Chaga – The Facts

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• Introduction
• Definition
• History
• Research
• Bio-active ingredients
• Anti-oxidants
• Fukushima and radioactive contamination
• Summary of actions
• The future of Chaga
• References


Introduction

In the late 1990′s Chaga was virtually unknown as a dietary supplement, with the exception of Russia and a few countries in SE-Asia (mainly Korea, China and Japan).


Daniel Vitalis, a successful ‘health-guru’


Now, it is 2012 and Chaga is one of the hypes of the day, a hype fueled both online and offline by health-gurus like David Wolfe, Daniel Vitalis and Cass Ingram.

King of Herbs‘ it is called, and if you have to believe all the health claims made on the internet, Chaga is the cure for almost everything. Of course, this is grossly exaggerated.

Large numbers tend to impress people, so Chaga promotion is always dressed up with a lot of large numbers, ranging from its age (‘Over 4600 years ago…’), its active ingredients (‘Over 215 phyto-nutrients, massive amounts of zinc…’), the number of scientific publications so far (‘Over 1400 (also: ’1600′) studies…’), its anti-oxidant score (‘Tufts University research: 36,557 SOD!!’), its scarcity (‘only one in 10,000 trees bears Chaga…’), etc…

A lot of these numbers are the result of copy/paste writing with unverifiable sources and, as soon became apparent to us while doing research, are actually most of the time the result of ‘creative writing’. This misinformation is then often copied by another website, and then another one, and so on. A good example, in a nutshell, how new ‘facts’ can be created.

While doing the research for this monograph we went back to the basis: well-known peer-reviewed research and verifiable facts. Understanding both Russian and Chinese and having a background in library science has been a great help, because several publications are hard to find and only available in those languages, and quite a few ‘facts’ stem from mis-interpreting the data given in those publications.


Definition of Chaga


What we call ‘Chaga’ is the dense black mass (25-40 cm large) that can be seen on the outside of trees (almost exclusively birches) infected with the fungus Inonotus obliquus. It is not a fruiting body (meant for spreading spores, the final stage in the life of many mushrooms) but a dense sterile mass of mycelia, with decayed bits of birch tissue incorporated. When chopped from the tree the interior has a rusty yellow-brown color, somewhat granular in appearance, and is often mottled with whitish or cream-colored veins. The hard, deeply cracked black outside of the Chaga is called the sclerotium.

Typically, well-developed Chaga sclerotia are found on trees over 40 years of age, but the infection starts earlier. The period from initial infection to tree death varies with the number of infection sites and tree resistance, but is typically around 20 years. After about 3-5 years the Chaga can be harvested. After harvesting, chaga can regrow to harvestable size again in three to ten years, and this can be repeated until the tree dies. Chopping off the Chaga does not stop the infection.


History


Many websites promoting and selling Chaga start their introduction with a variation on ‘as early as 4600 years ago…‘. We have not been able to find a source for this. Not much writing was going on at that time (Egypt, Mesopotamia), but it definitely did not take place in the areas where Chaga is found, close to the polar circle. It is very well possible Chaga was known and used during ancient times, but there are no records of it.


The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing is the oldest written text on medicinal herbs


Chaga (Chinese names are Hua Jie Kong Jun or Bai Hua Rong) is also not mentioned in the oldest existing text on medicinal herbs, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, (written ± 200 BC) despite many websites who say otherwise. We looked it up, to verify. ‘King of Herbs’ is in fact a 21st century marketing statement, not a 2200 year old slogan from the Chinese. (And Chaga is of course not a herb, but a fungus.)

The legendary 5300 year-old Ötzi the Iceman, whose frozen remains were found in 1991, also fueled some stories, because among Otzi’s possessions were two types of tree mushrooms.


Ötzi was carrying these birch fungus fragments around his neck, but no Chaga


One of these (the birch fungus – ‪Piptoporus betulinus‬) is known to have antibacterial properties, and might have been used for medical purposes. The other was a type of tinder fungus (‪Fomes fomentarius‬), included with what appeared to be a complex fire-starting kit. But again… no Chaga.

The first verifiable mentions of Chaga are actually from the 16th century and stem from Russia.

Chaga (in combinations with other herbs) was used for the treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers and gastritis.

‘Chaga tea’ was used for the treatment of an upset stomach and intestinal pains. Such a decoction was (and still is) especially popular among hunters and foresters, since this drink alleviates hunger, removes tiredness, refreshes, and increases work capacity. Chaga tea is also used as a means of improving the general tone.

Patients were (and still are) frequently recommended to use chaga extracts when it was necessary to reduce the arterial or venous blood pressure. Chaga infusions were (and still are) also used for the treatment of periodontitis, eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. Inhalations of chaga with other herbs are until today being used to reduce inflammations in the nasopharynx and to facilitate breathing.

Chaga was also used in agriculture, in particular in animal breeding: adding chaga to the ration of pigs stimulates the growth of piglets and accelerates the weight gain of fatteners. Chaga has also been used as a plant growth stimulator, like fertilizer.

An example of the first users are the Khanty (formerly called the Ostyak), one of the peoples inhabiting West Siberia. Due to fatalism caused by their animist-shamanist world outlook, their folk medicine was developed poorly, though. Illnesses arising without evident external reasons were thought to have been caused by supernatural beings and doctors were regarded incapable of curing such diseases. Nevertheless, they did use some fungi to support their health, one of which was Chaga. (The name ‘Chaga’ is actually derived from the Khanty language.)


Khanty men, Vakh river, 1898


Chaga was and is still used by the Khanty for general well-being, internal cleaning (we would call it ‘detoxing’) and curing and preventing disease in general, but in particular for liver problems, heart problems, tuberculosis and to get rid of parasitic worms. It was prepared as a tea. (method of preparation: cut up dried Chaga, put it into boiling water, boil for several minutes.) Three cm3 were used for 2.5 l of tea, and the tea was drunk until the ailment was cured.

The Khanty also used Chaga to make ‘soap water‘. To make ‘soap water‘ the fungus was first put into the fire. When it turned red (like smoldering charcoal) it was put into a bucket of hot water and then stirred until it broke into small pieces. The black water thus obtained has a strong cleaning and disinfecting ability.

This ‘soap water‘ was used to wash the genitals of women during menstruation and after birth; sometimes new-born babies were also washed. One Khanty compared it to the effect of a KMnO4 solution (potassium permanganate; a disinfectant used in Russia to wash new-borns the first three months after their birth) and stated that women who washed themselves with such water, never took ill. In older times it had been used instead of soap to wash the hands, feet and sometimes also the whole body. Chaga was also burned and the smoke was inhaled; its purpose was ritual cleaning.


Ainu people, 1902


The Ainu people, an ethnic group indigenous to Hokkaido, the Kuri islands and Sahkhalin used to drink Chaga tea to treat stomach pain and inflammations. Another use was filling a pipe with powdered Chaga, lit and smoke it during religious ceremonies. The leader of the ceremony inhaled the smoke and then passed the pipe to his neighbor. The pipe continued circulating until all the participants had smoked it. This ritual was described as ‘consuming the smoke‘. Although the medicinal effects of the smoke are unknown (and probably nonexistent), this tradition shows that Chaga was highly regarded.

Several native tribes (the Woodland Cree, the Gitksan, the Wet’suwet’en and the Tenaina, e.g.) in North-America/Canada knew and used the Chaga fungus. Each tribe had several names for the fungus. It is obvious none of these people called it ‘Chaga’ or ‘Tsi-aga’ as some internet sites proclaim – they are not Khanty!


A camp site of the Woodland Cree, 1871


The Woodland Cree e.g. called it ‘Pos kan’ or ‘Wisakechak omik h‘, and this name was derived from the following legend: “Wisakechak (a mythological figure) threw a scab (= ‘Omik h’), which he had mistaken for dried meat and tried to eat, against a birch tree where it has stayed to this day to benefit mankind.”

The Cree used the soft yellow-brown inside of Chaga as tinder or touchwood for the building of campfires. One fire-starting method commonly used by the Cree was the striking of steel against a piece of flint to make sparks. The sparks ignited a piece of dry ‘Pos kan‘ which catches easily and remains smoldering, then the ‘Pos kan‘ ignites thin pieces of birch bark and small dry twigs in turn. In Russia this method was also used, and even today survivalists are hunting Chaga for this reason. Have a look at this website, e.g. with an extensive explanation.


Research


Chaga’s chemical composition was studied for the first time in Russia’s St. Petersburg (1864), by J.G.N. Dragendorff (1836-1898). Nothing useful was reported. At the beginning of the 20th century some Russian researchers (Yakimov, Shivrina, and others) carried out a more thorough analysis of Chaga and compared its chemical composition with other polypore fungi. This can be considered as the actual beginning of research on Chaga.


A very rare sight, Chaga’s fruiting body on a dead yellow birch.

It is a thin greyish ‘crust’ – see left picture; the right picture is a close up – composed of countless tubes filled with spores (pictures by Vladimir Gubenko)


These researchers reported that Chaga’s composition is very different from other polypore tree mushrooms. This seems to indicate Chaga is highly special, but a reason for that difference might be the fact (at least in part) that they were comparing fruiting bodies (product of the reproductive stage of a mushrooms’ life) to the sterile lump of mycelia/sclerotia that we call Chaga.

Chaga’s fruiting body has never been investigated well, if at all, because it is rarely seen and when it finally appears (sometimes 3 to 4 years after the host tree is dead) it does not last long – bugs and aggressive molds destroy it quickly. So these researchers might have been comparing apples and pears, so to speak. Even nowadays many researchers are mixing up the fruiting body and the sterile Chaga lump when introducing their projects. This leads to confusion.

After WWII Chaga research really took off in Russia, fueled by the reputation Chaga had built in folk medicine during the past centuries. This resulted in an official entry in the USSR State Pharmacopeia.

Several standardized products were prepared at the Leningrad Botanical Institute, the most note-worthy being Befungin and Binczaga (introduced in the 50′s). Befungin (a mixture of Chaga extract and cobalt salts) was (and is) used mainly as a prophylactic, to treat ulcers and gastritis, as a treatment during the early stages of cancer and to battle the side effects of standard anti-cancer treatments.

Research agreed that the fungus has a favorable effect on the central nervous system and metabolic processes, and boosts immunity to infections. Hot water extracts were found to greatly alleviate the suffering in cancer patients, relieve pain and improve appetite; but it is not a radical drug in malignant cancer cases, although it might inhibit the development of tumors if used at its initial stages.

What is striking is that Russian Chaga research is based on a different concept then the rest of the world ‘s Chaga research, maybe because of the Soviet-Union‘s isolated position during the past decades. In Russia the State Pharmacopeia gives strict directions for the valuation and production of Chaga and its derivatives (extracts, tinctures, ointments, etc). The standard is the so-called ‘Chromogenic Complex(should be at least 10% to be acceptable as a Chaga product), a vague concept with no definition of its chemical composition, based on gravimetric measurement.

The Chromogenic Complex-concept stems from the 50′s and can be considered severely outdated, in particular because we now know a lot more about the bioactive ingredients of Chaga and pharmaceutical techniques have progressed significantly since then. In the late 50s spectroscopic analysis was developed . It gives much more detailed results then the old gravimetric assays. Some online sources state that the Chromogenic Complex is equal to polyphenols, but this is not correct.

Russian producers, however, are still by federal law required to use the ‘Chromogenic complex‘ as the base of their Chaga product, otherwise they will not be allowed to sell and export their products. It seems nobody is interested in updating the Chaga entry in the Russian State Pharmacopeia. This requirement also means that Russian Chaga products are limited to hot water extracts (being the base of the Chromogenic Complex). Hot water extracts contain very little (if any) bioavailable terpenes (like sterols and betulinic acid) and other non-water solubles. This is a severe limitation, because these components often have significant therapeutic potency.


Chaga extraction room, Limonnik factory, Russia.


Research taking place outside of Russia has been focusing on elements such as polysaccharides (in particular beta-glucans), and terpenes (like betulinic acid and sterols), and the presence of these components became the standard for judging the therapeutic qualities of Chaga and its derivatives.

We were able to compare Chaga extracts from the three largest exporting Russian producers; Art of Life Ltd, Baikal Herbs Ltd and Limonnik Ltd. The Certificates of Analysis (COA) of their Chaga extracts all show a high percentage of ‘Chromogenic Complex‘. Further analysis shows that the percentage of (1>3)(1>6) beta-D-Glucans is very low (< 2%) and betulinic acid is absent, but the levels of polyphenols and the antioxidant power are both good.

Despite the effort of many researchers the precise composition of this Chromogenic complex is still unclear, so products solely based on this are outdated, pharmaceutically speaking. One actually does not know what exactly one is taking.


Chaga and its bioactive ingredients


We will not go into the wee details of the bio-technological composition of Chaga, because it is highly technical. The bioactives that are responsible for the main therapeutic effects of Chaga and that are used as standards for the production of many Chaga products we will explain below, using simple terminology.

Raw Chaga’s composition is described as follows (being a natural product the percentages can vary, of course):

  • Water 13.2%
  • Proteins 2.40%
  • Lipids 2.40%
  • Ash 10.1%
  • Carbohydrates 71.9 % (lignin 32.6%; beta-glucans 12.0%)
  • Ergosterol 35.3 mg %
  • K 2.98%
  • Na 0.02%
  • Ca 0.06%
  • Mn*
  • The total energy is 159.4 kcal/100 g

*Mn percentage was not specified, but estimated to be ± 110 ppm.

Extracts will have a different composition, depending on the extraction method.

In biochemistry carbohydrates are synonymous with saccharides (sugars) – of which there are 4 groups. One of these groups are the polysaccharides. These are large macromolecules. There are two types, storage polysaccharides (like starch) and structural polysaccharides (like cellulose and chitin).

The cell-walls of green plants are made from cellulose; fungi/mushrooms (like Chaga) are mainly build from chitin, the hardest all-natural material on earth. Locked in the chitin cell-walls are the bioactives that make Chaga such a powerful medicinal mushroom. An extraction process is needed to make them bioavailable (humans cannot digest chitin).

The most important components found in those cell-walls are probably the (1>3)(1>6)Beta-D-Glucans. Medicinal mushroom derived Beta-Glucans are notable for their ability to modulate the immune system. How exactly they achieve this is not yet 100% clear.

It has been compared to a key-and-lock system, where the beta-glucans are the keys (the name “(1>3)(1>6) Beta-D-Glucans” covers a large variety of shapes, just like “keys” covers a large variety of keys) and the receptors of our immune system are the locks. When there is a match the receptor is triggered and one of our immune functions becomes active, producing e.g. NK cells, macrophages or lymphocytes.


A well developed Chaga conk, bursting from the bark of its host


Beta-Glucans can also normalize an overactive immune system (the cause of allergies and many auto-immune diseases; e.g. lupus and psoriasis) – this can be compared to locking down receptors that are open for no reason, only re-opening them when needed. This two-way effect is called ‘modulating‘ and it is exceptionally powerful from a therapeutic point of view.

After all, our immune system is the core of our health in the broadest sense. It is under siege all the time; stress is a major immune killer (think: physical, mental, chemical – side effects of medication!- and environmental stress), age is another one (after 35 our immune system gets sloppy and after 50 it’s simply declining, causing a lot of ‘old-age’ diseases to appear). Apart from that beta-glucans also have a positive effect on the normalization of cholesterol levels and blood sugar, according to research. Indirect, this means it can also have a positive effect on high blood pressure and general cardiovascular health. So, the support one can get from taking a medicinal mushroom extract daily is significant; you help the body to maintain a healthy balance. This balance is what is known as ‘homeostasis‘.

As said, exactly how the beta-glucans manage to do that is still not a 100% clear, but scientific research proved the immune modulating effect many times, in vivo (animal tests), in vitro (laboratory tests) and in clinical trials (with sometimes hundreds of human participants). All medicinal mushrooms contain these beta-glucans. In Chaga the percentage is not particularly high, though – the medicinal mushroom with the highest level is the Agaricus blazei (up to 35-40% beta-glucans in a quality extract, twice the amount found in a Chaga extract). Do not make the mistake to mix up polysaccharides and beta-glucans; although all beta-glucans are polysaccharides, not all polysaccharides are beta-glucans!

The lipid (non-water soluble) fraction also contains potent therapeutic components, some of which are unique to Chaga.



Chinese extraction facility


Phyto-sterols are powerful therapeutic ingredients; of the phyto-sterols present in Chaga 45% is lanosterol, 25% inotodiol and the remaining 30% consists of ergosterol, fecosterol and several others. In vivo and in vitro research showed a direct anti-cancer effect of both lanosterol and inotodiol. Lanosterol also has an anti-viral effect.

Betulin and betulinic acid are two components unique to Chaga – it derives them from the birches on which it grows. Betulin and betulinic acid are powerful therapeutic agents that are currently being researched for their anti-viral action (i.p. anti-HIV) and their anti-cancer action (in both cases animal tests showed great potential). They also have cholesterol-lowering effects; a recent report found them to be able to break down cholesterol in the bloodstream, instead of just preventing its absorption (the more common approach). A major problem of these two components is their poor bioavailability, though.

