Chaga Mushrooms and Cancer

I enjoy working with my clients, most of whom are cancer patients and survivors and they ask great questions! I was asked by one of my clients if she should be drinking chaga tea. I’ll admit, I don’t know everything about everything, but I was happy to research this for her, and I figured that if she is asking, likely you have the same question, so why not turn it into a blog post for my Cancer Bites blog, so keep reading to find out if you should be drinking chaga tea.

What is Chaga Tea?

Chaga tea is made from chaga mushrooms. Like other mushrooms, chaga is a fungus. It grows in northern climates including Canada. While it grows it is taking nutrients from its tree host, it especially likes birch trees and for this reason it is sometimes called Birch Mushroom. It is used as a medicinal product in Russia and Eastern Europe where it has a long history of use as folk medicine.  It has a bitter taste and is therefore usually not eaten, but taken as a tea.

Large chaga mushroom attached to a tree

A large chaga mushroom growing on a tree in Northern Ontario

How Do I Make Chaga Tea?

Like most teas, you can purchase tea bags containing dried and ground chaga mushrooms, you can also use a stove top method and cook dried chunks of mushrooms. This website from Cup & Leaf goes into great detail about the different methods to prepare a cup of Chaga Tea. You can read more from them here.

Chaga and Cancer

Will chaga actually help to protect you from cancer? According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) on their Herbs & Botanicals website (last updated May 31, 2018) laboratory and animal studies have shown that compounds in chaga mushrooms can kill cancer cells and stimulate the immune system. It may also reduce fatigue and inflammation and increase mental sharpness. But there have not been studies done to determine safety and effectiveness in humans.

According to the Natural Medicines Database, chaga has anti-tumor effects and allowed mice to live longer with cancer.

Other Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms

  • Mice with diabetes have shown beneficial blood-sugar lowering effects
  • Mice with colitis (inflammation of the colon) appeared to benefit from Chaga mushroom tea
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Pain relieving
  • Reducing oxidative stress in lymphocytes from inflammatory bowel disease
  • Anti-mutagenic (reduces mutations of genes)
  • Encourages apoptosis (cell death) of colon cancer cells
  • Inhibiting kidney cancer cells
  • Rich in beta glucans – which allow the body’s immune system to recognize cancer cells as foreign bodies
  • Anti-cancer
  • Antiplatelet (inhibit blood clots)
  • Immune stimulating

Chaga Mushrooms Case Study

This case study is reported by MSKCC A 72 year old woman was taking 4-5 tsp per day of chaga mushroom powder following a partial removal of her liver. She developed kidney failure, suspected to be due to the high oxalate content of the chaga extract which resulted in oxalate crystals in her kidneys.

Chaga Warnings

  • Chaga can prevent the blood from clotting so, it could also exaggerate the effects of anti-clotting medications such as aspirin and coumadin
  • Chaga can stimulate the immune system, which would be a bad thing if you are being treated with immunosuppressive medication and could in theory aggravate autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and MS
  • Chaga might reduce blood sugar and therefore could increase the effect of insulin and other blood sugar lowering medication
  • Other herbal medications can also prevent the blood from clotting so if you use chaga you may want to be careful with your intake of other herbal products such as garlic, ginger, ginkgo, Panax rinsing,

How To Harvest Chaga Mushrooms

If you are reading this from Northern U.S., Canada or Europe, you may have access to Chaga Mushrooms out your back door. I’m no expert in foraging, so I’ll let you read about harvesting chaga from the experts at Chaga HQ.

Bottom Line for Chaga and Cancer

I can see why there is so much interest in chaga tea. If I had cancer right now, I would certainly be trying to find out more about this mushroom and giving the tea a taste. There are several promising studies that show benefits of chaga tea in laboratory studies of isolated cancer cells and animal studies. While it’s been used for generations in Eastern Europe, it hasn’t been tested in humans, so there are no recommendations about safety, effectiveness, dosage or best method of preparation. Remember that you aren’t going to fight cancer with one single miracle ingredient. It’s your entire diet and lifestyle that matters. If you want to read more about what you can do to reduce your risk, check out The Cancer Risk Reduction Guide.

Like all herbals and botanicals, talk to your oncologist and/or pharmacist about your interest in taking chaga mushroom tea so that they can consider the impact that this may have on your treatment. Be cautious if you have blood clotting concerns or take either clotting or blood thinning medications or have a history of oxalate stone formation. Don’t overdo it, as we can see from the case study 4-5 tsp per day of chaga mushroom powder was too much for one lady.

Links to References:

MSKCC

Pubmed search

Case study

Have you tried Chaga Mushroom tea?

Tell us your experience with it in the comments section below.

Leave a Reply