Chaga & the sympathetic nervous system

I loved this quote that the scientists daughter used in her blog yesterday:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein

I think I can safely say that I’m pretty open to trying anything. I have a crazy tendency to want to know everything – I want information.  I’d rather try something new, and form my own opinion, based on my experience and I’m totally ok with experimenting on myself.

Whenever I wrote in the past, I kept my 2 blogs on spirituality and nutrition very separate, however, as hard as I try, they just want to intermingle.  They’re  like star crossed lovers..they can’t stay away from each other. They want to co-exist. They can’t keep their hands off each other. So..I surrender…it appears I’m called to write a certain way – integrating spirit and science.

Integration for me is bringing both of these worlds together with the soul purpose of healing myself, to teach myself…and along the way, I might as well share some information… after all that is the theory of Namaste! We are one. I teach myself. And I also teach you.

Chaga mushroom

Today my topic of interest was inspired by a conversation with my friend on Chaga tonic.  I’d never had Chaga until I came to Ubud.  Now I’m intrigued by the application of adaptogens and how they can help to support healing.

Chaga (inonotus obliqquus) is a fungus. Interestingly, its a parasite that grows on birch and other trees. It kind of looks like a burnt piece of coal and usually appears after the host tree is dead. Chaga grows in the birch forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, northern area’s of the USA and Canada. Chaga has been used as a medicine in Russia and Siberia since the 16th century.

Chaga mushroom ( Inonotus obliquus )

Chaga as an Adaptogen

The most interesting feature of Chaga is its adaptogenic qualities. Adaptogens are substances, compounds, herbs or practices that by their very use, result in the stabilisation of psychological processes and promotion of homeostasis.

Homeostasis is produced by a decreased cellular response to stress.

The concept of an adaptogen in helping the body cope with stress is not a new one. This theory is the basis of many traditional, and what the Western world would call, ‘alternative’ treatments used in both TCM and Ayurvedic medicine.

What is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and what does it have to do with Chaga?

Without getting too technical, adaptogens work on the sympathetic nervous system.

Ok, who I am kidding, I’m totally going to get technical..this stuff is so INTERESTING!!!  …particularly the connection between science and what has been traditionally thought of as alternative medicine.

The primary process of the SNS is to stimulate the body’s fight or flight response. The SNS is active at a basic level to maintain homeostasis. I could go off on 1001 tangents here explaining the connection between the nervous systems – I think this might be a job for another day.   Suffice to say that the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) has two branches.

1. The sympathetic nervous system

  • Stimulates flight or fight response
  • A quick response mobilising system
  • Regulates heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination and sexual arousal. All of these are controlled within the brain by the hypothalamus.

2. The parasympathetic nervous system

  • A more slowly activated dampening system
  • Often considered the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘feed and breed’ system.

In many cases, these systems have ‘opposite‘ actions, where one system activates a physiological response and the other inhibits.

Here’s an analogy to help you with understanding these systems:

1.  You’re walking in the woods and an angry mama bear theatens to kill you because she’s hungry, and she wants your muesli bar.  Do you Run or fight??  This reaction sets off a series of events – your blood pressure increases, your digestion rate slows…adrenalin courses through your body. This is your Sympathetic Nervous system in action.

2.  It’s a beautiful, sunny day.  You walk through the path.  Not a soul is in sight.  Its so quiet you can only hear the wind breezing gently through the trees.  You lie on the grass, birdsong surrounding you.  Blood pressure decreases, pulse decreases.  Digestion starts.  This is your Parasympathetic Nervous System in action.

Interesting fact:

The only role where these 2 systems combine is in sexual arousal and orgasm

Proven results v Case studies

I don’t use Chaga regularly enough to give a succinct yes or no to its effectiveness.

BUT…from an intuitive perspective, I want more of it. The case studies create enough interest in it for me to delve a little deeper.

As far as I know there are no clinical trials on Chaga, however it has been used in the treatment of Cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Laboratory studies indicate possible potential in cancer therapy as an antioxidant, in immunotherapy and as an anti-inflammatory.

A Russian study showed a potential ability to neutralise auto immune diseases such as psoriasis.


Chaga can interfere with the use of other drugs. If this is the case, the immediate response I have to naisayers of Chaga is, if its that powerful, how can you underestimate its medicinal application?  Unless of course you’re in the States and the disclaimer is just because you’re afraid of being sued.

As with anything new you introduce to your space, try a little first, and if there are no adverse reactions, try a little more.


One of the issues with most alternative medicines are that all are not equal. If you had 20 different Chaga’s they would all differ in quality. Chaga is no different and to receive efficacy, the preparation is VERY important.

Traditionally its grated into a fine powder and used to brew tea. Our limited homosapien digestive systems can’t digest raw mushrooms because the digestive system works too fast for the stomach acid to take effect. Medically speaking, an extraction process is needed to make some of the bio-active compounds bioavailable.


In essence, according to my theorising, chaga should, in a perfect world, assist your body to reduce anxiety, de-stress and allow the digestive and other key systems to work efficiently. Though there’s no strong scientific theory to support the benefits of Chaga, all of those benefits sound good enough on paper for me to give it a go.  If my body responds to it, whether that be because I’ve formed an intention around it or because its in that 30% placebo effect…who really cares..I say, just do what feels right.

Where can you get Chaga?

Come to Ubud! Ben Richards of Seeds of life is the local expert in making fabulous Chaga tea tonics.

He makes a decoction by using water extraction to simmer the chaga in clay pots from 30 minutes to 3 hours.  He cools the decoction overnight and wallah!  Chaga tonic!

He’s also about to release a dual extraction tincture using ethanol and water.  I’m really looking forward to trying it.  Seeds of Life is located at the Northern end of JL Gootama in central Ubud.

If you’re not in Bali, most good Health stores sell Chaga or Reishi powdered teabags which you simply add hot water to. Do your research first to check if its worth spending your money on a half assed representation of Chaga.


Facts of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with their Stress