Mushrooms are not generally recognized by most people for their great beauty. And chaga mushrooms are, quite possibly, one of the least attractive mushrooms in the fungi world. But what they may lack in the appearance department, chaga mushrooms more than make up for with their prized medicinal properties!
Packed full of antioxidants and healing phytochemicals (natural, plant-derived chemicals), chaga mushrooms are a surprisingly well-researched fungus. And while the research on chaga is preclinical (meaning that human trials have not yet been released), the chaga mushroom studies to date have shown that chaga may be useful for a wide range of health issues. Read on to discover the best and newest research on chaga mushroom benefits for health and healing.
What Is Chaga Mushroom?
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is a special type of fungi that typically grows in cold climates. Its preferred habitat is to attach itself to the bark of birch trees in areas with frigid temperatures such as Russia, Siberia, Finland, northern Canada, and Alaska.
The name chaga comes from the Russian word cága and means “fungus growing on a tree.”
The chaga mushroom is also known by several other names such as clinker polypore, birch canker polypore, black mass, and cinder conk. This last name is because chaga produces a growth known as a “conk” on old hardwood trees, particularly birch.
From its appearance, chaga in no way resembles a typical mushroom. It looks more like a chunk of burned wood, or even a pile of dark-colored dirt. But under the hard, cracked, darkened exterior is a colorful blend of amber, rust, and orange.
Chaga Mushroom Tea
The typical use of chaga in folk medicine is to grate it into a fine powder (or break it into small chunks) and then brew it as a tea. In recent years chaga mushroom tea’s appeal has expanded past its traditional borders and is gaining in popularity as more people learn of chaga mushroom benefits.
For instance, chaga contains a wide array of nutrients, including:
- amino acids
- vitamin D
- B-complex vitamins
- rubidium and cesium (trace elements)
What Is Chaga Mushroom Good for? 10 Researched Chaga Mushroom Benefits
#1. Chaga Contains Anti-Aging Antioxidants
Oxidative stress in our cells (think of cells “rusting”) causes most of the physical signs of aging, including wrinkles, lines, and saggy skin. Exposure to air pollution, a less than optimal diet, and too much sun (along with many other things) can create this oxidative stress and free radicals in our body.
When functioning optimally the body is able to neutralize many of these free radicals on its own. However, as we age that ability decreases.
Consuming antioxidant-containing mushrooms makes good sense for people determined to help keep that “rusting” to a minimum.
A number of studies have clearly demonstrated that chaga mushrooms has significant antioxidative activity [1-4].
#2. Chaga and the Immune System
A number of studies have shown that chaga mushrooms are able to positively impact the immune system in a variety of ways.
Two studies [5, 6] have shown that chaga mushrooms promote the formation of beneficial cytokines. Cytokines are specialized proteins that act as chemical messengers within the immune system. These cytokines act to stimulate white blood cells of the immune system, responsible for fighting potentially harmful bacteria and viruses.
In addition, two animal studies [7, 8] found that chaga also helped to prevent the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that were not beneficial to immune function.
A further study performed in 2005  found that chaga had immunomodulatory properties. This means that when the immune system is under-reacting to a pathogen or other threat, chaga can help to boost its function. Conversely, when the immune system is over-reacting (as it does in autoimmune diseases and allergies), chaga has a calming effect.
#3. Chaga May Fight Infectious Diseases
Bacteria are constantly evolving and becoming increasingly virulent and harder to eradicate using antibiotic drugs. As a result, scientists have recently been studying compounds that are termed “anti-quorum sensing.”
Quorum sensing has to do with how bacteria communicate and depends on the population and density of bacterial cells. Quorum sensing also controls the pathogenesis (the biological mechanism of how a disease progresses; the features and things that occur that lead to the disease) of many organisms by regulating the expression of genes.
Not surprisingly, anti-quorum sensing compounds have become a particularly attractive area of research. Scientists are enthusiastically working on the development of new anti-infective agents that do not rely upon antibiotics .
Medicinal plants such as chaga are an exceptionally rich source of anti-quorum sensing compounds. A 2015 study  found that chaga mushrooms had anti-quorum sensing properties against several lines of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria.
#4. Chaga May Have Anti-Cancer Benefits
What about chaga mushroom and cancer? To date, human trials are lacking which demonstrate that chaga mushrooms fight cancer in people. However, we do have a number of promising preclinical studies (test tube and animal studies) that demonstrate one of chaga mushroom’s benefits appears to be strong inhibitory action against cancer cells.
Chaga is believed to work in four key ways to help eradicate cancer cells:
- Chaga’s impressive antioxidant content helps to protect cells .
- Triterpenoid compounds in chaga have been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth, induce apoptosis (planned cell death, a feature lacking in cancer cells), inhibit the migration and invasiveness of cancer cells, and silence tumor suppressor genes [13, 14].
- Chaga’s polysaccharides (long chain molecules consisting of carbohydrates, or sugars) known as beta-glucans help to make the immune system more responsive to threats .
- Chaga has been shown to have anti-mutagenic (DNA protective) properties .
The combination of those four important features make chaga a potential anti-cancer therapeutic. As with many things in nature, it is not just one feature that provides the protection, but the combination of several that makes it so potent.
