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Turkey Tail Mushroom: Why You Should Try It

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Last modified on October 4th, 2021

What is turkey tail mushroom? Turkey tail mushroom is one of the most powerful supplements you can try right now. Mushrooms like turkey tail are widely studied for everything from boosting the immune system to helping fight cancer.

Medicinal mushrooms aren’t new—they’ve been traditionally used in folk medicine for centuries.

However, our own modern medical community seems just now to be catching up with the benefits of fungi and edible mushrooms.

With that in mind, below, we’ll let you know why we think this mushroom is such an important supplement that you should likely try unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise.

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What Is Turkey Tail Mushroom?

The mushroom is also known as trametes Versicolor. It’s a commonly found species of mushrooms in North America, with a wide variety of medicinal purposes. Eastern medicine has long relied on the use of functional mushrooms like turkey tail. They’re antioxidants, support healthy aging and support the immune system.

The mushroom’s name comes from its appearance, similar to a turkey’s tail, as you might have guessed.

Turkey tail grows on dead hardwood trees globally, and they have colored stripes of tan, gray, brown, and white. In Japan, it’s called the cloud mushroom because the shape and color can look like swirling clouds.

In Asian cultures, these types of mushrooms symbolize longevity and spiritual attunement. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the mushroom is an immunomodulator and infection fighter.

In TCM, it’s often brewed as a tea to clear dampness, strengthen the lungs, stomach and spleen and increase energy levels. Uniquely, as an immunomodulator, there’s evidence it mushroom can help with an under- and overactive immune system. That’s something highly valued in traditional medicine.

Key things and potential benefits include:

  • Turkey tail is used in Japan as an immunomodulator and an adjunctive cancer treatment.
  • Polysaccharide-K (PSK) or krestin from the mushroom is approved as a natural treatment for cancer in Japan.
  • PSK is a proprietary formulation made by the Kurhea corporation.
  • Since the mid-1970s, PSK has been used as an adjunct cancer treatment in thousands of patients. 
  • There have been very few adverse effects seen in patients treated with PSK.
  • When used as an adjunctive treatment, PSK seems to improve survival rates in colorectal and gastric cancers.
  • Components may also have benefits for esophageal cancer.
  • Findings from studies looking at other components of turkey tail have found benefits for patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer.
  • In vitro, PSP and PSP can induce apoptosis in leukemia cells.
  • In a phase I clinical trial the National Institutes of Health-sponsored, a turkey tail product was given to a small group of breast cancer patients after radiation. There appeared to be an increase in cancer-fighting and natural killer cells in the immune system. 
  • In a study looking at Japanese patients with colorectal cancer, the 10-year survival rate for patients treated with PSK and surgery was significantly better than surgery alone.
  • The natural polysaccharides can help manage your inflammatory response at the cellular level and reduce oxidative stress. 
  • Contains more than 35 phenols.
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Image Source: Pixabay

The Use of Medicinal Mushrooms

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, most recently, medicinal mushrooms have garnered attention in treating pulmonary diseases and cancer. The National Cancer Institute says in Japan and China, medicinal mushrooms are approved adjunctive treatments for cancer and have been for more than 30 years. They’re often used along with chemotherapy and radiation.

In Asia, more than 100 species of medicinal mushrooms are used. Among the most common, including turkey tail are shiitake, maitake, and reishi.

The National Cancer Institute says studies have looked at the effects of mushrooms on immune response pathways. The NCI states immune effects are mediated through the ability of mushrooms to stimulate innate immune cells. These cells include natural killer cells, monocytes, and dendritic cells.

The reason medicinal mushrooms can activate immune cells is usually because of beta-glucans, but other components are involved. Clinical trials in cancer patients, according to the NCI, have shown these are generally well-tolerated products.

Reishi is another medicinal mushroom currently being studied for its anti-cancer benefits, as well as other potential health benefits. Reishi is also known as Ganoderma. It’s a woody fungus that grows on live trees. Biologically active components of reishi include lipids, proteins, and polysaccharides.

Some components of reishi mushrooms have been found to prevent cell line growth. For example, there have been reports of differentiation of neuroblastoma cells in vitro. Reishi may also help chemotherapy work more effectively.

Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits

Above we already covered some of the cancer-fighting properties, but below, we’re going to go into more details about the possible health benefits of this powerful medicinal mushroom.

Cancer-Fighting

The cancer-fighting benefits are perhaps one of the most compelling things about this particular medicinal mushroom. Turkey tail isn’t a cure for cancer, and you should always consult your doctor about taking any supplements, including medicinal mushrooms. The evidence is growing in favor of the use of this mushroom.

