Wonderful Chaga or Innonotus obliquus!
Chaga has all the characteristics of one of Mother Nature's most precious gifts. This funny black bump that grows on some birch trees has enviable health properties: anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer, modulation of immunity, cardiovascular and digestive health, stabilization of blood sugar. Long known and consumed in Nordic European cultures and used in traditional Chinese medicine, science is barely discovering its multiple properties.
Let's find out together about this very weird looking mushroom.
Description and habitat
Chaga generally grows on birch trees in northern climates such as in Quebec and Canada, in Scandinavia, in Russia and on certain highlands of China.
It's a mushroom unlike any other. Visually, it looks more like a lump of charcoal hanging from a birch tree. Covered with a hard black outer layer, its interior is softer and has a yellow or ochre tint. It can reach 25 to 40 cm in different varieties of birch trees that are still alive. Although in the long run chaga can cause the death of the host tree, they can live together, in symbiosis, for tens of years. It takes 3 to 5 years for the chaga to grow to the size of a grapefruit, the minimum size for a sustainable harvest.
Pick a chaga of the correct size with a sharp instrument, leaving a good portion (at least 30%) of the fungus on the tree. In addition, make sure not to damage the tree or pull the fungus out, or injure the bark or branches in an attempt to reach it. Maintaining a healthy tree guarantees a good harvest in the future. In addition, we choose a healthy forest, far from any known source of pollution.
Differences Between Cultivation Methods
There are several types of products on the market that are not equivalent to each other. Mushrooms that grow on their natural substrate (in the case of chaga, it is on a living birch) will not have the same properties as a fungus that is grown on grain (corn, rice, wheat, barley ) precooked. To decrease costs, increase harvest speed and control the environment and growth parameters, several growers offer mushrooms grown on grain-based substrates. Obviously, this method makes it possible to offer products at a better price, but questions may arise concerning the nutritional and medicinal value of the mushrooms obtained from this type of culture. The fungus produces all of its constituents from the matter on which it grows. However, the components available in precooked corn are certainly not the same as in oak or birch. As the fungus uses the molecules present and transforms them, the substrate on which it grows makes a big difference.
Mycelium Versus Mushroom Fruit
The mycelium is the invisible part of the fungus that allows it to spread and grow. These are the small "threads or filaments," often whitish, that can sometimes be seen under a log or in mulch. This network of filaments is called the mycelium.
When mushrooms are grown on grain, then the proposed mycelium is a mixture of mycelium and grain.
Some products available in the market include fruits (body of the fungus) and mycelium. The latter is then composed of the mycelium, and the grain substrate used for its culture.
In the case of extracts from the fruit of the fungus (“fruit body”), it is only part outside the growing substrate, therefore on the living tree or on the grains depending on the type of production or harvest, which will be used to produce the extract. We can then be sure that the substrate is not part of it.
Active Principles of chaga
Chaga transforms several molecules found in birch trees including inotodiol, trametenolic acid and betulinic acid into different compounds that are very useful from a medicinal point of view. Among these, we find beta-glucans, different polysaccharides and several polyphenols. We will elaborate more on these active ingredients when discussing the potential health benefits.
Very tough and fibrous, the body of the chaga is mainly made up of chitin. Nutrients and medicinal elements are therefore trapped inside this indigestible structure: they are therefore not accessible by simple digestion.
Extraction of Active Ingredients
An extraction procedure is required to provide access to these wonderful molecules for the user to benefit from. Double extraction, with hot water and alcohol, extracts the different types of compounds.
The water will mainly allow the recovery of polysaccharides and polyphenols, which are mainly responsible for its antioxidant power.
Alcohol, on the other hand, extracts the majority of beta-glucans, associated with the main therapeutic effects studied so far. Ethanol is the alcohol used to perform this second extraction. Some beta-glucans have shown great potential for certain conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (all of which have an inflammatory component) as well as infections.
Benefits of Extracts
The extracts make it possible to make the active components accessible to the body. Extracts can be in liquid (tincture) or dry (loose powder or capsule) form. For dry extracts, you can have concentration ratios, for example 8: 1, which means that 1 gram of extract is equivalent to 8 grams of whole mushrooms.
The extracts greatly facilitate regular intake. The dosage of the amount consumed is also much easier to control thanks to the extracts.
