Chaga or Inonotus obliquus is often referred to as "the king of medicinal mushrooms" as it is loaded with excellent health benefits. The fungus has been consumed in the East for many years. Today the mushroom has gained newfound popularity owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and social media.
However, like with anything, there are always two sides to the coin. For example, while some are happy with the Chaga health benefits, others are concerned about oxalates in Chaga and their effect on kidney disease.
So, what is this fuss about Chaga oxalates? Chaga mushrooms are high in oxalate, containing up to 14 mg/100 g.Therefore, people diagnosed with Crohn's disease or kidney diseases (or prone to kidney stones) should avoid Chaga.
However, you won't go over the safe daily limit of oxalate intake unless you take more than the recommended Chaga dosage of about 2000mg daily. This means oxalates in Chaga do not pose any health risks to the average person when consumed in moderation.
In this article, we'll discuss the link between Chaga and oxalates, the side effects of oxalates in Chaga, and the kinds of people who should speak with a doctor before using Chaga products.
Chaga And Oxalates: What Do We Know?
Plants and fungi, including Chaga, contain oxalates. Oxalates are naturally occurring compounds that play beneficial roles in the health of plants. Other foods high in oxalate include rhubarb, spinach, kale, black tea, and even everyone's favorite cacao.
Oxalates in plants remove extra calcium by binding to it. This benefits the plants because too much calcium can prevent them from absorbing other essential nutrients.
It becomes a little trickier when dealing with the human body. Oxalate has a higher propensity to bind to calcium and form kidney stones when levels are high. They may also prevent your digestive tract from properly absorbing healthy nutrients, like minerals and vitamins.
Read More: Learn how to use Chaga mushroom powder to enjoy maximum benefits from its nutrients.
In terms of nutrition and digestive health, oxalates fall into two categories: soluble oxalates and insoluble oxalates.
The insoluble oxalates, including iron, magnesium, and calcium oxalates, are not absorbed in the digestive system and pass through unchanged. However, soluble oxalates, like sodium and potassium oxalate, release free oxalate anions that enter the bloodstream.
The body naturally neutralizes and eliminates soluble oxalates, but when levels are high, the body may not be able to do so quickly enough, which could have serious adverse effects. Therefore, as long as you are following your doctor's instructions and sticking to an ideal dosage when using Chaga for diabetes or to boost your immunity, you may not need to worry about the side effects of soluble oxalates.
Free oxalates may combine with free calcium in the bloodstream to produce calcium oxalate crystals. Over time, the excessive presence of these crystals may cause gout or physical kidney damage while simultaneously depleting the calcium necessary for normal bone development and growth.
Research Into Chaga Oxalate Effects
Several reports suggest that Chaga has a relatively high oxalate content.
A case report published in the Journal of Korean medical science(1) illustrated how long-term ingestion of Chaga mushroom led to the development of end-stage renal disease. A 49-year-old Korean man with end-stage kidney disease underwent a kidney biopsy, which showed features of chronic inflammation due to oxalate crystal (calcium oxalate) deposition. There was long-term exposure to high oxalate foods, in this case, Chaga mushroom powder.
However, this man's estimated daily oxalate intake was two times higher than the recommended amount for four years and five times higher for one year. The man took 3 g daily for four years and 9 g of powder for another year.
Read More: See how to use Chaga tea for weight loss without going beyond the recommended dosage for this holistic solution.
While Chaga mushroom is a potential risk factor for chronic kidney disease, the typical serving of the mushroom contains lower amounts of oxalates. And like in this case report, Chaga mushroom at high doses (more than 2000 g) is more likely to precipitate kidney stones than the usual Chaga tea oxalate levels.
Another case report, published in 2014(2), looked into kidney disease caused by oxalates, or Chaga mushroom-induced oxalate nephropathy. After ingesting Chaga mushroom powder for six months to help with the treatment of her liver cancer, a 72-year-old Japanese woman with liver cancer underwent treatment for acute oxalate nephropathy. As a result, her kidneys had a high oxalate crystal content, according to the renal biopsy results.
Read More: See how Chaga mushroom fights cancer.