Currently, no research shows it is a standalone cancer treatment, but instead, it works well with other conventional treatments like chemotherapy. As was mentioned above, the PSP and PSK compounds seem to stop the growth of cancer cells. The PSP may stimulate the immune system and help your body more effectively fight cancer, primarily when used in conjunction with other anticancer treatments.

There isn’t currently approval from the FDA for this mushroom to treat cancer in the U.S., but there is approval for the U.S. of PSK to treat cancer in Japan.

Turkey Tail Mushroom and Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is prevalent in the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimated around 100,000 people received a colon cancer diagnosis in 2020.

The PSP may prevent colon cancer cell growth. There’s also research showing this particular medicinal mushroom could prevent the migration of colon cancer cells that might otherwise invade healthy cells. This research wasn’t done on humans yet but was lab-based.

A systematic review found PSK is a particularly effective and safe supplement for people with colorectal cancer. The review authors concluded PSK might improve survival rates, and they recommended a combination with chemotherapy. I

In general, there may be medicinal properties for gastric cancer and other similar types of cancer. 

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second-most common type of cancer in American women, second only to skin cancer. In a small study, women with breast cancer in varying states underwent chemotherapy and radiation as treatment for breast cancer. They were then given extract in divided doses of 3, 6, or 9 grams each day for six weeks.

Researchers concluded the mushroom extract increased their immune system’s cancer-fighting cells.

A separate study looked at the supplements most recommended by doctors for use along with chemo. The authors found the extract was the most commonly recommended natural therapy for breast cancer patients.

Gut Health

Interestingly, benefits include improved gut health. Gut health is linked to whole-body wellness, including your mental health. Turkey tail, as is the case with other mushrooms, contains fiber. Fiber helps maintain digestion.

Other benefits for gut health include:

  • Prebiotics can help your body grow good bacteria strains like acidophilus and bifidobacterium.
  • It may help with the health condition leaky gut. 
  • PSP may regulate the gut microbiome by balancing intestinal bacteria.
  • When you have a healthy colony of bacteria in your gut, it helps support the immune system and prevent acute and chronic illnesses.

Cold and Flu Prevention

Turkey tail is great for preventing infections, at least based on currently available research. This medicinal mushroom seems to have benefits in combatting any kind of infection. These infection-fighting properties are primarily because it stimulates your immune system. Interestingly, if you have an overactive immune system, turkey tail may be able to help modulate that immune response. 

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

Mushrooms and especially turkey tail can help healing infections, including HPV. There was one study of 61 patients with gum disease. The participants tested positive for oral HPV. Eighty-eight percent of the 41 patients receiving turkey tail along with reishi mushrooms had positive results after two months of treatment.

Does This Mushroom Have Any Nutritional Value?

Turkey tail does seem to have some nutritional value, in addition to its many other health benefits. For example, mushrooms are high in vitamin D, vitamin B3, and selenium. These dietary components are part of why they’re good for your immune system.

This mushroom also has B-glucans. B-glucans power the receptors in the small intestine, which in turn give your immune system a big boost.

The mushroom is an adaptogen as a result of the B-glucans. Adaptogens help you combat stress in your daily life, both physically and mentally. Adaptogens including medicinal mushrooms stimulate your energy levels and support your overall immune system.

Mushrooms also have something called mycelium. Mycelium is a part of the fungus with nutritional elements, including proteins, minerals, and vitamins. The mycelium of mushrooms has antimicrobial and antiviral properties and enzymes.

Turkey Tail Mushroom Side Effects

Are there any side effects to be aware of?

The great thing about medicinal mushrooms is that the side effects are minimal, and for most people, don’t exist at all. Of course, if you take it in supplement form, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider first and follow dosage instructions.

If you have a mold or mushroom allergy, you shouldn’t take this or any associated supplement.

Researchers haven’t identified any severe side effects.

Turkey Tail Mushroom for Dogs

For humans, turkey tail mushrooms are amazing, but they’re great for dogs as well.

Benefits for dogs are similar to those found in humans and include:

  • Increase immune function thanks to the beta-glucans
  • Regulate your dog’s immune system if he has an autoimmune disease
  • Reduces inflammatory response in dogs with overactive immune systems
  • This mushroom is a prebiotic that ferments in the gut to help your dog fight off parasites, viruses, bacteria, and fungi
  • Fights out-of-control yeast
  • Keeps your dog’s urinary, respiratory and digestive tracts healthy and optimally functioning
  • Turkey tail has phytonutrients that protect dogs from damage, to prevent diabetes, pulmonary and heart disease, and cancer
  • The PSP in these mushrooms might help prevent liver damage and cancer in dogs

The most prominent reason people use turkey tail mushrooms for dogs is to help with cancer like hemangiosarcoma.

