The Magic and the Charm.
Life is hard when there are so many choices. However when it comes to choosing a medicinal mushroom here’s some good news! You don’t have to choose between Reishi mushrooms and Chaga mushrooms because they each spawn their own magic and are found in very different places. While Reishi mushrooms stand out for their testosterone boosting abilities, Chaga mushrooms are more known as a multi-nutrient packed smart food. However, both do a phenomenal job of reducing inflammation, regulating blood sugars and keeping you healthy overall.
Let’s Start with Reishi Mushrooms!
Reishi mushrooms are a well-recognized super-food, with a majority of the benefits one expects out of medicinal mushrooms and adaptogens. The Reishi mushroom has an appearance similar to the proverbial depiction of the mushroom but is rather large in size. The mushroom is also tough and woody with a red, polished exterior. This mushroom has been known in the Oriental culture for hundreds of years and has picked up a few interesting monikers: “the spirit plant”, Ling Chih, and given its beneficial effects: ‘the mushroom of immortality.’ If you were curious about its scientific names, they are Ganoderma lucidum, the Champignon Basidiomycète, and the Basidiomycetes Reishi.
What Is It Used for?
Reishi mushrooms, at a minimum, provide all of the medicinal advantages that we’ve come to expect out of medicinal mushrooms that sometimes make them worth their weight in gold. Therefore, there are the anti-inflammatory properties, a propensity to lower blood sugar levels without added exercise, as well as to regulate cholesterol. However, clinical trials have been limited to animal testing. All three parts of the mushroom are employed: the mycelium (the part of the mushroom closest to the ground), stipe, and cap.
Where Does It Come from?
The Reishi mushroom is again very traditional in that it prefers the hot and humid climates of several Asian and Southeast Asian countries; although, there is the Ganoderma variant that finds an origin in the West. Most mushroom farming is manageable under artificially controlled conditions, indoor.
Where Does It Grow?
Whereas many mushrooms actively work to kill the host substrate, Reishi mushrooms prefer dead trees to begin with. So you are very likely to find it growing on abandoned logs that have been dead for some time.
What Are the Benefits of Using Reishi Mushrooms?
Reishi mushrooms are perhaps best known for their immunity-boosting capabilities. In particular, it helps alter the inflammation pathways of specific white blood cells, boosting the immune function.
This functionality opens a number of use cases for the mushroom, especially where Western medicine may have limitations such as in cancer and other inflammatory conditions. It has been demonstrated that molecules within the mushroom including triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans foster improved activity levels for certain kinds of white blood cells in patients with advanced-stage cancer. This particular type of the WBC, also known as the Natural Killer Cell, has a predominant role in resisting cancer cells.
Peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated how the Reishi mushroom has helped increase lymphocytes in people suffering from colorectal cancer.
Now here is a benefit that not many other mushrooms can provide: a boost to the testosterone levels. This makes the Reishi mushroom a powerful weapon in the fight against prostate cancer. Certain studies have demonstrated the role of this mushroom in actually reversing this kind of cancer. We need to remember though that Reishi mushrooms are still a neophyte when it comes to the scientific method of analysis. Therefore, more and more peer-reviewed literature is gradually coming in. A highly encouraging study demonstrates how the Reishi mushroom helped bring down the number and the size of tumors present in the large intestine.
This mushroom also has mollifying effects upon depression and anxiety. This particular study introduced Reishi mushroom supplements for up to eight weeks in participants, demonstrating lower levels of fatigue, reduced anxiety and depression as well as improved levels of overall well-being.
Reishi mushrooms also enable healthy people to maintain their health. In a study carried out upon healthy athletes, this mushroom enabled the lymphocyte function against inflammation as well as infections.
The Reishi mushroom has been correlated positively with improved HDL cholesterol levels and lower triglyceride levels.
Certain molecules within the mushroom help maintain lower glucose levels as well.
You can find more benefits of the Reishi Mushroom by reading this article.
What Are the Side Effects?
Side effects merit careful consideration whenever we are looking to add Reishi mushrooms into our diet. It may be worthwhile to consider the safest preparations of the Reishi mushroom even if the effectiveness is not as high. The powdered form of this mushroom has been linked with acute liver failure, which in certain cases progressed very rapidly, leading to death in a matter of days.
Reishi mushrooms may cause dryness of the mouth, throat, and nasal area. Other side effects may also include upset stomach, itchiness, nosebleeds, bloody stool, and other gastrointestinal issues. Side effects were pronounced once the mushroom was taken for longer than four months.
