One of the earliest reports of chaga appears in a Chinese herbal compiled more than 2,000 years ago. Although scientific research has been ongoing since the 1950s (initially in Russia and Poland), we currently have little data on the effects of chaga on human subjects.
However, we do have more than 50 studies conducted either with human cell cultures or in animal research, primarily from China, Japan, and Korea. In North America, there have been five studies on chaga, three at the University of Texas and two at the University of Manitoba. Worldwide, much of the research has focused on three primary areas: improving immune response, moderating diabetes, and combating cancer.
IMMUNE RESPONSE Research has found that chaga has the capacity to stimulate the immune response while simultaneously lowering inflammation. Typically, medications have one effect or the other, but not both. This ability to normalize function qualifies chaga as an “adaptogen,” a substance that can either increase or decrease activity in the body as needed, to balance and restore appropriate functionality.
Studies on immune function from Canada, Korea, and Japan have reported that chaga:
• Provides as many as seven antioxidant compounds(1)
• Stimulates chemical messengers such as interleukins and tumor necrosis factor alpha(2)
• Increases levels of infection-fighting cells such as macrophages(3)
• Reduces excessive levels of inflammation(4) and inhibits the inflammatory cascade (5)
• Lowers levels of antibodies associated with intense allergic reactions (IgE)(6)
• Prevents the breakdown of cell walls(7)
• Inhibits the Epstein-Barr virus (in test tube research)(8)
• Improves the immune profile in inflammatory colitis (in an animal study)(6)
DIABETES In terms of diabetic function, a number of studies conducted at Chinese universities have reported major improvements in the health of diabetic mice, reflected in:
• Decreases of blood glucose levels in one week averaging (14) percent and at three weeks averaging 30 percent(9)
• Reductions in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and harmful LDL cholesterol(10)
• Increases in liver glycogen (an important energy source) and in beneficial HDL cholesterol, as well as improved insulin levels(11)
• Normalization of cholesterol levels(12)
• Higher levels of antioxidants, including superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione(9)
• Improved growth and physiology(11) CANCER Cancer studies have evaluated chaga in a number of forms, including whole chaga, chaga components (referred to as fractions), and cultivated forms using the mycelia, as well as water extracts and alcohol extracts. Benefit has been reported with all forms of chaga. Studies on cell cultures. Research has been conducted using lab cultures of human cancer cells, referred to as “cancer cell lines.” These studies have included cultures of lung cancer, colon cancer, T-lymphoma/leukemia, liver cancer, and cervical cancer, as well as malignant tumors and other types of carcinomas. The following improvements in cell function have been reported among the approximately 30 lab studies published to date:
• Antioxidative and immune-stimulating effects(5) • Anticancer effects via immune-stimulation(13)
• Inhibitory effects14 and antiproliferative effects(15)
• Moderate effects against four different types of cultured cancer cells(16)
• Increased destruction of cancer cells(17) and obvious antitumor activities(18)
• Low toxicity, with no direct toxic effects against normal cells(19) Animal studies. Findings from the 35 animal studies in the Medline database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine report increased immune activity, slower cancer progression, longer survival, and in some cases, cancer reversal, including:
• Potent antitumor activity(20)
• Cancer-inhibiting effects of five different compounds found in chaga(11)
• Increased production of infection-fighting antibodies (IgM)(13)
• Improved regulation of the immune response in mice with melanoma(2)
• Inhibition of tumor growth three times greater than normal(17)
• Fewer tumors, with two-thirds of mice surviving with no tumor incidence after two months(19)
• Survival rates four times higher than in the comparison group(19)
• Prolonged number of survival days in mice with leukemia(21) The majority of these studies have been carried out over the past ten years, and more than 30 percent of the research has been published in the past two years. The research consistently reports improved function, without the toxicity often seen with medication.
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2. Won DP, Lee JS, Kwon DS, et al. Immunostimulating activity by polysaccharides isolated from fruiting body of Inonotus obliquus. Mol Cells. 2011 Feb;31(2):165-73. Epub 2010 Dec 22.
3. Van Q, Nayak BN, Reimer M, et al. Anti-inflammatory effect of Inonotus obliquus, Polygala senega L., and Viburnum trilobum in a cell screening assay. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Sep 25;125(3):487-93. Epub 2009 Jul 3.
4. Park YM, Won JH, Kim YH, et al. In vivo and in vitro anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects of the methanol extract of Inonotus obliquus. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Oct 3;101(1-3):120-8.