Although several internet sources state that Chaga contains both betulin and betulinic acid in a digestible form we have not been able to find any base for this claim. Chaga does not contain high percentages of these components; ± 2% is about the maximum achievable (in an extract). Several websites nevertheless do claim high percentages (we’ve come across claims up to 5 %) in their Chaga products, but without exception they cannot show a Certificate of Analysis backing this up, nor does the ‘supplement facts’ label on their product list betulinic acid. It is against the law to provide unverifiable or false information on the supplement facts label.

Chaga will have different properties, depending on where it has been harvested, just like oranges from California have different properties than oranges from Sri Lanka. So far, Chaga that grew under extreme environmental conditions was found to have the highest therapeutic potency. Although Russian scientists were the first to research Chaga, almost all of the more recent research is done in SE-Asia, using samples from areas such as N-Korea, the Changbai mountains (China) and Hokkaido (Japan).

Sometimes research is using cultivated Chaga, but it is obvious that the outcome of this research should be strictly separated from the results achieved with wild-harvested Chaga. Cultivated Chaga can and will have a different composition and therapeutic properties, depending on the conditions under which it was grown (different types of substrate, environmental conditions, etc.). Wild Chaga takes three to five years before it can be harvested; it is clear its qualities will not be matched by a cultivated petri-dish product that is only several weeks old.

And another, very important point to keep in mind is this (it was already touched upon): many of Chaga’s therapeutically interesting metabolites appear to develop only as a side effect of the harsh environment which it tends to favor and the on-going struggle with the trees defense systems. Cultivated Chaga is not involved in a struggle for survival, and therefore will not develop these secondary metabolites. Cultivation techniques must be improved significantly and should be standardized before they can produce reliable Chaga of a consistent quality with therapeutic properties.

Some Chaga producers are currently already selling cultivated Chaga, using the therapeutic properties of wild-harvested Chaga to market it to their customers. This is misleading, to say the least. Read ‘The Future of Chaga(below) for additional details.


Anti-oxidants


The biological processes that make our body function are fueled by oxidative processes, such as digesting our food and breathing. As the word ‘oxidative’ already implies, it does involve oxygen. Uncontrolled oxidation can be the onset of many diseases, such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis, and of course the degenerative processes associated with aging. Apart from that, a side effect of oxidation is the production of so-called ‘free radicals’, which can cause cellular damage. Our body has its own built-in antioxidant defense systems to deal with these threats, as part of our immune system. When this is unbalanced or starts declining because of factors such as stress and aging, deterioration of physiological functions may occur, resulting in diseases and accelerated aging.


Close up of Chaga sclerotium – the hard black outside is the main source of antioxidant elements.


Some foods contain powerful antioxidants, like fresh fruits, honey, tea and olives. The bioactives responsible for this antioxidant action are in particular polyphenols and natural phenols. In Chaga these are mainly found in the black outside of the fungus, the sclerotium. This sclerotium contains massive amounts of the natural black pigment known as melanin, which has a high antioxidant potential.

The antioxidant potency of a food or supplement can be expressed in an ORAC-score – the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. The ORAC scale (developed by the USDA) is combining the ORAC power of both the water-solubles (ORAC-hydro) and the non-water solubles (ORAC-lipo) in order to compare different common foods on their anti-oxidant potential. Chaga can have a very high ORAC-score, depending on where it has been harvested, under which conditions it did grow and how it has been processed. It is wrong to state ‘Chaga has a very high ORAC rating’ just like that – we’ve seen ORAC values ranging from ± 5200 (Chaga International) up to ± 146,000 (Oriveda Chaga extract) units per 100 grams. Since Chaga is a natural product, its properties can and will be different from one batch to another.  Apart from that, unprocessed, non-extracted Chaga has almost no direct anti-oxidant power since it is indigestible by humans, like all other mushrooms.

SOD is another abbreviation one sees often; it refers to a group of enzymes called SuperOxide Dismutases. These enzymes are present in human cells and also play an important role in protecting our body against the destructive effects of uncontrolled oxidation and free radicals. The levels of these SOD decrease with aging.

SOD are also present in Chaga, where they play an essential role in cell survival, in particular during host invasion. When it is infected with an aggressive pathogenic fungus like Chaga the birch tree is using its own defense mechanisms to fight its attacker. Chaga is using SOD as part of its continuos struggle to survive and to expand, ultimately resulting in the host tree’s death, after which the fungus can finally develop its fruiting body, spread its spores and will also die. (The health gurus that proclaim that Chaga is either a part of the tree’s immune system (Cass Ingram) or has a symbiotic relation with the tree (David Wolfe) could not be more wrong).

SOD potency can be expressed as S-ORAC, although the S-ORAC assay (developed by Brunswick Labs, MA) is not limited to only SOD activity when it is analyzing the ability of the product to neutralize superoxide anion (free radicals that can cause DNA and cell damage). SOD is only one of the anti-oxidants in Chaga.

A very important point that is always left out by supplement sellers: taking SOD orally is mostly useless, unless it is taken in a time release capsule or tablet. SOD is destroyed by our stomach acid before it can reach the small intestines, where it should be absorbed. However, Chaga stimulates the production of SOD in our own body, so it is still very worthwhile to take a Chaga extract.

Many Chaga producers are using ORAC values and SOD values when marketing their Chaga products. The values given should be indicative of Chaga’s ability to neutralize oxidative stress, to fix and prevent DNA damage caused by free radicals, to provide geno-protective qualities and to protect against the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation (like in sunlight) and gamma radiation. In laymen’s terms antioxidant power can be compared to ‘anti-rust and polishing for the body and its inner organs‘.

It was not difficult to find out that the ORAC and SOD levels quoted online are in almost all cases made up or were copy/pasted from some unverifiable source and have no relation to the specific product being advertised. Almost none of the Chaga producers ever spent money on researching their product’s properties.


A basic hot water extract (freeze dried) and a full spectrum dual extract (spray dried). The dual extract’s particle size is much smaller but the total volume is larger. This means better absorption and solubility, which improves bioavailability and therefore therapeutic effect.


The Tufts University is said to have tested Chaga for its anti-oxidant power, comparing it against other foods. This seems unlikely: Tufts is one of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Centers and investigating everyday food and its properties. Chaga is not an everyday food, it is not even considered an edible mushroom.

Apart from this, we were unable to find a source for these online statements and the accompanying SOD value, so we’ve contacted the Tufts University and found out they’ve indeed never tested Chaga, only other foods as part of their USDA support function. The figures mentioned are inventions and completely false.

A SOD level of 36,557 (36,557 what ? Units per gram, per 100 grams, per liter ?) is also seen often – but again, no indication were this stems from. We are quite sure this is also a completely false figure. It again proves most online Chaga sellers are not well-informed and merely eager to market and sell their products, using everything at hand that might help them in the process.

Despite all this, Chaga is indeed a very powerful antioxidant; in particular extracts that are a combination of hot water and ethanol extraction were found to have very high levels of antioxidant power.


Chaga: Fukushima and radioactive contamination


Mushrooms are notorious for absorbing and concentrating heavy metals and radionuclides. This is something to keep in mind when collecting wild mushrooms in urban areas and close to highways.

Since the Fukushima disaster (March 11th, 2011) some American supplement sellers spread the rumor that Siberian and Chinese Chaga could no longer be trusted; it’s ‘soaked with radioactivity‘. In Germany the Chernobyl disaster (1987) is still considered a valid reason to avoid Siberian Chaga in particular.

How realistic are these statements ?

First, the Chernobyl blast. It took place 25 years ago. Trees that were infected with Chaga at that time died about 5 to 10 years ago, keeping in mind that “the period from initial infection to tree death varies with the number of infection sites and tree resistance, but is typically around 20 years“.  It is highly unlikely contaminated Chaga from that time is in circulation. Another fact to keep in mind is the general rule to test exported Chaga for radionuclides like Caesium-137 and Strontium-90 in Russia.

Second, the Fukushima disaster. The American and Canadian supplement sellers that are spreading the rumors about Fukushima contamination are basing this on the concept that China and Siberia are ‘close’ to Japan. This is not relevant, though, as the picture below shows clearly. This picture shows the ground deposition of radioactive Caesium-137, less than one month after the Fukushima disaster took place. It speaks for itself: the Asian continent has almost no contamination with the exception of Russia’s Far East (and Japan of course), but the N-American continent is a different story.



Picture taken from this site, where the full story (updated June 2013) can be found. For full sized picture click here


The reason for this is that the major jet streams on Earth are westerly winds (flowing west to east). Radioactive fallout is carried away from the Asian continent by these jet streams towards the American continent, at a speed of > 100 miles/hour (160 km/hour).

Summarising, collecting and consuming wild Japanese, Canadian or American Chaga (or other mushrooms) is probably not a good idea in the affected areas, unless it has been tested for radio-active contamination. Chinese and Siberian Chaga is perfectly safe, though.

