While chaga continues to gain popularity in North America, like many medicinal mushrooms, it has been used in traditional northern European and Russian medicine for hundreds of years. Technically a fungus, chaga primarily grows on the exterior of birch trees in very cold climates such as Siberia, northern Canada, Alaska and some northern regions of the U.S.
With a variety of powerful health benefits that live up to its name, “the king of mushrooms”, chaga is most renowned for its immune-modulating and antioxidant properties, as well as its ability to help the body naturally adapt to stress by regulating imbalances and supporting adrenal function. In much the same way, chaga is supportive of the immune system, due to its high amount of Beta-D-Glucans, which keep the immune system in balance by boosting it when necessary and slowing it down when it’s overactive.
In addition to being one of nature’s highest sources of antioxidants, research is ongoing into chaga’s ability to reduce inflammation (specifically of the digestive tract), manage diabetes, as well as its potential anti-cancer and tumor fighting properties.
Amino acids, Beta-D-glucans, betulinic acid, calcium, copper, enzymes, flavonoids, germanium, iron lanosterol, manganese, superoxide dismutase, melanin, natural phenols, phosphorus, phytonutrients, potassium, selenium, sodium, sterols, tripeptide, triterpenes, triterpenoids, beta-carotene, vitamin B1 B2 B3 B5, ergosterol, vitamin K, zinc.
Cautions and warnings
Consult a healthcare practitioner if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Immune system modulator
In this study, which investigates the immunomodulating effects of chaga, experiments on mice concluded that chaga does in fact modulate immune responses through secretion of Th1/Th2 cytokines in immune cells and regulates antigen-specific antibody production.
Ko, Suk-kyung et al. “Inonotus obliquus extracts suppress antigen-specific IgE production through the modulation of Th1/Th2 cytokines in ovalbumin-sensitized mice.” Journal of ethnopharmacology vol. 137,3 (2011): 1077-82.
In this study, the immunomodulating activity of polysaccharides isolated from fruiting body of chaga was investigated. It was concluded that components of chaga effectively promote macrophage activation (which destroys pathogens and apoptotic cells), suggesting that chaga may potentially regulate the immune response.
The results of this study suggest that water extract of chaga mushroom is a very potent immune modulator that recovers the bone marrow system damaged by chemotherapy. It also suggests that the immunomodulatory activity of the water extract may be due to the potentiation of the host immune system through the regulation of cytokines in the cytokine network. Therefore, chaga water extract shows a great potential as a supplement or a major therapeutics in immunocompromised or immunosuppressed individuals whose bone marrow system is damaged.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Using hydrogen peroxide to induce oxidative stress in vitro in peripheral lymphocytes (a form of white blood cell), the induction of DNA damage supplemented with ethanolic extract of chaga mushroom as a protective antioxidant was investigated. Lymphocytes were obtained from 20 IBD patients and 20 healthy volunteers. The study concluded that chaga supplementation resulted in a 54.9% reduction DNA damage, and that chaga extract reduces oxidative stress in lymphocytes from IBD patients and also healthy individuals when challenged in vitro. Thus, chaga extract could also be a possible and valuable supplement to inhibit oxidative stress in general as well.
Najafzadeh, Mojgan et al. “Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in lymphocytes of patients with inflammatory bowel disease.” BioFactors (Oxford, England) vol. 31,3-4 (2007): 191-200. doi:10.1002/biof.5520310306
This study aimed to determine the effects and mode of action of an aqueous (water) extract of chaga on experimental colitis in mice induced by dextran sulfate sodium. The results suggest an anti-inflammatory effect of chaga at colorectal sites due to down-regulation of the expression of inflammatory mediators, concluding that it might be a useful supplement in the setting of inflammatory bowel disease.
Mishra, Siddhartha Kumar et al. “Orally administered aqueous extract of Inonotus obliquus ameliorates acute inflammation in dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis in mice.” Journal of ethnopharmacology vol. 143,2 (2012): 524-32.
This study aimed to investigate the effects of specific components of chaga on Type II Diabetes as tested on mice. These results suggested that chaga might be a good candidate for the functional food or pharmaceuticals in the treatment of Type II Diabetes.
Wang, Cong, et al. “Anti-diabetic effects of Inonotus obliquus polysaccharides-chromium (III) complex in type 2 diabetic mice and its sub-acute toxicity evaluation in normal mice.” Food and Chemical Toxicology 108 (2017): 498-509.
In this review on the medicinal uses of chaga, it is explained that chaga functions as an antidiabetic by lowering blood glucose levels. Polysaccharides in chaga have been shown to inhibit alpha-glucosidase (an enzyme involved in breaking down carbohydrates). Through inhibiting this enzyme, chaga acts as a hypoglycemic agent by retarding glucose absorption in digestive organs, preventing hyperglycemia following meals. Another study also demonstrated antidiabetic effects, in part, through inhibition of alpha-amylase, an enzyme produced in the pancreas and in saliva to break down carbohydrates into simpler sugars.
Chaga has been used to treat various cancers in Russia and most of Baltic countries for many centuries. This review examines the ability of hot water and ethanol extracted chaga to induce apoptosis (cell death) in human colon cancer cells by prevention of reactive oxygen species (ROS)-induced tissue damage. The anti-proliferative effects of water extract of chaga on murine melanoma cells was also examined, and showed that the extract inhibited the growth of cells by arresting the cell cycle. Furthermore, the anti-tumor effect of chaga extract was assessed in vivo in mice and showed chaga to significantly inhibit the growth of tumor mass in cells implanted in mice, resulting in a 3-fold inhibition at dose of 20 mg/kg/day for 10 days. The ethanolic extract of sclerotium and fruiting body of chaga elicited significant anti-tumor activity as well.
In this study, the aqueous (water) extract of chaga showed antiproliferative (inhibiting cell growth) activity on different cellular models, for example on lung, melanoma, hepatic cancer and in sarcoma cells.
Géry, Antoine, et al. “Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a future potential medicinal fungus in oncology? A chemical study and a comparison of the cytotoxicity against human lung adenocarcinoma cells (A549) and human bronchial epithelial cells (BEAS-2B).” Integrative cancer therapies 17.3 (2018): 832-843.
This study aimed to evaluate the cytotoxic (toxic to living cells) activity of chaga in four human lung adenocarcinoma cell lines. Their findings provide experimental evidence supporting the potential application of chaga in lung cancer treatment and reveals the molecular basis underlying its cytotoxic activity against human lung cancer cells.
Baek, Jiwon, et al. “Bioactivity-based analysis and chemical characterization of cytotoxic constituents from Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) that induce apoptosis in human lung adenocarcinoma cells.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 224 (2018): 63-75.
This study examined the effect of different fractions and components of chaga on apoptosis of colon cancer cells (aka death of the cells). Their data suggests that ergosterol peroxide (a steroid derivative of chaga) suppresses the proliferation of CRC cell lines and effectively inhibits colitis-associated colon cancer in treated mice. These properties of ergosterol peroxide advocate its use as a supplement in colon cancer chemoprevention.
Kang, Ju-Hee et al. “Ergosterol peroxide from Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) exhibits anti-cancer activity by down-regulation of the β-catenin pathway in colorectal cancer.” Journal of ethnopharmacology vol. 173 (2015): 303-12. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2015.07.030