Chaga is a type of parasitic perennial mushroom that grows on and under the bark of birch and rarely alder trees. It looks a bit like a bunch of charcoal clung to a tree trunk with beautiful golden-orange inside while split. Chaga has been used by traditional medicine for centuries, particularly in Siberia, Scandinavian, Baltic and Karpatian countries. In Norway, Finland and northern Russia it was traditionally used as a substitute of coffee due to its stimulating and invigorating effect.
There is five main directions of somatic and medicinal activity of this fungus:
Immune System support
Antiviral and antimicrobial activity
Anti-cancer and anti-aging properties
The antioxidant properties of Chaga are primarily attributed to its rich content of bioactive compounds including polyphenols and triterpenoids. Antioxidants are substances that can neutralize or inhibit the harmful effects of free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that can cause damage to cells and contribute to various health issues, including chronic diseases and aging. Most important groups of Chaga's active compounds in this area are:
Polyphenols: Chaga is particularly abundant in polyphenolic compounds, which are important micronutrients known for their antioxidant properties. These include phenolic acids, flavonoids like epikatechin, quercetin and other polyphenolic structures. Polyphenols act as antioxidants by scavenging free radicals and preventing oxidative stress. They can also enhance the activity of the body's own antioxidant enzymes further contributing to cellular defense against oxidative damage.
Triterpenoids: Betulin and betulinic acid are two most important triterpenoids found in Chaga sclerotum. It can inhibit oxidative processes by neutralizing free radicals. Betulinic acid, in particular, has been studied for its potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Superoxide dismutase (SOD): It is an enzyme of powerful antioxidant action that catalyzes decomposition of superoxide radical, generated during oxygen metabolic processes, into ordinary molecular oxygen. Thus, SOD is an important antioxidant defense in all living cells exposed to oxygen, especially cells and tissues of skin and lungs and plays a crucial role in body's defense against oxidative stress thereby reducing the potential for cellular damage.
Melanin: Melanin is a pigment found in various organisms, including animals, plants, and fungi. It is responsible for the coloration of tissues and plays a crucial role in protecting cells and tissues from harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and oxidative stress. Its function as an antioxidant is based on absorption of UV radiation which induces formation of free radicals. It also reduce oxidative stress by preventing the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS). These reactive molecules causees cellular damage and contribute to the aging process and various metabolic diseases. It also stimulate activity and production of enzymes like superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase, which further contribute to the cellular defense against oxidative stress. Moreover malanin has the ability to chelate heavy metals ions such as iron, lead, chrome and copper that participate in reactions generating free radicals. By chelating these metals, melanin helps to prevent the formation of harmful reactive compounds and radicals.
Free radical scavenging: Chaga's overall antioxidant activity, by means of Betulin, Betulinic acid and Melanin, involves scavenging free radicals, preventing lipid peroxidation and protecting cellular components from oxidative damage. By reducing oxidative stress (SOD), chaga contribute to overall cellular health.
Immune system support:
Beta-Glucans and Polysaccharides: Chaga contains beta-glucans, which are specific and complex polysaccharides known for their immunomodulatory effects. Beta-glucans can stimulate certain immune cells such as macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer (NK) cells. These cells play crucial roles in the innate immune response by recognizing and destroying pathogens. Other groups of polysaccharides have been studied for their potential to modulate the immune response. They enhance the activity of immune cells and promote the production of certain cytokines which are signaling molecules involved in immune system communication and control.
Adaptogenic Properties: Chaga is classified as an adaptogen, a substance that helps the body and its' systems to adapt to stressors by balancing effect and promotion of homeostatic processes. Psychosomatic homeostasis is well known regulating factor for correct functioning of Immune System.
Inflammation is a natural and essential part of the immune response, but chronic or excessive inflammation is associated with various health issues. Triterpenoids and especially betulinic acid have been studied for their potent anti-inflammatory effects. These compounds modulate inflammatory pathways and reduce the production of inflammatory mediators. Polyphenols possess antioxidant properties and also modulate inflammatory processes. They inhibit the activity of inflammatory enzymes and reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Some studies suggest that Chaga inhibits production of inflammatory mediators, including prostaglandins and leukotrienes. These mediators play a role in the inflammatory response. By balancing and regulating immune cell activity and cytokine production, chaga helps to maintain a balanced immune system and prevent excessive inflammations.
Antiviral and Antimicrobial Activity:
Betulinic Acid has been studied for its potential antiviral and antimicrobial effects. It interferes with replication of certain viruses and inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. This mechanism involves disrupting the integrity of viral and microbial membranes. Melanin also has been suggested to exhibit important antiviral and antimicrobial properties. It interferes with process of viruses' attachment to host cells and inhibit the growth of certain microbes. Phenolic compounds of Chaga disrupt the structure and function of viral particles and microbial cells, leading to inhibition of replication and growth.
Cancer and Anti-aging Research:
Oxidative stress, caused by an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, is implicated in the development of cancer. Chaga's rich antioxidant content may contribute to its potential anticancer effects by neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress. A well-functioning immune system is crucial for detecting and eliminating cancer cells. Chaga's immune-modulating properties enhance the body's natural defenses against cancerogenesis. Chronic inflammation as well is associated with an increased risk of cancer development. Chaga's powerful anti-inflammatory effects, particularly through compounds like betulinic acid, may contribute to its anticancer properties by mitigating inflammation. Chaga has also been studied for its cytostatic and cytotoxic properties, especially ability to induce apoptosis, which is a programmed cell death mechanism. Inducing apoptosis in cancer cells is a key strategy in preventing the uncontrolled growth of tumors. Laboratory studies and animal models have suggested that Chaga may also inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells which potentially slow down or prevent the growth of tumors. Some research has explored whether chaga may have antimetastatic properties, meaning it could inhibit the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body.
As you may see above this inconspicuous mushroom answers to most important questions of modern civilization diseses connected with environmental pollution that introduce allergens, cancerogens, heavy metals and other toxic compounds to food, drinks and air. The same is in the case of overpopulation that generates and spreads multitude of new pathogens like fast mutating viruses and bacteria, but also psychosomatic and somatic disorders connected to stress and overwork.