Check this link for a movie dynamically showing the spread of Fukushima fallout: http://cerea.enpc.fr/HomePages/bocquet/Doc/fukushima-Cs137-wide-2.swf


Chaga: Summary of actions


  • Balances the immune system, optimizes the natural resistance against diseases and infections

    Chaga is a natural BRM (Biological Response Modifier). It not only stimulates the body’s immune function when necessary, but can also slow it down when it’s overactive. In short, it will normalize the immune function, what classifies Chaga as an adaptogenic. The beta-glucans appear to be mainly responsible for that property, but many researchers believe it is actually the synergy between several, if not all constituents that is responsible for the full range of this adaptogenic action. Because of this property Chaga can be used to neutralize the side effects of pharmaceuticals, to compensate the age-related decline of our immune function, to neutralize genetic immune-disorders (like many auto-immune diseases) and, in general, to help us to deal with all the stresses of modern life. Stress (mental, physical, chemical, environmental – the change of seasons, urban life, pollution, etc..- ) has an enormous negative impact on our resistance.

  • Anti-inflammatory, anti-viral

    These properties are linked to the immune supporting properties, of course. Apart from that, the antioxidants in Chaga can have a positive effect on inflammations. Betulinic acid (a unique component of Chaga) is currently being researched for its anti-HIV properties.

  • Anti-ulcer, anti-gastritis properties

    In folk medicine Chaga was used often to treat gastritis and related gastrointestinal problems. Again, the immune support of Chaga plays an important role here, both in treating and prevention of these problems, but betulinic acid and the phytosterols present in Chaga also play a role. Most ulcers are caused by bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori. A well functioning immune system will be able to deal with this pathogen.

  • Anti-cancer adjuvant – decreases the side effects of chemo-therapy and other aggressive medication

    Chaga has proven to be very effective in supporting standard cancer treatments such as chemo-therapy and radiation. It can compensate the devastating effect these treatments can have on the immune system (causing side effects like nausea, insomnia, poor appetite, fatigue, etc. – these side effects are often the result of a compromized immune function.) It helps preventing metastasis (cancer cells traveling through the bloodstream should be neutralized by the immune system before they can cause harm). Chaga can significantly contribute to the quality of life during and after treatment this way.

    Furthermore, research suggests that Chaga itself might have a anti-cancer potential, in particular during the early stages of cancer. The betulinic acid and some of the phytosterols present showed the ability to kill cancer cells directly. How this works exactly is the subject of several theories. So, Chaga has both an indirect (by stimulating the immune system to battle cancer-cells) and potentially a direct (by causing apoptosis [=programmed cell death]) effect during cancer treatments. Anti-tumor activity was only found in extracts prepared by lengthy heating or decocting, infusions prepared by steeping the raw material where not active against the tested tumors.

  • Anti-oxidant properties, revitalizing, anti-aging

    A high quality extract should include the sclerotium ( the black outside layer ) of the Chaga. This is important, because this sclerotium contains a massive amount of a specific fungi-melanin, giving good extracts a very high level of anti-oxidants and turning Chaga into powerful anti-aging tool. Research showed DNA-regenerating and re-vitalizing properties. The whole body will benefit from this; you will look better (skin and hair) and your organs will function better.

    Antioxidant power can be expressed in an ORAC-value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity).

  • Normalizes cholesterol levels, beneficial for the cardiovascular system, supports a healthy bloodpressure

    Research showed betulinic acid (a compound unique to Chaga) to be able to break down ‘bad’ cholesterol in the bloodstream. Besides that the ß-glucans, part of the polysaccharides in Chaga also have a proven positive effect on cholesterol levels. By normalizing those levels Chaga contributes to lowering high blood pressure and promotes a healthy cardio-vascular system: less plaque, stronger arteries.

  • No side effects and no contra indications

    One of the many benefits of using a full-spectrum Chaga extract is that it has no side effects at all. Chaga is merely stimulating the body to heal itself. There is no potential disturbance of the body’s chemical and hormonal balance. This makes medicinal mushrooms like Chaga the ideal supplement for everybody.The only contra-indication are immune suppressing medicines (e.g. cyclosporin containing products, used after a transplant). Never use medicinal mushroom extracts together with this type of medication – the immune modulating effect might neutralize its workings.


Black birch forest – the home of Chaga


The future of Chaga


Commercial Chaga harvesting has a long history in Russia although, until a decade ago, it was mostly marketed within the country. Wild-harvested Chaga is currently in great demand because of the internet-driven hype. Unfortunately, it needs several years to develop before it becomes therapeutically useful, so some say that in the future natural resources might not be able to keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

According to Russian sources 1 – 20% of birches show signs of infection, depending on the location. Researcher David Pilz came to the conclusion that the Chaga resource in Russia is so immense, that even under the most pessimistic estimates it will likely never be biologically threatened. However, it is very well possible that it soon will be no longer economically viable to go deeper and deeper into the forest to collect Chaga for large scale export. Wild-harvested Siberian Chaga will become too expensive.

For many medicinal fungi cultivation is much more cost-effective than collecting them in the wild. This would definitely be applicable to Chaga, which, as said before, takes quite some effort to collect. However, cultivated Chaga will not have the therapeutic power of wild-harvested Chaga.

Chaga is different from other medicinal wood-rot fungi because, as said before, the Chaga conk and the constituents it contains have developed as a result of the battle between the fungus and the defense mechanisms of the host birch tree.


It is unlikely we’ll see large scale Chaga cultivation, comparable to this field of edible Cloud Ear fungi in China


Research showed a significant difference in composition between extracts based on wild-harvested Chaga and those based on cultivated Chaga. Sterol composition and phenolic compounds were completely different. The therapeutic effect of these compounds was also much lower (± 50%) or even absent, when compared with wild-harvested Chaga. It is generally believed that polyphenols like melanins are secondary metabolites and not required for growth or development of the fungus, but merely aiding the fungus in dealing successfully with factors in its natural harsh habitat. Cultivated Chaga therefore contains almost none of these therapeutically interesting elements. Active ingredients like betulin and betulinic acid are also missing.

Attempts at cultivation using dead birches failed; this confirms the claim that Chaga develops exclusively on live trees. There are some reports that cultivation using living trees was successful, but even then, Chaga needs at least 3-5 years before it can be harvested for the first time. It will still be relatively expensive.

Cultivation techniques must be improved significantly and standardized before they can produce reliable high-quality Chaga with similar therapeutic properties as the wild-harvested version. Much more research is needed in this area.


References


  • А. В. Кавкин Лечение деревьями, Советский Спорт, Москва (2002) с. 175-180.
  • А. Артемова, Береза исцеляющая и омолаживающая, Диля, Москва – Санкт-Петербург, 2001, с. 29-32.
  • К. П. Балицкий, А.Л. Воронцова, Лекарственные растения и рак, Наукова думка, Киев, 1982, с. 143-151.
  • В. М. Кулемзин, Человек и природа в верованиях хантов. Томск, 1984, 196 с. Монография.
  • В. М. Кулемзин, Н.В. Лукина, Васюганско-ваховские ханты в конце ХIХ – начале ХХ вв. Этнографические очерки, Томск, 1977. 225 с.
  • Н.В. Лукина, Народные средства по сохранению здоровья и жизни у во­сточных хантов / Тезисы Всесоюзной конференции 10-12 марта 1972 года// Этнографические аспекты изучения народной медицины. – Ленинград, 1975. – с. 26-27.
  • Лукина Н.В. Заметки о системе питания хантов // Западная Сибирь в эпо­ху средневековья, Изд-во Томского ун-та, Томск, 1984, с. 168-179.
  • Sekiba F. An account of Ainu medicine. In: A collection of materials on the Ainu history. Private publication (in Japanese), 1895.
  • Hutchens, Alma R., (1973) Indian Herbology (sic) of North America. Merco, Windsor, Ont., Canada
  • Otzi the iceman – a special museum was dedicated to him, containing all his belongings
  • П.А. Якимов, М.Ф. Ступак, Чага и ее лечебное применение при раке IV стадии, Медгиз, Ленинград, 1959. с. 50-54.
  • Watanabe O, Abe T, Kawakami M, Kakimoto M (2005) Antioxidation by water-soluble lignin-like substance from a northern terrain basidiomycetes, Fuscoporia obliqua. Bull Hokkaido Food Processing Res Center. 6 : 13-6.
  • Kahlos, K. and Hiltunen, R. 1983. ‘Identification of some lanostane type triterpenes from Inonotus Obliquus’. Acta. Pharm. Fenn., 92, 220
  • Kahlos, K. and Hiltunen, R. 1985. ‘Sterols and triterpenes in Inonotus Obliquus’. Acta. Agron., 34, 82
  • Kahlos, K. and Hiltunen, R. 1986. ‘Anti-tumor tests of Inotodiol from the fungus Inonotus Obliquus’. Acta. Pharm. Fenn., 95, 173-7
  • Yong Cui, et.al;(2005) Antioxidant effect of Inonotus obliquus. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 96, p.79–85
  • ZHENG Wei-Fa, et.al.; (2008) Phenolic compounds from Inonotus obliquus and their immune-stimulating effects. Mycosystema 27(4): 574-581
  • ZHENG Wei-Fa, et.al.; (2007) Sterol composition in field-grown and cultured mycelia of Inonotus obliquus. Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica 42(7); 750-756
  • Sharikova, L.A. et.al.; (2010) Standardisation of Chaga tincture and Befungin. Pharmaceutical Chemistry Journal, Vol. 44(3) p. 35-37
  • David Pilz (2004) Chaga and Other Fungal Resources – Assessment of Sustainable Commercial Harvesting in Khabarovsk and Primorsky Krais, Russia. PilzWald Forestry Applications of Mycology (assessment report)
  • JACEK PIĘTKA and ANDRZEJ GRZYWACZ; (2006) Attempts at active protection of Inonotus obliquus by inoculating birches with its mycelium. ACTA MYCOLOGICA Vol. 41 (2): 305-312

For more downloadable resources (Chaga and other medicinal mushrooms) visit this webpage.

