of this mushroom it is suggested to slow boil the chaga in water for over an hour. This way, you’re ensuring that all of the nutrients you’re boiling get into the water you’re drinking.
To do this, pour about 4 cups of water into a pot, and bring to a boil. Add the chaga mushroom chunks or powder into the pot, and then bring the water down to a simmer. Let simmer for about one hour, and then strain the remaining liquid into a cup.
Boiling for an hour will usually condense the chaga tea into a very strong brew. If you don’t want it as strong, you can mix it with a bit of water to dilute.
Where To Buy Chaga
Wild harvested chaga can be purchased just about anywhere online, but if you want the real deal, I suggest going with a company I have fallen in love with called Bear Medicine. I started taking their products just a couple months ago (literally every day), and I can really notice a difference in my energy levels, and overall health. I feel less pain, experience better focus, and simply knowing that these nutrients are being easily assimilated into my body is enough to keep me hooked for life.
Bear Medicine creates a highly concentrated powder extract from Siberian Black Birch Tree Chaga Mushrooms. They collect them from areas with winter temperatures that get well below -50º Celcius, and places that are very thinly populated and have no industries around. The lack of industries and harsh climate make their chaga ecologically clean and free of any contamination.
Their powder extract undergoes a technological process called freeze-dry multi-extraction. By freeze-drying the chaga, all of the nutrients are preserved on the spot of processing. The extraction process also allows activation of the health-supportive compounds, which in the raw chaga are “stored” in a passive state. Unlike raw chaga, Bear Medicine chaga has these biological substances activated (aka. digestible by our body). Boiling raw chaga can also destroy some of the nutrients due to high temperatures. The unique freeze-drying process that Bear Medicine uses ensures that all nutrients stay in-tact, while still being able to enjoy (and readily absorb) all nutrients present in the mushroom.
A lot of the companies out there who thermally dry their chaga often create a product that is not immediately soluble in water, and comes with a light-brown color (signifying a low level of chromogenes). On the other hand, Bear Medicine’s sublimated Multi-Super-Extract chaga is a fine, dark-brown or black powder with solid glistening black particles (not dusty) that has a pleasant taste, is 100% water soluble (resembles instant coffee) and is odorless.
The chaga from Bear Medicine is also tested to be free from heavy metals and radiation (every harvest is examined)!
The product I tried from Bear Medicine was the Chaga + Mumijo blend, which contains both chaga and a mineral commonly known as shilajit. Bear Medicine contains only real Siberian Mumijo of fossilized honey origins. Most of the shilajit you see on the market today is of very low quality, or even fake!
There is also the option to just purchase pure chaga, if that is what you prefer (but I really do love the taste of the chaga + mumijo combined!).
I also love that their products come with a little crystal in each container!
As I always want to share with you what works for me, I partnered up with Bear Medicine to make it easier for you to try the same chaga extract I’ve been using. I was able to negotiate a special deal just for you.
Get an exclusive discount when you use the code “LIVELOVEFRUIT15” at checkout here.
Chaga Precautions & Potential Side Effects
While people have been supplementing with Chaga for hundreds of years, it can still carry some risks – particularly in the modern day. For example, chaga helps lower blood sugar, so it can be dangerous for people taking insulin and other blood sugar-lowering medications.
Some other side effects and precautions to consider are as follows:
- It may interact with medications and may reduce blood clotting (should be avoided at least two weeks before any type of surgery).
- It may not be good for those with autoimmune disease, as the mushroom can make the immune system more active, which could lead to increased symptoms of auto-immune disease.
- If you have a bleeding disorder, refrain from using chaga (as it will raise the risk of bleeding).
Always check with your doctor or other natural healthcare practitioner (like a naturopath) before mixing chaga and medications or other drugs and supplements.