What is Chaga Mushroom?
Okay, the humble Chaga mushroom is not quite as visually stunning as turkey tail. In fact, it’s downright homely — but let’s not judge this mushroom by its appearance. Known by the scientific name Inonotus obliquus, this fungus grows on the bark of birch trees in cold climates. It can be found in Alaska, Northern Canada, Northern Europe, Russia, Siberia, and Korea. It is also called black mass, cinder conk, and birch canker.
It grows into a woody mass about one foot across, with a very dark outward appearance similar to a clump of burnt coal. Inside is a soft, vibrant orange core.
What is Chaga Mushroom good for?
Animal studies have linked Chaga mushroom to reduced blood sugar levels. A study in obese, diabetic mice showed that Chaga mushroom extract both reduced blood sugar and insulin resistance compared to a control group that did not receive the supplement.1
Chaga extract may also help to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease. The results of animal studies showed that in addition to reducing LDL cholesterol, Chaga increases “good” HDL cholesterol, reduces total cholesterol and triglycerides, and increases antioxidant levels.2
How does Chaga Mushroom help my immune system and promote healthy sleep?
In the short term, inflammation is a natural response of an active immune system. Long-term or chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, arthritis, IBS, and other digestive tract illnesses, which in turn adversely affect overall health. Animal studies suggest that Chaga mushroom improve the immune system by reducing chronic inflammation and fighting harmful bacteria and viruses.
The way this works is that Chaga compounds promote the formation of specialized proteins called cytokines which regulate the immune system. This stimulates the production of white blood cells. These white blood cells fight viruses and harmful bacteria.3 The upshot is that Chaga mushroom could help fight infections ranging from the common cold to serious illnesses caused by bacteria or viruses.
There may be another pathway for Chaga to help the immune system, in that in addition to promoting the production of good cytokines, Chaga may also inhibit the production of harmful cytokines, the ones that trigger inflammation and are associated with disease.4
Regarding the beneficial effect of Chaga mushroom on sleep, animal studies suggest that Chaga improves sleep by increasing the amount of slow-wave during a sleep cycle.5 Slow-wave sleep is the deepest stage of sleep and is essential for physical recovery and repair. These studies also show that participants show less anxiety-related behavior after taking the Chaga extract.6
Who should not take Chaga Mushroom?
Chaga is a fungus, and that means that people with mushroom or mold allergies should not use it as a dietary supplement. Because Chaga also contains a protein that can prevent blood clotting, if you are on blood-thinning medications, have a bleeding disorder or are preparing for surgery, consult with your doctor before taking Chaga.
Chaga’s impact on blood sugar should be considered as a risk for those taking insulin or those with diabetes. Because there is no research on the safety of chaga for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, the safest option for those women is to avoid use.
Always ask a doctor before taking any supplements. Supplements can have harmful side effects or interactions with other medications. Chaga mushroom may be a promising natural treatment in conjunction with other therapies, and confirming its benefits will require further human research.
1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18434051/ 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 Jun 19;118(1):7-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2008.02.030.
2 https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/5305591 Effect of the Inonotus Obliquus Polysaccharides on Blood Lipid Metabolism and Oxidative Stress of Rats Fed High-Fat Diet In Vivo; Liya Liang; Zesheng Zhang; Wei Sun; Yuben Wang; Published in: 2009 2nd International Conference on Biomedical Engineering and Informatics
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774877/ Immunomodulatory Activity of the Water Extract from Medicinal Mushroom Inonotus obliquus; Mycobiology. 2005 Sep; 33(3): 158–162. Yeon-Ran Kim.
4 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2010/943516/ Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Inonotus obliquus in Colitis Induced by Dextran Sodium Sulfate; BioMed Research International, Volume 2010 | Article ID 943516, Se Young Choi, Sun Jin Hur, Chi Sun An, Yun Hui Jeon, Young Jun Jeoung, Jong Phil Bak, and Beong Ou Lim.
5 Baik, H. M., Kim, K. H., & Joh, E. H. (2018). The effect of Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) extract on sleep, anxiety-related behaviors, and memory in rats. Journal of medicinal food, 21(11), 1000-10014.
6 Kimura, Y., Inatomi, S., & Liu, J. H. (2009). Chloroform extract of Inonotus obliquus improves sleep quality in rats. Biological & pharmaceutical bulletin, 32(12), 225-229.