The ORIVeDA Chaga extract has the following specs:

  • vegetarian capsules @ 300 mg
  • wild-harvested Siberian Chaga, dual extracted
  • 100% bio-availability
  • ≥ 50% polysaccharides (≥ 39% (1>3)(1>6)Beta-D-Glucans)
  • ≥ 1.5% betulinic acid (1.5% = 15000 ppm)
  • zinc level 68 μg/gram*
  • selenium level 0.055 μg/gram*
  • S-ORAC value 719,500 μmole TE/100 grams*
  • ORAC value 119,600 μmole TE/100 grams*
  • Total phenolics 102.04 mg GAE/gram*

*These are the results of a recent analysis (December 2012) – COA’s available on request.

For information about why using extracts instead of powder or tinctures is essential for therapeutic purposes, click here.

Copyright © oriveda.com 2012-2013 – all rights reserved.

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47 thoughts on “Chaga – The Facts

  1. Very good article but I would like to rectify your statement; Otzy was indeed carrying chaga. The archeologists only classified it under “Minerals and tools”. They believe chaga was used to carry fire, which was most probably the case but I’m sure Otzy knew better!
    http://www.iceman.it/en/node/286

    Also, according to my Chinese sources, chaga is mentioned in the original versions of the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing. What are your references?
    I enjoy reading your blog!
    Phil

  2. Hi, Phil,
    Thank you for your comments. Glad you liked the article.

    As for Ötzi, there is a link in the references that states that DNA-profiling was used to determine the exact mushrooms he was carrying. The link you gave has a picture that indeed looks a lot like Chaga but is actually charred wood. Even on that small picture you can see the structure (wood fibres) which is very different from Chaga’s structure; which is more granular in appearance. Also, I’m pretty sure they used NMR and DNA profiling on that piece as well, keeping in mind how thorough their investigations have been.

    We used both the ‘original’ Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (there are several versions available) in Chinese and the translated version (English); The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica.
    There is no mention of Chaga under any of the known Chinese names.
    Yun Zhi and Ling Zhi are mentioned, but not Chaga. Not surprising, since Chaga is only found in one remote place in the North of China, unlike the others, which are very common.

  3. Pingback: CLNA (Chaga Lovers Non-Anonymous) « Green Racing Project Blog

  4. Thanks for such a thorough post on chaga. I just got some from a friend of mine who harvests it and wanted to learn a little more about it before I made some tea. All my questions have been answered, as well as opening my eyes to being a more conscious consumer of health supplements in the future!

  5. very thorough article……..I collect,consume, and am considering selling some chaga to a health food store who is in short supply……….I live in central Saskatchewan Canada in the heart of the boreal forest and chaga can be quite hard to find, although in certain areas the birch stands have higher amounts of infected trees…………a question of mine is if a person “boils” the tea longer at a lower temperature (where the water is just circulating in the pot…..not actually boiling) will this technique possibly bring out more of the “good” properties and make them more readily available to the body……….thanks for your time…….this site seems to be the best site regarding chaga on the internet that I have found

    • Hi, Alan,
      I can’t tell you what the most effective way is to release the water-solubles from raw Chaga, the slow way or the fast way, both might actually have the same effect, with the only difference being the time involved. Also have a look at the entry about Chaga tea, elsewhere on this blog, describing how Russians were preparing their Chaga tea, using a samovar.

      However, the yield of beta-glucans using a DIY method like the Russian samovar is significantly lower when compared to professional hot water extraction. An article in Choice magazine, published by the Hong Kong Consumer Council some time ago, also points this out. They compared a home-made Reishi tea (Reishi is comparable to Chaga; a woody fungus) with a professionally produced hot water extract. The study team used 15 grams of dried red Reishi slices and boiled them in 300 cc (about one bowl) of water for an hour.

      The lab analysis showed that the amount of polysaccharides extracted was about 0.068 grams (± 0.45%), so the study concluded that the DIY method is labour intensive, much more expensive and less effective than consuming ready-made industrially processed Reishi products, which can contain up to 50% of polysaccharides.

      High quality extraction facilities perform hot water extraction in a pressure vessel (pressure = 10-20 kg/cm2) to prevent disintegration of the beta-glucans. It seems that prolonged boiling of the Chaga will cause decomposing of the beta-glucans, but doing so under pressure prevents this from happening.

      The intended effect of hot water extraction is to break/’melt’ the bonds between the chitin and the beta-glucans in order to release the therapeutically interesting beta-glucans and thus make them bioavailable. Chitin is also an allergen, so it’s best to get rid of it.

      We just updated this entry with a paragraph about Chaga and radioactivity – might be interesting for you since you live in the Saskatchewan area in Canada, which has been contaminated significantly by fallout from the Fukushima disaster. Using raw Chaga or other mushrooms from that area might not be a healthy choice anymore.

  6. i have a question to the fokushima part of this article. is the yukon chaga save? looks like we are in the close to 0 outfall area ,but why is there a minus part to the picture. shure i can learn something here.would be awesome to get an honest answer.i just harvested yesterday and dont know if i wonna prosses it now…sad isnt it? cheers holly

    • Hello Holly,

      We recommend to go to the website where the picture is taken from (link is in the description) and read the full explanation. We’re not experts on the subject of radioactivity. According to the original picture (and this was 2011!) some fall-out came down in the Yukon area, only the dark blue areas on the map can be considered untouched. The picture has been updated in June 2013 – see the comment further down (07/2013) for links to both the original (April 2011) and an updated (June 2013) picture – showing the increase of fallout deposition on the N-American continent.

      Since Chaga has the reputation to accumulate heavy metals and radionuclides it might be best to leave it at the tree for the next 30 years at least (Caesium-137 has a half-life of ± 30years) to be on the safe side.

  7. Thanks for the thorough, much needed summary of chaga and it’s properties. Regarding the radiation due to Fokushima — according to the figure in the article, the source of Oriveda’s extract (Siberia) is from an area that is considered unsafe. Can you comment on that?

    • You must be misinterpreting the map.ORIVeDA Chaga comes from Irkutsk, next to Lake Baikal. This area is untouched.

      The only part of Asian Russia that is seriously affected is Yakutiya and the Chukchi peninsula (Chukotka), at the Bering street. These regions are officially not part of Siberia; have a look at this map, where the red and light-red areas show geographical Siberia.

      But even if you consider these areas as part of Siberia, you should realise that the majority of birch forests (and Chaga) are found in south-west and south Siberia. Like, around Lake Baikal / Irkutsk, where, as said before, the Chaga used for ORIVeDA’s Chaga products comes from. These areas have not been contaminated at all.

      The areas close to the Pacific ocean; (Khabarovsk Krai and Primorsky Krai) are also providing Chaga for export, but according to the map these areas are almost untouched (Bq.m level = 0.0).

      Furthermore, the habit to check for radio-nuclides in Russian Chaga will weed out contaminated Chaga, if it pops up.

  8. Okay, thanks, that makes sense. “Siberia” as defined both historically and currently encompasses a great geographic area and since I work (as a biologist) mainly in Beringia, I have grown used to people equating “Siberia” with “Eastern Siberia” or western Beringia. Perhaps this specific locale information is available on the Oriveda products; I was simply going on what was provided on the information presented in the product specification box above.

  9. Couple questions for you- I don’t see the research credentials you claim from other research reports- do you have these? I in fact find Chaga from Northern MN where the birch forests are nearly untouched. My father is a trapper and is out on ‘undiscovered’ land or more so VERY rural areas that he can find it in abundance- you pretty much state that this has been affected by the radioactive fallout? I don’t see this stated very well or where? Can you please point this out more clearly? Thank you!
    Meg

    • Hello Meg,

      Thank you for your questions.

      The link to the main article about the fallout from Fukushima is below the picture that shows the contaminated areas: http://cerea.enpc.fr/en/fukushima.html. This particular article was written shortly after the event took place. The picture has been updated in June 2013; there are probably more and more recent articles if you use Google.

      The latest -updated with the latest sample test data- picture (June 2013) can be seen here – http://cerea.enpc.fr/HomePages/bocquet/Doc/cumulated_total_deposition_ground_fukushima-2.png – .

      The original April 2011 picture -mostly based on computer modelling- can be seen here: – http://cerea.enpc.fr/HomePages/bocquet/Doc/cumulated_total_deposition_ground_fukushima.png -.

      The problem is that one cannot state that just because an area is rural, ‘undiscovered’ or looks pristine that it is not affected. Looks are deceiving. Like, not all sick people appear sick.

      Fallout is deposited by the wind (here: the jet stream). Because mushrooms and Chaga in particular absorb radionuclides easily and accumulate them we don’t think it is a good idea to use wild-harvested (and untested) Chaga from the affected areas. You don’t know what you are consuming, exactly.

  10. After researching these maps- it appears this is a simulation of what COULD have happened with the jet stream not exactly what actually happened. Before stating that these areas a affected it is important to state it is an assumption. If these areas were affected (not for consumption) imagine the other contaminated ….well, everything then that could grow from the ground and anything that is porous would absorb it.

    • The second map (as shown in the monograph) is an update (June 2013) of the first map (May 2011) which was based on incomplete ‘source term data’ (the Japanese were constantly downplaying the graveness of the event and the amounts of radioactivity involved, as we now know).

      So, it is not just a theoretical model, if that is what you think. It is based on both modelling and actual environmental data. When comparing the original 2011 picture with the updated 2013 picture (updated with new ‘source term data’ AND environmental sample-based data) it is obvious that the original modelling was quite accurate.

      Environmental samples taken in the last 2 years made it possible to update the map and make it more accurate. Also have a look at the articles below (among others). In particular the first one, dealing with the effect of Fukushima on Lituania (three quarters around the world) is very thorough and shows additional maps of the regions which were affected. It is obvious from all research data that North America/Canada was affected the most.

      http://onprinciplealone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/plutonium_litauen.pdf
      http://art-science-world.com/science/Text/Fukushima-estimation.pdf
      http://www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.net/11/28319/2011/acpd-11-28319-2011.pdf

      some quotes:

      [...]This first guess was subsequently improved by inverse modeling, which combined the first guess with the results of an atmospheric transport model, FLEXPART, and measurement data from several dozen stations in Japan, North America and other regions.[...]

      [...]The plume was [...] dispersed quickly over the entire Northern Hemisphere, first reaching North America on 15 March [2011] and Europe on 22 March [2011]. In general, simulated and observed concentrations of 133-Xe and 137-Cs both at Japanese as well as at remote sites were in good quantitative agreement with each other.[...]

      What makes all this relevant to this Chaga monograph is the fact that Chaga easily absorbs and ACCUMULATES radionuclides over time. With significantly elevated levels of these radionuclides present in North America the amounts accumulated in local Chaga might reach potentially dangerous levels.

      We strongly believe it is best to leave Chaga on the tree for at least the coming 30 years (after which a new generation of Chaga will have started to develop; plus 30 years is also the halftime of Caesium 137).

      Businesses dealing with American/Canadian Chaga should have it tested for radionuclides, just like in Russia. In our opinion it would be irresponsible not to do so.

      • I am also harvesting chaga in Northern MN. I see the concerns with Fukushima, however, how do account for the Chernobyl disaster? According to the maps that was exponentially worse and covered Russia and Asia.

      • Thank you for your comment. The Chernobyl thing is addressed in the article:

        [....]Chernobyl blast. It took place 25 years ago. Trees that were infected with Chaga at that time died about 5 to 10 years ago, keeping in mind that “the period from initial infection to tree death varies with the number of infection sites and tree resistance, but is typically around 20 years“. It is highly unlikely contaminated Chaga from that time is in circulation. Another fact to keep in mind is the general rule to test exported Chaga for radionuclides like Caesium-137 and Strontium-90 in Russia.[....]

        On top of that these radionuclides have a half-life of ± 20-30 years, meaning half of the radioactivity is already gone by now.

  11. Greatly satisfied with your article. Thank you for your thorough work and effort. and I have a question.

    In the article I found,
    “The only contra-indication are immune suppressing medicines (e.g. cyclosporin containing products, used after a transplant). Never use ‘medicinal mushroom extracts together with this type of medication – the immune modulating effect might neutralize its workings”

    I was this close to buying chaga-related products before I read this part. I’m not under organ-trasplant procedure but however I’m taking cyclosporin because of auto-immune diseases which attacked my lungs(it’s pretty bad). All the other benefits I can get from consuming Chaga is really needed, but I’m afraid taking chaga-related products might have negative effect on my medication if what you mentioned above is true. Is there any source that indicates side-effect of chaga with patients taking cyclosporin?

    Thanks,
    Sean.

    • Hello Sean,

      There is no specific research that backs up this assumption as far as we know. Because it is an assumption, based on the logic that immune modulating constituents as found in e.g. Chaga and immune suppressing drugs will work against each other.

      If you want to take Chaga nevertheless, you should consult your doctor first and discuss this with him/her. There is even a chance that the balancing effect of Chaga can replace the cyclosporin, depending on the graveness of your auto-immune condition. E.g taking Chaga for a few weeks (it takes some time for the body to respond to a natural BMR such as Chaga) and then slowly lowering the cyclosporin intake and see if your auto-immune condition changes. But this is experimental and requires medical monitoring. You should consult your doctor.

    • No. Only Chaga on living trees is reliable. Chaga on dead trees is most likely already affected by moulds, insects and whatnot. However, if you keep going back to the tree you might be able to witness a rare event: the appearance of the fruiting body!

  12. Excellent write-up!
    Questions: Stamets quotes K. Kahlos, A Lesnau, W. Lange and U. Lindequist in their 1996 study “Preliminary tests of antiviral activity of two Inonotus obliquus strains” in Fitopterapia as finding that Chaga black skin has 30% betulin. Whats up with that?

    • Thanks for the thumbs up!

      As for the Kahlos article, we have no access to the original article (originally published 1996) so we can’t verify it. Paul Stamets states that the Kahlos article states ’30% betulin’. Half the internet is quoting him now to underline Chaga’s potential as a medicinal mushroom, probably in part because it fits the global desire for a ‘super-product’.

      But even a renowned mycologist like Stamets makes grave mistakes.
      As an example, he states that Chaga grows and can be cultivated on dead trees in his book ‘Mycellium Running’. This is wrong, it never grows on dead trees, it develops only as a parasite causing white rot inside living trees, after some time bursting to the outside (see the pictures at the beginning of the monograph). The Chaga conk (a dense mass of hyphae / mycelia ) has no pores, only the fruiting body has pores, he is mixing them up often (like the majority of people, including most ‘experts’ and scientists). These are major mistakes for a renowned mycologist.

      But back to the question: the statement by Kahlos that Chaga contains up to 30% betulin in its sclerotia is the only reference of this in literature. One reference only makes this a non-convincing claim. All the more, because our own research (testing Chaga repeatedly for betulin/betulinic acid using HPLC) never showed amounts of over 3 %, which is already unusually high.

      It might be a typo, or a result based on flawed or non-standard testing methods. We don’t know.

      But in our opinion, it again proves that you shouldn’t believe everything you read, even when it comes from a reputable source like Stamets. Be critical and always look for verification!

  13. Hi Daniel, Thank you VERY much for doing this exhaustive monograph. I had many questions about Inonotus Obliquus and you’ve laid nearly all of them to rest.

    I live in Finland and a few days ago stumbled into what I suspected was Chaga near my apartment. Aware of its qualities as good tinder I took a small piece and brought it home to study. When I learned of its medicinal qualities my heart thumped. Yes! Super!

    Thanks to what I’ve learned I want to begin gathering more of it and putting it to good use. Before doing so, I want to make absolutely sure that I’m not hurting either the trees or the mushrooms. I don’t want to risk damaging future supplies of it. Sources agree that infected trees will die in ~20 years. However, the fate of the mushroom is not so clear. Some sources state that cutting more than 30% of the canker will eventually kill the mushroom (it will not be able to re-grow, and will die in about a year). You state, though, that “After about 3-5 years the Chaga can be harvested. After harvesting, chaga can regrow to harvestable size again in three to ten years, and this can be repeated until the tree dies. Chopping off the Chaga does not stop the infection.”

