What Are Chaga Mushrooms and Are They Healthy?
Chaga mushrooms have been used for centuries in Siberia and other parts of Asia as a medicine to boost immunity and improve overall health (1).
Though ugly in appearance, the chaga mushroom is gaining popularity in the Western world for its potential health benefits.
What's more, a cup of tea made from chaga is packed with antioxidants.
However, consumption of this special mushroom may come with some risks.
This article examines the uses, benefits and potential side effects of chaga mushrooms.
What Are Chaga Mushrooms?
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is a type of fungus that grows mainly on the bark of birch trees in cold climates, such as Northern Europe, Siberia, Russia, Korea, Northern Canada and Alaska.
Chaga is also known by other names, such as black mass, clinker polypore, birch canker polypore, cinder conk and the sterile conk trunk rot (of birch).
Chaga produces a woody growth, or conk, which looks similar to a clump of burnt charcoal — roughly 10–15 inches (25–38 centimeters) in size. However, the inside reveals a soft core with an orange color.
For centuries, chaga has been used as a traditional medicine in Russia and other Northern European countries, mainly to boost immunity and overall health.
It has also been used to treat diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease (1).
Traditionally, chaga was grated into a fine powder and brewed as an herbal tea.
Nowadays, it's not only available as a tea but also as a powdered or capsuled supplement. The tea may feature chaga alone or in combination with other mushrooms, such as cordyceps.
Taking chaga with either warm or cold water is believed to release its medicinal properties.
Keep in mind that reliable information on chaga's nutritional content is extremely limited.
Chaga mushroom is a fungus that grows primarily on birch trees in cold climates. With an appearance similar to burnt charcoal, it has been harvested for centuries as a traditional medicine.
Potential Health Benefits
Though research is ongoing, some scientific studies indicate that chaga extract may provide certain health benefits.
Boosts Your Immune System and Fights Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural response of your immune system that can protect against disease. However, long-term inflammation is linked to conditions like heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis (4).
Animal and test-tube studies suggest that chaga extract can positively impact immunity by reducing long-term inflammation and fighting harmful bacteria and viruses.
By promoting the formation of beneficial cytokines — specialized proteins that regulate the immune system — chaga stimulates white blood cells, which are essential for fighting off harmful bacteria or viruses (5, 6).
As a result, this mushroom could help fight infections — from minor colds to serious illnesses.
For example, in a study in mice, chaga extract reduced inflammation and gut damage by inhibiting inflammatory cytokines (8).
Prevents and Fights Cancer
Several animal and test-tube studies show that chaga can prevent and slow cancer growth (9).
In a study in mice with cancer, chaga supplements resulted in a 60% reduction in tumor size (10).
It's thought that the anticancer effect of chaga is partly due to its high content of antioxidants, which protect cells from damage by free radicals (15).
Keep in mind that human studies are needed in order to make strong conclusions about chaga's anticancer potential.
Lowers Blood Sugar
A recent study in obese, diabetic mice observed that chaga extract reduced blood sugar levels and insulin resistance compared to diabetic mice who did not receive the supplement (18).
In another study in diabetic mice, chaga supplements led to a 31% decrease in blood sugar levels over three weeks (17).
However, as human research is unavailable, it's unclear whether chaga can help manage diabetes in humans.
Chaga extract may also benefit cholesterol levels, reducing your risk of heart disease.
Researchers believe that the antioxidants present in chaga are responsible for its effects on cholesterol.
Again, more research in humans is needed to clearly understand chaga's cholesterol impact.
Animal and test-tube studies found that chaga extract may boost immunity, prevent chronic inflammation, fight cancer, lower blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. However, more human studies are needed.
Safety and Side Effects
Chaga is generally well-tolerated. However, no human studies have been conducted to determine its safety or appropriate dosage.
In fact, chaga can interact with some common medications, causing potentially harmful effects.
For example, chaga could pose risks for people on insulin or those with diabetes due to its impact on blood sugar.
Chaga also contains a protein that can prevent blood clotting. Therefore, if you are on blood-thinning medications, have a bleeding disorder or are preparing for surgery, consult with your doctor before taking chaga (22).
Though some research shows that chaga may help reduce inflammation, it may also cause your immune system to become more active. Thus, people with autoimmune diseases should seek medical advice before taking chaga.
There is no research on the safety of chaga for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Therefore, the safest option is to avoid use.
Finally, remember to buy supplements from reputable sources, as chaga is not monitored by the FDA.
No studies have analyzed the safety or appropriate dosage of chaga. Unwanted side effects could occur if you have a bleeding disorder or autoimmune disease, take blood thinners or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The Bottom Line
For centuries, people have used chaga mushrooms for medicinal purposes.
Packed with antioxidants, chaga mushroom is available in tea or supplement form.
Its extract may fight cancer and improve immunity, chronic inflammation, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Still, human studies are needed to confirm these benefits and to determine its safety, side effects and optimal dosage.
If you're interested in trying chaga mushroom tea or supplement but have concerns about side effects or possible interactions with medications your taking, talk to your doctor first.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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