Potential health benefits
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
The ORAC index is a unit of measure for the antioxidant potential of a food that was first developed by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a branch of the American equivalent of Health Canada (National Institutes of Health (NIH)).
Chaga has a very high antioxidant potential. Its ORAC index (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is 146,700. In comparison, the acai berry powder recognized as a superfood and having the reputation of being an excellent antioxidant, has an ORAC of 102,700 and dried blueberries, 48 320. So we can easily see that the chaga is really very interesting if we only consider this aspect.
One of the interesting things about such a high ORAC value is that regular consumption would protect cells, but also DNA, from oxidative stress and the damage it can cause. The body can then react better to external aggression and to stress in general. The body's effectiveness in maintaining a balance between the number of free radicals (oxidants) produced or entering the body and the number of antioxidant molecules available to eliminate them is fundamental to long-term health.
For example, researchers have subjected lymphocytes (important cells of our immune system) to oxidative stress (by putting them in the presence of hydrogen peroxide or H2O2). DNA fragmentation was reduced by 40% for samples previously treated with chaga extract - a considerable protective effect! It is certain polysaccharides of chaga which seem to have this effect.
Several studies have been carried out to assess the antiviral potential of chaga against a variety of viruses (viruses that have been around for a long time).
One of the studies showed interesting results with hepatitis C virus in cells in vitro. Both in prevention (cells subjected to chaga before coming into contact with the virus) and in treatment (while the cells were infected), the results were very positive. In addition, in this same study, the virucidal (virus destroying) effects showed a decrease in viral load of 100 times after 10 minutes of contact with the extract of chaga.
It has also been studied with HIV, influenza and herpes simplex with equally interesting results. Research will certainly continue in the future considering the fragility of the population regarding emerging viruses and the associated pandemic possibilities.
Chaga has been used since the 16th century to treat different types of tumours. In several countries, it is used in combination with more contemporary treatments, such as chemotherapy, to help cancer therapies. By stimulating phagocytosis, it helps the body in its healing process. In addition, some of its polyphenolic compounds have a cytotoxic effect (capable of destroying cells of malignant tumours) greatly higher to cancer cells compared to healthy cells. These compounds could therefore cause the death of a cancer cell without endangering a normal cell.
A study in mice showed that consumption of chaga resulted in a reduction in the size of the cancerous mass and, in the case of metastasized cancer, it resulted in a decrease in the number of metastases. Again, this is a line of research to be explored further.
Several phenomena appear to be involved in the immune modulating properties of chaga. It appears to stabilize the activity of mast cells, a group of cells in the immune system that play a key role in inflammation and allergies. An activated mast cell (for example by an antibody) releases, through a phenomenon called degranulation, histamine or heparin which are mediators of the immune system. This is a signal for the system to react. When mast cells react too quickly or too intensely, there can be allergic or intolerance reactions. A well-dosed reaction of mast cells is therefore essential to have an effective and efficient immune system. Several issues (the causes of which remain unclear) could be related to overactivation of mast cells. There has been a great deal of research on mast cell activation syndrome in recent years and should provide answers.
Chaga is generally classified under the category of adaptogens. We speak of an adaptogen when a compound allows the body to increase or decrease its response to maintain the optimal level of response to the environment in which it is found. If the body is under stress, the adaptogen will increase the body's ability to respond to this stress. On the other hand, if the body is too stressed, the adaptogen will promote relaxation and relaxation reactions. It is as if we increase the weight placed in the middle of a balance wheel to make it less sensitive to external effects, more solid in its centre.
The adaptogenic properties of chaga make it an ally of choice for athletes, for example. It appears that the duration of recovery is reduced by consuming chaga extracts. Likewise, in managing chronic stress, chaga could be very supportive in helping to maintain optimal cortisol levels.
Lowers Blood Glucose Levels
Chaga has been shown in some studies to be able to modulate the sensitivity of cells to insulin. In addition, some researchers have observed an increased ability to produce insulin by pancreatic cells treated with chaga extract. These are lines of research that need further analysis.
Considering its anti-inflammatory properties, chaga can be an interesting support to promote good cardiovascular health. Heart disease has a significant inflammatory component. Any decrease in the level of inflammation limits the breakdown of blood vessels and the associated damage. Already, more than 20 years ago, the links between inflammation and the increased risks associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome were among the aspects to consider when treating these conditions. Any change in lifestyle and diet that has an anti-inflammatory impact is recognized as very supportive of health in general and for cardiovascular health in particular.
