What is Turkey Tail Mushroom?
Turkey Tail Mushroom is the common name for a fungus called Tramates versicolor, Coriolus versicolor, or sometimes Polyporus versicolor, which is an older name. You may also find Turkey tail under its Chinese and Japanese names, yun zhi and kawaritake, respectively.
Turkey tail is one of the most-studied medicinal mushrooms in the world. Mainly because, it can be found all over the world. Turkey tail is a bracket fungus, which means it grows “sticking out” of tree trunks, stumps, branches, and logs in a pattern of concentric rings. It is named after its colorful appearance, which includes bands of brown, cream, black, orange, and even blue and purple colors, which resemble a Turkey’s tail. Turkey tail is a polypore fungus, which means that its underside is covered in many small holes whose function is to increase the surface area for spores. In this way, the true Turkey tail mushroom can be distinguished from lookalikes such as Stereum ostrea, which does not have any pores.
Turkey tail has been used for centuries in Asian medicine. In 15th century China, a tea made from Turkey tail was described as a tonic to enhance strength and energy, and to promote longevity. However, it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that Turkey tail was given real attention. Scientists, in Japan, developed a compound they called polysaccharide Krestin (PSK), which was approved in 1977 as a cancer therapy drug. Several years later, another compound called polysaccharopeptide (PSP) was developed in China, and it was approved in 1993. While it is possible to get whole Turkey tail supplements in North America, the FDA has not approved PSK or PSP for use, because it does not have a single molecular “active principal ingredient.” PSK and PSP are compounds of various sugars and proteins. However, given the medical potential of Turkey tail, manufacturers in North America are working to create effective supplements of the whole mushroom.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits and Uses
Turkey tail is proven to be effective in enhancing the immune system, especially for cancer patients who have suffered the damaging effects of chemotherapy and radiation. It may also have anti-tumour effects. There have been a number of studies showing its benefits in various types of cancer treatments:
Treating breast, stomach and colorectal cancers
After undergoing surgical removal of tumours, patients with stomach and colorectal cancers experienced better recovery when taking Turkey tail. Additionally, a meta-analysis of 13 randomized control trials, which included 2,587 patients, showed that treatment with Turkey tail reduced the five-year mortality rate by 9%. This was seen in patients with breast, stomach, and colorectal cancer, but not those with esophageal or nasopharyngeal cancers.
Improving immune function in breast cancer patients
A small study was conducted to assess Turkey tail’s effects in improving immune function. It involved analyzing nine women with stages I, II, and III of breast cancer who had undergone surgery, chemotherapy, and were about to undergo radiation. Immune system data was taken before and after radiation, and at an additional three points during the testing, and three weeks after the treatment had ended. The dosages used were 3g, 6g, and 9g of freeze-dried mycelial powder from Turkey tail. The study observed that higher doses of Turkey tail, 6g and 9g, were effective at increasing lymphocyte cells and natural killer cell activity.
Improving immune function in lung cancer patients
In this double-blind, randomized control trial, 34 individuals undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer were given either Turkey tail or a placebo. After 28 days, those taking Turkey tail had increased immune system levels (leukocyte, neutrophil, and Immunoglobulin-G and -M) and greater body fat percentages versus placebo.
Turkey tail may have an antimicrobial effect on fungi, viruses, and bacteria, such as Candida albicans, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Listeria monocytogenes. It reportedly has effects against HPV and hepatitis C virus as well.
Turkey tail’s mechanism is not fully understood, but it may be a biological response modifier, meaning it helps the body’s immune system fight cancer. Compounds in Turkey tail promote the activity and response of certain types of antibodies such as T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and natural killer cells, and induce the production of other types, such as Immunoglobulin. Some tests show that Turkey tail can benefit the immune systems of healthy individuals as well.
Turkey Tail Side Effects and Safety
Turkey tail is a remarkably well-tolerated supplement. There are no side effects directly attributable to it. However, studies that did note side effects observed nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dark stools, and dark fingernails. The study of breast cancer patients noted above reported heartburn, chest pain, cold and flu symptoms, and palpitations. However, since in these instances Turkey tail was administered along with chemotherapy and/or radiation, many of the reported side effects were believed to be due to cancer treatment, not Turkey tail itself. Moreover, a clinical trial testing 100 healthy volunteers given Turkey tail did not note any side effects or changes to liver or kidney function, and a study using mice found that even high doses were essentially non-toxic.
However, there are certain populations who should not use Turkey tail. Individuals with blood clotting problems or who are taking anticoagulant medication should avoid Turkey tail, because it can lower blood platelet levels. Those taking immunosuppressants should not take Turkey tail. Lastly, people receiving bone marrow transplants or those who have autoimmune disorders should avoid it as well, because Turkey tail can cause Leukopenia.
Turkey Tail Dosage
Turkey Tail Mushroom Extract: Usually, Turkey tail is found as an over-the-counter encapsulated extract. The dosages of these will vary according to the manufacturer. Each manufacturer will have a different extract, different polysaccharide levels and will have different amounts of the extract in each capsule. Thus it’s important to read the manufacturers recommended dose. Turkey tail has not been patented as a drug in North America, due to its long historical use as a natural remedy.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Tea: If the whole mushroom is available, 9-15g can be made into a tea by boiling small pieces in water for about 10 minutes. This was the traditional way of consuming Turkey tail, however it may not be completely effective at breaking down the chitin in mushroom cells, a material that “traps” the active compounds and which humans cannot digest. Tinctures are also sometimes available, and can include insoluble compounds not present in teas.
Finding the Best Turkey Tail
Overall, the easiest way to buy and consume Turkey tail is through an encapsulated extract. However, not all extracts are made alike, and it is important to find one that is legitimate and effective. Because mushroom cells are made of chitin, a durable material that the majority of humans lack the enzymes to digest, many of the nutrients within the supplement cannot be absorbed without an extraction process. Some mushroom extracts on the market are simply ground mushrooms that have not undergone any treatment to extract compounds from the cells.
The process used by many manufacturers, and frequently in scientific studies, is a dual hot-water and alcohol extraction. In this case, the material is heated with extremely hot, pressurized water (above the boiling point) to release the necessary compounds and make them bioavailable. This is then combined with a hot ethanol extraction process, which releases non-water soluble compounds as well. For example, Noomadic Herbals produces a Turkey tail supplement that is made with this dual extraction process.
It is also important that the manufacturer is willing to disclose where and how their Turkey tail is grown, and that they state key information like specific percentages of active ingredients on their label. (Lesser quality supplements will simply state the amount of encapsulated powder, not the bioactive compounds.) The specific bioactive compounds will be the only useful part of the supplement, so it is important that the supplement contains a significant amount of them.
Overall, Turkey tail is an extremely promising natural therapy to increase immune function. With a wide body of research behind it and a growing recognition of its powers, it is an option well-worth considering when looking to improve immune function.