Preliminary research in animals and cells suggests that chaga mushroom may boost the immune system, fight inflammation, protect cells from free radicals, and reduce the symptoms of diabetes. Read below to learn more about these and other potential 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 include improving the immune response and treating stomach issues. However, none of them has been proven in clinical trials and only animal and cell-based research have been conducted .
No clinical evidence supports the use of chaga mushroom for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
Chaga has the strongest antioxidant activity when compared against three other common antioxidant mushrooms .
A compound isolated from chaga protected brain cells from Parkinson’s disease by activating an antioxidant pathway .
In mice, chaga extract’s antioxidant activity protected against the effects of chronic inflammation of the pancreas .
In test tubes, several phenolic compounds found in chaga mushrooms scavenged free radicals .
Below, we will discuss some preliminary research on chaga’s potential anticancer effects. It’s still in the animal and cell stage and further clinical studies have yet to determine if this mushroom may be useful in cancer therapies.
Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapies with chaga mushroom or any other supplements. If you want to use it as a supportive measure, talk to your doctor to avoid any unexpected interactions.
Supplementing chaga extract reduced tumor size by 60% and prevented cancer from spreading in mice with lung cancer .
In cell-based studies, chaga extract reduced the growth of several cancer cell types, including colon, liver, lung, leukemia, cervical, and brain cancer cells, but not of healthy cells [3, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13].
However, sclerotium parts of chaga appeared to have stronger cytotoxic effects against normal cells than cancer cells .
Chaga extract increased the production of IL-6 and lymphocyte B cells in mice. In white blood cells (macrophages), it increased the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1beta, IL-6, and TNF-alpha) and messengers (nitric oxide) [17, 18].
Compounds found in chaga helped the immune system of mice differentiate between the body’s cells and foreign cells, potentially increasing the accuracy of its response and reducing the risk of autoimmunity .
Chaga extract also reduced immune hypersensitivity in mice and reduced the risk of shock from severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) .
In animal and cell-based studies, it prevented the following viruses from infecting cells and replicating:
Both hot water and ethanol extracts of chaga are killed bacterial and fungal cells in cell culture. Chaga extract may also help fight infections by stopping quorum sensing, which is a method that bacterial cells use to activate gene expression .
Note, however, that these are very preliminary results that haven’t been replicated in clinical trials and, often, even in animals. Further research is needed to verify if chaga mushroom improves or prevents infections caused by these microorganisms.
Chaga may reduce inflammation by blocking an over-activated immune response .
In mice and cells, chaga extract lowered NF-kappaB binding activity. This may reduce inflammatory pain by blocking the effects of enzymes such as nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). In fact, inhibition of COX-2 is the mechanism by which traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin, reduce pain and swelling [25, 27].
Increasing PPARγ activity in fat tissues may also reduce weight gain, as seen in a study in obese rats .
Chaga extract may also slow carbohydrate absorption by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars (alpha-glucosidase), thus reducing blood glucose spikes .
Oxidative stress contributes to insulin resistance and accelerates diabetic complications. Chaga’s antioxidant properties can reduce oxidative damage .
The anti-diabetic effects of chaga may increase if used in combination with vanadium. This was the case in a study in diabetic mice .
Animals studies determined that compounds in chaga may increase exercise tolerance. Mice given chaga extract were able to swim for a longer period of time. The animals treated with Chaga also had higher energy stores in the muscles and liver .
Chaga extract activates PPARγ, which could help maintain energy metabolism and promote physical endurance .
Platelet aggregation occurs when blood cells clump together and form clots. Sometimes, platelet aggregation can cause blood clots in the veins, which can eventually lead to heart attacks or strokes. Chaga extract inhibited platelet aggregation in animal studies .
Chaga extract reduced cognitive dysfunction in animal studies by reducing oxidative damage caused by a plant toxin (scopolamine) to the brain. The extract also restored the levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that promotes learning and memory, as efficiently as the reference drug tacrine .
Remember that chaga mushroom has not been approved by the FDA for medical use due to the lack of any clinical research. However, it is available as a supplement. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing with chaga mushroom.
Importantly, keep in mind that its safety profile is unknown because the mushroom has only been tested in animals and cells. The list of side effects below is not a definite one and you should consult your doctor about other potential side effects based on your health condition and possible drug or supplement interactions.
Since chaga may stop platelet aggregation, it should not be taken in combination with blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin and warfarin to prevent the risk of bleeding .
Chaga may also lower blood sugar levels. Its combination with diabetes medicine may cause blood glucose levels to fall dangerously low .
People with autoimmune diseases should avoid using Chaga because it can cause the immune system to become overactive.
An elderly woman had oxalate nephropathy after daily consuming chaga powder for 6 months due to its high oxalate content. Oxalate nephropathy is a condition where excess oxalate can cause kidney failure .