Hemangiosarcoma is a type of cancer more common in dogs than other animals, affecting the spleen, heart, skin, and liver. Symptoms vary depending on which of your dog’s organs is affected. Skin tumors may look like purple or red bumps that bleed or bruise.

Internal tumor symptoms of hemangiosarcoma can include weight loss, bulging belly, and lethargy. Other symptoms are reduced appetite, increased panting, pale gums and weakness.

Hemangiosarcoma is fast-spreading cancer in dogs, and less than 10% survive past the first year. In 2012, researchers discovered dogs given PSP from turkey tail had a slower spread of this cancer, and they survived longer.

For example, on a dose of 100 mg/kg a day, dogs survived on average 199 days, compared to 86 days with the mushroom. That’s not the only type of cancer in dogs that the mushroom is beneficial for.

If a dog has cancer and takes chemotherapy, it may also lessen symptoms.

If you’re giving your dog turkey tail, rather than trying to feed them raw mushrooms, supplements tend to be a better option. Raw mushrooms can irritate a dog’s liver.

turkey tail mushrooms for dogs
Image Source: Pixabay

How Do You Use this Medicinal Mushroom?

You could theoretically get this mushroom by eating it, but it’s chewy and not all that appetizing. That’s why most people take it in supplement form in a capsule or as a powder or tea. You may find it on its own or combined with other mushrooms.

Make sure that you choose a high-quality brand that’s appropriately sourced.

Can You Buy PSK?

Above, we talked about the particular compound in this type of mushroom, which is PSK. This protein-bound polysaccharide is isolated from the whole mushroom and is a dietary supplement. It’s the PSK that’s used in Japan as an anti-cancer treatment, and it’s also used to help improve the response to chemotherapy while reducing symptoms.

For decades, PSK has been used to help patients in Japan with cancer.

In the United States, PSK isn’t available legally. However, there is another option. The pure type used in a clinical study is available under the Host Defense label, which we talk about more below.

This particular supplement, which is one my family uses, is turkey tail mycelium in pure form. It’s marketed as a supplement under FDA guidelines.

Host Defense Mushrooms

Host Defense, in my opinion, is the best brand available for medicinal mushrooms. All Host Defense supplements, which are a product of the Fungi Perfect company, contain the mushroom’s mycelium. The mycelium, according to Fungi Perfect, is the cellular network that helps medicinal mushrooms be so powerful.

The mycelium helps the entire ecological system of our world. Mushroom mycelium is the most metabolically active part of a mushroom, and it contains many compounds that are proven beneficial to human health.

Host Defense has two main versions of their supplement—there are capsules and powders. I’ve tried both and use both currently, and I think they’re both great. In a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Host Defense Turkey Tail brand was proven to be immunologically active.

Mycologist Paul Stamets created the Host Defense Mushrooms brand. All the products are uniquely mycelium-based. The company is one of the longest-standing mushroom companies, based in Washington state near the Olympic Rainforest.

Paul Stamets is known as one of the world’s foremost fungi experts, having started Fungi Perfecti in 1980 as a way to bridge the gap between people and fungi.

Paul Stamets is a writer and medical researcher, and his team has done significant work over the decades in helping us understand more about the powerful benefits of mushrooms. Stamets plays a crucial role in the Fantastic Fungi documentary from 2019.

Host Defense Mushrooms Turkey Tail Capsules

  • Cellular nutrients
  • Activated freeze-dried mushroom mycelium
  • Full-spectrum of components including polysaccharides and glycoproteins
  • Take two a day with food or on an empty stomach
  • Made from U.S. grown, organic mushrooms
  • Sustainably cultivated
  • Highly-rated by customers
  • Contains activated turkey tail mycelium for immune support
  • Only need to take half a teaspoon, and you can mix it into anything
  • Organic
  • Shelf-stable
  • Proven to be immunologically active
  • Mushrooms are certified organic and sustainably cultivated

Final Thoughts

Backed by previous research and the subject of current research, this mushroom is one of the most exciting and fascinating natural supplements right now.

The benefits are tremendous, including anti-cancer and immune-building and immune-modulating properties.

In Japan and other Asian countries, turkey tail mushroom is already used extensively, including to help with cancer. The Host Defense brand is our pick for the best way to take turkey tail and get the many benefits.

Talk to your health care provider before taking any supplement.

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