    1. “After about 3-5 years…” -not clear on when this interval begins. Do you mean, from the first appearance of the canker? or …?
    2. How much of the chaga canker can I safely harvest without hurting its ability to recover? Whole? or part?
    3. If there are multiple masses on the same tree is it O.K. to take them all?

    Again, thanks VERY much for your help. Looking forward to reading your response!

    • Hello Frances,

      First of all, I am not Daniel Vitalis, his picture is only included in the beginning of the monograph as a reference to health gurus in general.

      As for your questions: if people state that you can kill the mushroom by cutting off the external ‘Chaga’ conk, they are most likely reasoning as if the ‘Chaga’ is a fruiting body. If you chop off a fruiting body to close to the ground, it might not regrow. But Chaga is not a fruiting body. Here is a picture of the Chaga fruiting body : Chaga fruiting body

      As said in the article, what we call ‘Chaga’ is a dense mass of mycelia, that has burst from the inside of the tree while developing. It is not possible to kill a fungus by removing only part of its mycelia. So IMO you can chop off the external Chaga close to the tree. Be aware that if you get too close you might include wood from the tree, so beware of that.

      I don’t know when the 3.5 – 5 years interval begins. I guess when the Chaga conk starts showing its face, because it is not possible to see whether a tree is infected or not until this happens.

      You can chop off all Chaga on a tree. The actual living fungus is inside the tree, it does not grow on the tree like most people think, but comes bursting from the the core, as is illustrated in the beginning of the monograph. Also see these pictures:
      Chaga infection
      Chaga infection

  14. Very interesting article.
    One question: I have read that if one takes aspirin type products or Advil, you should not consume chaga. Your views on this statement would be appreciated

    • Hello Jean,

      I have read that as well, but have no idea on which research this is based. Was it this article ? Chaga does not contain blood thinning nucleosides such as adenosine (like Cordyceps and Reishi) AFAIK. I think the statement is nonsense.

      This ‘Sharecare’ website contains a lot of poor information IMO, so I would not rely on their opinion just like that. Try to find a more reliable source to validate their statements. As an example, on this question: “If I take chaga supplements, how much should I take?” they give answers that make no sense at all, like take “10 drops” or “7-10 grams Chaga powder” without taking into account that, first of all, not all supplements are of equal potency and, second, also leaving out the bioavailability aspect, which is probably the most important of all.

      My guess is they just copied information from outside websites without making too much of an effort to verify the copied statements.

  15. Awesome information. My question is, have there been any studies done on chaga use for children? I have read a lot of info about it not being safe for children under 12, and pregnant women. Do you know of any conclusive studies that have been done in this area? and what is your opinion around this subject? Just asking out of curiosity as I didn’t see it covered in your info.

    I live in Atlantic Canada and am just learning about chaga. I am very interested in its benefits due to my own ailments, and have been looking for something to help my condition without all of the negative side effects of conventional drugs. I have harvested some of my own and will try some soon using methods shown to me by a local individual whom has had some very good results. After trying my own, I plan on trying some of the products mentioned on this site to compare the results.

    • As far as I know, no studies about Chaga and children have been done.

      We have given our 4 year-old girl Chaga (one capsule per day) since she was one year old and she is in excellent health. No runny nose, no flu, even when the whole kindergarten is sick. I have no clue where the statement that Chaga is not good for children stems from. Are children also not allowed to eat mushrooms such as the basic button mushroom ? They are. Chaga is not that different, it’s just food but with medicinal qualities.

  16. Thank you for your thorough, informative and unbiased article on Chaga. I recently picked up a package of wild harvested raw Canadian Chaga (distributer in Ontario) from a reputable health food supermarket. I was seeking something to treat several physical conditions: 9 weeks post double-mastectomy and reconstruction surgery for stage 3 grade 3 cancer, truncal lymphedema, detox/liver support after 3 weeks of viral infection causing massive whole body histamine release immediately followed by two large axial abscesses treated with iv antibiotics for 3 weeks, adjuvant during chemotherapy and whole body health and recovery. I was eventually directed to a very knowledgeable individual who immediately steered me to the Chaga product. After explaining all the beneficial qualities and also giving some facts which you have confirmed and refuted (ie. Otzi wasn’t carrying Chaga) I asked what he would take if he was in my position. He emphatically stated Chaga over all the other products I was previously shown by a colleague. His instructions were to follow the package directions (1/3 cup raw Chaga simmered in 4 cups water but for a period of time of 1-3 hours while continually adding water to keep the water level). Package directions state simmering 10 minutes to several hours while topping up water level. The explanation was that this would give the product more time to release more of it’s beneficial agents. He also said he would drink the whole 4 cups (1 litre) over the day instead of one or two cups a day. The package and he also said I can strain and reboil the chaga 3-6 times before discarding which is very helpful considering the price. It was recommended that I consume the chaga tea throughout my chemotherapy to support the process and my body’s healing. I asked about the effect of the high anti-oxidant properties conflicting with chemotherapy treatment success (I was strongly cautioned against using such products) and was told that there is no research to back up this claim (I have yet to look into this). In due diligence I followed-up with the pharmacy preparing my chemo concoction about what supplements I could safely take and had a very negative reaction about using “mushrooms”, saying that they were false claims fed by companies trying to sell their products. Again I was strongly cautioned about using any supplements that would elevate anti-oxidents (including vitamin C) and instead recommended getting my nutrients through my diet (vitamin D was an exception – I am chronically very low). I was also warned that “all these supplements” could alter or skew the blood tests results I am required to have done prior to each chemo treatment resulting in changes to my treatment plan that could be harmful.

    In summary, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, I had my first of four chemo treatments yesterday and decided to hold off drinking the chaga tea this first week and then resume consuming it during the next two when my immune system is it’s weakest and rebuilding just before my next chemo. Of course this would possibly “skew” my blood tests. My question for you is do you have any information regarding the use of chaga during chemotherapy and/or can you direct me to some refutable sites to help me make my decision about it’s use or high anti-oxidant use? Additionally, I see in a previous response that you couldn’t comment on the most effective way to extract the most from raw chaga and I recall that extractions tested contained literally no Betulin and betulinic acid, which would be more beneficial to me. Do you think there might be more benefit preparing it using a pressure cooker, or do you think this might obliterate the other sought-after properties?

    On a side note: any comment about the use for the treatment of my mother’s arthritic hands? I figure it’s caused by inflammation so this should help with pain, swelling and healing and possibly stop/slow any further disfigurement.

    Thanks for any help/opinions you can offer!

    • Several of our customers have reported excellent results while using our Chaga in combination with chemo or radiation. Instead of being nauseous and run the risk of secondary infections -chemo destroys your immune function- and metastasis one person reported even being able to do light work-outs! Apart from that, the liver protective effects are also important: chemo is very taxing on the liver. Of course these statements are anecdotal and the same result is not guaranteed for everybody – just like with regular medication, as a matter of fact.

      The quality of life during treatment is in general much better. Research -clinical trials- confirms this as well. The majority of health professionals are, understandable, very skeptical: they don’t know these supplements. But worse: they usually don’t want to know these supplements, no matter how much research you show them. They are conservative.

      When choosing to do this it is ESSENTIAL you use a high potency extract with a clear indication of what is in it. It’s best to start taking the extract a week or two before you have chemo – it might take some time to take effect.
      The effects are, according to research, dose-dependent – more is better.

      We do strongly recommend AGAINST using raw Chaga -making your own tea- to help treat a serious health problem like a cancer treatment. No matter how you approach it, the outcome will never be on par with a professionally produced dual extract. Apart from that, raw Chaga has not been tested – it can contain heavy metals, radio-active isotopes (Fukushima – see the monograph) and who knows what else. Quality extracts have been analysed and safety is ensured. The COA should be available for everybody that requests to see it.

      As for making your own tea: in our REISHI monograph we quote a test performed by the HongKong consumer council in 2000:
      ——————
      The study team used 15 grams of red Reishi slices and boiled them in 300 cc (about one bowl) of water for an hour. Their lab analysis showed that the amount of polysaccharides extracted was about 0.076 grams ( ± 0.5%), so the study concluded that this boiling method by the consumer is not only labor intensive, but also much more expensive and clearly less effective than consuming ready-made industrially processed Reishi products, which can have up to 50% of polysaccharides.

      One reason for the low percentage of polysaccharides in the tea is this: polysaccharides are large strings of molecules, which will disintegrate under continuous high temperatures, thus losing their bioactivity. Research found that when performing the boiling of the dried mushroom under pressure this disintegration does not take place and a much higher yield of bioactive polysaccharides is achieved. The pressure needed is 16-20 kgs p/cm2 (± 51 PSI) which is much higher than a home pressure-cooker can deliver.