People at risk should be particularly wary because the risk factors have not been scientifically rated or even very well understood. Those pregnant, breast-feeding, suffering from low blood pressure, or other blood disorders, etc. are at special risk.
What Products Are Made with Reishi Mushrooms?
Thankfully, there are several different forms that you can consider for your particular use case. Capsules are available, as are Reishi mushroom extracts. This mushroom is also available as a component in mushroom spectrum products, some with over a dozen varieties blended in. That may also help reduce your risk by taking a single form of the mushroom.
The Contender: The Chaga Mushroom!
Chaga mushrooms stand out because rather than the hot and humid environment favored by Reishi mushrooms, you’ll find them in the wintery Siberian wastelands. For the uninitiated who aren’t well versed with the benefits, the mushroom would also not amount to much visually. Clusters of Chaga mushrooms look like burnt charcoal and most definitely not something you would want to ingest. Unless you have read the rest of this article that is. The scientific name of the Chaga mushroom is Inonotus Obliquus.
What is it used for?
Firstly, this mushroom covers most of the medicinal functionalities we have come to expect out of exotic medicinal mushrooms or adaptogens. It does a very good job of boosting the immune function and preserving overall health. There are also specific functions associated with managing diabetes, helping fight against cancer, as well as heart disease.
Where Does It Come from?
In arctic cultures all over the world, including in Canada, Scandinavia, and of course the tundra in Russia, Chaga mushrooms have been used as a beverage for centuries. It has traditionally been grated into a fine powder and brewed as an herbal tea.
Where does it grow?
Chaga mushrooms can be understood as a highly invasive fungal colony. It starts by attacking healthy trees, eventually contributing to the death of the affected portion. Only once the substrate is dead, does the Chaga mushroom reproduce. Spores can then be transferred to other substrates nearby, including other trees.
The Chaga mushroom appears as a wooden growth resembling burnt charcoal and can measure up to a foot or so in size. While the exterior can be less than inspiring, its inner core is softer with an orange hue.
What Are the Benefits of Using Chaga Mushrooms?
Once again, acutely reliable scientific evidence is still not forthcoming. However, the bulk of what we know comes from studies conducted with animals.
Strengthening the immune system and subsequently reducing inflammation is perhaps the most generally acceptable benefit out of medicinal mushrooms as a whole, and Chaga mushrooms in particular. This mushroom is also known for its fight against certain families of harmful bacteria as well as viruses.
Molecules within the fungus act as catalysts for the creation of cytokines, special proteins that help regulate the immune system. It also stimulates WBCs directly. In a study carried out over rodents, the Chaga extract reduced internal damage to the gut, as well as inflammation by discouraging inflammatory cytokines.
A number of studies now have shown how Chaga mushrooms can prevent and slow down the growth of cancer. In a study on mice with cancer, Chaga mushroom extract helped reduce tumor sizes by over 60%.
In test-tube studies done upon human liver cells, Chaga extract prevented the growth of cancer altogether. The results were similar with cancer cells out of the prostate, colon, lungs, and breast.
As with all medicinal mushrooms, the anti-cancer effects of Chaga mushrooms are attributed to the very high amount of antioxidants. This mushroom is also chock full of oxalates, helping prevent cell damage caused by free radicals.
Triterpene is a particular antioxidant found in the Chaga mushroom. Test tube studies have demonstrated that Triterpene in a strong enough concentration can kill cancer cells.
Chaga mushrooms also correlate with lower blood sugar levels, helping manage diabetic symptoms. In particular, in a study carried out over obese mice suffering from diabetes, the extract of the Chaga mushroom was shown to have reduced sugar levels. It also brought down insulin resistance when compared to other diabetic mice that were only given a placebo. A second study over mice demonstrated a 31% decrease in sugar levels over a period of three weeks.
Chaga mushrooms are also recognized for their ability to lower cholesterol levels, reducing your chances of a heart attack or other cardiac diseases. In an eight week study upon mice, the Chaga extract helped bring down bad cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol, all while increasing antioxidant levels. Apart from bringing down bad cholesterol, the mushroom also demonstrated a positive impact on good cholesterol.
What Are Chaga Mushroom Dangers?
As with any product, Chaga Mushrooms may produce side-effects when consumed. Before taking any product made from Chaga Mushrooms, it’s always best to consult a medical professional.
Although no studies have been done on Chaga Mushrooms and effect on kidneys, they are known to contain a chemical called oxalate which can have some adverse effects on kidneys.
Additionally, since Chaga Mushrooms can lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, those who are prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) should be cautious in using them.
