Chaga Mushrooms and Cancer: What Does the Science Say?
Last Updated on
Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is one of the most widely researched medicinal mushrooms. People all over the world now routinely drink Chaga tea as a means to keep their body strong in the cold and flu season.
The health benefits of Chaga extract have been explored in more than 1,600 scientific papers. Much of this research focuses on the ability of Chaga mushrooms to enhance our immune systems and serve as an anti-oxidant (Glamočlija, 2015).
Interestingly, there is an additional health aspect of Chaga that is actively being explored by scientists. Preliminary data suggests the capacity for Chaga to fight certain cancers. I want to stress that this research is preliminary. I am unaware of any human, clinical data on the subject. That said, there are some interesting cell culture and animal studies showing anti-tumor and pro-apoptotic results. I think these reports are intriguing and worth exploring.
Chaga Mushroom and Cancer
In general, when you want to prove that a plant, fungus or a synthetic drug can fight cancer, there is a chain of experiments that needs to be worked through. Let’s walk through this process while thinking about Chaga extract.
First, you need to show that the extract can reduce cancer cells in cell culture. These are cells growing in a plastic dish in a laboratory setting. These are called cell culture experiments.
If these cell culture experiments show positive results, then you’ll want to see if a similar extract can reduce a tumor that is growing in a lab animal. Usually this is done with a mouse. These are called animal studies.
If the extract proves to be effective at reducing an animal tumor and is non-toxic to the mouse, then you can start to think about repeating the results in human patients. These are the human, clinical studies.
All of these steps are laborious and costly, especially the clinical work. In regards to Chaga and cancer, no clinical experiments have been performed. However, there are published results that explore Chaga and cancer using cell culture and animal studies. We will briefly summarize some of these results below.
Cell culture experiments
Two separate groups have explored the ability of Chaga extract to fight cancer cells that are growing in a dish. While performing these cell culture experiments, both groups also observed that Chaga can alter Bcl-2 gene activity.
Ning et al. showed that neurogliocytoma cells growing in a plastic dish were inhibited when treated with Chaga extract. Neurogliocytoma cells are neurons, or brain cells, that have become cancerous (Ning, 2014). After observing Chaga extract inhibits the growth of these cancer cells, the researchers then measured the expression of Bcl-2. Bcl-2 is a very important gene in cancer progression. Among other things, this gene prevents cell suicide, which is also known as apoptosis. We need a certain amount of cell suicide in our body. Apoptosis allows us to stay healthy and helps keep tumor growth in check. Therefore, if Chaga can turn down, or down-regulate Bcl-2, then that is a good indicator that Chaga can help fight tumors.
Another group reported a similar cell culture result in human colon cancer cells. Lee et al. found that a 1.0 mg/ml Chaga water extract resulted in a 56% inhibition of colon cancer cell growth (Lee, 2009). When looking at gene expression changes, this group also observed a down-regulation of Bcl-2. As mentioned above, this down-regulation of an anti-apoptotic gene suggests that Chaga extract can help shift mammalian cells into a tumor fighting mode.
Live animal study
The last paper I’ll mention also looked at cell culture, but in addition, they performed an experiment on a live animal.
In regards to cell culture, this group showed that Chaga treatment slowed down the growth and development of B16 mouse melanoma cells. B16 cells are routinely used to study the development of melanoma. Melanoma is the cancer of our pigmented skin cells, called melanocytes. After seeing a positive result with B16 cells in culture, this group then performed an animal study. They tested the ability of their Chaga water extract to reduce a live tumor growing in a mouse (Youn, 2009).
Healthy laboratory mice were first implanted with B16 melanoma cells. This melanoma cell implantation caused the growth of a tumor mass in the mouse. Lee et al. then observed that treatment with 20 mg/kg/day of Chaga extract significantly reduced the tumor mass growing in the mouse. This animal tumor experiment will need to be repeated by other groups. But, it is interesting to see that Chaga extract can reduce a tumor in a live, mammalian creature.
In summary, when thinking about the 3 reports mentioned above, I find it compelling that Chaga extract can:
As stated at the beginning, all of these reports are preliminary. Before anyone can say anything conclusive about Chaga and cancer, the results need to be repeated and tested in human studies.
I certainly look forward to seeing how this particular line of research develops over time.
You can find more health related articles by Dr. Kevin Curran at EthnoHerbalist.com
Glamočlija, Jasmina, et al. “Chemical characterization and biological activity of Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a medicinal “mushroom”.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 162 (2015): 323-332.
Lee, Sung Hak, Hee Sun Hwang, and Jong Won Yun. “Antitumor activity of water extract of a mushroom, Inonotus obliquus, against HT‐29 human colon cancer cells.” Phytotherapy Research 23.12 (2009): 1784-1789.
Ning, Xianbin, et al. “Inhibitory Effects of a Polysaccharide Extract from the Chaga Medicinal Mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Higher Basidiomycetes), on the Proliferation of Human Neurogliocytoma Cells.” International journal of medicinal mushrooms 16.1 (2014).
Youn, Myung-Ja, et al. “Potential anticancer properties of the water extract of Inontus obliquus by induction of apoptosis in melanoma B16-F10 cells.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 121.2 (2009): 221-228.