Historically, chaga has been used in cases of cancer or digestive system imbalances. One study concluded that consuming chaga extract may regulate the composition and diversity of the microbiome. Colonies of pro-inflammatory bacteria seem to decrease while anti-inflammatory ones seem to increase. In addition, several symptoms of the digestive system can be associated with chronic inflammation of the latter. Again, the anti-inflammatory qualities of chaga can come in the back!
Use and dosage
To optimize the health potential of therapeutic mushrooms, it is recommended to consume them on a regular basis. The recommendations are generally 1000 mg of chaga each day. As explained above, the use of the extract makes it easier to consume and set the right dose. It is then much easier to integrate it daily into the routine of our very busy lives.
Is chaga safe?
There are very few documented side effects for chaga. Some people may experience some digestive discomfort at the start of regular consumption. Others have told us that they have had excess energy. Either way, reducing the dose or temporarily spacing out (for example, every other day) the consumption allows the body to adapt to this force of nature!
Precautions for Use
Consultation with your healthcare professional is strongly recommended before starting any approach that includes herbal or therapeutic mushrooms if you are being treated for a condition requiring medical follow-up. The same goes with chaga. For people who are taking anticoagulants, who are being treated with anti-rejection drugs, or who are being treated for an autoimmune condition, this precaution is necessary.
The chaga is therefore a wonderful gift that Mother Nature gives us. In this funny mushroom, we find invaluable support for staying healthy in today's world. Our way of life is too often filled with stress of all kinds. The environment in which we live is generally far from ideal: declining nutritional value of food, electromagnetic pollution, water and air quality, toxic load (care products, pesticide residues on food, etc.), are just a few challenges that our bodies have to adapt to. And that's without counting out often overloaded schedules, stress from multiple sources to which is added the current pandemic situation.
Any help we can offer our constantly adapting bodies is most certainly welcome!
So, good discovery!
PROS of chaga:
- Protection: through its antioxidant properties, chaga can help protect cells and DNA.
- Anti-inflammatory: inflammation being an important element of a large majority of chronic pathologies (heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, arthritis, chronic fatigue, etc.), all means to reduce inflammation in the body can be useful . Chaga has excellent anti-inflammatory properties.
- Antiviral: Chaga has shown effects against various viruses including herpes simplex, hepatitis and HIV.
- Anti-cancer: chaga can help reduce the number of tumours and / or reduce the size of the latter
- Immuno-modulators: chaga can help the immune system to properly dose its reactions, both for reactions that are too intense like in allergies and for a depressed immune system .
- Adaptogen: in many traditional cultures, chaga is a valuable ally in helping the body adapt to the various stresses it faces.
The CONTRASTS of chaga:
- A certain bitterness, or a certain bitterness, according to the individual taste appreciation of each person.
- Lack of larger-scale studies to confirm health benefits: the majority of studies are done on small samples. Research budgets for non-patentable products (found as such in Nature) are generally very modest.
What Are Chaga Mushrooms and Are They Healthy?, Mary Jane BROWN, PhD, RD (UK) — Published on October 25, 2018, [www.healthline.com/nutrition/chaga-mushroom] (consulté le 30/03/20)
Full Spectrum: Truth or Marketing Hype?, [https://www.nammex.com/mushroom-education/] (consulté le 30/03/20)
ORAC Values: Antioxidant Values of Foods & Beverages [https://www.superfoodly.com/orac-values/] (consulté le 16 avril 2020)
