Is this new fad food actually a cancer-fighting powerhouse?
You might have heard about chaga when reading about superfoods or adaptogens. And frankly, you’re still pretty confused about what both of them are! Chaga mushroom enjoys plenty of lofty claims, such as curing cancer. It’s important to understand how it works, then, to really put some truth behind its trendy claims! Chaga mushroom has shown many promising benefits in lab studies, but further research needs to be conducted before we begin incorporating it into our lives en masse. Let’s dive deeper into this mysterious mushroom, and distinguish fact from fad!
What is chaga mushroom?
If you happened upon a chaga mushroom in the wild, the truth is, you’d probably not think much of it at all. It typically looks like a rotting mass on a tree, and has an appearance that’s been likened to burnt charcoal. Chaga is actually a white rot fungus that’s parasitic on birch trees, and can eventually spread to kill several trees! It’s found in cold regions like the New England region in the US, northern Canada, Russia, and Northern Europe. Chaga’s black appearance is due to its rich amounts of the pigment melanin that colors our skin when we tan.
Despite it’s not-so-pretty background and appearance, chaga has been used in folk medicine in Eastern Europe and Russia for thousands of years, where it was usually applied on skin and even enjoyed as a tea. It’s now touted as an anti-cancer substance and trending in popularity as a buzz supplement to help supercharge your health.
Is it an adaptogen?
Adaptogens are substances used in herbal medicine to promote balance of your body and your immune system, used to fight against physical stress. To a certain extent, chaga may help stimulate your immune system and increase its resistance to stress. The thing is, the definition of an adaptogen requires that it must be non-toxic. Chaga actually contains oxalates, high intake of which can accumulate in the body, be toxic, and cause kidney stones and other long term health problems. For this reason, chaga isn’t considered an adaptogen.
Is it a superfood?
Superfood is a marketing term used to refer to food that is intensely dense in nutrients, but doesn’t always mean it’s beneficial to you on a scientific basis. For example, chaga is a powerful antioxidant, but isn’t recommended for people with kidney disease because of its high oxalate levels. You’ll certainly find brands calling chaga a superfood, but remember to take its effects with a grain of salt.
Chaga mushroom benefits
Helps your immune system run smoothly
Your immune system is responsible for detecting diseases and other abnormalities in your body, and helping to stop infections and diseases from spreading early on. Certain substances in mushrooms like chaga may be immunomodulators, which means they can be effective in treating and preventing diseases that stem from deficiencies in your immune system.
Inflammation is your body’s way of reacting to harm or stress, and can ultimately protect you against disease. At the same time, too much long term inflammation can do the opposite and start harming your body in conditions such as arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why a healthy immune system is all about balance.
Lab studies of compounds extracted from chaga mushrooms have demonstrated their anti-inflammatory properties. This suggests that chaga might have the ability to reduce inflammation.
Here’s where chaga’s biggest claim-to-fame comes in. Chagag contains betulin, which is a precursor to betulinic that has the ability to inhibit cancer. Betulinic acid can be active against skin, brain, ovarian, heck, and neck cancers.
Chaga is also rich in antioxidants that contribute to its anti-cancer properties. In addition to betulinic acid, it contains antioxidants that help fight free radicals, which can cause damage to healthy cell DNA and cause cancer cell formation. Chaga also has an ORAC value of 146,700, and measures the ability of a food to protect the body from harmful free radicals.
How to use chaga mushroom
Drink chaga mushroom tea
Chaga mushroom tea was one of the most common form and easy ways to ingest chaga in folk medicine. You can prepare chaga tea with a convenient premade tea bag that contains chaga mushroom powder, or fresher chunks of chaga. Heat your water to between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the antioxidant content of the chaga isn’t damaged. Steep the tea bag in hot water for 5 minutes, and it will be ready to drink.
If you’re working with your own chunks of chaga, make sure to break it into smaller cubes so you can enjoy its full flavor and health benefits. Steep for at least 1 hour in warm water. Chaga actually has a taste that’s more similar to coffee, rather than mushrooms!
Make a chaga smoothie
Take your powdered chaga and add it to your favorite smoothie instead after your daily workout for an invigorating taste. You can easily find powdered chaga that’s ready to use, instead of hammering up your chaga chunks. We recommend starting with a 1 teaspoon amount of chaga powder first if you’re not used to the taste!
Add to your oatmeal
Try adding a teaspoon of chaga to your oatmeal to add a subtle bit of flavor to your breakfast. It’ll have a warm earthiness that’ll add some interest to your usual bland bowl of oatmeal.
Because chaga has become such a trendy supplement, you’ll see a variety of drinks or snacks in your organic food supermarket that already contain chaga in them. Do take caution before you start adding chaga to your diet as a regular supplement. Chaga is rich in bioactive compounds that can be toxic with overuse, and research is still being conducted to investigate chaga’s direct effects on human health. Take caution to avoid side effects, and seek medical advice first, especially if you already have health conditions or medications you are taking. We’re in love with chaga’s anti-cancerous properties, but the verdict on its health benefits isn’t 100% clear yet!