However, as there is no way to determine the precise amounts of soluble and insoluble oxalic acid present in the supplement she was taking, it was not confirmed that the high oxalate levels were related to her consumption of Chaga. There was a chance that the woman was also consuming other high-oxalate foods, which could have increased magnesium oxalate, sodium oxalate, iron oxalate, and calcium oxalate.
Read More: Apart from oxalates, does Chaga tea contain caffeine?
Is There A Safe Chaga Dosage?
Looking at these two reports, up to 2000 mg (about one tablespoon) of mushroom powder is the ideal Chaga dosage to reap its benefits without consuming excessive amounts of oxalate.
However, it is essential to note that different people respond differently to alternative medicine like Chaga. Therefore, before using Chaga mushroom for skin, heart, brain, and other benefits, we suggest speaking to a healthcare professional.
A professional will analyze your current health condition and recommend a personal dosage that won't cause any harmful side effects. The ideal dosage should carry the right amount of soluble and insoluble oxalate content—your body can handle it easily.
Who Should Avoid Chaga Mushroom Supplements?
People with the following conditions should consult a healthcare provider before starting Chaga supplements:
As we previously discussed, consuming Chaga or any other oxalate-rich foods is strongly discouraged for those who are predisposed to kidney stones, as well as those who have been diagnosed with kidney disease or kidney stones.
Chaga mushroom increases the oxalate content in your bloodstream. Free oxalate may combine with free calcium in your bloodstream to form calcium oxalate crystals. Over time, the excessive presence of these crystals may cause kidney damage and physical harm while also depleting the necessary calcium for normal growth.
Read More: Chaga may be unsafe for those at risk of kidney stones. But is Chaga safe for pregnant women?
Because the oxalates in Chaga mushrooms are calcium chelators, they bind to calcium and help the body get rid of it.
That's terrible news for those with osteoporosis, which causes brittle bones, because oxalates will lower the body's overall level of bioavailable calcium, which is essential for bone formation.
For people at risk of osteoporosis, consuming a low oxalate diet can be the first step in reducing oxalate content in their bloodstream. This will reduce the risk of forming calcium oxalate, which will, in turn, allow the calcium to strengthen their bones and reduce the risk of suffering from the nasty symptoms of osteoporosis.
If you have osteoporosis and still want to enjoy the benefits of edible mushrooms, you may want to look for low oxalate content options. For example, Lion's mane mushrooms have low levels of oxalates; therefore, their hot water extract might be safe for those who would like to avoid losing their essential calcium.
Read More: See the health benefits of Lion's mane mushrooms.
Patients With Hypercalciuria or Hyperoxaluria
When your urine naturally contains an excessive amount of oxalate, you have a condition known as hyperoxaluria.
Hypercalciuria is defined as an excess of calcium in the urine. It could be secondary—a side effect of a pre-existing condition that causes high calcium levels in the bloodstream—or "idiopathic," meaning that it occurs on its own, with normal blood calcium levels.
According to an article published in Medline Plus(3), Hyperoxaluria is a rare condition affecting about 1 in 58,000 people worldwide. Hypercalciuria, on the other hand, is more common. A research study conducted in 2016(4) to analyze the prevalence of Hypercalciuria determined that the condition affects up to 7.6% of people in rural regions and about 3.82% in urban areas.
If you have Hypercalciuria, consuming Chaga and other high-oxalate foods creates a scenario where your body forms excess amounts of calcium oxalate since you already have excessive amounts of calcium in the bloodstream. Hyperoxaluria, on the other hand, means that your system already has high oxalate content; therefore, the moderate oxalate levels in Chaga could create toxic oxalate levels in your bloodstream.
Suppose you have these two conditions but still want to enjoy Chaga's health benefits. In that case, you may want to talk to your doctor about additional ways of regulating oxalates and calcium in your bloodstream. Your doctor may provide a solution that helps you balance the two compounds, allowing you to enjoy Chaga without suffering oxalate-related side effects.
Children at Risk of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
Research has shown a possible connection between autism and high levels of oxalates in the bloodstream. For example, one research study(5) analyzed the potential pathogenic role of oxalates in autism. In the research study, plasma oxalate was determined in 36 children aged between 2 and 18 years, all with varying degrees of autism.
