Would you drink tea made from a mushroom that looks like an ugly black tumor if the remedy has been touted as an anticancer treatment? If you said yes, then you could find yourself downing tea made from chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a fungal parasite that grows mainly on beech and birch trees. The Siberians call the chaga mushroom a “Gift from God” because of its reported health benefits, yet this parasite can eventually kill the trees on which it lives.
Chaga mushroom supplements and chaga mushroom tea have become so popular, the fungus is in danger of being overharvested. A solution is cultivation of the mushroom in the laboratory, which will lead to a more pure and sustainable product.
What is Chaga Mushroom?
Chaga mushroom is not your typical soft fungus, but instead is nearly as hard as the wood off which it feeds. Although chaga might not be pretty, the beauty of this mushroom reportedly is its medicinal powers. This fungus has been used for centuries throughout Russia and Europe to treat intestinal worms, stomach disorders, cancer, and other health challenges.
The scientific research to back up these and other claims are somewhat limited, especially human studies. However, growing interest in the mushroom is fueling more research.
Health Benefits of Chaga Mushroom
Chaga contains numerous B vitamins, minerals (e.g., calcium, copper, iron, manganese, potassium, zinc), and various phytonutrients (plant nutrients), including flavonoids and phenols. The mushroom also contains high levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an enzyme that is especially powerful in fighting free radicals that can cause cell damage and disease.
Superoxide dismutase is more potent than vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, and several other important free-radical fighters. Therefore, taking chaga mushroom supplements or tea may provide you with more immune system boosting power than these other nutrients.
According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, among the active components in chaga mushroom are triterpenes, a group of organic substances that are sometimes referred to as nature’s steroids. Several test tube experiments have suggested that triterpenes may be the compounds that give chaga its anticancer, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, pain relief, and immune stimulating properties.
Chaga mushrooms also are rich in beta glucans, substances that have an ability to stimulate the immune system and to fight cell mutations, which is an anticancer effect. In addition, some mouse studies have indicated chaga has antidiabetic benefits, and animal models have demonstrated some anticancer effects. Thus far, there are no studies showing an effect of chaga mushrooms or chaga mushroom tea on prostate cancer cells.
Some examples of the benefits of chaga mushroom can be seen in these studies.
- A 2004 study reported that use of chaga extract reduced DNA destruction in human cells. DNA destruction is associated with cancer.
- In 2009, researchers reported that chaga mushroom extract exhibited significant antioxidant activity in patients with irritable bowel disease.
- A research team evaluated the anticancer properties of a constituent of chaga mushroom and its impact on the viability of normal and cancer cells. When the mushroom was applied to various human and animal cancer cells, the researchers found that the mushroom preparation showed anticancer effects against various types of human and animal cancer cells, including the ability to reduce the proliferation of tumor cells with little to no effect on normal healthy cells.
Using Chaga Mushroom
If you would like to try chaga mushroom as a supplement or tea, be aware that it may interact with antidiabetic and anticoagulant drugs. Otherwise, no other significant side effects have been noted. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before trying any form of chaga mushroom. Even if drinking a beverage made from an ugly fungus is not your cup of tea, you can always enjoy green tea and/or hibiscus tea, both of which are rich in antioxidants and offer numerous health benefits.