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See a photo of chaga and you might be reminded of the BBQ grill after the charcoal is burned. Chaga is a fungus that grows primarily in the chilly climates of Canada, Siberia, the Northern continental U.S., Alaska and Northern Europe. Its preferred host is the birch tree, and it grows in an odd-shaped, non-symmetrical mass. If you break open the mushroom, you’ll find that its interior is made of a soft, orange core. This fungus doesn’t grow quickly, and it isn’t toxic.
The people of Russia and Northern Europe have long used the substance in teas and tinctures for its health benefits: improved immune function, they say, among other benefits. So what makes chaga good for you, and are there chaga benefits for skincare?
Chaga has been traditionally used for treating a variety of health conditions, from depression to cancer, and while ancient people didn't know precisely why this fungus benefitted them, it must have: it's use has been documented for centuries.
We know more now. Chaga contains a host of antioxidants, which are measured according to their Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity rating. Chaga extract ranks exceptionally high on this measure: lower than the well-known coffee cherry but higher than many other so-called “superfoods”, including turmeric and acai berries.
Free radicals are molecules that contain oxygen but have at least one unpaired electron. These swinging single charges are on the lookout for their perfect mate, and they don’t care if they find it by stealing it from another molecule. In doing so, they damage that other molecule, which can have detrimental effects on your DNA and cells.
Your own biological systems naturally produce free radicals, but you also get them from outside sources, such as pollution, smoking, medication and radiation (including ultraviolet radiation from the sun). Your body needs these rogue molecules to function properly, but when you have too many of them, it can contribute to conditions such as:
Excessive free radicals also cause premature and rapid aging. The damage that free radicals do is called oxidative stress.
Antioxidants are substances that help protect your body from a wide range of disorders that are caused by free radicals. These nutrients willingly share their electrons with the rogue molecules that are out searching for mates to complete their electron pairs. When antioxidant substances give up one of their electrons to a free radical, they – in a sense – make that free radical happy and stable. 😊 It then leaves your DNA and cells alone, preventing a chain reaction that can eventually lead to disease and premature aging.
Antioxidants contain a beneficial chemical property that isn’t due to a specific nutritional profile. There are synthetic antioxidants as well as natural ones; however, the synthetic forms can be volatile — especially when exposed to high heat — converting beneficial substances into carcinogens. Research demonstrates that natural antioxidants found in some plants and funguses have a positive impact on physical health due to the reduction of free radicals when consumed in the diet.
Chaga mushrooms fall within the medicinal plant category. When you consume the mushroom as a tea, supplement, or otherwise, you get the benefits of its antioxidant powers. Research on the benefits of this fungus are still in the early stages, but what scientists have found so far generally supports what traditional medicine has suggested for years.
This superfood reduces oxidative stress in the body’s lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that are an important part of the immune system. In studies on mice, chaga was shown to produce an additional immune benefit by promoting the production of helpful cytokines — which are necessary for combating harmful bacteria and viruses — and suppressing cancer cell proliferation.
Your skin is your body’s first line of defense, and you put it through its paces daily. Chaga can help you fight the internal and external stressors your epidermis is exposed to. Your skin is hit with intrinsic reactive oxygen species (endemic free radicals produced in the human metabolic processes) and free radicals from environmental toxins, foods, and pollutants. Damage to your skin comes from multiple sources, including:
Sun exposure has the most deleterious effects, so limiting your exposure is crucial in preventing skin cancer and maintaining healthy skin. But another important step you can take is to up your antioxidant intake.
Are there chaga benefits for skincare? Yes! Chaga provides several benefits for your skin and can easily be incorporated into your daily routine.
The sun’s energy makes life on this planet possible. Direct sun exposure is also the only way you can get vitamin D naturally. However, too much of it leads to sunspots and cancer. Chaga’s antioxidant power can help fight free radicals from sun exposure.
This mighty fungus may help protect your skin from sun damage in another way, too. A study conducted in a lab found that the chaga mushroom can promote the production of melanin in the skin. Melanin is an important defense against the sun’s UV rays. The combined melanin-producing and free-radical fighting benefits of chaga are perhaps the number-one reason you might consider incorporating this fungus into your skincare routine.
Over time, your skin begins to show signs of aging. It gets thinner and loses its elasticity. You may start to notice wrinkles or age spots. You can develop itchy patches, especially on the chest. Your skin also becomes drier. When you’re exposed to more free radicals than your body can combat naturally, it causes your skin to age prematurely.
Chaga’s superhero powers may help keep your skin young and supple. Chaga contains betulinic acid (BA), a beneficial compound for giving your skin protection against free radical damage and aging. It has been shown to stimulate the production of collagen, the protein responsible for giving your skin its youthful appearance. When you don’t have enough, your skin starts to sag. The BA in chaga has also been shown to cause cell death in melanoma and other malignant cancer cells.
Acne is a serious issue for many adolescents and adults. More than 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from the condition annually. Pimples have ruined countless job interviews, first dates and other important occasions due to the stress and emotional turmoil their unsightly appearance causes. In teens, their changing and raging hormones are the culprits; in adults, the number one cause of acne is stress. It affects women more often than men. In addition to stress, women may experience acne during menopause, and as in their adolescent years, it can be blamed on changing hormones.
While keeping your skin clean, eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water are all essential to preventing acne and keeping those pimples in check, chaga may help as well. The fungus appears to be an excellent anti-inflammatory agent. Systemic inflammation is caused by the immune system’s release of mast cells to fight off perceived invaders. Inflammation in the body can lead to an acne flare-up. Chaga mushrooms have been shown to inhibit the production of mast cells, reducing inflammation and, subsequently, keeping your acne in check.
You may find that drinking chaga tea or taking a supplement that’s made from a chaga extract goes a long way in maintaining a vibrant and clear complexion. But many instances call for some more targeted help, and some skin conditions need more intensive treatment.
At Nava MD, we help you find skincare solutions that works for you. We create personalized prescriptions that target your unique skin and condition, using tried-and-true dermatologist-recommended ingredients. Anti-wrinkle creams? We've got 'em. Acne treatments? Those too. It's easy and simple, all done online.
Complete our free online consultation to begin your own healthy skin journey.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency