Chaga mushrooms have been used as a medicine for centuries in Siberia and other parts of Asia to boost immunity and improve overall health (1).
Despite its unappealing appearance, the chaga mushroom is growing in popularity in the Western world due to its potential health benefits.
Furthermore, chaga tea contains a high concentration of antioxidants.
Consumption of this unique mushroom, however, may pose some risks.
This article looks at the uses, benefits, and side effects of chaga mushrooms.
What Exactly Are Chaga Mushrooms?
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is a type of fungus found in cold climates such as Northern Europe, Siberia, Russia, Korea, Northern Canada, and Alaska.
Other names for chaga include black mass, clinker polypore, birch canker polypore, cinder conk, and sterile conk trunk rot (of birch).
Chaga produces a woody growth, or conk, that resembles a clump of burnt charcoal and is approximately 10–15 inches (25–38 centimetres) in size. The inside, on the other hand, reveals a soft core of orange colour.
Chaga has been used as a traditional medicine in Russia and other Northern European countries for centuries, primarily to boost immunity and overall health.
It's also been used to treat diabetes, cancer, and heart disease (1).
Chaga was traditionally grated into a fine powder and brewed as a herbal tea.
It is now available not only as a tea, but also as a powdered or capsuled supplement. Chaga may be used alone or in combination with other mushrooms such as cordyceps in the tea.
It is believed that taking chaga with either warm or cold water releases its medicinal properties.
Keep in mind that there is very little reliable information on the nutritional content of chaga.
Having said that, they're low in calories, high in fibre, and high in antioxidants (2, 3).
Chaga mushroom is a fungus that thrives in cold climates, primarily on birch trees. It has been harvested for centuries as a traditional medicine and has the appearance of burnt charcoal.
Potential Health Advantages
Despite the fact that research is ongoing, some scientific studies suggest that chaga extract may have some health benefits.
Immune System Booster and Inflammation Fighter
Inflammation is a natural immune system response that can protect you from disease. Long-term inflammation, on the other hand, has been linked to conditions such as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis (4).
According to animal and test-tube studies, chaga extract can boost immunity by reducing long-term inflammation and fighting harmful bacteria and viruses.
Chaga stimulates white blood cells, which are necessary for fighting off harmful bacteria or viruses, by promoting the formation of beneficial cytokines — specialised proteins that regulate the immune system (5, 6).
As a result, this mushroom may aid in the fight against infections ranging from minor colds to serious illnesses.
Furthermore, animal and test-tube studies show that chaga can inhibit the production of harmful cytokines, which cause inflammation and are linked to disease (5, 7).
In one study, chaga extract reduced inflammation and gut damage in mice by inhibiting inflammatory cytokines (8).
Cancer Prevention and Treatment
Several animal and test-tube studies show that chaga can prevent and slow the progression of cancer (9).
Chaga supplements resulted in a 60% reduction in tumour size in a study of cancer mice (10).
Chaga extract inhibited the growth of cancer cells in human liver cells in a test-tube study. Similar findings were made with cancer cells from the lung, breast, prostate, and colon (11, 12, 13, 14).
The anticancer effect of chaga is thought to be due in part to its high antioxidant content, which protects cells from free radical damage (15).
Chaga, in particular, contains the antioxidant triterpene. In vitro studies show that a highly concentrated triterpene extract can help kill cancer cells (15).
Remember that human studies are required before drawing firm conclusions about chaga's anticancer potential.
Reduces Blood Sugar
Several animal studies have found that chaga helps to lower blood sugar levels. As a result, it may aid in the management of diabetes (16, 17).
In a recent study of obese, diabetic mice, chaga extract was found to reduce blood sugar levels and insulin resistance when compared to diabetic mice who did not receive the supplement (18).
Another study in diabetic mice found that chaga supplements reduced blood sugar levels by 31% over three weeks (17).
Other studies have yielded similar results (19, 20).
However, because human research is lacking, it is unclear whether chaga can aid in the management of diabetes in humans.
Chaga extract may also improve cholesterol levels, potentially lowering your risk of heart disease.
Chaga extract reduced "bad" LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides while increasing antioxidant levels in rats with high cholesterol in an eight-week study (21).
Similar studies discovered that, in addition to lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol, chaga increases "good" HDL cholesterol (17, 18).
Researchers believe that the antioxidants in chaga are responsible for its cholesterol-lowering effects.
Again, more human research is required to fully understand chaga's cholesterol impact.
Chaga extract has been shown in animal and test-tube studies to boost immunity, prevent chronic inflammation, fight cancer, lower blood sugar levels, and lower cholesterol. More human studies, however, are required.
Side Effects and Safety
Chaga is generally safe to consume. However, no human studies have been conducted to determine the safety or dosage.
In fact, chaga can interact with some common medications, potentially causing adverse effects.
Because of its effect on blood sugar, chaga, for example, could be dangerous for people on insulin or with diabetes.
Chaga also contains a protein that helps to keep blood clots from forming. Consult your doctor before taking chaga if you are on blood-thinning medication, have a bleeding disorder, or are about to undergo surgery (22).
Though some research suggests that chaga may help reduce inflammation, it may also stimulate your immune system. As a result, people with autoimmune diseases should consult a doctor before taking chaga.
There is no research on the safety of chaga for pregnant or breastfeeding women. As a result, the safest option is to avoid using it.
Finally, keep in mind that chaga is not regulated by the FDA, so only purchase supplements from reputable sources.
No studies have been conducted to investigate the safety or appropriate dosage of chaga. If you have a bleeding disorder or an autoimmune disease, take blood thinners, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, you may experience unwanted side effects.
Chaga mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.
Chaga mushroom, which is high in antioxidants, is available as a tea or supplement.
Its extract has the potential to fight cancer as well as improve immunity, chronic inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.
Human studies are still required to confirm these benefits as well as to determine its safety, side effects, and optimal dosage.
If you want to try chaga mushroom tea or supplements but are concerned about side effects or potential interactions with medications you're taking, consult your doctor first.