      Low-pressure or no-pressure hot water extraction (like when making mushroom tea) is simply inefficient and much more expensive when compared to professionally produced dual extracts. These brews will also lack the important non-water soluble triterpenes like betulinic acid and the phyto-sterols.
      ——————-

      There is quite a lot of controversy about anti-oxidants turning into pro-oxidants in high doses (no agreement about this amongst researchers), but the doses needed for that you’ll never reach with an oral supplement.
      There are indications that Chaga or other mushroom extracts can help with arthritis. However, it is important to know what is causing it. The best thing would be to give it a try (take e.g. Chaga for 6 weeks at least) and see how the body reacts. If there is no change then the cause of the arthritis might not be immune-related.

      • Thank you for addressing all my questions in your reply. I have since had an opportunity to read some of the research papers you posted and search for anti-oxidant use during chemotherapy studies on the internet. While you response, your research papers and the studies I have found are relatively reassuring about the positive effects out-weighing the apparent lack of support for negative effects, the information is over-whelming and time-consuming. Unfortunately I have to make this decision quickly so I hope you don’t mind a few more questions;

        1. I understood that Chaga contains the highest levels of anti-oxidants of any substance analyzed (I can’t name these off the top of my head) but you commented that the high dose levels required for pro-oxidant activity would never be reached in an extract form. Would you please elaborate on this for me?

        2. Before purchasing the raw Chaga I specifically asked if there was a possibility of Chaga increasing estrogen or progesterone in my body as my tumor responded positively (for the tumor) to the hormones and I need to avoid this. I was reassured there were no properties that would increase production or introduce these hormones into my body. The papers I have read do not address this activity at all so I can only assume there are no effects on these hormones in the body. Would you please confirm?

        3. Your reply also mentioned that success was dose-specific. It also appears that there would be no benefit to stop taking doses at any time during treatment. Would you direct me to some studies that would help me determine an optimal level for extract intake, or do you feel comfortable commenting?

        Thank you for all your time and input.

      • A well prepared Chaga extract can have a very high level of anti-oxidants. There are several substances with higher levels though, mostly spices such as curcumin. These are also seen as potential anti-cancerogenic.

        - What I found about the subject is that anti-oxidants together with the whole of the plant/mushroom in which they are present appear to work best and without any side-effects. Isolated/synthetic anti-oxidants might reach unhealthy levels because they have been concentrated in an extract or tablet, but unfortunately -AFAIK- no toxic level for such products has been established.

        - There is also conflicting information in the literature: some sources state that pro-oxidative effects are beneficial, others claim they might be dangerous. An interesting article discussing several aspects of this is this one.

        - I am also not aware of Chaga having an effect on estrogen or progesterone production. Reishi is known to have an effect on the hormonal balance and is therefore not recommended in case of hormone-related breast cancer but only for inflammatory breast cancer. There is research pointing this out. But nothing for Chaga.

        - Dose-dependent: beta-glucans as found in mushrooms are the main triggers of the immune response. Research showed that higher doses had more effect. I do not have a direct link covering this exact subject at hand, but the result is mentioned often in research papers: the higher the dose, the better the effect. Like in this brief article investigating the effect of the Coriolus versicolor mushroom on dogs with cancer. The life expansion increased with the dosage.

        In Chinese and Russian trials doses of 8-12 GRAMS of mushroom extract are used to battle cancer directly, mainly for this reason. Unfortunately the potency of these extracts is not revealed. However, research never showed any toxicity or nasty side effects when taking very high doses. As an adjuvant to chemo and other heavy medication we recommend in our instruction leaflets to take 4 – 8 capsules daily, together with some vitamine C to help absorption of the large beta-glucan molecules in the intestines. This helps to maintain a normal immune function and protects the liver.

        I hope this helps!

  17. After an emergency room visit with a bit of breathing problems, the Dr. told me that I had bronchitis. I asked him what about emphysema since I was a smoker and his reply was, yes you do but there is nothing we can do about it. I did had some xrays done that day. My question is: Can Chaga help my condition??? I was told this in November, 2013. Today, Feb.25, 2014, I have but a minor side effect which is a little brown mocus at times. I still exercise without problems, etc. Any comments are greatly appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Orlando Zambrana

    • An allergy is in fact an exaggerated response of the immune system. According to research Chaga and several other medicinal mushrooms are very good at normalizing/neutralizing allergic responses. Apart from that, Chaga and the birch are two different things – I’m not 100% sure (to be honest, this is the first time I heard of it) but I think an allergy to birches is in fact an allergic reaction to the pollen released by the birch, not to the wood or the bark of the tree.

  18. Nice approach to attempt to gather only the factual information about chaga which has become the flavour of the month in medicinal fungi. I was impressed by the information you presented and how you reveal the tendency of opinions to become facts as they are oft-quoted through digital media (I also assumed chaga was found on the iceman!).
    However, your credibility fell off with your overly cautious concern for North American chaga in relation to radioactive fall-out from Fukushima. You sound just like the type of hyperbole and sensationalist journalism that you are trying to correct about chaga in this article. There is no proof that chaga from Saskatchewan or anywhere else for that matter is going to be harmfully radioactive. The maps you reference are not verifiable and are essentially meaningless. I would be more concerned about air pollution in a major city than consuming wild foods from the west coast of North America. Your warnings sounded too blatantly like scare tactics, and a thinly veiled attempt to dissuade the use of chaga from anywhere but your source. I didn’t even know this web site was for a company that sold medicinal mushroom products until I read those warnings.
    I’m sure your product is great, but I’m also sure that folks would be fine to consume chaga anywhere without concern about radiation from Fukushima!
    Tyson

    • Hello Tyson,

      Thank you for your comment.

      In the article we were pointing out that it is best (also as a general rule) to test wild-harvested Chaga, in particular now, after the Fukushima disaster. In our opinion, always base purchase decisions on validated facts, not emotions. Your critical remark is an emotional remark and was in fact already addressed in another reply by us (July 15th, 2013- see above).

      That particular reply, summarized in brief:
      [...]
      this particular fall-out map is an updated version of the original computer model using environmental samples to verify the computer model and make them more accurate. Those samples unfortunately proved that the computer models were VERY accurate. In other words: the maps have been validated by testing environmental samples from relevant areas.

      Also have a look at the articles below (among others). In particular the first one, dealing with the effect of Fukushima on Lituania (three quarters around the world) is very thorough and shows additional maps of the regions which were affected. It is obvious from all research data that North America/Canada was affected the most.

      http://onprinciplealone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/plutonium_litauen.pdf
      http://art-science-world.com/science/Text/Fukushima-estimation.pdf
      http://www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.net/11/28319/2011/acpd-11-28319-2011.pdf
      [...]

      Apart from that, the N-American continent is not really a major source for Chaga to begin with. The major sources for Chaga are Russian (parts of Siberia) and Chinese (Chinese Siberia – the Changbai area) regions. We have nothing to gain by making N-American Chaga suspect. We solely base our purchase decisions on verifiable facts (such as lab tests), not on patriotic feelings, and we think that’s the only correct way.

      Emotions are constantly abused by marketeers, simply, because it’s easy to do so and very effective. But you can’t go wrong with verifiable facts.

  19. Hello.
    Thank you for a very interesting article.
    I have collected some wild chaga, and I’m wondering what the best way to extract it would be in my non-professional kitchen. It would seem from your article that water extraction is not the best. What do you recommend I do?

    • In general we do not recommend to pursue DIY extraction at home. Although it is fun to play ‘little alchemist’ at home, compared to a professional quality extract the final product is much more expensive, it is very time consuming and the yield is disappointing, in particular if you’re after a therapeutic effect. In our Reishi monograph we describe the test performed by the HongKong consumer council: they compared the yield of a home made hot water extract with a professional product. The outcome was exactly what we describe.

      Hot water extraction in itself is fine, but it gives an incomplete product, lacking all non-water soluble bioactives (like triterpenes and sterols). It will also lack the synergy that is present in a ‘full-spectrum’ product. To get close to the results described in the research a full-spectrum extract is the only option.

      If you really want to do this at home the best option is probably to use a pressure cooker (pressure is needed to prevent disintegration of the beta-glucan molecular chains when cooked) and cook the chaga in e.g. vodka (being a safe mix of mainly water and alcohol) with at least 40% alcohol. The longer the better, but at least an hour or so.

      This is a very crude single step dual-extraction method which is (but professionalized) also used by many producers offering cheap ‘dual extracts’ and herbal products. These are usually sold as ‘xx:1′ extracts without any detailed breakdown of the bioactives, because those percentages will vary wildly from one batch to the next.

      We’ve never tried this ourselves and we don’t know if there’s danger in pressure cooking an alcoholic solution, so do some research before you try this – we don’t want you to hurt yourself!!

    • If something that is alive dies, it starts changing straight away. Traditionally Chaga from dead trees is never used. There is also a big chance that it has been infected by molds and bugs.

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