I first heard about these medicinal mushrooms when listening to one of Wellness Mama’s podcasts, and in it she mentioned this company called Four Sigmatic, and how they had created a mushroom coffee blend that contained chaga mushrooms in it. I hadn’t heard of these mushrooms before, so it spiked my curiosity into learning more about them and what the health benefits were of consuming these mushrooms.
What are Chaga Mushrooms?
Chaga mushrooms, also known as the “king of medicinal mushrooms,” are found in Siberia, Northern Canada, Alaska, Northern Europe, Northern US, and Russia. They grow predominantly on birch trees and have been used in Siberia, Russia, and parts of Asia for centuries for their medicinal properties.
Chaga mushrooms tend to look lumpy (a bit like a lump of lava) or look like burnt charcoal on the outside. On the inside, these mushrooms have a rusty-like colour.
Because these mushrooms are becoming more and more popular in the public eye, they can be found in many forms such as supplements, elixirs, coffee, and powders.
Health Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms
Here are some of the most studied benefits of chaga mushrooms:
1. Anti-Cancer Properties
The phytosterols and the polysaccharide beta-glucan present in chaga give it anti-cancer properties as they impact cancer cells in the following ways:
- Encourage the immune system to fight cancer naturally
- Prevent the formation of tumours by protecting the body against potent genotoxic carcinogens
- Can help prevent tumours from forming blood cells
- Improve macrophages (a type of white blood cell) which locate and kill foreign bodies.
2. Stimulates the Immune System
Chaga is well-known for its ability to support immune function. But how does it do this?
In chaga mushrooms, the polysaccharides are able to boost or suppress the immune system, whichever is needed by the organism at the time. These polysaccharides are also known, in scientific terms, as “biological response modulators.” This is especially beneficial to those suffering with an autoimmune disease, as it can help with an overactive immune system.
3. Is a Potent Anti-Viral
One of the many roles of the immune system is to fight any viruses that may enter the body. Improving the immune system may help enhance the body’s ability to fight against these viruses.
- A 2015 scientific study found that chaga had an anti-viral effect on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Chaga has also been found to have anti-viral effects when it comes to the hepatitis C virus. Results showed it was able to reduce infection of the hepatitis C virus by 100 fold in just 10 minutes!
With these studies, it looks like chaga would be a worthy candidate for good general anti-viral treatment. More research is needed to know for sure, but it is a strong possibility!
4. Reduces Inflammation
Chaga mushrooms have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body. Animal studies showed that chaga helped to reduce inflammation caused by ulcerative colitis in animal subjects. It showed that chaga was able to suppress the expression of chemical mediators of inflammation, which make inflammation that much more intense and promote the continuation of the inflammatory response.
5. Enhances Metabolic Health
As chaga mushrooms grow on the birch tree, they absorb a compound called betulin. This is helpful because betulin that comes directly from the birch tree is indigestible for us, but when it is absorbed by chaga, it converts it into a digestible form for us to absorb.
Studies have shown that betulin helps prevent obesity, lowers cholesterol, and improves insulin sensitivity in mice. In fact, betulin was found to be as effective, or even more so, than cholsesterol-lowering drugs, according to some researchers.
6. Improves Physical Endurance and Strength
Chaga may also improve strength and endurance. In Russia, they have been using it for centuries to help boost strength and endurance, particularly during the colder months. But there isn’t much hard evidence as to why it may help with endurance and strength in the body. One study published in 2015 found that when mice were given chaga, they were able to swim longer. They believe this is because the mushroom reduced lactic acid (a by-product from doing strenuous exercise) and enhanced glycogen (stored energy) levels.
7. A Superfood
Chaga is full of powerful nutrients, some of which include:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B2
- Polysaccharides (mainly beta-glucans)
As we age, our bodies require more antioxidants to help protect our DNA from damage. Free radicals and oxidative stress are the main culprits and can cause health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Chaga mushrooms are a powerhouse of antioxidants and are an easy way to add more of these necessary nutrients into your diet. They have the highest amount of antioxidants per gram of any plant. Amazing, right!
Although research into these medicinal mushrooms is still very new, what we have already discovered is very promising. It’s great to see modern science backing up what our ancient cultures have known for centuries.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Have you tried chaga mushrooms before? How did it work for you?
Price, Annie, CHHC. (July 5, 2017). Chaga Mushroom: 5 Health Benefits of this Ancient Remedy. Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/chaga-mushroom/
Wells, Katie. (October 24, 2018). Chaga: King of Medicinal Mushrooms. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/377339/chaga-mushrooms/