A Guide to the Chaga Mushroom
Inonotus obliquus, otherwise known as the chaga mushroom, feeds off host trees, killing them slowly over several decades.
This parasitic fungus has also gained a lot of attention for its supposed health properties, even appearing occasionally in medical news articles.
Does chaga live up to its hype? Can it really cure a range of ailments from diabetes to cancer?
Let's take a deep dive into all you've ever wanted to know about the weird fungus that is chaga. We will examine the clinical evidence for its health benefits, as well as the ways in which you can include it in your diet.
What are Chaga Mushrooms?
Inonotus obliquus, otherwise known as clinker polypore, or by its common name of chaga, is a parasitic fungus that grows on host trees. Chaga grows mainly on birch trees, starting in the heartwood and pushing its way through the bark.
Chaga fungi are irregular sterile conks that resemble black charcoal. The black outer layer is the sclerotium of the mushroom, and it gets its color from a large amount of melanin. People can consume the fruiting bodies which are in the interior parts of the mushroom.
Potential Medicinal Properties of Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga is one of the natural medicines used in ancient China. People in certain regions of Siberia used the mushroom by applying it to the skin, inhaling it, or drinking chaga tea. Nowadays, many consider chaga to be one of the most amazing superfoods on the market, and for good reason.
Although the many biological activities of chaga have not been explored fully, current research shows promising results. Inonotus obliquus has the potential to:
- support the immune system
- reduce inflammation
- fight cancer
- lower cholesterol
- lower blood pressure
- improve skin and hair quality
The Two Sides of Chaga
Chaga grows on birch trees, which the fungus has to share with other parasites. The mushroom is only able to occupy one in every 20,000 birch trees, making it quite scarce. Due to the recent popularity of chaga, people are overharvesting it.
Unfortunately, overharvesting can lead to the species going extinct. If you don't want to contribute to overharvesting, make sure to buy from companies that source their chaga mushrooms ethically.
Chaga grows primarily on birch trees.
Chaga Mushroom Health Benefits
Inonotus obliquus has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Now, modern science is validating chaga mushroom benefits. Research indicates that chaga’s potential health benefits may include the ability to:
- lower blood sugar levels
- aid in cancer treatment
- improve hair growth.
- regulate blood sugar levels
- slow the growth of tumors
- reduce signs of aging
Additionally, chaga mushrooms contain high levels of antioxidants.
Chaga Benefits for Skin
Skin protection is one of the many health benefits of chaga mushrooms. As we get older, our skin loses a lot of its moisture. This can cause problems such as adult acne and wrinkles. Luckily, chaga mushrooms can help improve overall skin health in a couple of ways.
Chaga for Sun Protection
Inonotus obliquus shows great potential when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun. A test-tube study looked at the anti-melanogenesis effect of this mushroom.
The results suggest that chaga mushrooms can slow down the synthesis of melanin complexes. Therefore, they can be helpful in protecting your skin from sun damage, and they may prevent dark spots caused by sun exposure.
Chaga for Skin Care
Chaga could be useful to those who experience hyperpigmentation as a result of acne scarring. A 2013 study investigated the potential skin-whitening effects of chaga mushrooms.
Researchers applied a methanolic extract from the fruiting bodies of the fungus to cells with melanin complexes. The effects of methanol extracts had an inhibitory effect on melanin synthesis, meaning the skin cells were less likely to darken due to damage.
Chaga Benefits for Hair
Inonotus obliquus spores have been used as traditional hair shampoo in Mongolia for centuries. A study examined whether the fungus truly had a positive effect on hair growth and health.
Researchers applied triterpenes found in chaga to human hair follicles. The results suggest that four out of five of these compounds had an anti-alopecia effect. Although further research is needed, chaga mushrooms appear to have a stimulative effect on hair growth.
Chaga for Boosting the Immune System
Several studies look at the effects ofInontus obliquus as an immunity booster. For example, a 2005 animal study tested the immunomodulatory effects of chaga on bone marrow cells of immunosuppressed mice.
The mice were treated with cyclophosphamide, a medication used in chemotherapy that lowers immunity. Researchers used an aqueous extract of the medicinal mushroom, which was administered to the mice for 24 days. Results suggest that the chaga mushroom water extract shows great potential as an immunity enhancer.
The medicinal mushroom stimulated white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting infection in your body. For that reason, chaga can be especially helpful for chemotherapy patients or those on any medication that suppresses immunity.
To boost immunity optimally and promote overall health, it’s best to consume chaga every day for several weeks.
Chaga for Fighting Inflammation
Chaga mushrooms increase levels of white blood cells, which help your body fight various bacteria and viruses. Researchers looked at the effects of this medicinal mushroom on immune response and found that it has a role in antibody production.
