Chaga – An Overview
The Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is a fungus that is commonly found on trees in Eastern and Northern Europe.
Traditional folk medicine in these regions has used this mushroom to treat various conditions for centuries (if not millennia).
Recently, holistic health practitioners and nootropics enthusiasts have started paying more attention to this strange-looking fungus.
According to research, Chaga may possess a variety of health and nootropic benefits for the brain and body, including:
- Reducing inflammation
- Boosting the immune system
- Stress relief
- Lowering blood pressure
Chaga contains more antioxidants than almost any other food. It has an extremely high ORAC value, which is the scale used to measure antioxidant levels.1Alaska Chaga What Is The ORAC Value Of Chaga Mushroom?, AlaskaChaga.com. 2018
It is also believed to have adaptogenic qualities, which can help the body adapt to stress.
What Does Chaga Do?
Chaga possesses a wide range of benefits, mostly due to its concentration of anti-oxidant compounds and adaptogenic qualities.
Chaga As An Adaptogen
This mushroom has been used as an adaptogenic compound for centuries (at least).
As their name suggests, adaptogens are substances that help the body adapt to their surroundings by fighting stress.
They can help normalize the body’s biological response to difficult situations so that you remain clear-headed and less susceptible to anxiety.
Like other adaptogens (such as Rhodiola and ashwagandha), Chaga seems to be able to defend the brain against oxidative stress, which builds up during trying times. 2Jong Seok Yun, et al. Inonotus obliquus Protects against Oxidative Stress-Induced Apoptosis and Premature Senescence, Mol Cells. 2011 3Jehane Ibrahim Eid, et al. Molecular insights and cell cycle assessment upon exposure to Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) mushroom polysaccharides in zebrafish (Danio rerio), Sci Rep. 2020
Besides buffering the brain against stress, Chaga also improved learning and memory in rats with brain damage in one study. 4Vijayasree Vayalanellore Giridharan, et al. Amelioration of scopolamine induced cognitive dysfunction and oxidative stress by Inonotus obliquus – a medicinal mushroom, Food Funct. 2011
Although there have not been any high-quality human trials on Chaga, there is some preliminary evidence that this fungus could improve cognition and prevent damage during times of high stress and anxiety.
Anecdotally, it has been used as a “nerve tonic” for many years, and some users report feeling more balanced mentally and emotionally after taking it consistently.
Chaga As Antioxidant
Chaga may be able to clear out toxins and free radicals from the body before they damage healthy cells.
One study found that a compound in Chaga prevented some of the damage of a neurotoxin known to cause Parkinson’s disease. 5Kei Gunjima, et al. 3,4-dihydroxybenzalacetone protects against Parkinson’s disease-related neurotoxin 6-OHDA through Akt/Nrf2/glutathione pathway, J Cell Biochem. 2014
Another study concluded that Chaga’s antioxidant properties prevent DNA damage in human cells. 6Yoo Kyoung Park, et al. Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes as assessed by comet assay, Biofactors. 2004
Chaga For Inflammation
More and more, researchers are starting to understand the importance of inflammation on the body and brain.
High levels of inflammation can negatively affect nearly every system in the body. From heart disease to diabetes to depression, inflammation is at least partially linked to almost every major ailment.7George M. Slavich. Understanding inflammation, its regulation, and relevance for health: A top scientific and public priority, Brain Behav Immun. 2015
Luckily, anti-inflammatory foods and supplements, such as Chaga can help keep inflammation in check.
Research shows that Chaga can reduce inflammatory cytokines, which are major signals for the body’s inflammation response. Multiple studies specifically link it to alleviating the cytokines implicated in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.8Se Young Choi, et al. Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Inonotus obliquus in Colitis Induced by Dextran Sodium Sulfate, BioMed Research International. 2010
Another study shows Chaga to be effective against histamine-induced vascular inflammation.9Sumreen Javed, et al. Inonotus obliquus attenuates histamine-induced microvascular inflammation, PLoS One. 2019
All in all, Chaga’s positive effects on inflammation are one of it’s most notable benefits.
Chaga And Cancer
One of the most critical uses of Chaga might be against cancer. It has been used in some Asian and Eastern European countries for this possible effect.10Satoru Arata, et al. Continuous intake of the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) aqueous extract suppresses cancer progression and maintains body temperature in mice, Heliyon. 2016
Although live human trials are in short supply, there is some evidence from studies on animals and human cancer cell lines that this fungus may be a promising treatment for some types of cancer. 11Myung-Ja Youn, et al. Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) induces G0/G1 arrest and apoptosis in human hepatoma HepG2 cells, World J Gastroenterol. 2008 12Lishuai Ma, et al. Anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities of extracts and compounds from the mushroom Inonotus obliquus, Food Chemistry. 2013 13Mi Ja Chung, et al. Anticancer activity of subfractions containing pure compounds of Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) extract in human cancer cells and in Balbc/c mice bearing Sarcoma-180 cells, Nutr Res Pract. 2010 14Hyun Sook Lee, et al. Ethanol extract of Innotus obliquus (Chaga mushroom) induces G1 cell cycle arrest in HT-29 human colon cancer cells, Nutr Res Pract. 2015 15Satoru Arata, et al. Continuous intake of the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) aqueous extract suppresses cancer progression and maintains body temperature in mice, Heliyon. 2016
Researchers believe that some of the compounds in Chaga may retard cancer cell growth and support the immune system as the body fights off tumor growth.
However, there have not been any large, properly controlled studies to confirm it’s true effectiveness.
Chaga should never be considered a substitute for the clinical treatment of any cancer-related diseases.