What Products Are Made with Chaga Mushrooms?
Many Chaga products can be used to supplement the immune system and help reduce inflammation. These products include capsules, powders, and elixirs.
Chaga capsules are very popular and a convenient way to get your daily dosage. For those with sensitive stomachs, capsules have the added bonus of dissolving slowly in an extended and controlled release into a body’s system.
Another favored way to take Chaga is in powder form mixed with water or other healthy beverages. Average dosage ranges from 400mg to 1000mg. Powders are usually taken for people who have a hard time swallowing pills and want their body’s to absorb the benefits faster.
There are also Chaga products in liquid form such as tinctures. While these are the least common form taken, they allow even faster absorption in the body than powders. When compared with capsules, liquid supplements absorb 98% of the nutrients vs.10-20% from capsules. However, liquids have one Achilles heel when compared to the other forms: short shelf life.
Reishi vs Chaga: A Comparison
From the discussion above, you can quickly infer how precious both of these mushrooms are in their own right. It can boil down to a highly complementary situation where you can substitute one for the other if the risk quotient comes down for you as an individual. Given the larger geographical area of its habitat, Chaga mushrooms happen to be more prevalent, available and popular.
As we have already touched upon, with adaptogens as well as with medicinal mushrooms, the form of the mushroom is as important as what it is that you’re eating. Both Reishi mushrooms and Chaga mushrooms are available in numerous easy to consume forms. On the go capsules, tablets, elixirs, and essences are available. A favorite prep amongst users is steeping the mushrooms as a hot tea. For this the mushroom is dried first – you can pick up the form factor you are most comfortable with and work your way to your recipe. The organic or fresh form is likely to be the most cost-effective but less available – particularly for the Chaga type.
When it comes to taste the Reishi is marginally better. You get away with chewing on wood, which is at least not bitter. Bitter is precisely what Chaga is to an extent, only with an earthy base. But the Chaga loses when it comes to appearances big time. You’d happily hold the perfectly formed reddish-brown Reishi any day over the lump of charcoal that Chaga presents itself as.
As medicinal mushrooms make it into the mainstream, usage is picking up fast. Health geeks form a significant fraction of the growing consumer base. Close behind are aspirational buyers with conditions that modern medicine has limited answers to, in which case they need results.
But the cardinal rule when going with mushrooms is to look at how well your body is responding and if there are any side effects.
Differences in Benefits and Side Effects
The main difference between Reishi mushrooms and Chaga mushrooms in terms of benefits comes from the testosterone boosting abilities of Reishi mushrooms. This allows Reishi mushrooms to be used against prostate cancer. A number of studies have demonstrated the potency of this mushroom in reducing the number and the size of tumors.
There is a secondary benefit as well. Reishi mushrooms are effective in remediating symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. Specifically in the context of neurasthenia, individuals suffering from fatigue, irritability, dizziness, frequent headaches, etc. have also reported improvements in their symptoms.
In terms of side effects, the discussion becomes important if the powdered form of the Reishi mushroom is in question. As already discussed above, there have been instances of acute liver failure among people who had otherwise been taking the Reishi mushroom previously in other forms, safely. Side effects in the case of the Chaga mushroom are not as pronounced.
Similarities in Benefits and Side Effects
Analysis reveals that the benefits from Chaga mushrooms are a subset of what you can expect out of Reishi mushrooms. However, you also do not have to expose yourself to as much risk. The most important similarity, of course, comes in terms of the anti-inflammatory properties found in both of the mushrooms; both are chock-full of antioxidants. Likewise, both are effective at regulating blood sugar levels, as well as cholesterol levels.
Among side effects, expect an upset stomach if you happen to be sensitive. Even then, side effects are typically reported after over four months of taking supplements and are associated with light gastrointestinal issues. People who are at risk, including those pregnant, breast-feeding, suffering from low blood pressure or other blood disorders, etc. should be mindful.
What works for someone else may not necessarily work for you. It is to our advantage that most medicinal mushrooms and adaptogens can provide anti-inflammatory benefits, contain antioxidants in significant quantities and help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels. In special cases, certain mushrooms offer supplementary advantages and one has to weigh the risks against the added benefits.
To continue your learning about the linghzi, here is a great Reishi mushroom reference that explains more about this awesome fungi.
Alternatively, if you’d like to learn more about Chaga mushrooms, here is a fantastic book that will extend your knowledge of this unique mushroom.
Finally, if you want learn more about the whole spectrum of benefits that come with most medicinal mushrooms be sure to look into this knowledgeable source.