A 2005 study looked at the in vivo and in vitro anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects of chaga. The mice who were taking a chaga ethanol extract showed a decrease in inflammation. Inonotus obliquus reduced acute paw edema in the mice and even lowered their pain levels.
Another scientific article looked at the potential role of chaga mushrooms in the treatment of autoimmune diseases. Inonotus obliquus has properties that could enhance innate and acquired immunity, as well as suppress symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
Still, further research is needed to determine what mechanisms are involved in this process.
As a potent antinflammatory agent, chaga may slow the aging process, though more human studies are needed to bear this out.
Chaga and Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the most common ailments of the 21st century. As it progresses, it can lead to complications such as eye and kidney problems, especially if left untreated. Polysaccharides found in Inonotus obliquus can have an incredible protective effect for those with Diabetes mellitus.
A study evaluated the effects of chaga mushrooms on oxidative stress, body weight, blood glucose levels, and pancreas damage. Results show that chaga polysaccharides can restore issues in mice caused by diabetes to near normal levels with regular use.
- Chaga and Blood Sugar Levels
Antihyperglycemic effects are one of the many benefits of chaga mushrooms. A study looked at the effects of Inonotus obliquus in submerged cultures on the blood sugar levels of normal and diabetic mice.
The mushroom did not lower blood sugar levels in mice that did not have diabetes. However, in mice with diabetes, there was a significant decrease in blood glucose levels after 21 days of taking chaga.
- The Hypoglycemic Effect of Chaga
Another study examined the effects of polysaccharides found in chaga mushrooms on blood sugar levels. The polysaccharide complex had significant hypoglycemic and antioxidant activity. Therefore, chaga mushrooms could be a great functional food choice for those with diabetes.
Chaga and Cancer
Chaga shows sufficient promise as an anti-cancer agent that the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center even has a page discussing the fungus.
Plenty of studies have examined the antitumor activities of chaga mushrooms. For example, a 2016 study examined whether a chaga aqueous extract could suppress cancer progression in mice. The Inonotus obliquus extract caused a 60% tumor reduction and decreased metastasis by 25%.
Another study examined the anticancer effects of compounds found in chaga fruiting bodies. The medicinal mushroom decreased the proliferation and morphological changes of tumor cells. Additionally, the extract inhibited the motility of cancer cells, which could lead to fewer metastatic tumors.
- Chaga and Breast Cancer
A study took a look at the effects of Inonotus obliquus on breast cancer cells. The chaga mushroom extract suppressed tumor growth and aided in autophagy by activating the AMPK pathway and inhibiting mTOR signaling. Although further research is needed, chaga shows great promise as complementary medicine in breast cancer treatment.
- Chaga and Cervical Cancer
An in vitro study evaluated the effects of chaga mushrooms on cervical cancer. The extract inhibited cancer growth in cervical cells. Additionally, it affected the cell division of cancer cells. This study shows promising results when it comes to slowing down the spread of cervical cancer.
- Chaga and Lung Cancer
A study of chaga mushroom effects on lung cancer shows promising results. The mushrooms induce apoptosis in the human lung adenocarcinoma cell. Cytotoxic properties of the mushroom aid in the process of cell death, meaning they help reduce the growth of cancer cells in the lung.
- Chaga and Hepatoma
A 2008 study found that chaga mushrooms induce G0/G1 arrest and apoptosis in human hepatoma HepG2 cells. Hepatoma cells are cancerous cells found in the liver.
Since liver cells regenerate and grow our whole life, if one mutates into a cancer cell, liver cancer can spread quite quickly. Inonotus obliquus slows down the growth of new cancer cells in the liver, making it a potential anticancer agent in hepatoma treatment.
- Chaga and Colon Cancer
A 2009 study demonstrated the effects of Inonotus obliquus compounds on colon cancer cells. Researchers used hot water extraction to get the compounds and treated cancer cells with them for 24 and 48 hours.
The extract had a 56% inhibitory effect on colon cancer cells that were treated with 1 mg/mL for 48 hours. Although more research is certainly needed, these results show great promise as an aid in the treatment of colon cancer.
Chaga and Heart Health
Inonotus obliquus polysaccharides could lower cholesterol levels. A 2009 study looked at the effects of chaga extract on blood lipid metabolism. Results suggest that taking chaga regularly could increase the metabolism of blood lipids, leading to lower levels of cholesterol.
Another study, published in 2021, examined the effects of chaga on myocardial ischemia. Inonotus obliquus extract protected the heart against myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury by reducing oxidative damage. Additionally, the effects of the extract inhibited apoptosis caused by endoplasmic reticulum stress.