Chaga Lowers Blood Sugar
Chaga may also have the ability to lower blood sugar and buffer the bodies insulin response. 16Jun-En Sun, et al. Antihyperglycemic and antilipidperoxidative effects of dry matter of culture broth of Inonotus obliquus in submerged culture on normal and alloxan-diabetes mice, J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 17Cha, J.Y., et al. Hypoglycemic Effects of Fermented Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) in the Diabetic Otsuka Long-Evans Tokushima Fatty (OLETF) Rat, Food Science and Biotechnology. 2006 18Bao-zhong Diao, et al. Protective Effect of Polysaccharides from Inonotus obliquus on Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Symptoms and Their Potential Mechanisms in Rats, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014
Although the current studies are on rats, this could be a promising adjunct treatment for diabetes and related disorders in humans.
Chaga Lowers Cholesterol
Chaga may also be able to improve cholesterol. Chaga has been shown to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in mice. 19Liya Liang, et al. Effect of the Inonotus Obliquus Polysaccharides on Blood Lipid Metabolism and Oxidative Stress of Rats Fed High-Fat Diet In Vivo, International Conference on Biomedical Engineering and Informatics. 2009
LDL, or so-called “bad cholesterol” is a critical health factor that affects millions every year.
Other studies have illustrated multiple antihyperglycemic properties found in this mushroom.20Jun-En Sun, et al. Antihyperglycemic and antilipidperoxidative effects of dry matter of culture broth of Inonotus obliquus in submerged culture on normal and alloxan-diabetes mice, J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 21Jia Wang, et al. Anti-diabetic effects of Inonotus obliquus polysaccharides in streptozotocin-induced type 2 diabetic mice and potential mechanism via PI3K-Akt signal pathway, Biomed Pharmacother. 2017
This indicates that Chaga could also support good cholesterol levels in humans, although more research is needed.
Chaga For Endurance
There is some clinical evidence that Chaga could improve physical endurance.22Zhong Yue, et al. Effect of Inonotus Obliquus Polysaccharides on physical fatigue in mice, J Tradit Chin Med. 2015
Although the only trials so far have focused on rats, there is also a history of using this fungus to improve stamina and athletic performance in some parts of the world.
How Chaga Works In The Brain
Chaga seems to work through several different pathways in the body.
Chaga For Gut Microbes
It seems to have a beneficial effect on gut microbes. As a growing body of research indicates, the health of your gut flora could have a massive impact on your overall health.
From managing inflammation, to producing neurotransmitters, to regulating metabolism, the microbiome in your intestines is responsible for a lot.23Muthukumaran Jayachandran, et al. A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota, Int J Mol Sci. 2017
The foods and supplements you choose to feed it will determine what microbes thrive.
Chaga, as well as other mushrooms, seem to be beneficial for maintaining an overall healthy gut biome.24Muthukumaran Jayachandran, et al. A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota, Int J Mol Sci. 2017
One study found that Chaga extract was useful in decreasing gut inflammation.25Siddhartha Kumar Mishra, et al. Orally administered aqueous extract of Inonotus obliquus ameliorates acute inflammation in dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis in mice, J Ethnopharmacol. 2012
This is most likely why some people report Chaga improving symptoms of IBS and related disorders.
Triterpenoids Fight Cancer Cells
For Chaga’s suspected cancer-fighting abilities, researchers believe a type of compound called triterpenoids are responsible.26Fenqin Zhao, et al. Chemical constituents from Inonotus obliquus and their antitumor activities, J Nat Med. 2016
Chaga is rich in these compounds, including some triterpenoids that may be unique to Inonotus obliquus.
These have been shown to combat the growth of certain types of human and animal tumors in laboratory settings.
Chaga Scavenges Free Radicals
Chaga is known for its powerful antioxidant effects.
It’s high concentrations of polyphenols and polysaccharides give it the ability to scrub potentially harmful free radicals from the body before they can damage cells. 27Weifa Zheng, et al. Analysis of antioxidant metabolites by solvent extraction from sclerotia of Inonotus obliquus (Chaga), Phytochem Anal. 2011
Fights Over-active Immune Response
It seems that Chaga can also fight anaphylactic 28Taek Joon Yoon, et al. Inhibitory effect of chaga mushroom extract on compound 48/80-induced anaphylactic shock and IgE production in mice, Int Immunopharmacol. 2013
How Much Chaga Should I Take?
As an extract, 500-1000 milligrams is the recommended dose range. If you are using a powder, this means about 1/2 teaspoon to a full teaspoon.
In tea form, most brands recommend 2-3 cups of brewed chaga per day for maximum results.
Chaga Potential Side Effects
Chaga does have some potentially serious side effects to watch out for.
One concern is that it may cause excessive bleeding in some people. This is due to how Chaga can lower platelet levels, which your body needs to clot blood.
For this reason, people with hemophilia or related disorders should not use Chaga. Especially if they are using blood thinners as well.
Chaga also contains high levels of the compound oxalate, which may damage the kidneys in large amounts. If you have a prior history of kidney disease or kidney stones, you should steer clear.
Diabetics should also be wary of this supplement.
Chaga is known to lower blood glucose, which may cause some people to become hypoglycemic, especially if they are already on other anti-diabetic medications.
Chaga Amazon Reviews
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About the author:
Erik Levi, FNTP
Erik Levi is a co-founder of HolisticNootropics.com and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner.
As an NTP Erik takes a nutrition first approach to health. He has worked with many different people to help them use nutrition to optimize their quality of life.
Erik believes that mental health is a physiological process and cognitive enhancement is not something that can be achieved by just taking some pills with good Amazon reviews.
Instead, true cognitive enhancement comes with the right balance of nutrients, movement, and gratitude. Erik continues to stay up to date with the most current nootropic and holistic health research and promises to deliver the best solutions possible.
You can check out his personal health blog/podcast/YouTube Channel all under the name Holistic A-Hole.