- Cinder conk
- Birch conk
- Clinker polypore
For Patients & Caregivers
Human studies on the anticancer and immunostimulating effects of chaga mushroom are needed.
Chaga mushroom is found in Russia and has been used in folk medicine for various ailments across northern Europe. Laboratory and animal studies show that compounds in chaga can kill cancer cells selectively and stimulate the immune system. It may also have benefits such as reductions in fatigue and inflammation, as well as increased mental sharpness. However, clinical trials are needed to confirm chaga’s safety and effectiveness for these uses. In addition, chaga may interact with some drugs and is high in oxalates, which may prevent the absorption of some nutrients and can be toxic in high doses.
- To prevent and treat cancer
Laboratory and animal studies show that chaga can inhibit cancer progression. Studies in humans are needed.
- To stimulate the immune system
Laboratory and animal studies show that chaga can activate some types of immune cells. Studies in humans are needed.
- To reduce inflammation
Laboratory and animal studies suggest anti-inflammatory effects. A small study in humans also suggested a reduction in markers related to inflammation. Additional clinical trials for this use are needed.
- To protect the liver
Although protective effects have been reported, these benefits have not yet been studied or confirmed.
For Healthcare Professionals
Chaga mushroom is found on birch and other trees in cold climates. It has been used as a folk remedy for cancer, digestive system diseases, and various ailments in Russia and other northern European countries. The conk that is used medicinally comprises wood from the substrate tree and mycelium of the invasive fungus (12).
In vitro, chaga has demonstrated antitumor (12) (13), anti-mutagenic (9), antiviral (14), antiplatelet (2), antidiabetic (15), and analgesic (3) effects. In vivo studies also demonstrate immunomodulating (16), anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties (3).
In animal studies, chaga displayed anti-allergic (17), cognition-enhancing, and antioxidant activities (18). In murine colitis models, chaga exerted anti-inflammatory effects (19). Oral administration of polysaccharides from chaga increased exercise endurance and biological measures related to fatigue (20). Hypoglycemic effects in mice with diabetes mellitus were observed with administration of artificially-cultivated chaga (4).
Extracts and constituents of chaga have inhibitory and proapoptotic effects against colon cancer (5) (21) (22) and hepatoma (1) cells. Inotodiol from chaga exerted antitumor effects against cervical cancer cells (23). In some studies, chaga demonstrated selective apoptosis in tumor cells with no effects on healthy cells (1). It also reduced toxicity associated with radiation (6) and inhibited melanoma cell growth in animal models (7).
An extract of chaga reduced oxidative stress in lymphocytes from patients with inflammatory bowel disease (8). No clinical trials have been conducted to assess chaga’s safety and efficacy for disease prevention or for the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.
In vitro studies suggest that constituents of chaga mushroom extract may interact with anticoagulant (2) and antidiabetic drugs (15). Chaga mushrooms are very high in oxalates and excessive intake may have toxic effects (24).
Oxalic, gallic, protocatechuic and p-hydroxybenzoic acids have been identified in chaga extracts (12). In vitro, antidiabetic effects are attributed to terpenoids that inhibit alpha-glucosidase (15). Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties may occur via inhibition of nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) (3). Immunomodulating effects are attributed to Th1/Th2 cytokine secretion in immune cells and regulation of antigen-specific antibody production (16). Anti-quorum sensing activity in chaga conks suggests broader anti-infection attributes beyond immunomodulatory effects (12).
In animal studies, a methanolic extract of chaga produced beneficial effects on learning and memory via decreased malondialdehyde and nitrite levels, decreased acetylcholinesterase activity, and restored glutathione, superoxide dismutase, and acetylcholine levels (18). Antifatigue effects were attributed to polysaccharides from chaga, which increased endurance and glycogen content of liver and muscle in mice, while decreasing blood lactic acid and serum urea nitrogen levels (20). Anti-inflammatory effects in animal colitis models were related to suppression of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, iNOS, and interleukin (IL)-1beta (19).
3beta-hydroxy-lanosta-8, 24-dien-21-al, and inotodiol constituents in chaga produce antimutagenic and antioxidative activities (9). Water-soluble lignin derivatives have also been identified as bioactive constituents with anticancer properties (26). A hot-water extract of chaga exhibited inhibitory and proapoptotic actions against colon cancer cells via upregulation of Bax and caspase-3 and downregulation of Bcl-2 (5). Inhibition of colorectal cancer was exerted by the constituent ergosterol via downregulation of the beta-catenin pathway (21). Inotodiol, a triterpenoid isolated from chaga, inhibited proliferation of cervical cancer cells and induced apoptosis in vitro via increased Bax expression, decreased Bcl-2, cyclin E downregulation, and p27 up-regulation (23). Aqueous extracts of chaga inhibited growth of human hepatoma cells via G0/G1 phase cell-cycle arrest and selective apoptotic induction (1). This selective activation may result from pH changes in the tumor microenvironment (11). Other apoptotic characteristics can induce caspase cleavage and nuclear fragmentation (7). Like many medicinal mushrooms, beta glucans in chaga exert immunomodulating activities, binding to complement receptor 3 so that immune cells recognize cancer cells as “non-self” (10).
As there have been no clinical trials to assess chaga’s safety, there is a lack of information with respect to potential side effects.
Oxalate nephropathy: In a 72-year-old Japanese woman with liver cancer, caused by the ingestion of chaga mushroom powder 4-5 tsps daily for 6 months (24).