In the snowy northern regions, a parasitic mushroom is known to infect itself onto the bark of birch trees, feeding on its life like a cancer.
This is the Chaga mushroom.
Although strangely enough, while it acts as cancer to the tree, it’s also known to fight cancer in people!
Chaga is an incredibly complex mushroom, and it contains an enormous list of benefits people can take advantage of.
Traditionally it’s been used as a bit of a tea tonic that can do wonders for enhancing wellbeing.
In this article, I’ll cover what these strange mushrooms are, how they benefit us, the potential risks that come with taking them, and where you could buy Chaga mushrooms in Australia to try them yourself.
In This Article:
- What is Chaga Mushroom
- What Are The Benefits Of Chaga Mushroom?
- Are There Risks To Taking Chaga?
- Where To Find Chaga Mushroom In Australia?
What is Chaga Mushroom
Chaga is a medicinal mushroom that looks like a rotten tumour growing on birch trees in the form of a dark black mass. It infects these trees while still alive and can live up to 20 years, or until the tree ultimately dies.
Once infected, the fungus and the tree rely on each other for survival. The Chaga can only survive while the tree is alive as it depends on it for nutrients and water. The tree also becomes dependent on the Chaga because a large hole will be left on the tree if it dies, leaving it vulnerable to disease.
Its scientific name is Inonotus obliquus, which means “to penetrate at an angle.” That’s because the fungus always grows at a particular angle on the birch trees, usually around 20-30degrees.
Some of the other names earned over the years include black gold, black mass, conk rot, and birch canker, all of which describe its black rock-like appearance.
It’s an incredibly resilient mushroom and can grow in challenging environments like the cold temperatures of the north, protecting itself against pathogens and can even withstand UV radiation.
You can find these mushrooms in northern regions that are extremely cold since they don’t grow well in heated areas.
Traditionally, these northern countries used Chaga as a tea tonic for healing a long list of diseases, such as areas around Russia, Northern China, and the Northern US.
In the West, Chaga mainly was unheard of until a popular novel by a famous author- Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He was a Russian Novelist known for writing fictional stories depicting real-life tragedies and moral questions regarding the soviet union.
The book he wrote was called ‘Cancer ward’ and follows a political prisoner who gets released from a prison camp to find out he has cancer shortly after. He gets sent to a clinic to receive the available treatment at the time, which was high dose radiation.
Doctors say his chances of survival to be unlikely, and while in the cancer ward with other struggling survivors, he tells tales of the birch tree fungus and its mystical healing properties. He knew a Russian doctor in Moscow treating patients with Chaga mushroom, and strangely enough, not a single case of cancer existed at the clinic.
The book is a fictional take on Alexander’s life, as he too was a prisoner released to find later he had cancer. He experimented with Chaga as a treatment, and ultimately his cancer disappeared, much to his disbelief.
After his book became famous and won a Nobel prize award, Chaga was put on many doctor’s radar and began a curious investigation into these medicinal claims made in the book.
What Are The Benefits of Chaga Mushroom?
Chaga contains an incredible list of medicinal properties, so some have referred to it as the ‘King of Medicinal Mushrooms’.
One of the most notable benefits of medicinal mushrooms, in general, is their adaptogenic properties. This means that it can make you more resistant to physical and mental stress.
For instance, one of the primary biological responses to stress involves increasing the hormone cortisol. It’s a natural hormone our body releases. However, sometimes the body can overproduce or underproduce cortisol, causing a domino effect of problems.
The beauty of adaptogens is their ability to detect when your body is overproducing or underproducing a hormone. It then regulates those levels into a state of balance.
The mushroom is also known to have around 215 bioactive compounds and nutrients, some of which include:
- Polysaccharides: such as Beta-glucans
- Lignin Derivatives
- Betulinic acid
Each of these components has unique properties, but together they’ve been demonstrated to have anti-cancer, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypolipidemic, and hypoglycemic effects.
Unfortunately, there are no clinical trials on Chaga despite the hundreds of mice and test-tube studies confirming its beneficial effects.
This may be because clinical trials are expensive and usually paid for by pharmaceutical companies. Although since Chaga is a natural fungus, it can’t be patented and isn’t considered profitable to these companies.
While there aren’t any clinical studies to confirm these benefits, there are 100s of other forms of research showing promising results and many personal anecdotes from real-life people that support the available evidence.
The top 5 reported benefits from the available research are that Chaga can boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, lower blood sugar, support digestion, and lower cholesterol.
1. Boosts Immune System
Chaga helps our immune system in many different ways.
For starters, it contains a high content of medicinal polysaccharides called beta-glucans. These substances have a unique ability to train our immune cells to become stronger and more responsive.
The science is yet to determine how this is done, but there’s strong research demonstrating its ability to stimulate our immune cells significantly.
Other immune system benefits have shown that the mushroom has potent anti-cancer effects.
These effects are observed in mice studies. One study looked at mice with lung cancer growth and gave them 6mg of Chaga a day for three weeks. The results were remarkable and demonstrated a 60% reduction in tumour size!
While clinical research is needed to confirm these findings, it supports anecdotes told by people like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who praised Chaga as a cure for cancer.
Other benefits to the immune system include its ability to fight viruses and infection. Some studies done in Russia show that Chaga also has the potential to fight against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
These effects are likely a combination of immune cell-stimulating beta-glucans, antivirals, and antitumour properties.
2. Reduces Inflammation and Cell Damage
Inflammation is a natural mechanism in the body involved in injury and fighting infections or pathogens.
This is known as acute inflammation, as it doesn’t last very long. Although, when inflammation persists for long periods, it becomes chronic and incredibly harmful to individual health.
High amounts of inflammation are seen in almost every chronic disease, which has led some scientists to suspect it may play a significant role in creating these diseases or even be the direct cause.
