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Chaga Mushrooms, health benefits, side effects

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Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is a type of fungus that grows in cold climates mainly on the bark of birch trees and is a traditional remedy for a number of ailments and weight loss, immunity and inflammation; it has a high antioxidant score and effects against lung and breast cancer in animals. 

What is a Chaga Mushroom?

The mushroom is actually quite ugly; the conk (the spore producing fruiting part) that is used in medicine is made from both the long branching filaments (mycellium) of the fungus and the rotting wood that surrounds it. For this reason Chaga is sometimes called conk tree rot. Other names are cinder conk, clinker polypore and birch canker polypore.  The mushroom is deep brown/black on the outside (people often say it resembles a lump of charcoal) and is orangey-yellow in the middle and mushy. The name chaga is actually derived from the Russian word for mushy or mushroom.

Where is Chaga found?

Chaga Mushrooms grow naturally in Northern Europe, Russia, Northern Canada, Alaska and Korea.

What are the health benefits of Chaga Mushroom?

i) Health benefits start with a high recorded ORAC value. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity is a measurement for antioxidant content originally developed by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health in the USA. Not surprisingly, it has been used in Russia (Siberia) and Asia for centuries to boost the immune system, often as a Chaga tea. The mushrooms are also high in magnesium and iron.

ii) Chaga mushroom and vitamins

Chaga is a good source of B vitamins, vitamin K and even vitamin D. It is difficult to cultivate cannot and so tends to be grown naturally.

iii) Chaga mushrooms boost immunity, reduce inflammation

A 2005 study using mice, who had had their immune system suppressed by using cyclophosphamide, took oral solutions of Chaga mushroom, resulting in increased immunity and reduced inflammation (4).

iv) Chaga can help in weight loss programmes – chaga mushroom extract (CME) promotes energy metabolism, rather like ginseng, and can lower blood sugar levels (1).

v) Chaga Mushrooms have effects against cancer

CME in research from Showa University, Tokyo, reduced lung cancer tumours by 60 per cent in mice, and in metastatic disease the number of nodules reduced by 25 per cent (1). In particular, chaga mushroom extract restricted blood supply formation. The middle aged mice also experienced decreased body weight with the chaga infusions.

In a 2021 study (2) with breast cancer both in vitro and in vivo, Chaga Mushroom extract was shown to cause autophagy by activating and promoting the AMPK pathway while inhibiting the mTOR pathway. The in vivo studies showed that CME used every other day, restricted breast cancer tumour growth in mice.  Chaga mushrooms are already used in cancer treatment in South East Asia as a complementary therapy to boost the immune system during chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The active anti-cancer ingredients appeared to be inotodiol and trametenolic acid both of which exhibited cytotoxic effects on a wide variety of cancer cells without interfering with the cytotoxic effects of any drug.

A 2015 Korean study (3) showed that another active compound in chaga could inhibit Colorectal cancer. Ergosterol peroxide inhibited cell proliferation and also suppressed  tumour formation by causing apoptosis, and inhibiting nuclear levels of β-catenin.

There is also 2008 research from Korea (Myung Ja-Youn et al.) in the Journal of Gastroenterology with liver cancer; and in 2009 by the same team in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology with melanoma.

Side-effects of Chaga mushrooms?

Possibly they may exhibit blood thinning powers similar to that of a small aspirin. Possibly, they may reduce blood sugar levels. Memorial Sloan-Kettering confirms no clinical trials on side-effects exist.

Go to: Medicinal Mushrooms and cancer

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References

  1.  Satoru Arata et al, Heliyon, 2016 May; 2(5); Continuous intake of the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) aqueous extract suppresses cancer progression – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4946216/ 
  2.  Min-Gu Lee et al,  j. Ethnopharmacol, 2021 June 28; 274  Chaga mushroom extract induces autophagy via the AMPK-mTOR signaling pathway – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33798660/

    3. Ju-Hee Kang et al;  j. Ethnopharmacol, 2015 Sept 15; 173 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26210065/#affiliation-1

4. Yeon-Ran Kim; Mycobiology 2005 Sept 33(3); – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774877/