Several experimental and animal studies suggest an anti-cancer potential of chaga mushroom in different cancer types such as lung, colon/colorectal, cervical, liver, melanoma/skin, prostate and breast cancers. However, clinical studies to confirm the benefits of chaga mushrooms are needed. Avoid randomly using chaga mushroom supplements for cancer treatment or prevention without scientific explanations and guidance of a health care provider.
What Are Chaga Mushrooms?
There is a growing interest in medicinal mushrooms including Chaga and their effects on different health conditions.
Chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) are fungi that grow on the trunks of birch trees in places with cold climates, such as Siberia, Northern Europe, Russia, Korea, Canada and certain parts of the United States. These mushrooms produce a woody growth, called conk, that looks like burnt charcoal. The inside core of this charcoal-like mass is orange in color. Conk absorbs the nutrients from the wood and is used to make medicine.
Chaga Mushrooms are also known as Birch Mushroom, Chaga Conk, Cinder conk, Clinker polypore, Birch canker polypore, sterile conk trunk rot, Tchaga, and Siberian Chaga.
A fine powder of these mushrooms is also brewed as herbal tea.
Key Active Constituents of Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, low in calories and high in fiber. Following are some of its key active constituents:
- Betulinic acid
- Ergosterol peroxide
- Vanillic acid
- Protocatechuic acid
- Polyphenols, including inonoblins and phelligridins
Purported Uses and Health Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms
Based on studies in cell lines and animal models, people have been using Chaga mushroom for centuries as a traditional medicine for various health conditions.
Chaga is available as tea as well as dietary supplements.
Following are some of the purported uses and health benefits of Chaga Mushrooms:
- Boost immunity
- Reduce Inflammation
- Prevent and slow the growth of specific cancers
- Protect Liver
- Reduce Blood Sugar
- Reduce Blood Pressure
- Reduce Cholesterol
Possible Side-effects of Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga mushroom extract may inhibit platelet aggregation. Avoid taking chaga mushrooms to stay away from possible undesired side effects if you:
- Have a bleeding disorder
- Have autoimmune disease
- Are taking blood thinner medications
- Are pregnant
- Are breastfeeding
A case report of a 72-year old woman with liver cancer also highlighted oxalate nephropathy (acute kidney injury) post ingestion of chaga mushroom powder (4–5 teaspoons daily for 6 months).
Chaga Mushrooms and Cancer
Most of the research conducted to study the effect of chaga mushrooms on cancer (for prevention or treatment) are on cell lines and animal models. Following are examples of key findings of some of these experimental and preclinical studies.
Effect on Colon Cancer
- In an experimental study done by Adbiotech Co. Ltd, and Kongju National University in Korea on HT-29 human colon cancer cells, they found that the ethanol extract of Chaga mushroom inhibited cell progression in HT-29 human colon cancer cells, suggesting that this mushroom may be a potential natural anti-cancer ingredient that can be explored in the food and/or pharmaceutical industry post validation in humans. (Hyun Sook Lee et al, Nutr Res Pract., 2015)
- An experimental study done by Daegu University in Korea found that the hot water extract of Chaga mushroom exerted inhibitory activity against the proliferation of human HT-29 colon cancer cells. (Sung Hak Lee et al, Phytother Res., 2009)
- In an experimental and animal study done by Gachon University, Chung-Ang University, Dr. Harisingh Gour Central University, Gangneung Institute, Daejeon University and National Cancer Center-Goyang-si in Korea, they found that ergosterol peroxide suppressed the proliferation of colorectal cancer cell lines and effectively inhibited colitis-associated colon cancer in Azoxymethane (AOM)/Dextran sulfate sodium (DSS) treated mice. (Ju-Hee Kang et al, J Ethnopharmacol., 2015)
Effect on Cervical Cancer
- Inotodiol is a triterpenoid isolated from Inonotus obliquus/Chaga Mushroom. An experimental study done by Jilin Medical College in China found that Inotodiol isolated from this mushroom inhibited the proliferation of human cervical cancer HeLa cells and induced apoptosis/cell death in vitro. (Li-Wei Zhao et al, Asian Pac J Cancer Prev., 2014)
Effect on Lung Adenocarcinoma
- An experimental study done by the Sungkyunkwan University in Korea found that different chemical constituents from Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) induced apoptosis in human lung adenocarcinoma cells suggesting the potential application of this mushroom in lung cancer treatment, which need further validation in human studies. (Jiwon Baek et al, J Ethnopharmacol., 2018)
Effect on Liver Cancer
- In an experimental study done by the Wonkwang University School of Medicine in Korea they evaluated the anti-proliferative and apoptotic effects of water extract of Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) on human liver cancer cell lines, HepG2 and Hep3B cells. The study found that the extract inhibited liver cancer cell growth in a dose-dependent manner and also led to apoptosis/programmed cell death. (Myung-Ja Youn et al, World J Gastroenterol., 2008)
Effect on Melanoma Skin Cancer
- Another experimental study done by the Wonkwang University in Korea found that the water extract of Chaga mushroom exhibited a potential anticancer activity against B16-F10 melanoma/skin cancer cells in vitro and in vivo by inhibiting the proliferation and inducing differentiation and apoptosis/programmed cell death of melanoma cancer cells. (Myung-Ja Youn et al, J Ethnopharmacol., 2009)
Effect on Sarcoma
- In a study done by the Kangwon National University in Korea the researchers evaluated the effect of some compounds (3beta-hydroxy-lanosta-8,24-dien-21-al, inotodiol and lanosterol, respectively) extracted from Chaga mushroom on the tumor growth in Balbc/c mice bearing Sarcoma-180 cells in vivo and growth of human carcinoma cells in vitro. The study found that certain compounds isolated from the mushroom at concentrations of 0.1 and 0.2 mg/mouse per day significantly decreased tumor volume by 23.96% and 33.71%, respectively, as compared with the control and also found significant cytotoxic activity against the selected cancer cell lines in vitro. (Mi Ja Chung et al, Nutr Res Pract., 2010)
Effect on Prostate and Breast Cancers
- In an experimental study done by the Tianjin University in China, they found that the ethyl acetate fractions of Chaga mushroom had a cytotoxic effect on human prostatic carcinoma cell PC3 and breast carcinoma cell MDA-MB-231. Ergosterol, ergosterol peroxide and trametenolic acid extracted from Chaga mushroom showed anti-inflammatory activities and ergosterol peroxide and trametenolic acid showed cytotoxicity on human prostatic carcinoma cell PC3 and breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cell. (Lishuai Ma et al, Food Chem., 2013)
Different experimental and animal studies suggest the anti-cancer potential of chaga mushroom to prevent or slow the cancer growth in different cancer types such as lung, colon/colorectal, cervical, liver, melanoma/skin, prostate and breast cancers. Most of these potential anti-cancer effects may be attributed to its high antioxidant content, which can protect the cells from damage by free radicals. Based on many experimental studies, chaga mushroom is also considered to have other benefits such as boosting immunity, preventing inflammation, protecting liver, lowering blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol. However, human studies are needed to confirm these benefits, and random intake of chaga mushroom supplements for cancer treatment and prevention should be avoided.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.