5. Kim HG, Yoon DH, Kim CH, et al. Ethanol extract of Inonotus obliquus inhibits lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation in RAW 264.7 macrophage cells. J Med Food. 2007 Mar;10(1):80-9.
6. Choi SY, Hur SJ, An CS, et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of Inonotus obliquus in colitis induced by dextran sodium sulfate. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2010;2010:943516. Epub 2010 Mar 10.
7. Nakajima Y, Nishida H, Nakamura Y, Konishi T. Prevention of hydrogen peroxide-induced oxidative stress in PC12 cells by 3,4-dihydroxybenzalacetone isolated from Chaga (Inonotus obliquus [persoon] Pilat). Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Oct 15;47(8):1154-61. Epub 2009 Jul 30.
8. Nakata T, Yamada T, Taji S, et al. Structure determination of inonotsuoxides A and B and in vivo anti-tumor promoting activity of inotodiol from the sclerotia of Inonotus obliquus. Bioorg Med Chem. 2007 Jan 1;15(1):257-64. Epub 2006 Sep 30.
9. Sun JE, Ao ZH, Lu ZM, et al. Antihyperglycemic and antilipidperoxidative effects of dry matter of culture broth of Inonotus obliquus in submerged culture on normal and alloxan-diabetes mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Jun 19;118(1):7-13. Epub 2008 Mar 4.
10. Xu HY, Sun JE, Lu ZM, et al. Beneficial effects of the ethanol extract from the dry matter of a culture broth of Inonotus obliquus in submerged culture on the antioxidant defence system and regeneration of pancreatic beta-cells in experimental diabetes in mice. Nat Prod Res. 2010 Apr;24(6):542-53.
11. Lu X, Chen H, Dong P, et al. Phytochemical characteristics and hypoglycaemic activity of fraction from mushroom Inonotus obliquus. J Sci Food Agric. 2010 Jan 30;90(2):276-80.
12. Joo JI, Kim DH, Yun JW. Extract of Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) stimulates 3T3-L1 adipocyte differentiation. Phytother Res. 2010 Nov;24(11):1592-9.
13. Kim YO, Han SB, Lee HW, et al. Immuno-stimulating effect of the endo-polysaccharide produced by submerged culture of Inonotus obliquus. Life Sci. 2005 Sep 23;77(19):2438-56.
14. Gałasiński W, Chlabicz J, Paszkiewicz-Gadek A, et al. The substances of plant origin that inhibit protein biosynthesis. Acta Pol Pharm. 1996 Sep-Oct;53(5):311-8.
15. Ali NA, Lüdtke J, Pilgrim H, Lindequist U. Inhibition of chemiluminescence response of human mononuclear cells and suppression of mitogen-induced proliferation of spleen lymphocytes of mice by hispolon and hispidin. Pharmazie. 1996 Sep;51(9):667-70.
16. Handa N, Yamada T, Tanaka R. An unusual lanostane-type triterpenoid, spiroinonotsuoxodiol, and other triterpenoids from Inonotus obliquus. Phytochemistry. 2010 Oct;71(14-15):1774-9. Epub 2010 Aug 4.
17. Youn MJ, Kim JK, Park SY, et al. Potential anticancer properties of the water extract of Inonotus obliquus by induction of apoptosis in melanoma B16-F10 cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Jan 21; 121(2):221-8. Epub 2008 Oct 25.
18. Chen Y, Gu X, Huang SQ, et al. Optimization of ultrasonic/microwave assisted extraction (UMAE) of polysaccharides from Inonotus obliquus and evaluation of its anti-tumor activities. Int J Biol Macromol. 2010 May 1;46(4):429-35. Epub 2010 Feb 10.
19. Kim YO, Park HW, Kim JH, et al. Anti-cancer effect and structural characterization of endo-polysaccharide from cultivated mycelia of Inonotus obliquus. Life Sci. 2006 May 30;79(1):72-80. Epub 2006 Feb 3.
20. Taji S, Yamada T, Wada S, et al. Lanostane-type triterpenoids from the sclerotia of Inonotus obliquus possessing anti-tumor promoting activity. Eur J Med Chem. 2008 Nov;43(11):2373-9. Epub 2008 Feb 8.
21. Chaadaeva AV, Tenkeeva II, Moiseeva EV, et al. [Antitumor activity of the plant remedy peptide extract PE-PM in a new mouse T-lymphoma/leukemia model] [Article in Russian]. Biomed Khim. 2009 Jan-Feb; 55(1):81-8.