In a short period of time, Chaga has gone from a Siberian secret to a wellness world staple. Known as the “king of medicinal mushrooms,” Chaga is bursting with antioxidants and nutrients that can support our health in a number of incredible ways.
Chaga has been used for centuries for its powerful medicinal benefits, but it’s only really made a name for itself in the modern-day world in the last decade. What’s so great about this crusty, charcoal-looking fungus? We’ll be diving into Chaga’s wide-ranging health benefits today, but first, let’s get acquainted with this everyday superfood.
What exactly is Chaga?
Although it’s typically referred to as a mushroom, Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is actually a sclerotia—a hardened mass of fungal mycelium. Chaga primarily grows on birch trees in cold climates, like those in Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, Russia, and some parts of the United States.
Chaga doesn’t pop up from the forest floor like most mushrooms. Rather, Chaga appears on the tops of birch trees as a black, charcoal-like mass (called a conk) with a woody, orange interior. Despite its unsightly exterior, the wide-ranging health benefits of Chaga more than make up for its lack of aesthetic beauty. Chaga is packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, making it a functional fungi powerhouse. It’s been shown to support a strong immune system, provide anti-inflammatory benefits, support heart health, promote good digestion, and potentially play a role in cancer prevention, just to name a few. One interesting theory is that Chaga’s many beneficial compounds may be a result of natural adaptations by the fungus to withstand the cold, harsh climate in which it grows.
Chaga mushroom’s top 10 benefits
Alright, now that you’re better acquainted with the almighty Chaga, are you ready to learn about the incredible health benefits it can offer you? Great! Here we go.
1. It’s nutrient-dense
Chaga mushroom is packed with healthful compounds. It’s rich in B-complex vitamins, vitamin D, and several minerals, including potassium, zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium. As if that wasn’t enough, Chaga mushroom is brimming with triterpenoids, polyphenols, and beta-glucans, which boast powerful antioxidant properties. In fact, Chaga has one of the highest ORAC scores (a measure of antioxidant potency) of any food—three times higher than açai berries! The higher the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score, the better a food’s ability to support the body against the harmful effects of free radicals and oxidative stress.
2. It boosts the immune system
With such high levels of antioxidants and nutrients, it’s no wonder that one of Chaga’s most well-known health benefits is its ability to support immune health. This is because Chaga contains beta-glucans (specifically beta-D-glucans)—naturally occurring polysaccharides that have been shown to have strong immune-boosting qualities. Even more impressive is that Chaga has been shown to modulate the immune system, meaning it improves both underperforming and overreacting immune responses in the body.
3. It reduces inflammation
Chronic inflammation can cause a slew of health issues and has been linked to almost every major disease. Thankfully, there are natural ways to reduce your inflammation levels, including consuming Chaga mushroom. Research in animals has shown that Chaga can help prevent inflammation, something that could go a long way in reducing some of the most deadly diseases in humans.
4. It supports a healthy stress response
Let’s be real: we could all use support in staying resilient to the everyday stressors of a busy lifestyle. Have no fear, Chaga’s here. This fungus is part of a category of plants called adaptogens, which have the unique ability to promote balance, or homeostasis, to help your body cope with the effects of physical and emotional stress. The effects of Chaga are compounding, so when taken consistently over a period of weeks or months, you’re likely to notice an increased ability to move through stressful situations with more calm and balance.
5. Supports heart health
Keeping your heart strong and happy is the very essence of life. Chaga mushrooms may help you do just that. A 2009 animal study found that rats consuming Chaga mushroom for eight weeks experienced reduced levels of LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol—three blood lipid measures that are closely linked to heart disease.
6. Improves metabolic health
As a Chaga mushroom grows, it absorbs a compound called betulin from the birch tree hosting it. Betulin is indigestible when it comes from the birch tree directly, but when it’s absorbed by Chaga, it’s converted into a form the body can break down. Studies in mice have shown that betulin lowers cholesterol, helps prevent obesity, and improves insulin sensitivity. Impressively, researchers have found that betulin was as effective or more effective than cholesterol-lowering drugs.
7. Reduces cancer incidence
Chaga contains phytosterols and the polysaccharide, beta-glucan, which affect cancer cells in the following ways:
- Improves macrophage function, the form of white blood cells responsible for killing cancer cells.
- Stops the formation of tumors by protecting against potent genotoxic carcinogens.
- Stimulates the immune system to fight cancer naturally.
- May stop tumors from forming blood cells.
8. Supports digestion
Because Chaga is anti-inflammatory, it may be helpful in alleviating inflammation in the stomach or intestines, which could otherwise impede digestion and limit nutrient absorption. Chaga also helps stimulate the liver, prompting it to create digestive bile which helps the digestive system break down food more effectively.
9. Contains antiviral properties
Chaga is rich in betulinic acid, an alcohol-soluble triterpenoid with anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and potential anti-cancer properties. Research shows that compounds in Chaga show biological action against several types of viruses, and also prevent replication of various virus types. It even blocked strains of herpes from entering cells. If you’re prone to seasonal cold feel like you’re coming down with a nasty bug, add some Chaga to your routine STAT!
10. Supports skin health
Chaga contains more superoxide dismutase (SOD) and melanin than any other single natural source, as well as high levels of betulonic acid. SOD is the most powerful antioxidant enzyme in the body and is crucial to cellular health. It’s the first line of defense against free radicals—unstable atoms that cause premature aging. Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin, hair, and eyes their color. It’s also responsible for guarding your skin against UV rays. Betulonic acid supports your skin by regenerating its cells and stimulating collagen and elastin production—two proteins found in your skin’s connective tissues that support its structure and ability to stretch. In other words, Chaga is a must-have when it comes to supporting your skin’s health.
Find a trusted source for your Chaga
Purchasing Chaga mushroom from a trusted supplier is the best way to ensure its effectiveness and safety. Not all Chaga products are created equal so be sure you’re getting yours from a company whose Chaga is organically grown, sustainably harvested, carefully extracted, and tested for quality and contaminants, such as heavy metals, pesticides, microbial contamination, and gluten. If a Chaga supplement lists any ingredients like “mycelium on grain” or other funky fillers, it's best to avoid it. To reap the full potential of this fungal powerhouse, seek a Chaga extract that uses wild-harvested Chaga.
The bottom line
With such a wide range of health-enhancing benefits, it’s no wonder Chaga is taking the wellness world by storm. Adding this superfood fungus to your diet is one of the best things you can do to support your health and vitality. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and that certainly holds true when it comes to the powerful benefits contained within Chaga’s rough exterior.
All referenced sources are linked in the blog.