What Are the Health Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms?
Chaga is a parasitic fungus species that grows on birch trees. It is often mislabeled as a mushroom, although it doesn’t actually belong to this category.
Humans tend to use the fruiting bodies of fungi, which is what most people think of as mushrooms. Chaga mushrooms does produce such fruiting bodies, but it’s rare to find or see them. Instead, the conk – a nutrient-dense collection of mycelium – is the usable part of chaga.
Chaga mushrooms have been a part of Siberian folk remedies for centuries, used for various reasons throughout the northern hemisphere. For example, the Khanty people of West Siberia use it to soothe the stomach, whereas the Skolt Sami of Scandinavia utilize it for cold and flu.
This guide covers three of the potential benefits of chaga that researchers have studied. Sadly, there is little research to date, but there are at least some things we know about chaga.
What Are Chaga’s Potential Health Benefits?
The active compounds in chaga are numerous, and they include polysaccharides, triterpenoids, polyphenols, melanin, and betulin, among others. These all have some beneficial potential in their own right, which is what makes chaga a potential powerhouse.
Here are three possible benefits of chaga.
- Boosts the Immune System
Chaga could benefit the immune system by reducing inflammation. It also may have a more direct impact on the immune system.
A 2005 study reported that chaga could stimulate white blood cells in the bone marrow of immunosuppressed mice. In other words, the extract from this mushroom could help to fight off infection by benefiting the white blood cells.
The same study found that chaga could prevent the production of cytokines, which can trigger inflammation and disease. Researchers in Korea verified this finding in another study, noting that chaga extract lowered inflammation and prevented gut damage by inhibiting cytokines.
Altogether, chaga could promote a healthy immune system.
- Reduces Blood Sugar
More animal studies have reported a link between chaga and diabetes. One study from 2017 observed that chaga extract reduced insulin resistance and lowered blood sugar levels in obese, diabetic mice.
Another study reported a 31% drop in blood sugar levels in diabetic mice over a three-week span.
So far, the trials have all been on animals. Human research is currently unavailable, so it’s impossible to say whether it could manage diabetes in humans.
- Lowers Cholesterol
Finally, chaga could also reduce cholesterol levels. Interestingly, it could simultaneously reduce the “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase “good” HDL cholesterol. A few studies have found this effect.
Researchers think that the antioxidants in chaga are what promote this effect, although more research is required to truly understand how it works.
Once again, more human research is necessary.
Does Chaga Have Side Effects?
Unlike other mushroom supplements, users need to be more careful with chaga. Little information is currently available on its effects on humans, and it does not have a recommended dosage.
Research from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center indicates that long-term use of chaga could lead to kidney damage. Therefore, those with kidney ailments should exercise caution.
Chaga contains oxalates, a chemical that could prevent nutrient absorption. Furthermore, high levels of oxalates may be toxic.
Another potential risk is that chaga can interact with numerous forms of medication. The list includes anticoagulants, anti-diabetic medicines, and antiplatelet drugs. Those on blood-thinning medications or with a bleeding disorder should also exercise caution, as chaga may prevent blood clotting.
Finally, the anti-inflammatory effects of chaga could cause the immune system to become more active, which means those with an autoimmune disease should speak with a doctor before using it.
Since there is no evidence regarding chaga and pregnancy or breastfeeding, it is best to avoid its use during these times.
Final Thoughts on Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga has been used for centuries, and it has numerous purported benefits for health. More recently, scientists have begun to study these benefits in clinical trials. So far, most of the available information is on animal models, which means its full benefits and safety profile remain undetermined in humans.
That said, there is potential for chaga to act as an anti-inflammatory, reduce cholesterol levels, and lower blood sugar. Hopefully, scientists will conduct more research in these areas in the future.
For now, it’s possible to purchase chaga supplements online. Buyers should research companies thoroughly and only purchase from reputable dealers. Since the long-term effects of chaga are unknown, it’s best to avoid taking it for prolonged periods.