Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus) is an example of a traditional medicine that has been utilized for hundreds of years and has made a modern day comeback as a popular superfood. In addition to a simple cup of tea, Chaga can now be found in forms such as supplements, tinctures, mushroom coffee mixes, etc. The Russian name ‘Chaga’ translates into the word mushroom and is also known as Banoanatake in Japan.[1,2] Chaga is a parasitic mushroom that grows predominantly on the branches of Birch trees in colder regions such as parts of Russia, Japan, China, Korea, and Northern America.[1-3] It was traditionally harvested, dried, and prepared into a simple tea decoction to treat ailments and prevent disease.
The perceived health benefits of Chaga include:[2,3]
A Hardy Mushroom
One interesting theory behind Chaga’s many beneficial components leading to these health benefits may be a result of its natural defense mechanism to a cold, harsh environment in which it needed to adapt to protect against UV sun exposure and other pathogens.[5,6] Although, the actual mechanisms of action warrant more future research, here are a few of the most known beneficial constituents of Chaga:[5,6]
2. Melanin and hispidin analogs
4. Superoxide dismutase and catalase
Is There a Future for Chaga in Skin Care?
The antioxidant potential of Chaga is of particular interest for the future of skin care due to the specific components of melanin and hispidin analogs (polyphenols), and superoxide dismutase and catalase (enzymes that act as powerful antioxidants).[6,7] These compounds are thought to be produced in response to Chaga’s exposures in its natural environment.[5-7]
One study focused on the production of these constituents in response to oxidative stress (in the form of hydrogen peroxide). The results of this study showed an increase in polyphenols, superoxide dismutase, and catalase in response to the stress. These results may suggest Chaga’s ability to protect the body against reactive oxygen species (which can be inflammatory and destructive in the body) is enhanced because of its natural exposure to harsh elements.
Potential to Shift Pigment
Another study looked at possible pigment reducing capabilities present in Chaga. Melanin is what gives skin its color and is a natural reaction with exposure to sunlight. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that increases the production of melanin, and the interest in this study was to find out if Chaga had pigment reducing effects that would produce the same effects as a skin-whitening agent commonly found in cosmetics. The study was performed in laboratory cells and showed that some component molecules (betulin and trametenolic acid) could decrease pigment production by reducing the activity of the tyrosinase enzyme while other component molecules (inotodiol and lanosterol) could activate tyrosinase to produce more pigment. Pigment reduction may help to even skin tone in those that have developed darker spots while pigment activation may be helpful in conditions where pigment has been lost or reduced. Chaga seems more versatile and hopefully, further research will tease apart how the different components may be useful cosmetically.
Future Potential for Research
There is potential for future research to determine additional benefits of Chaga for its antioxidant potential and it's naturally occurring chemical components that may reduce or even activate pigment production.