Chaga mushroom can boost the immune system, fight inflammation, protect cells from free radicals, and can reduce the symptoms of diabetes. Read below to learn more about these and other proven benefits of Chaga.
What is Chaga Mushroom?
Chaga mushroom can be eaten as a food and is also made into tea, syrup, bath agents, and extracts .
Traditional uses for this mushroom have included improving the immune response and treating stomach issues, and modern research can now explain how Chaga benefits these conditions and more .
Health Benefits of Chaga Mushroom
1) Reduces Oxidative Stress
Chaga has the strongest antioxidant activity when compared against three other common medicinal mushrooms that also fight oxidation .
In human cell studies, a compound isolated from Chaga protects nerves from oxidative stress from Parkinson’s disease .
In animal studies, Chaga extract can protect against the effects of chronic inflammation of the pancreas .
Studies have shown that the phenolic compounds found in Chaga mushrooms scavenge free radicals to protect cells from oxidation .
2) Suppresses Cancer Progression
Human cell studies find that Chaga extracts reduced only the growth of cancer cells, not all the growth of all cells .
Supplementing Chaga extract reduced tumor size by 60% when compared with a control group in animal studies of lung cancer . Supplementing Chaga extract also suppressed the spread of cancer to other parts of the body .
Reactive oxygen species and oxidative damage increase the risk of cancerous mutations by damaging cellular DNA . By reducing oxidative stress, Chaga lowers the risk of such mutations . As a result, Chaga may also be able to reduce the risk of developing cancer in addition to limiting the growth of existing cancers.
There is not enough evidence in humans to come to any conclusions about beneficial effects in cancer.
3) Helps Protect the Immune System
Compounds found in Chaga help the immune system to differentiate between the body’s cells and foreign cells . This helps the immune system to respond accurately and protect the body from those pathogens .
Helping the body to more accurately sense its own cells may also reduce the risk of autoimmunity .
Chaga mushroom also has anti-viral activities and can help prevent viral infections . Chaga extract decreases HIV replication [15, 16]. It also prevents the Herpes virus and Epstein-Barr virus from infecting new cells and from replicating in animal studies [17, 18]. Chaga also decreased infection from the hepatitis C virus in other animal studies .
4) Reduces Inflammation
Chaga is able to reduce an overactivated immune response, which can limit harmful inflammation .
Chaga extract reduces inflammatory cytokine response in animal studies and decreases the response to pain .
Chaga also reduces inflammation in colon cells, which shows promise in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease .
5) Can Improve Diabetic Health
In diabetic mice, Chaga ethanol extract significantly decreased blood glucose levels.
Animal studies show that Chaga extract reduces symptoms of diabetes including high blood glucose, free fatty acids, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol .
In animal fat cell studies, Chaga water extract increased PPARγ transcriptional activity and helped with fat cell differentiation. This decreased insulin resistance, making it a possible treatment for diabetes .
Another animal study showed that Chaga extract increased PPARγ activity in fat tissues and reduced unhealthy weight gain .
The Chaga extract can also slow carbohydrate absorption by inhibiting the molecule alpha-glucosidase . This can reduce spikes in blood sugar that would otherwise lead to complications in diabetes.
The anti-diabetic effects of Chaga increases if used in combination with vanadium. In diabetic mice, Chaga extract combined with vanadium decreased blood glucose levels more than Chaga extract by itself .
6) Increases Physical Endurance
Animals studies determined that compounds in Chaga increased exercise tolerance. Animals that were given Chaga extract were able to swim for a longer period of time when compared to a control group . The animals treated with Chaga also had higher energy stores in the muscles and liver .
Chaga extract administration also decreased blood urea nitrogen levels, which can otherwise contribute to fatigue .
PPARγ is a molecule that activates pathways associated with benefits of insulin signaling and energy metabolism . Chaga extract activates PPARγ, which could help to maintain positive energy metabolism and promote physical endurance .
7) Protects Against Dangerous Blood Clots
Platelet aggregation occurs when blood cells clump together and form clots. Sometimes, platelet aggregation can cause blood clots in veins (thrombus), which can eventually lead to heart attacks or strokes .
Chaga extract significantly inhibited platelet aggregation in animal studies. These results indicate a possibility for Chaga to treat or stop thrombus formation .
8) Promotes Cognitive Function
Chaga extract also restored the levels of acetylcholine during oxidative stress as efficiently as the reference drug tacrine . Acetylcholine promotes learning and memory, and increasing its availability can provide nootropic benefits .
9) Balances the Immune System Between Th1 and Th2
In mice, Chaga ethanol extract administration reduces the levels of IL-4 and increases IFN-y levels. The extract promotes Th1 response and inhibits Th2 cell response .
The balance of Th1 and Th2 cytokines help balance the immune system. Th2 cells synthesize IL-4, which plays an important role in allergic reactions by inhibiting Th1 cell functions. On the other hand, Th1 cells produce IFN-y cytokines, which inhibits Th2 cells .
10) Relieves Pain
Chaga extract reduces the reaction to pain in animal studies .
In cell culture, acids from methanol Chaga extract lowers NF-kappaB binding activity. This reduces pain by blocking the effects of enzymes involved in inflammatory pathways, nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) . Inhibition of COX-2 is the mechanism by which traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin, reduce sensations of swelling and pain . Because it may work through a similar mechanism, Chaga could be similarly useful in limiting these negative effects.
11) May Help Relieve Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Oxidative stress from free radicals and low antioxidant levels can contribute to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Chaga mushroom extract’s antioxidant abilities can protect the gut from IBD .
Chaga extract reduces oxidative stress in lymphocytes from both healthy individuals and IBD patients .
Chaga also reduces inflammation in colon cells, which shows promise in the treatment of IBD .
12) Fights Bacteria
Both hot water and ethanol extracts of Chaga are able to kill bacterial and fungal cells in cell culture .
Since Chaga stops platelet aggregation and blood clots from forming, you should not take it in combination with blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin and warfarin. This can increase the risk of bleeding [30, 35].
People with autoimmune diseases should avoid using Chaga because it can cause the immune system to become more active.
In one case study, an elderly Japanese woman had oxalate nephropathy after six months daily consumption of Chaga powder. Oxalate nephropathy is a condition where excess levels of oxalate can cause kidney failure. Chaga mushrooms contain extremely high oxalate concentrations, so excess consumption can cause kidney damage [40, 35].
Additionally, sclerotium parts of Chaga appeared to have stronger cytotoxic effects against normal cells than cancer cells. This can cause healthy cells to die .
Most of the laboratory studies have either been done in human cell culture or animals. More clinical trials are needed to confirm Chaga’s safety and effectiveness .
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