Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus), nicknamed the “king of mushrooms,” is a type of fungus that grows on the bark of birch trees in cold temperature zones. It is usually found in areas such as Alaska, Korea, Northern Canada, Northern Europe, Russia, and Siberia. It looks similar to a clump of burnt charcoal rather than a mushroom, with a soft orange core, and measures roughly about 10 to 15 inches in size.
Chaga mushrooms have been used as a traditional medicine for many centuries in North European countries to improve health and immunity. Dried and powdered forms of chaga mushroom are available in mushroom tea or supplement form. However, the intake of these medicinal mushrooms may have some risks and side effects.
Doctors and researchers are interested in the potential chaga mushroom benefits, and ongoing research studies have shown some positive results.
What are the health benefits of chaga mushrooms?
Current studies and scientific research indicate that the extract of chaga mushroom may provide certain health benefits, such as:
Rich in nutrients
- Amino acids
- B-complex vitamins
- Vitamin D
Slow the aging process
Exposure to sun, pollution, and oxidative stress create excess free radicals in the body, thus accelerating the aging process and causing physical signs of aging, such as grey hair, wrinkles, and sagging skin.
Providing the body with more antioxidants could slow the aging process or may reverse visible signs of aging. Chaga mushrooms are rich in antioxidants and may help fight the signs of aging.
Prevent and fight cancer
Research studies show that chaga mushrooms may prevent and slow the growth of certain cancer cells. Anticancer effects of chaga mushrooms may be due to their high antioxidant content that protects the cells from damage caused by free radicals or oxidants.
Chaga mushrooms contain the antioxidant triterpene, in particular. Lab studies show that concentrated triterpene extracts can cause tumor cells to self-destruct.
A research study showed that chaga mushrooms could slow the growth of cancer cells of the lung, breast, and cervix in a petri dish and could slow the growth of tumors in mice.
Unlike other cancer treatments, chaga mushroom extract does not appear to harm healthy cells.
Although all the studies have been conducted on animals or in a laboratory, researchers need to conduct extensive studies on humans to make strong inferences about anticancer potential of these medicinal mushrooms.
Support immune system
Cytokines are special proteins that stimulate the white blood cells, which fight against harmful illness-causing bacteria or viruses. Research studies done on mice report that chaga mushrooms may help regulate the production of cytokines and fight infections.
Inflammation is the natural response of the immune system to protect the body against diseases. However, sometimes, inflammation transitions from a short-term attack to long-term chronic health problems. Chronic long-term inflammation is linked to conditions such as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Recent research suggests that depression may be partly due to chronic inflammation.
Animal and test-tube studies demonstrate that chaga mushrooms can regulate the production of harmful cytokines and help control inflammation, autoimmune conditions, and other diseases.
Lower blood pressure
Research suggests that a contributing factor to high blood pressure is oxidative stress. The high antioxidant content in chaga mushrooms may lower blood pressure and thus prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular health issues.
Lower blood sugar
Chaga mushrooms might play a role in managing diabetes. Several studies report that chaga mushrooms could lower blood sugar in rodents. Although research on humans has not been conducted, chaga mushrooms might have the potential as an alternative treatment for managing diabetes in the future.
In a research study conducted on rats, chaga mushroom extract reduced low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, and increased high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol and antioxidant levels. More research on humans is needed to understand how chaga mushrooms affect cholesterol levels in humans.
Prevent side effects of drugs
Treating people using extracts of chaga mushrooms could prevent the harmful side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and certain medications. More research is, however, needed to know their efficacy and safety in this regard.
What are the risks of chaga mushroom?
Chaga mushrooms are generally well-tolerated by people. However, research on humans has not been conducted to determine the appropriate dose to be consumed or the safety of its use.
The use of chaga mushrooms as supplements and medications carries some risks, such as:
- Can react with some common medications causing harmful side effects
- Could be dangerous for people taking insulin and other blood sugar-lowering medications because the mushrooms also lower blood sugar
- Contain a protein that prevents blood clotting and could be dangerous when used by a person who has a bleeding disorder or is taking blood thinners or preparing for surgery
- Can trigger an allergic reaction in some people causing medical emergencies such as breathing trouble, changes in the heart rate, and loss of consciousness
- May cause the immune system to become more active, affecting people with autoimmune diseases
- Should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women because there is no research on the safety of chaga mushrooms on them
To reduce the risks associated with using chaga mushrooms, a person should do the following:
- Consult a doctor before taking chaga mushrooms.
- Inform the doctor about medications being taken because chaga mushrooms may alter the efficacy of certain medications.
- Do not use Chaga mushrooms as a substitute for treatments.
- Continue taking all other prescribed medications.
- Avoid using other herbal supplements along with chaga mushrooms.
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