Chaga, or sub-cortex (Inonotus obliquus), is also known by names such as boar or birch hub. It belongs to the bristly family (Hymenochetaceae).
It grows wild, mainly on birch trunks, on which it forms perennial fruiting bodies. Furthermore, it has a dark brown colour from the outside, with a black colour, while inside it is yellow-brown. Its appearance resembles a growth on a tree. It thrives over many years, extracting its nutrients from the inner layers of the trees on which it grows.
The inhabitants of Russia and Siberia use the mushroom infusion in folk medicine as a remedy for many common ailments. The use of Chaga has been practiced for centuries. Siberian shamans refer to it as the “mushroom of immortality”, the Chinese as “King of plants” while the Japanese nicknamed it “the diamond of the forest”.
The active compounds contained in the fruiting bodies of this fungus, such as polysaccharides and triterpenes, have a broad spectrum of activity; antibacterial, anti-cancer, hepatoprotective.
Chaga is a reservoir of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Contains B vitamins; niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid (B5). We also find vitamin D, potassium, selenium, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, manganese, rubidium, and cesium. In addition, it has ergosterol, melanin and a unique enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD – Superoxide dismutase).
A treasury of antioxidants
Even among the categories of foods known as superfoods, chaga dominates its ability to counteract oxygen free radicals. It is related to the black pigment melanin and the SOD enzyme, more about which later in the article. Melanin is also found in human skin, protecting it from the harmful UV rays of the sun.
The number of antioxidants in this mushroom is so huge that it ranks first in the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale – which is a universal measure of the antioxidant effect of food. The advantage of chaga over other plants is significant. (see picture below)
Why are antioxidants so important?
There are harmful molecules in our body that we refer to as oxygen free radicals. They travel throughout the body using the circulatory system. They have one electron (they are paired in a healthy cell), which makes them highly reactive. In other words, they are looking for a properly functioning molecule, with two electrons paired, to steal one of them and thus convert it into a free oxygen radical. This behaviour triggers an oxidation chain reaction that can only be stopped by an externally supplied antioxidant with an additional electron.
Free radical damage includes damage to DNA, proteins, enzymes, and membranes that protect healthy cells. The result of such an action is the disruption of the proper course of biological processes, which can result in a disease state.
Unique SOD enzyme
SOD (superoxide dismutase), or superoxide dismutase, is a cellular antioxidant. It is the first line of defence against damage caused by oxidation – it participates in the breakdown of free radicals in our body, in particular superoxides that destroy cellular mitochondria.
According to the theory of ageing based on oxidative stress; the greater the accumulation of oxidative damage, the faster the body ages and the more susceptible it is to various diseases. For this reason, the inclusion of antioxidant-rich foods in your diet is crucial to maintaining good health as you age.
Research on this enzyme clearly shows that its low amount is correlated not only with the deterioration of an individual’s health, but also with a decrease in life expectancy. In a 1984 study, Richard Cutler from the NIH (National Institutes of Health) proved that in all living organisms, the amount of the SOD enzyme is the factor most strongly correlated with life expectancy. This means that the accumulation of oxidative stress is one of the main causes of ageing. For example, humans have the highest levels of SOD of any mammal and, as a result, live the longest. We observe the same relationship, for example, in turtles and trees that have the highest levels of this enzyme; they can live up to 4,000 years.
It is worth paying attention to the fact that the level of SOD in humans decreases with age. This is accompanied by a greater likelihood of developing diseases related to oxidative stress. Chaga has over 25-50 times more SOD than other mushrooms and is the richest source of this enzyme of any known food.
One of the studies on an animal model tested the effects of aqueous chaga extract on the production of immune cells in the bone marrow. The aim of the study was to map the damage seen in cancer patients from chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and to see if chaga extract can reverse damage from invasive treatments.
The speed with which patients recover is largely dependent on the amount of stem cells left over from treatment. For this reason, attention has been paid to natural extracts such as chaga – qualified as biological response modifiers. Including them in the diet leads to faster recovery after cancer therapy.
The mice that were the subject of the study were previously subjected to chemical immunosuppression (their immunity was weakened). The agent administered to mice caused damage to the bone marrow and, as a result, disrupted the proper production of immune cells. The chaga water extract was administered to the mice daily for 24 days. After just 8 days, the levels of granulocytes and macrophages (immune cells produced in the bone marrow) returned to near normal levels, which is the state of the control group (who had not been given a chemical immunosuppressant). Increased levels of the cytokine IL-6, which is a protein that acts on stem cell renewal, have also been reported. In addition, there was a reduction in TNF-alpha that was elevated after chemical interference. This way, a strong effect of the water extract of chaga as an immunomodulator was demonstrated,
Chaga mushrooms are one of the most alkaline foods on the planet due to their high content of minerals, of which chaga is a reservoir. These include calcium, cesium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, rubidium, silicon, sulphur and a very high amount of zinc. This is important because the alkaline environment largely prevents the development of diseases. Alkaline action makes chaga an ideal companion for morning coffee. Coffee has an acidic reaction which can irritate the stomach in sensitive individuals.
So far, no serious negative effects of chaga consumption have been documented. It is a safe mushroom to use.
Chaga stimulates the immune system and should not be taken over during treatment with immunosuppressants such as cyclosporine, as it may neutralise their effects.
Author, Kuba Jezierski
Antioxidant enzyme activities and malondialdehyde levels related to aging. Inal ME, Kanbak G, Sunal E Clin Chim Acta. 2001 Mar; 305(1-2):75-80
Therapeutic potentials of superoxide dismutase,H. Younus Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2018 May-Jun; 12(3): 88–93.
Increased life span from overexpression of superoxide dismutase in Caenorhabditis elegans is not caused by decreased oxidative damageAuthor links open overlay panel, July 2011Free Radical Biology and Medicine 51(8):1575-82
Immunomodulatory Activity of the Water Extract from Medicinal MushroomInonotus obliquus, Yeon-Ran Kim
Bioactivity-based analysis and chemical characterization of cytotoxic constituents from Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) that induce apoptosis in human lung adenocarcinoma cells
Betulin elicits anti-cancer effects in tumour primary cultures and cell lines in vitro, Wojciech Rzeski , Andrzej Stepulak, Marek Szymański, Małgorzata Juszczak, Aneta Grabarska, Marco Sifringer, Józef Kaczor, Martyna Kandefer-Szerszeń
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) induces G0/G1 arrest and apoptosis in human hepatoma HepG2 cells, Myung-Ja Youn, Jin-Kyung Kim, Seong-Yeol Park, Yunha Kim, Se-Jin Kim, Jin Seok Lee, Kyu Yun Chai, Hye-Jung Kim, Ming-Xun Cui, Hong Seob So, Ki-Young Kim, and Raekil Park