- Chaga mushrooms have been used for centuries as a medicinal mushroom.
- Chaga mushrooms are an adaptogen, helping the body to defend against stressors.
- Adaptogens like chaga relieve anxiety, increase energy, and improve mood.
- Chaga can also strengthen the immune system, lower cholesterol, and balance blood sugar.
What are chaga mushrooms?
Chaga mushrooms, or Inonotus obliquus, are large, black mushrooms with a soft orange center that grow in Asia, North America, and northern Europe. Chaga contains high amounts of melanin, which creates its charcoal appearance. Chaga grows on birch trees in cold climates and has been used as a medicinal mushroom in northern Europe and Russia for centuries.
Chaga is typically ground into powder and used to make tea, but you can also find chaga supplements and extracts. Chaga mushrooms are high in fiber and full of vitamins and minerals like B-complex vitamins, Vitamin D, potassium, zinc, and magnesium.
What makes chaga special?
Like other medicinal mushrooms such as lion’s mane and reishi, chaga mushrooms have many benefits for the mind and body. Chaga mushrooms are adaptogens, meaning they help the body to resist, or adapt to, the damage of physical and psychological stress.
Regular consumption of adaptogens normalizes stress hormone levels and can decrease our predisposition to anxiety. If the body is producing too much of the stress hormone cortisol, adaptogens intervene and help bring us back to balance. Adaptogens modify hormone production and the physiological responses to stress to keep our mind, immune system, and energy levels from being adversely affected.
Chaga mushrooms fight free radicals, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Chaga also lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol and slows the growth of cancer cells.
Why the focus on adaptogens?
In a word: stress! We have all felt it, and for many of us, between the pandemic, politics, and the economy, our normal, everyday stress has increased greatly. Dealing with so many changes at work and school, we are all living with more stress than we normally would.
The problem with stress is two-fold. In the short-term, immediate stress is distracting and upsetting, leads to difficulty concentrating, and may cause digestive or sleep issues. In the long-term, stress leads to increased cortisol production which is associated with anxiety, fatigue, and a variety of physical ailments.
Adaptogens are natural plants, herbs, and mushrooms that safely lower stress hormone levels and give us physical and emotional relief from the effects of stressors in our environment. Stress cannot always be avoided, but it is crucial that we manage it to not only have good health, but an enjoyable life. Chaga mushrooms and other adaptogens help calm our minds and bodies so that we can master our day rather than run on anxiety and stress.
How do chaga mushrooms boost our immunity?
When researching disease prevention and the immune system, you find a lot of information about lowering the inflammation that is associated with everything from cancer to heart disease. Inflammation that is acute is usually the body’s healthy response to an injury or invader, but chronic inflammation is very different. Chronic inflammation is often subtle and produces fatigue, pain, and digestive issues. With chronic inflammation, the body can suffer DNA damage and attack its own tissues, so fighting this kind of inflammation is important.
Oxidative damage is another threat to our immune system and is caused by free radicals that are released through natural body processes and absorbed from toxins in our environment. When free radicals oxidize important parts of the cell, that cell can no longer function the way it was intended. This damage can cause the cell to die and lead to nerve injury and disease.
Chaga mushrooms are both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powerhouses. Studies show that chaga reduces inflammation by regulating cytokine production. Chaga promotes beneficial cytokines, which stimulate white blood cells, and reduces harmful cytokines, lowering inflammation.
With increased antioxidants and reduced inflammation, we are better able to fight off bacteria and viruses as well as lower our risk of heart disease and cancer.
Is there any other promising research on chaga?
Studies show that chaga may help lower our risk of heart disease by lowering our LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing our HDL (good) cholesterol. It may also help regulate blood pressure.
In another study, chaga was shown to regulate blood sugar and improve glucose tolerance in type 2 diabetics.
There is also good research supporting chaga’s cancer fighting abilities. In one study, chaga supplementation reduced tumor growth by 60%. In another study, chaga extract prevented the growth of cancer in human liver cells. Promising studies show the same is possible for cancers in other areas of the body such as the lungs and colon.
With a boost in antioxidants and lower inflammation, the benefits of chaga touch every aspect of our physical health and vitality.
Medicinal mushrooms sound great, but they don’t look good!
It’s true, chaga is not a pretty fungus. Luckily, we do not need to put it on our dinner plates! Chaga powder can be brewed into tea, blended with delicious cacao for a chocolate beverage, or taken in supplement form.
When we consume chaga in extract form in other foods and beverages, we do not taste it at all. We get all the benefits of chaga’s antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals without even knowing we have consumed it. By adding adaptogens like chaga mushroom extract to our daily diets, we give ourselves an edge against stress and environmental toxins.
We all know that our physical and mental health needs to be a priority. Regular exercise, good nutrition, and purposeful relaxation are not luxuries, they are absolutely crucial to reducing stress, lowering our risk of disease, and giving us the energy we need to accomplish our goals. We all deserve to enjoy the benefits of improved health and mental wellness.