Inonotus obliquus polysaccharides protect against Alzheimer's disease by regulating Nrf2 signaling and exerting antioxidative and antiapoptotic effects. Int J Biol Macromol. 2019 Mar 13 ;131:769-778. Epub 2019 Mar 13. PMID: 30878614 Yanqiu Han, Shanji Nan, Jia Fan, Qiuhui Chen, Yizhi Zhang
Ethanol extract of Innotus obliquus (Chaga mushroom) induces G1 cell cycle arrest in HT-29 human colon cancer cells. Nutr Res Pract. 2015 Apr ;9(2):111-6. Epub 2015 Mar 12. PMID: 25861415 Hyun Sook Lee, Eun Ji Kim, Sun Hyo Kim
Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes as assessed by comet assay. Biofactors. 2004 ;21(1-4):109-12. PMID: 15630179 Yoo Kyoung Park, Hyang Burm Lee, Eun-Jae Jeon, Hack Sung Jung, Myung-Hee Kang
Antiviral activity of aqueous extracts of the birch fungus Inonotus obliquus on the human immunodeficiency virus. Vopr Virusol. 2015 ;60(2):35-8. PMID: 26182655 V A Shibnev, T M Garaev, M P Finogenova, L B Kalnina, D N Nosik
Antiviral activity of Inonotus obliquus fungus extract towards infection caused by hepatitis C virus in cell cultures. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2011 Sep ;151(5):612-4. PMID: 22462058 V A Shibnev, D V Mishin, T M Garaev, N P Finogenova, A G Botikov, P G Deryabin
Investigation of three lignin complexes with antioxidant and immunological capacities from Inonotus obliquus. Int J Biol Macromol. 2016 May ;86:587-93. Epub 2016 Feb 1. PMID: 26845476 Hong Niu, Dan Song, Haibo Mu, Wuxia Zhang, Feifei Sun, Jinyou Duan
Cancer cell cytotoxicity of extracts and small phenolic compounds from Chaga [Inonotus obliquus (persoon) Pilat]. J Med Food. 2009 Jun ;12(3):501-7. PMID: 19627197 Yuki Nakajima, Hiroshi Nishida, Seiichi Matsugo, Tetsuya Konishi
Effects of polysaccharides isolated from Inonotus obliquus against hydrogen peroxide-induced oxidative damage in RINm5F pancreatic β-cells. Mol Med Rep. 2016 Sep 22. Epub 2016 Sep 22. PMID: 27667194 Ye Chan Sim, Jong Seok Lee, Sarah Lee, Youn Kyoung Son, Jung-Eun Park, Jeong Eun Song, Suk-Jin Ha, Eock Kee Hong
In vivo and in vitro anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects of the methanol extract of Inonotus obliquus. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Oct 3 ;101(1-3):120-8. PMID: 15905055 Young-Mi Park, Jong-Heon Won, Yang-Hee Kim, Jong-Won Choi, Hee-Juhn Park, Kyung-Tae Lee
The mast cell stabilizing activity of Chaga mushroom critical for its therapeutic effect on food allergy is derived from inotodiol. Int Immunopharmacol. 2018 Jan ;54:286-295. Epub 2017 Nov 24. PMID: 29175507 Thi Minh Nguyen Nguyet, Maria Lomunova, Ba Vinh Le, Ji Sun Lee, Seol Kyu Park, Jong Seong Kang, Young Ho Kim, Inkyu Hwang
Immunostimulating activity by polysaccharides isolated from fruiting body of Inonotus obliquus. Mol Cells. 2011 Feb ;31(2):165-73. Epub 2010 Dec 22. PMID: 21191814 Dong Pil Won, Jong Seok Lee, Duck Soo Kwon, Keun Eok Lee, Won Cheol Shin, Eock Kee Hong
Inonotus obliquus polysaccharide regulates gut microbiota of chronic pancreatitis in mice. AMB Express. 2017 Dec ;7(1):39. Epub 2017 Feb 14. PMID: 28197985 Yang Hu, Chunying Teng, Sumei Yu, Xin Wang, Jinsong Liang, Xin Bai, Liying Dong, Tao Song, Min Yu, Juanjuan Qu
Continuous intake of the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) aqueous extract suppresses cancer progression and maintains body temperature in mice. Heliyon. 2016 May ;2(5):e00111. Epub 2016 May 12. PMID: 27441282 Satoru Arata, Jun Watanabe, Masako Maeda, Masato Yamamoto, Hideto Matsuhashi, Mamiko Mochizuki, Nobuyuki Kagami, Kazuho Honda, Masahiro Inagaki
Inhibitory effect of chaga mushroom extract on compound 48/80-induced anaphylactic shock and IgE production in mice. Int Immunopharmacol. 2013 Apr ;15(4):666-70. Epub 2013 Mar 25. PMID: 23535020 Taek Joon Yoon, Sue Jung Lee, Eun Young Kim, Eun Hee Cho, Tae Bong Kang, Kwang-Won Yu, Hyung Joo Suh
Immunomodulatory Activity of the Water Extract from Medicinal Mushroom Inonotus obliquus. Mycobiology. 2005 Sep ;33(3):158-62. Epub 2005 Sep 30. PMID: 24049493 Yeon-Ran Kim