Chaga Antioxidants and 5 Key Ingredients
As you may have read in our Health Benefits post, chaga provides many health benefits, namely its high level of antioxidants. In this post, we'll cover the key ingredients and the chaga antioxidants that make it so healthy.
There are two types of Polysaccharides - Storage Polysaccharides (similar to starch) and Structural Polysaccharides (e.g. cellulose and chitin).
The cell walls of chaga are mainly built from chitin, which is the hardest all-natural material on earth. Locked in the chitin cell walls are the bioactive ingredients that make Chaga such a powerful medicinal mushroom. An extraction process is needed to make them bioavailable as humans cannot digest chitin very well.
Beta-D-Glucans (a type of polysaccharide)
The most important components found in the cell walls of chaga are Beta-Glucans which are known for their ability to regulate the immune system. I.e. normalize an overactive and underactive immune system. Beta-Glucans also help with normalizing cholesterol levels and blood sugar.
Note: Do not make the mistake of mixing up polysaccharides and Beta-Glucans. Remember that all Beta-Glucans are polysaccharides but not all polysaccharides are Beta-Glucans.
Phytosterols are powerful therapeutic ingredients. Of the phytosterols present in chaga, 45% is Lanosterol, 25% is Inotodiols and the remaining 30% consists of Ergosterol, Fecosterol, and several others. In vivo and in-vitro testing, research showed a direct anti-cancer effect of both Lanosterol and Inotodiols. Lanosterol also has an anti-viral effect.
Betulin and Betulinic Acid (Triterpenes)
Betulin and Betulinic acid are two components unique to Chaga and derive from the birches on which it grows. Betulin and betulinic acid are powerful therapeutic agents that are currently being researched for their anti-viral (e.g. anti-HIV) and anti-cancer action (animal tests have shown great potential). They also have cholesterol-lowering effects. In fact, a recent study found them to be able to break down cholesterol in the bloodstream, instead of just preventing its absorption (the more common approach).
Melanin/Polyphenols/SODs - Chaga Antioxidants
The biological processes that make our body function such as digesting our food and breathing are fueled by oxidative processes. However, uncontrolled oxidation can produce many diseases, such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, and the degenerative processes associated with aging. A side effect of oxidation is the production of so-called ‘free radicals’, which can cause cellular damage.
Our body has its own built-in antioxidant defense systems to deal with these threats, which is part of our immune system. When this is unbalanced or starts declining because of factors such as stress and aging, deterioration of physiological functions may occur.
Some foods contain powerful antioxidants, like fresh fruits, honey, tea, and olives. Thebioactives responsible for this antioxidant action are in particular polyphenols and natural phenols.
The majority of Chaga Antioxidants are found in the black outside of the fungus, the sclerotium. The sclerotium contains massive amounts of the natural black pigment known as melanin, which has a high antioxidant potential.
Chaga Antioxidants: ORAC
The antioxidant potency of a food or supplement can be expressed in an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score. The ORAC scale (developed by the USDA) combines the ORAC power of both the water-soluble (ORAC-hydro) and the non-water soluble (ORAC-lipo) components in order to compare foods on their anti-oxidant potential. Chaga can have a very high ORAC-score, depending on where it was harvested, under which conditions it grew and how it was processed.
Chaga Antioxidants: SODs
SODs are another important antioxidant present in chaga. SOD refers to a group of enzymes called Superoxide Dismutase. These enzymes are present in human cells and also play an important role in protecting our body against the destructive effects of uncontrolled oxidation and free radicals. The levels of SODs in our body decrease with aging.
SOD potency in supplements can be expressed as S-ORAC. It’s important to note that taking SOD orally is mostly useless unless it is taken in a time-release capsule or tablet. This is because SOD is destroyed by our stomach acid before it can reach the small intestines, where it should be absorbed. However, chaga stimulates the production of SOD in our own body, so it is still very worthwhile to take a chaga extract orally.
Many Chaga producers are using ORAC and S-ORAC values when marketing the chaga antioxidants power of their products. The values given should be indicative of chaga’s ability to neutralize oxidative stress, fix and prevent DNA damage caused by free radicals, provide geno-protective qualities and to protect against the damaging effects of ultraviolet (sunlight) and gamma radiation. Quite simply, antioxidant power can be compared to ‘anti-rust and polishing for the body and its inner organs‘.