If you have been paying attention to the world of alternative medicine, you are possibly familiar with chaga. This mushroom is harvested from the northernmost fringes of the world and has been famed as a folk remedy for generations due to its immune-boosting, anti-cancer, and anti-aging properties. With the growing popularity of chaga worldwide, you might be wondering if there is any scientific evidence for the seemingly grandiose claims that chaga users make.
The answer is that there is. While chaga research is still in its infancy, a growing body of research has confirmed many anecdotal and folk claims about the mushroom. Read on to learn about the scientific evidence showing how useful and healthy chaga is.
CHAGA AND SCIENCE
It is worth pointing out that there have been few chaga clinical studies performed directly on humans. This is because scientific interest in chaga was only really piqued a few decades ago following the 1968 publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel Cancer Ward.Based on Solzhenitsyn’s experiences in a Soviet cancer ward, the novel’s descriptions of how chaga was used as a cancer remedy attracted the interest of scientists, who began traveling to the Soviet Union to study the mushroom.
Scientists who observed chaga usage in Russia and the former U.S.S.R. observed that cancer rates among chaga users were far lower than the world average, to the point where many Soviet clinics didn’t need to house cancer wards. Many Soviet citizens drank chaga tea in lieu of coffee due to the latter being more expensive and thus inadvertently took advantage of its cancer-reducing effects.
Laboratory-based studies suggest that chaga has a positive effect in combating colorectal, cervical, and lung cancer, with cancer cells exposed to chaga cells withering and dying. Studies point to four mechanisms by which chaga fights cancer. The first is that its high antioxidant content reduces oxidative stress, which by extension reduces the chances of developing cancer in the first place. Oxidative stress is the process by which free radicals collide into cells, which causes cellular damage and also carries a risk of turning cells cancerous.
Chaga also directly kills tumor cells and prevents the growth of existing cells, as well as spurring the immune system to attack and kill cancer cells on its own. Scientists believe that chaga’s anti-cancer properties are in part due to its triterpene content. Triterpene compounds have been demonstrated to destroy cancer cells in a safe and efficient way, without harming existing cells.
Some scientific research has also been conducted into chaga’s antiviral effects. A study from Russia showed that chaga has the ability to protect cells against herpes simplex virus infection. Another study showed that chaga prevents herpes simplex from entering into cells, preventing cell membrane fusion. However, research into this field is less advanced and conclusive.
Two studies have been conducted into chaga’s effects on inflammation. The first showed that chaga had an anti-allergenic effect, helpful for those who suffer from allergy-induced inflammation. The second showed that chaga reduced edema and inflammation in rats. Chaga’s anti-inflammatory effects have been attributed to how it inhibits nitrous oxide expression.
Some research has also been conducted into how chaga affects intestinal health. Studies on mice suffering from intestinal inflammation saw their edema eliminated, mucosal damage reduced, and nitrous oxide levels reduced when given chaga to consume. Another study showed that chaga had the ability to combat pancreatitis.
For those who consume chaga for physical fitness, there is some evidence to suggest that it has a positive effect on muscle activity. Mice who consumed chaga were able to swim for longer periods and also saw reduced lactic acid buildup in their muscles. This was attributed to the polysaccharides in chaga, which increased the glycogen content of the liver and muscles and allowed them to perform better and for longer periods.
Chaga is famed as a remedy for colds and other diseases, and research has given weight to its claims of boosting immune system functionality. Polysaccharides extracted from the fruiting bodies of chaga were shown to immunomodulate white blood cells, giving credence to chaga’s function as a balancer of the immune system.
While there are some claims that chaga can reverse hair loss, there are currently no studies that can confirm or deny this. Similarly, there is only one known study on chaga’s effects on weight loss, suggesting that chaga helped control weight gain and also reduced the accumulation of free fatty acids, cholesterol, and triglycerides in the bloodstream. There is currently no data on whether chaga can reduce migraines or other types of headaches.
Finally, some studies have been conducted on the safety of consuming chaga. Conclusions taken from these studies is that chaga can be harmful if overconsumed for too long. One study concerned an elderly Japanese woman who developed kidney stones due to overconsuming chaga to fight liver cancer. Chaga also inhibits the production of platelets, posing a problem for those who are taking anticoagulants, and it may also cause low blood sugar in some diabetics.
Because of chaga’s relative newness to the global alternative health scene, many of the claims made about its effects have not been fully verified. Chaga users swear by its anti-disease, anti-aging, and anti-cancer effects, and preliminary research points to many of those effects being real. However, few strong conclusions can be drawn so far, and the long-term effects of chaga have also not been adequately studied.
While it is true that chaga can help improve your overall health, everyone’s body is different, so you will want to go into chaga with a clear head and appraised of all the facts. Always make decisions based on what you believe is best for your body, and if you suffer from chronic health problems, consult a doctor before you make any big changes. With caution, you too can benefit from the positive effects of chaga.