Chaga is a potent source of anti-inflammatory compounds and is one of the reasons countries like Russia, Korea, China, and Japan use them.
Although what makes these anti-inflammatory effects so potent is partly due to their antioxidant properties.
An antioxidant means a substance that can protect the cells from free radicals or oxidative stress. These free radicals are another natural production of the body involved in metabolism and digestion, although in large amounts, they cause inflammation.
Therefore, the addition of antioxidants helps to reduce free radicals and inflammation.
Chaga just so happens to be the largest supply of antioxidants for any natural food on the planet!
Typically antioxidants are measured by an ORAC score (oxygen radical absorption capacity).
To give some perspective, blueberries have an estimated ORAC score of around 4,600, while Chaga has an estimated ORAC score of about 146,000!
By reducing inflammation and free radicals, we help our body stay healthy and delay the aging process to promote health and youth as long as possible.
Antioxidants are also crucial for helping to protect the liver, which is an essential organ for detoxication. Therefore Chaga can be included as a way to protect the liver during times of toxin overload, and in that regard can be used as a detox tea.
3. Lowers Blood Sugar
When we eat starchy or sugary food, the molecules of that food get broken down into the simplest form of sugar called glucose. This molecule provides energy to our cells and sustains our very life.
When we consume this sugar, it enters our bloodstream steadily and causes several biological responses that involve the hormone insulin to be released. This hormone is what opens the door for our cells, allowing the sugar or glucose to enter and energise them.
However, when we eat processed forms of sugar or refined grains, this causes the glucose to get dumped into our bloodstream immediately, and we ultimately overproduce insulin. This can cause a lot of harm to the body, especially for people who have diabetes.
Chaga is particularly beneficial for helping with this, as it’s shown to lower blood sugar. This means the sugar enters our bloodstream steadily and prevents any overproduction of insulin.
Mice studies have demonstrated this effect with diabetic mice given Chaga. The results showed that the mice lost weight and saw significant improvements in their glucose levels in the blood, making it a promising treatment for people with diabetes.
4. Supports Digestion
Digestion is a fundamental process that allows our body to absorb nutrients from food and ultimately power it with nutrition to thrive.
However, these days, gut issues are widespread, causing several different symptoms and problems for the body or brain.
We know through recent research that gut health is pivotal to overall health, so experts have referred to it as the ‘2nd brain’.
Chaga may be beneficial in helping with some of these recent gut issues, most likely because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Many gut issues are strongly correlated with inflammation, and hence taking Chaga could help manage these inflammatory factors.
One study took the cells of individuals with inflammatory bowel disease and studied them in a petri dish. They treated these inflamed cells with Chaga mushroom, and the results showed that the mushroom was able to reduce the DNA damage of the cells by 54.9%.
This was also due to Chaga reducing the oxidative stress of the cells because of its enormously high antioxidant content.
These results are further supported in mice studies. Mice with colitis (a form of gut inflammation) received Chaga as a treatment, and the results showed a reduction in all major markers indicating inflammation. The authors of the papers said it showed it could be a valuable supplement for managing this type of gut issue.
5. Lowers Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a common issue worldwide due to diets high in saturated fats.
Typically this is a problem seen in people who have diabetes as saturated fat is one of the main influences that cause diabetes. The fat causes increases in insulin resistance, which causes problems with blood sugar.
Although in addition to diabetes, cholesterol is also the prime contributor to heart disease- the number one killer of chronic diseases.
Chaga may be a promising way to help regulate these cholesterol levels, as various studies show it reduces the bad cholesterol known as LDL.
In a mice study, Chaga was the treatment given to diabetic mice with high cholesterol levels.
The results showed a reduction in their blood sugar levels and significant improvements in their liver’s ability to transport cholesterol. This led to an increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and a lowering of LDL (bad cholesterol).
Are There Risks to Taking Chaga?
Chaga is generally considered safe for most people, although there haven’t been any clinical trials to say this definitively.
That being said, some people should probably avoid taking Chaga, such as those on blood thinner medication and blood pressure-lowering medication. This is because Chaga naturally can lower blood pressure and thin the blood, and so it can be dangerous for those already on these sorts of medications.
Another potential risk is the high content of oxalates present in the mushroom. These are naturally occurring compounds found in plants, although in high amounts can lead to kidney stones. To be safe, anyone with a history of kidney disease or disorders should avoid taking this mushroom.
Remember to take the mushroom in moderation and never exceed the recommended dosages without speaking to your doctor.
Where to Find Chaga Mushroom in Australia
There are some things to look out for when buying Chaga mushrooms in Australia.
Unlike other medicinal mushrooms, Chaga requires enormously complex growing conditions meaning that it can’t be grown commercially without losing the majority of its beneficial compounds.
It would essentially transform it from the king of medicinal mushrooms to the peasant.
That means you want to look for Wild Chaga that’s harvested naturally from birch trees.
At Forest Superfoods, we get our Chaga picked from the wild, which comes in biodegradable tea bags for an immunity, tonic, and detox tea all in one. You can find these by clicking here.
This makes it a great way to start the morning as a tea tonic or immunity tea to load up on health-promoting antioxidants.
Simply let it sit in water for 2 minutes to infuse all of its medicinal properties. You might find it gives you an energetic kick, so it can also function as a coffee alternative or caffeine free tea without any energy crash.
It’s no wonder why they call Chaga the king of medicinal mushrooms.
It’s jam-packed with more antioxidants than any other natural food on the planet and has over 215 different health-promoting compounds.
You can use it to keep your immune system strong, regulate your blood sugar, and generally protect your entire body from damaging effects brought on by inflammation and oxidative stress.
It’s the ultimate mushroom and tea tonic to start your day and keep you protected from disease.