Chaga Mushroom Benefits: The Facts
The Chaga mushroom is one of the most exciting medicinal mushrooms out there, offering tremendous promise to help people live healthier, fuller lives.
It is always wise, however, to proceed with caution when it comes to health claims and look at what stands up to scrutiny. Doing so shows us that Chaga has real, concrete benefits that have been validated through scientific research.
In this article, we'll discuss seven major Chaga mushroom benefits, and cite the studies that back them up.
If you'd like to learn more about the key ingredients that provide the health benefits below, please check out our antioxidants and key ingredients post.
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Stimulates And Regulates The Immune System
Many of the benefits of Chaga come from the way the compounds that make up the mushroom interact with the complicated aspects of the human immune system.
One of the most important things Chaga does is activate immune effector cells called lymphocytes and macrophages. This causes increased production of cytokines.
Cytokines are the messengers of the immune system. There are several different kinds, each tasking other cells with specific duties such as organizing and rallying white blood cells to fight infection. This stimulation of cytokine secretion creates a more robust immune system that is in a higher state of readiness.
Just as importantly, the compounds in Chaga keep that robust immunity from going rogue and attacking parts of the body it shouldn't. When the body launches "friendly fire" against healthy tissues, it leads to an inflammatory response that is actually at the root of many chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and allergies.
We'll talk more about inflammation in a bit, but the takeaway here is that Chaga can boost the immune system when it needs boosting, and help keep it from otherwise being overactive. This immunomodulatory effect means that Chaga can benefit people needing immune support and people with autoimmune disorders.
Nutritional Support In The Fight Against Cancer
A notable category of people who benefit from immune support are cancer patients who are receiving some types of treatment. For example, chemotherapy affects bone marrow, lessening its capacity for producing white blood cells which consequently weakens the immune system during and for months after treatment.
The same thing happens with radiation therapy that targets bone versus soft tissue. This leaves patients susceptible to infections and communicable diseases that would further complicate their health situation. However, researchers have found that because of Chaga's positive effect on the immune system it could benefit such patients during treatment.
Additionally, mounting evidence has demonstrated that Chaga has direct anti-tumor properties.
Studies have found that Chaga significantly inhibits tumor growth and metastasis. The responsible compounds are called triterpenes which cause tumor cells to self-destruct, a process called apoptosis that normal cells undergo when they're old or dysfunctional. Remarkably, Chaga has this effect while having little or no toxic effect on surrounding normal cells, meaning that it shows promise as a targeted cancer-fighter.
Chaga also contains many antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals in the body that harm cells and can sometimes lead to cancer formation. We'll talk more about them in a bit.
For further infomation about chaga and cancer, please check out this post written by Dr. Kevin Curran
Earlier we mentioned that inflammation is what happens when the immune system attacks healthy tissue, and how this is behind many chronic ailments. You can read more about these autoimmune disorders here.
When people have these conditions, they usually have higher blood and tissue concentrations of various cytokines than other people.
When Chaga is introduced into this body environment, it inhibits the production of more cytokines, notably tumor necrosis factor alpha, which is a prime culprit in inflammation.
The Chaga compounds responsible for this effect are betulinic acid, inotodial, and ergosterol peroxide, which of course are all naturally-occurring.
Helps Protect The Liver
In item 2 we mentioned how free radicals can damage cells. Free radicals are reactive molecules that our bodies produce, but that also form in response to environmental triggers like exposure to cigarette smoke or too much sun.
These molecules float around a cell, looking for other molecules to react with. If that other molecule happens to be DNA, that reaction can kill the cell or lead to mutations when the cell reproduces. These mutations can lead to tumor formation or other tissue dysfunction.
These reactions happen all over the body, but researchers have found that one of the organs most susceptible to damage is the liver. In fact, researchers now believe that an overabundance of free radicals--called oxidative stress--is a major factor in the development of severe liver diseases.
This is where Chaga comes in. Chaga contains numerous antioxidants, which you can read more about on this page.
Antioxidants intercept free radicals, giving them something to react within a non-destructive manner. By increasing the amount of antioxidants, the oxidative stress goes down. Because Chaga achieves this, it is considered hepatoprotective, meaning that it protects the liver.
Anti-Aging And Skin Benefits
The skin is another organ that develops numerous problems as the result of free radicals.
Unlike in the liver, the vast majority of free radicals in skin cells are created by exposure to external factors, especially pollution and ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
As we get older, the speed at which our cells can repair oxidative damage slows down. Consequently, this damage begins accumulating and the skin starts showing pigmentation spots, wrinkles, blemishes, and an overall lack of vibrancy.
While cosmetic damage is undesirable, free radicals can also lead to more serious diseases like skin cancer.
By providing cells with more antioxidants, Chaga not only slows the process of our skin aging but can protect against a form of cancer that affects over 70,000 Americans every year.
Antioxidant power can be expressed in an ORAC-value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). Typically, a high-quality chaga extract will provide a very high level of antioxidants, turning Chaga into a powerful anti-aging tool and thus benefiting your skin.
Chaga's Potential in Battling Ulcers and Gastritis
Most cases of these two common and chronic gastrointestinal problems are caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacterium, abbreviated H. pylori.
The Chaga mushroom may help ward off ulcers and gastritis, and even provide relief for people suffering from them, by preventing H. pylori from becoming numerous enough to cause ulceration or inflammation.
We've already discussed how Chaga boosts the immune system, which could help in a general sense. However, Chaga also fights harmful bacteria in another, more direct way. The compounds in Chaga have been found to disrupt the way bacteria communicate and organize with each other, a process called quorum sensing.
This disruption helps to prevent any significant growth of the bacteria colony, ideally keeping it below the threshold where it would lead to ulcers and gastritis.
Chaga may also be used as an adjuvant therapy for those suffering from these conditions since it supports a healthy immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties. The latter could not only help with existing symptoms but potentially reduce the amount of NSAIDs a person takes since those have been shown to contribute to ulcers.
Chaga's Effects on Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
Chaga mushrooms contain long sugar molecules called polysaccharides, which are among Chaga's numerous antioxidants.
These polysaccharides have demonstrated "hypolipidemic" effects--that is, they lower cholesterol levels.
Researchers found that Chaga significantly reduced the "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol as well as total cholesterol in both blood serum and organ tissue samples.
This is important because high cholesterol is a leading risk factor for heart disease and is a major problem in modern society, with over 25% of Americans over age 40 using prescription drugs to lower cholesterol.
Though it has not been specifically studied, the polysaccharides in Chaga may also help control blood pressure. Some research indicates that oxidative stress caused by free radicals is one driving force behind hypertension, which antioxidant supplementation may reduce.
Important Safety Information
While Chaga appears to be well-tolerated, it should be noted that no formal study has been done on its clinical safety. This means that there could be side effects in some individuals.
What we do know is that since Chaga can lower blood sugar, you should consult with your doctor if you have diabetes or any other glucose-related condition.
It's also recommended that you inform your doctor if you are taking blood thinners or have an upcoming surgery because at least one study has found that Chaga contains a protein that can inhibit clotting.
Summary and Infographic
We hope this article has shown what an amazing array of Chaga mushroom benefits. Many of them stem from supporting and modulating the immune system, while others are due to Chaga's many antioxidants.
These benefits, though known for centuries by the inhabitants of Chaga's native lands, have now been demonstrated in scientific studies. And the best may yet to be discovered.
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