Last week I did an informational post on the fungi Chaga and it’s anti tumor properties. Yesterday we had a comment from one of our readers suggesting that we look further into its properties. The following contains information from Bob’s suggested reading site.
Chaga – Unparalleled repository of medicinal qualities ?
Chaga is the Russian name for a mushroom with remarkable medicinal qualities (Inonotus Obliquus being its botanical name).
It’s natural habitat are the birch forests in the coldest areas of the Northern hemisphere, mainly Siberia and parts of North America, North-Korea and China. It’s medicinal properties have been utilized since time immemorial by the inhabitants of Siberia, native Americans and of course the Chinese.
Since the ’50s Chaga has been the subject of intensive scientific research. Our ‘Resources‘ section contains quite a few downloadable publications, and more are added each month. You can also go to Pubmed (an immense governmental database with links to scientific research articles) and use “Chaga‘ or “Inonotus Obliquus” as a search term.
The statements made below are all based on this research.
What is so special about Chaga ?
Its main active ingredients are a special type of carbohydrates – (the so-called mushroompolysaccharides / beta-glucans), and betulinic acid, a compound only found in Chaga mushrooms.
Apart from these but definitely worth mentioning are several phytosterols (mainly lanosterol and inotodiol) and a very high amount of melanin, a natural anti-oxidant that gives this mushroom its black color and is responsible for Chaga having one of the highest levels of anti-oxidants found in natural foods.
What does all this mean ?
The polysaccharides are common in all medicinal mushrooms. What they do ? Well, scientific research showed that these polysaccharides have the power to balance and normalize our immune system. How they do that is still not fully understood by science.
To put it simple, they help our body to get healthy and to stay healthy, by stimulating and supporting the existing immune system. Chaga does not fight a specific disease or symptom, but it helps the body to heal itself and to stay healthy. That’s why we can state that Chaga has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and detoxing qualities. It is the perfect supplement for people looking to prevent diseases, but also for people under stress: mental, physical and environmental stress are all very taxing on the immune system. And with age the immune system also starts to become less effective. For elderly people Chaga is an excellent prophylactic.
The betulinic acid that Chaga derives from the birches on which it grows give this mushroom additional healing qualities. First and foremost: it breaks down excessive ‘bad’ cholesterol in the bloodstream, without any side effects. The effect is purely normalizing.
Apart from that, research showed this betulinic acid being able to kill cancer cells without affecting healthy cells – a mechanism that is not yet fully understood by science but that appears to work as follows: cancer cells have a different ph-value than healthy cells and somehow the betulinic acid is able to use this property to trigger apoptosis (natural cell death) in these cells, without affecting healthy cells, actually without any side effects at all. Medical science is aware of this property and has been researching this since the 50s. A major problem was always that betulin / betulinic acid is indigestible by humans. However, this is where the ‘magic’ of Chaga lies: it already converted the betulin into a digestible form of betulinic acid. In Russia an anti-cancer medicine based on Chaga was developed in the 1950s and it’s still in use under the name Befungin.
Add this to the immune balancing properties of the polysaccharides and you have an exceptional potent anti-cancer agent: not only does it fight cancer itself but it also supports standard treatments like chemo and radiation by neutralizing the nasty side effects these treatments have on the immune system.
Phytosterols and anti-oxidants
And as if all this is not enough the phytosterols (of which lanosterol takes 45%, inotodiol 25% and the remaining 30% consists of ergosterol, fecosterol, episterol et.al.) present in Chaga were also found to possess strong anti-cancer qualities. The existing synergybetween these components (polysaccharides, betulinic acid, phytosterols) turns Chaga into one of the most potent health supplements known to man.
But we almost forgot another potent property: Chaga’s anti-oxidant qualities. Themelanin component protects the mushroom against the harsh environment (extreme cold, UV radiation e.g.) in which it has to survive. The chemical components of this melanin were found to have DNA-regenerating and protective properties. One could say it’s a type of natural anti-rust. A way to determine the level of this activity is to determine the so-calledORAC-level (oxygen radical absorbance capacity). Chaga was found to have one of the highest levels ever found in natural foods. This adds anti-aging and revitalizing properties to the already impressive list of Chaga’s qualities. In addition several research articles also pointed out Chaga’s anti-ulcer and anti-gastritis capacities.
So, does this mean you can just go and buy whatever Chaga supplement you can find on the internet ?
No, you have to be careful. Many supplements are virtually worthless. Why ?
Well, Chaga is a mushroom, and raw mushrooms are largely indigestible by humans. We lack the enzyme chitinase, which is needed to digest the chitin cellsall mushrooms are made of. Raw or dried and powdered Chaga would simply pass through our bodies without leaving much traces. And the majority of supplements and teas are just that: dried and powdered Chaga.
How can you tell the good from the not-so-good, you wonder ? Well, the label will tell you. Keep reading!
The native population in Siberia used to prepare Chaga tea, which is a good way to break those chitin cells open and release the medicinal components locked inside. But often overlooked nowadays is the amount of time involved: dried raw Chaga needs to brew for at least 8-10 hours to have any therapeutic effect, which was no problem in the old days using a samovar, but nowadays..?
Science developed special extraction protocols to deal with these ‘problems’. The main tool used is heat.
Extracts based on hot water extraction (comparable to brewing tea) will contain the water soluble compounds; polysaccharides and polyphenolics mainly. No phytosterols and no betulinic acid!
For those one needs also alcohol / ethanol extraction – this will add those non-water solubles. Do not confuse this with alcohol tinctures, though – simply mixing alcohol with dry Chaga will not break down chitin effectively. Alcohol tinctures do work very well with herbs (=cellulose), but not with mushrooms (=chitin).
Mushroom supplements’ labels will tell you a lot, be it by inclusion or ommission of information: general statements on the label in general mean you are dealing with simple dried and indigestible powder. The producer is simply not able to provide a detailed breakdown because the percentage of ingredients can only be determined after being extracted. So, detailed breakdowns of ingredients can be considered a good indication of quality, but even then some sellers tend to exaggerate or simply try to deceive you.
To be sure you can always ask for a Certificate of Analysis. A reliable supplement producer will have no problem mailing it to you. It will also tell you the contamination levels(mushrooms can contain dangerous levels of heavy metals like lead and cadmium) which you’ll never see on a label.
Oriveda extracts are prepared using a combination of hot water and alcohol extraction. Which is why we can list both the percentage of polysaccharides and the betulinic acid on our label.
Our extracts are comparable to the extracts used in scientific research – the research results you read about you now can achieve yourself. Our mushroom extracts have the highest levels of active ingredients worldwide.
If you want to verify this: Certificates of Analysis are available upon request .