Throughout this blog, we will compare the water soluble components of Chaga (aka -Chaga tea) with the ethanol soluble components (aka - Chaga tincture) in order to characterize the benefits of each & help you make more informed Chaga choices.
As we have discussed in the past, all chemicals follow a set of solubility rules: the structure of a chemical determines which solvents (water, alcohol, oil, etc.) it will dissolve in. This raises an important question: Which of the micronutrients present in Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) are able to be extracted through hot water, and which need to be extracted with alcohol? The following two paragraphs provide the short version of our answer to this tricky question:
Hot water extracts (teas) deliver high levels of melanins, polyphenols, polysaccharides, and beta-glucans. Together, these water soluble compounds offer an array of benefits including but not limited to antiviral properties, stimulation of the immune system, healthier skin & epidermal support, rich source of antioxidants, protection from UV radiation, protection from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, and a supplemental source of essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids for everyday wellness.
Ethanol (alcohol) extraction (a traditional tincture) delivers higher levels of triterpenes, sterols, and lignin, which make up some of Chaga’s most impressive characteristics, including anticancer activity, immunomodulatory activity, and the facilitation of healthy cell regeneration.
If you'd like to learn more about the characteristics of these micro-nutrients (trust us, you do) let's take a dive into the Chemistry of the King of Herbs!
Let’s begin with water soluble compounds in Chaga (Inonotus obliquus).
Polysaccharides are long-chain carbohydrate molecules made up of multiple monosaccharides linked by glycosidic bonds. Starch, chitin, beta-glucans and arabinoxylan are all examples of polysaccharides. They vary in their solubility. Polysaccharide rich foods and mushrooms have been used for centuries for their dietary and medicinal benefits. Certain polysaccharides are known for their immune boosting properties, as well as their ability to combat inflammation and tumor growth. Chaga is an excellent source for many such polysaccharides.
A polysaccharide, beta-glucans offer a myriad of health benefits including but not limited to lowering cholesterol, maintaining stable blood sugar levels, and boosting the immune system. The human immune system falsely perceives Beta-Glucans as foreign invaders, consequently releasing an array of immune stimulating cytokines and protective compounds (1). Preliminary research shows Beta-Glucans' ability to boost immune function by activating complement systems, enhancing macrophages, as well as enhancing the production & efficacy of natural killer cells (T-cells).
Another polysaccharide present in chaga is Arabinoxylan. A major component of dietary fiber, arabinoxylan is understood to offer a variety of health benefits. These benefits may include improved digestion, stimulation of the immune system, and extra protection from hostile pathogens and infection (2).
Often overlooked is the fact that 24% of wild Chaga’s mass is composed of fungal melanins. Melanin is a class of pigments produced by all living organisms, but for fungi, melanin acts as fungal armor. It protects from UV radiation, so it is unsurprising that melanin is also present in the hair, skin, and eyes of humans. Melanin in Chaga is an anomaly in that it is water soluble in Chaga’s natural state (3). This is almost never the case for synthetic or isolated melanin derived from other sources. Melanin can be credited for improving the overall vitality of our skin’s epidermis as well as absorbing UV light & maintaining healthy pigmentation in the hair & skin. Melanin is what makes Chaga (and Chaga tea) black.
Much of the antiviral properties associated with aqueous extracts of Inonotus obliquus can be attributed to melanin and a melanin-glucan complex. Scientists in Belarus and Ukrained found that Chaga's melanin glucan complex showed the highest activity against HIV-1 among five species of fungi tested in an MT-4 cell culture (4). A study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms states in its conclusions that "melanin derived from Chaga exhibited activity against many viruses: HIV-1 and HSV-2 and the West Nile, influenza, vaccinia, and monkeypox viruses".
Phenolic Compounds (also known as polyphenols) are a large group of naturally occurring organic compounds characterized by multiple phenol units. Though most phenolic compounds are readily extracted in both ethanol and water, they tend to be more efficiently extracted with water and thus they will be included under the water soluble section. In vitro, many polyphenols are considered antioxidants and thus help protect from the oxidative damage of free radicals (5). It should be noted that Chaga’s outlandish concentration of antioxidants can be mainly attributed to its phenolic compounds.
Essential amino acids are amino acids that cannot be synthesized from scratch by the organism fast enough to supply its demand, and must therefore come from the diet. There are nine essential amino acids. They include isoleucine, leucine, lysine, histidine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Of the nine just listed, eight of these essential amino acids are present in Chaga; the exception being isoleucine.