So far, preclinical studies have been done on colon and colorectal cancer [17-20], prostate , breast [22-26], cervical [27-29], liver [30, 31], lung [32-37], melanoma [38, 39], stomach , and sarcoma , all of which were inhibited by chaga extracts.
While it is not advisable to rely upon chaga mushrooms alone to fight cancer, it may be beneficial when combined with other therapies, both conventional and natural.
#5. Chaga May Help Fight Diabetes
The polysaccharide content of chaga is not only good for its potential anti-cancer activity. They have also been investigated in a number of animal studies for their ability to lower blood sugar levels.
Preclinical research has uncovered chaga’s modes of action, at least in diabetic animals. According to this research, chaga reduces blood sugar levels, reduces blood lipids, increases insulin levels, inhibits inflammation, and reduces oxidative stress. Chaga also reduces insulin resistance so that cells are better able to take up and utilize dietary glucose [42-49].
Additionally, a 2014 study  found that chaga had regenerative effects on beta-cells of the pancreas. Added to that, a 2016 study  found that chaga also helped to protect the beta-cells of the pancreas. Since pancreatic beta cells are responsible for the synthesis of insulin, researchers believe this protective effect may ultimately be beneficial to those with diabetes.
Another study found that chaga mushroom had a protective effect on the kidneys of diabetic mice. Diabetic nephropathy is the leading cause of end-stage kidney disease in those with insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes. A significant 30% to 45% of these patients eventually develop end-stage renal failure .
This particular study demonstrated that chaga eased renal fibrosis, inhibited inflammatory markers, increased sensitivity to glucose, and had kidney-protective effects on the animals in the study.
Again, human trials have not been carried out yet, so it is not clear whether chaga would be of assistance in type 2 diabetes in humans. But the research carried out so far is definitely promising.
#6. Chaga May Help to Lower Cholesterol
In several animal studies, chaga has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
For example, in a 2009 eight-week study with rats , chaga increased antioxidant levels and reduced levels of LDL cholesterol (considered the “bad” cholesterol), as well as lowering total cholesterol and triglycerides.
Similarly, two other studies [54, 55] with diabetic animals showed that chaga’s polysaccharides reduced LDL levels while also increasing levels of HDL (considered the “good” kind of cholesterol).
Whether or not this benefit also occurs in humans has yet to be determined.
#7. Chaga May Help Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Ever on the outlook for natural agents that help to protect the brain from the devastation created by degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, scientists have been investigating chaga.
A 2019 animal study  showed that chaga’s polysaccharides had beneficial effects on the brain. After eight weeks of being fed chaga, memory and cognitive function improved in the mice being studied.
Antioxidant levels also improved and beta-amyloid plaques (associated with the development of Alzheimer’s) were reduced. Chaga was found to have a protective effect on the test subjects’ brains.
#8. Chaga May Be a Potent Anti-viral
Medicinal mushrooms have long been studied for their effect on viruses, particularly Human Immunodeficiency Virus-1, or HIV-1, the virus that sets the stage for AIDS.
While there are few studies on chaga with regard to HIV, one Russian study reported in 2015  found that chaga did indeed inhibit HIV. Researchers concluded that chaga “can be used for development of new antiviral drugs, inhibitors of HIV-replication when used both in the form of individual drugs and as a part of complex therapy.”
Another study by the Russians took place in 2014 . This was an in vitro study (in test tubes), which found that chaga extracts had an antiviral effect against cells infected with Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV1), the contagious virus that creates cold sores and genital herpes.
#9. Chaga May Be Helpful for Inflammation-related Diseases
Irritable bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines. The pain and discomfort caused by IBD can be very disruptive to the lives of those who have it.
A 2019 study  investigated mice with colitis. Researchers found that chaga’s polysaccharides significantly eased the symptoms of the disease and favorably modulated genes associated with IBD. Researchers stated that chaga was a potentially effective therapeutic agent for IBD.
Pancreatitis is an inflammatory disease of the pancreas. A 2016 animal study  found that chaga polysaccharides eased chronic pancreatitis in mice.
#10. Chaga May Stimulate Hair Growth
This will pique the interest of anyone who has thinning hair! Chaga mushrooms have traditionally been used in hair washing preparations in Mongolia to maintain healthy hair.
Science is catching up to discover whether there were any real benefits to doing so. A 2019 study  did indeed find that triterpene compounds from chaga stimulated hair follicles, resulting in increased hair growth. Chaga was reportedly more potent than minoxidil, a key ingredient in popular hair growth products such as Rogaine®.
A Word of Caution About Potential Chaga Mushroom Side Effects
If you are on blood-thinning medications or have a blood clotting disorder, it’s good to be aware that chaga contains a protein that can slow or prevent blood clotting . This is also important to know if you are preparing to have surgery. If you have any of these issues, always consult with your trusted medical professional prior to taking chaga.
Finding the Best Source of Chaga
When choosing chaga for your health, look for clean sources. If sourcing chaga from the wild, you want it coming from trees that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals. Keep in mind that many forestry operations use large quantities of pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosate, on their trees .
One clean source of chaga is Organixx 7 Mushrooms immune support formula which contains chaga mushroom along with six other mushrooms: turkey tail, shiitake, maitake, cordyceps, lion’s mane, and reishi.