The results were compared to those of 60 healthy children (children without autism) matched by age. Children with ASD had three times the amount of oxalate in their blood and 2.5 times higher urinary oxalate concentrations.
Read More: See some of the best mushrooms for brain health that can help fight disorders like ASD.
Autistic children may have impaired kidney function, making oxalates more challenging to process. Furthermore, because children with ASD have less diverse gut bacteria, these patients may lack the necessary good bacteria to balance oxalate levels. For this reason, feeding these kids foods high in oxalates—for example, Inonotus Obliquus—may not be a good idea.
Oxalobacter Formigenes is a helpful gut bacteria that regulate oxalate buildup in the body. One research study conducted in 2013(6) confirmed the effectiveness of Oxalobacter Formigenes in degrading oxalate in the intestinal tract.
In the 2013 study, 37 individuals were used as the study subjects. Twenty-six study subjects tested negative for Oxalobacter Formigenes, while the remaining 11 tested positive for the same gut bacteria. Patients provided the researchers with their urine samples for 24 hours on both a self-selected and standardized diet.
Under controlled, standardized conditions, urinary oxalate excretion did not differ significantly on the self-selected diet. Still, it was substantially lower in Oxalobacter Formigenes-positive patients than in Oxalobacter Formigenes-negative patients.
Unfortunately, antibiotics can completely eradicate this strain of bacteria in the gut, leaving you vulnerable. Those who have used antibiotics for a long time may need to reduce oxalates as their microbiome rebalances, and they develop a new strain of Oxalobacter Formigenes in their gut.
Read More: See how turkey tail mushroom improves gut health.
Patients with a Leaky Gut
As previously stated, an excess of oxalates can impair nutrient absorption. A leaky gut, a condition that affects the gut's ability to absorb nutrients, can amplify these effects. As a result, if you have dysbiosis or a leaky gut, you should avoid oxalates and instead supplement with probiotics.
Leaky gut is a condition often characterized by the following symptoms:
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation, or bloating.
- Nutritional deficiencies.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Joint pain.
- Skin problems, such as acne, rashes, or eczema.
Suppose you have been experiencing any of these symptoms. You may want to talk to a healthcare professional before consuming foods high in oxalates, including wild Chaga chunks and Chaga powder. This should help you lower the risk of having more trouble absorbing nutrients in your body.
Does Chaga Cause Inflammation?
Chaga mushrooms do not trigger inflammation. On the contrary, several clinical studies suggest that Chaga mushrooms have anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce inflammation.
Does Chaga Tea Thin Your Blood?
Some reports suggest that Chaga tea may thin the blood and add to the effects of thinners such as warfarin and clopidogrel. Therefore, Chaga tea should not be taken together with blood thinners, as both prevent blood from clotting, increasing your risk of bleeding.
Read More: Learn about the Chaga tea taste.
In healthy moderation, Chaga oxalates content does not seem to pose any severe health threats to the average person. However, it may be best to avoid Chaga altogether if you have kidney disease, osteoporosis, or are at risk for kidney stones. You should also consult a doctor before using any Chaga products if you have any of these conditions.
Remember that moderation is key to enjoying maximum Chaga benefits and zero side effects. Therefore, always consult a healthcare professional to ensure you use the proper Chaga dosage.
Have you tried Chaga before? What benefits have you enjoyed? Let us know in the comments below. Also, if you have any questions about this mushroom, do not hesitate to ask them in the comments section!
- Development of End Stage Renal Disease after Long-Term Ingestion of Chaga Mushroom: Case Report and Review of Literature, (1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7234858/
- Chaga mushroom-induced oxalate nephropathy, (2)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23149251/
- Primary hyperoxaluria, (3)https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/primary-hyperoxaluria/#frequency
- Prevalence of hypercalciuria and urinary calcium excretion in school-aged children in the province of Tokat, (4)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5242246/
- A potential pathogenic role of oxalate in autism, (5)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21911305/
- The role of Oxalobacter formigenes colonization in calcium oxalate stone disease, (6)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0085253815558638
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