Next let’s explore some of Chaga’s alcohol soluble compounds.
Triterpenoids are a class of chemicals composed of three terpene units. Triterpenoids show low solubility in water, and are more efficiently extracted with ethanol. Triterpenes are often precursors to other more complex chemicals such as sterols.
Betulin is a naturally occurring triterpene, while betulinic acid is a chemical derivative, having had its alcohol group replaced with a carboxylic acid. Betulinic acid is known to be more biologically active. Both are present in birch trees, and both are concentrated in Inonotus obliquus. By now it should come as no surprise that this virulent fungus can also readily convert Betulin into biologically superior superior Betulinic acid.
Betulinic acid is known for anticancer activity because it can trigger apoptosis in maligned cells (6). Betulinic acid has even been shown to exhibit antimalarial properties in vitro by inhibition of topoisomerase.
Sterols are inherently linked to triterpenes as most are the product of a chemical reaction that involves a triterpene. Some sterols function similar to beneficial steroids by reducing inflammation. Inotodiol, lanosterol, and ergosterol peroxide are all sterols that have been isolated from Chaga.
Inotodiol is a tetracyclic triterpene / sterol that supports healthy cell division and more. Inotodiol has therapeutic affects on food allergy due to its mast cell stabilizing activity. Inotodiol also has antiproliferative properties, demonstrated in vitro with human lung adenocarcinoma cells (6).
Perhaps this is because Inotodiol from Chaga induces atypical maturation in dendritic cells (7). Dendritic cells are antigen-presenting cells of the mammalian immune system. Their main function is to process antigen material and present it on the cell surface to the T cells of the immune system; they are messengers between the innate and the adaptive immune systems.
Lanosterol is a tetracyclic triterpenoid and is the compound from which all animal and fungal steroids are derived; the precursor of human cholesterol. One of the ways sterols help promote wellness in the body is by reducing the amount of cholesterol absorbed by it.
Ergosterol peroxide is useful in supporting a healthy function of the immune system, healthy cell division, and a healthy inflammation response. Studies have also shown that ergosterol peroxide isolated from mushrooms can suppress the growth of cancerous human adenocarcinoma cells (8).
Lignin is a complex organic polymer deposited in the cell walls of many plants. Besides cellulose and chitin, lignin is the most abundant polymer in nature. Lignin is soluble in both water and ethanol, but studies have quantified nearly double concentrations in ethanol extracts compared to water extracts. In addition to alleviating inflammation, Lanosterol benefits the human body by an ability to act as an immunomodulator (9).
There is a lot to be said about Chaga’s bioactive constituents. Perhaps the most important thing to be said is that there is still so much to be learned about Inonotus obliquus. Another important factor to consider is that temperature can play an important role in many of these compound’s solubility.
While certain compounds may readily dissolve regardless of temperature, some will only be drawn out from Chaga’s cell walls under higher temperatures. It is also possible that excessive heat could destroy or break down some of these constituents.
These are not random combinations of independent mechanisms. Being a parasite to living Birch trees, the way that Chaga heals & protects itself from the tree’s immune response is cohesive, systematic & interdependent. We should acknowledge that there is absolute overlap of certain benefits regardless of solubility status, and that further benefits can be realized synergistically via sublingual administration of an extract that includes a full spectrum of compounds in Chaga.
Proper preparation of this extract, however, is critical. Too much ethanol will precipitate polysaccharides out of the solution. Birch Boys Chaga extracts (tinctures) are prepared by first performing a hot water extraction of Chaga in distilled water. We then take the Chaga (post-hot water brew) and soak it in ethanol for 6 weeks. At the end of this soak we heat the chaga while still soaking in alcohol to get a final pull of its compounds before straining the Chaga away.
Finally, we combine 1 part of the ethanol extract to 3.5 parts of the hot water extract. By keeping the alcohol concentration of the final extract at about 22%, we strive to produce a product that maximizes this synergy while mitigating precipitation of important polysaccharides. We heat both of our solvents, but we never let either of them come to a boil.
We make no guarantees with regard to the concentration of these compounds & the presence of their associated benefits. What we do guarantee: We choose premium specimens of wild Chaga and have used all of the information within our grasp to design an effective extraction procedure that strives to accomplish maximum synergy of healing benefits.
The King of Herbs runs a mean, green, healing machine. We hope this blog has painted a better picture of how it works.
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