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The chaga mushroom grows on birch trees throughout the northern hemisphere. It resembles a dark clump of dirt more than a mushroom, but is distinguished from other growths by its orange tissue.

Doctors, alternative medicine advocates, and researchers are increasingly interested in the potential health benefits of the chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus). Some studies on chaga mushrooms have yielded promising results.

In this article, we look at the potential health benefits of chaga mushrooms and the research behind the claims.

1. Nutrient-dense superfood

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Chaga mushrooms contain a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

Chaga mushrooms are rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including:

2. Slowing the aging process

Oxidative stress causes physical signs of aging, such as wrinkles, sagging skin, and gray hair. Exposure to sun, pollution, and other sources of damage create too many free radicals for the body to neutralize, which accelerates the aging process of the skin.

In theory, supplying the body with more antioxidants could slow the aging process, or even reverse visible signs of aging.

Although no research has conclusively linked chaga to anti-aging benefits, its effectiveness in fighting other forms of oxidative stress suggests that it could also fight aging.

3. Lowering cholesterol

Chaga mushrooms contain many antioxidants that may reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called "bad" cholesterol.

High cholesterol is a significant risk factor for heart disease, so chaga mushrooms could be useful in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

4. Preventing and fighting cancer

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Some studies suggest that chaga mushrooms may slow the growth of certain cancer cells.

Increasingly, researchers are taking seriously the possibility that chaga mushrooms may be able to prevent cancer and slow its growth.

Chaga is rich in antioxidants, which are chemicals that help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals or oxidants. When the body is unable to produce enough antioxidants to prevent this damage, oxidative stress occurs. Oxidative stress can cause cancer and a host of other health problems.

A 2010 study found that chaga could slow the growth of lung, breast, and cervical cancer cells in a petri dish. The same study also found that chaga could slow the growth of tumors in mice.

A 2009 study found that triterpenes, the compounds found in chaga and some other mushrooms, cause tumor cells to self-destruct. Unlike other cancer treatments, however, chaga does not appear to harm healthy cells.

Although other studies have found similarly promising results, they have all been carried out on animals or in a laboratory. To prove the anti-cancer benefits of chaga conclusively, researchers will need to conduct extensive studies on humans.

5. Lowering blood pressure

Research suggests that oxidative stress is a contributing factor for high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more prone to heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular health issues.

Chaga's antioxidants could have a potential role in lowering blood pressure and preventing poor cardiovascular health.

6. Supporting the immune system

Cytokines are the immune system's chemical messengers. They are proteins that play a vital role in stimulating white blood cells, which are the immune system's first line of defense against a range of illnesses.

Some research on mice suggests that chaga may help regulate the production of cytokines, supporting the immune system by helping cells communicate with one another. This could help fight infections, from minor colds to life-threatening illnesses.

7. Fighting inflammation

When the body is fighting an illness, inflammation supports the fight. But sometimes, inflammation transitions from a short-term attack to a chronic health problem.

Some illnesses, particularly chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, are linked to inflammation. Recent research suggests that some conditions that are not considered inflammatory, including depression, may be partly due to chronic inflammation.

Chaga's role in regulating cytokine production may also help control inflammation. This points to a role for chaga in fighting autoimmune conditions and possibly some other diseases.

8. Lowering blood sugar

Chaga might also have a role in the fight against diabetes.

A 2006 study found that chaga mushrooms could lower blood sugar in rats. The rodents were genetically modified to have diabetes and to be obese. After eating chaga mushrooms for 8 weeks, their blood sugar levels were lower.

Though no research has been done on humans yet, this suggests that chaga might contribute to an alternative treatment for diabetes in the future.

9. Preventing drug side effects

Research is still in its infancy, but if chaga proves effective at fighting illnesses such as cancer and arthritis, it could be an alternative to traditional treatments.

Treating people with chaga mushrooms could prevent them from experiencing the side effects of other treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and various medications prescribed for chronic illnesses.

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A doctor should be consulted before chaga mushrooms are taken as a supplement or in a herbal tea.

Chaga mushroom is available as a supplement and in herbal teas.

People planning to make their own chaga supplements, or who wish to incorporate chaga into their diet, should consult a doctor before doing so. The right daily intake of chaga varies depending on treatment goals.

Chaga is not a substitute for other forms of medical care, so people who have conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure should continue with their usual treatment.

Instead, chaga can be incorporated as a supplement under the direction of a doctor.

As with other supplements and medications, chaga carries some risks. It can also trigger side effects and may interact dangerously with some medications.

Because chaga lowers blood sugar, it can be dangerous for people taking insulin and other blood sugar-lowering medications.

To reduce the risks of using chaga mushrooms, a person should consider the following:

  • Continue taking all prescribed medications, as chaga is not a substitute for traditional medicine.
  • Tell a doctor about all medications being used. As with other drugs and supplements, chaga may alter the effectiveness of various medications.
  • Write down any side effects from chaga use. Though rare, chaga can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Trouble breathing, changes in heart rate, and loss of consciousness are medical emergencies.
  • Avoid using other herbal supplements while taking chaga, unless a doctor advises otherwise.
  • Research supplement brands and buy from reputable sources, as chaga is not monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A range of chaga mushroom products are available for purchase online.