How to Use Chaga
After learning about the many chaga medicinal properties, you may want to try this mushroom yourself. Luckily, there are many ways to do so. You can go with a mushroom powder, capsules, chunks, or consume it via a fortified food option.
Chaga powders are the most popular choice for consuming these fungi. There are plenty of chaga mushroom powder options. However, not all of them are of the same quality, so you may not get all the benefits of chaga if you get your powder from a low-quality brand.
Chaga capsules are just powder in capsule form. They're a great option if you already take a lot of daily vitamins or don't like the taste of mushrooms. However, if you forget to take your supplements every day, you should go with a different option, as you won't reap all the benefits chaga has to offer.
This option is great for those who love having their daily cup of tea. However, you will only be getting the water-soluble compounds found in chaga. You can make chaga mushroom tea by mixing chaga powder with hot water, following a similar process as that for making herbal teas.
Alternatively, you can get chaga mushroom chunks if you want a richer, smoother flavor. If you’re using a powder, it’s enough to steep it for five minutes, while you will need to boil chaga chunks for at least 15-20 minutes to get the full benefits.
Forij Superfood Granola
If you frequently forget to take your daily supplements but enjoy a morning bowl of cereal, Forij superfood granola is a great option. This granola is fortified with your daily dose of chaga, in addition to two other adaptogenic mushrooms—cordyceps and lion's mane.
The hyperconcentrated extracts in this granola contain 10-15 times the nutrients of regular chaga powder. Although you are getting all the benefits of chaga mushrooms, you’ll taste the delicious flavors of cinnamon, sunflower seed cocoa, or vanilla almond.
Can You Eat Chaga Raw?
No, you can't eat chaga mushrooms raw. The outer texture of chaga is hard and it resembles cork. Although you probably won't experience any major issues if you eat it raw—except for a stomach ache, perhaps—you won't digest the mushroom. Therefore, your body won't absorb any of the nutrients, and you won't get the benefits of chaga.
Chaga Dangers and Side Effects?
If you don't have kidney problems, chaga mushrooms are completely safe to consume. However, if you are prone to kidney stones, it's best to avoid them, as the oxalates from the mushroom can increase the risk of kidney stones.
You should probably also avoid chaga mushrooms if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as there aren't any studies on the effects of chaga on infants.
Aside from the above caveats, the risks of chaga are minimal.
Chaga Drug Interactions
Chaga does not interact with any medication. However, chaga can slow blood clotting. If you are on blood thinners and taking chaga, you may be more susceptible to bleeding and bruising. If you are on blood thinners, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional before you start taking chaga.
Interested in Trying Chaga Mushrooms?
Chaga mushrooms show great potential as an aid in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and inflammation. The promising data warrants further research, so we can fully learn about the wonders of this mushroom.
If you want to include this fungus into your diet, fortified granola can be an amazing option. Forij offers vegan, gluten-free, functional granola that's both delicious and a great way to get in your daily dose of chaga. Who would have thought that getting your daily dose of chaga could be so effortless?
How to use chaga powder?
Most people consume chaga mushroom powder by stirring it into water, a smoothie, or some other liquid, and drinking it. You can also opt for a hot beverage, such as mushroom coffee or tea. You can even add it to freshly-squeezed lemonade during the summer months.
Is it possible to drink too much chaga tea?
Although drinking chaga tea is extremely healthy, you shouldn't have more than two cups per day, especially if you're new to medicinal mushrooms. Give your body time to get used to the fungus and increase your daily intake slowly over time.
Are chaga cancer testimonials real?
You should be wary of testimonials that aren’t properly validated by science. The internet is full of all sorts of claims, and it can be difficult to sift the legitimate from the bogus.
More research on the effects of chaga on cancer cells is still needed, and the underlying mechanisms are still unclear. Still, the available research shows great promise in using chaga mushrooms in addition to traditional cancer medicine.
Is it safe to take chaga daily?
Yes, it is completely safe to take a chaga supplement every day. What's more, you will reap more benefits of chaga mushrooms if you take them daily, especially at the beginning of your medicinal mushroom journey.
How long does it take chaga to work?
You need to take chaga every day for about two to three weeks before you start noticing results. Over time, and with regular use, its effects will be more and more noticeable.
Is chaga bad for your kidneys?
Chaga mushrooms aren't bad for healthy kidneys. However, if you have or are at risk of kidney stones, you should avoid these fungi. The chaga mushroom is high in oxalates, and it can increase the chance of oxalate nephropathy if you're susceptible to kidney problems.
How does chaga make you feel?
Chaga mushrooms do not make you feel high. However, you may find that you feel less anxious and irritable after taking them. Chaga may also make you feel more energized, as adaptogenic mushrooms tend to stimulate the nervous system–especially if you take them as a daily routine.
The information provided in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease or illness. The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).