Health Benefits and Medicinal Uses of Chaga Mushroom

Chaga mushroom Inonotus obliquus (Image from Wikimedia Commons)Chaga, Inonutus obliquus, is an edible mushroom with amazing health benefits. It is parasitic to trees, mainly birch trees. In terms of geographical distribution, chaga is found in temperate countries such as Japan, Korea, Russia, East European countries, United States and Canada. In terms of appearance, chaga has irregular shape, black, deeply scarred outer surface (resembling charcoal), and a brown inner layer. For centuries, chaga has been used in Oriental and Russian medicine in treating different diseases such as cancer, gastritis, ulcer, and tuberculosis. The mushroom became popular when Nobel laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn introduced it to the world through his novel “Cancer Ward”.  The protagonist in the novel  is cured of cancer with the aid of chaga mushroom. Today, chaga is marketed as medicinal mushroom in the health supplement industry. There is growing number of studies on the therapeutic properties of the mushroom.
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Chemical Composition

Chaga mushroom contains minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, fibers, fats, proteins, essential amino acids, and special compounds such as phenols, beta-glucan, inotodiol, isoprenoids, and betulinic acid.

Health Benefits and Medicinal Uses

Antioxidant Properties

Polyphenols and triterpenoids from chaga have been shown in laboratory studies to be effective antioxidants. They are able to scavenge  free radicals, which are unstable and reactive compounds that damage cellular structures such as DNA and RNA. Free radicals are believed to be involved in degenerative diseases and cancers. (Cui et al. 2005) In one study, chaga extract has been found to protect cells (human lymphocytes) by inhibiting oxidative damage to the DNA. (Park et al. 2004) DNA damage can result to abnormal cellular behavior like uncontrolled cellular division observed in cancer.

Hypoglycemic Properties

Chaga mushroom may help lower blood sugar levels. X. Lu et al. (2010) and Sun et al. (2008) found out that chaga extract showed significant anti-hyperglycemic and anti-lipidperoxidative effects in diabetic mice. The researchers said that the terpenoid and sterol compounds in chaga mushroom exhibited the hypoglycemic effect. Clinical studies are needed to learn if chaga extract can help people with diabetes.

Antimutagenic Properties

Ham et al. (2009) studied the antimutagenic effects of chaga mushroom extract. They concluded that 3beta-hydroxy-lanosta-8, 24-dien-21-al and inotodiol components of chaga showed antimutagenic and antioxidative activities. Antimutagenic compounds inhibit mutations, which are changes in DNA and RNA sequences. Mutations can be beneficial but most of the time dangerous as they can cause genetic disorders as well as cancer and degenerative diseases.

Anticancer Properties

Medical databases like Pubmed.com show that most of the researches done so far on chaga are about its anticancer and antitumor properties. The results of these researches are promising. It has been shown that chaga extract was  able to inhibit tumor growth, initiate apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells, and stimulate the immune system to fight cancer.

Betulinic acid, a compound found in both birch  tree and chaga, shows anticancer properties in laboratory studies. Chaga absorbs betulinic acid from the birch tree.

Immune System Stimulation

Chaga extract has been found in several studies to stimulate the immune system to fight infection, cancer, and immune diseases.[ad#afterpost]

References and Further Reading