What is the turkey tail mushroom?
The turkey tail mushroom is a powerhouse fungus with a multitude of documented benefits. This mushroom contains several beneficial molecules that are often available in supplement form.
The turkey tail mushroom and its extracts boost the immune system and are effective in combating several types of cancer. It may also have additional benefits, like fighting off viruses, protecting the liver, and improving brain function.
The turkey tail mushroom is a specific species of mushroom that is found throughout the world. It's called the turkey tail mushroom because its flared cap with alternating colored rings looks very similar to a turkey’s tail feathers.
Turkey tail mushrooms grow on fallen logs and play an important role in recycling the nutrients from dead wood and returning the nutrients into the environment. Turkey tail mushrooms are safe to eat and grow abundantly in North America, though it’s important to be confident in your mushroom identification before picking one and eating it.
Turkey tail mushrooms in traditional medicine. Turkey tail mushrooms, also known by their scientific names Trametes versicolor and Coriolus versicolor, have a long history as medicinal fungi, particularly in Asian countries like China and Japan. In China, these mushrooms are known as Yun Zhi and are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat diseases of the lung. In Japan, they're known as Kawaratake and often used for their immune boosting effects.
Turkey tail mushroom extracts. Turkey tail mushrooms, and more specifically their extracts, have been studied extensively. The therapeutic effects of these mushrooms are attributed to molecules called polysaccharide peptides. Turkey tail mushrooms contain several of these molecules, which are often extracted in their pure form. The most commonly studied molecular extracts of turkey tail mushrooms are called PSP and PSK.
Health benefits of eating turkey tail mushroom
The effects of turkey tail mushroom and turkey tail mushroom extracts have been examined extensively across numerous diseases. In particular, turkey tail mushroom extracts seem to have beneficial effects across many different systems in the body and against several diseases, like cancer.
Boosts the immune system. Turkey tail mushrooms and their extracts seem to significantly benefit immune system function. Studies have found that the mushroom extract PSP in particular boosts the activity of several immune cell types, which are essential for fighting off infection.
Helps fight cancer. Much of the research done on turkey tail mushrooms relates to their effect on various cancers, and turkey tail mushroom extracts are even approved as supplementary cancer treatments in Japan and China. Potentially because of their immune-boosting effects, turkey tail mushroom extracts are able to inhibit the growth of certain cancer types.
In addition to inhibiting cancer growth, turkey tail mushrooms are also able to counteract the effects that tumors have on the body. Part of the reason cancerous tumors are able to grow is because they suppress the immune system, preventing the body from reacting to the tumor and stopping its growth.
Potentially because of their immune-boosting effects, turkey tail mushroom extracts are able to counter this immunosuppression. They also help boost the immune system while patients are undergoing chemotherapy, a treatment that can cause significant depression of the immune system.
Several studies have examined the effects of turkey tail mushroom extracts on specific types of cancer. PSK, another extract similar to PSP, seems to improve overall survival in gastric cancer in human patients. In patients with lung cancer, PSK improves several outcomes, like body weight and survival rates.
Turkey tail mushrooms also help improve symptoms and long-term outcomes in patients with several other kinds of cancer, like esophageal cancer and lung cancer. But some types of cancers seem to be less affected by turkey tail mushroom treatments. Further research is necessary to determine the best way to use turkey tail mushroom extracts to treat certain cancer types.
Helps fight some viruses. There is some evidence that turkey tail mushroom extracts like PSP and PSK are useful in treating viral infections. One study found that, when applied to cells, turkey tail mushroom extracts were able to lessen the effects of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) by inhibiting molecules that the virus needs to function. Although studies have not been done in humans, turkey tail mushroom extracts could someday be useful as an antiviral against HIV.
Another study examined the effect of turkey tail mushroom extracts on human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that causes genital warts and can lead to cancer. In many cases, HPV clears out of the body on its own. But administration of turkey tail mushroom extract, in combination with the extract from another mushroom, was found to help clear oral HPV more quickly than without treatment.
Improves nervous system function. Turkey tail mushrooms and their extracts may also be beneficial for brain function. Cell damage caused by oxidative stress may contribute to neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. An increased immune system response, like that caused by turkey tail mushrooms, may help reduce this cellular stress.
Indeed, in a study that looked at a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, turkey tail mushroom extract combined with antioxidants from the ginkgo plant improved memory and reduced the amount of damage seen in the brain.
Protects the liver. Several studies have suggested that turkey tail mushroom extracts may be beneficial for overall liver function, especially in livers damaged by disease. Historically, turkey tail mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to help with liver disorders like jaundice.
Recent studies have found that turkey tail mushroom extracts have a protective effect against liver damage, like damage caused by excessive alcohol intake. Turkey tail mushrooms seem to protect the liver by reducing the amount of fat that accumulates on the liver and by lowering the amount of inflammation caused by alcohol consumption.
Improves gut health. There’s some evidence that turkey tail mushrooms may even help with gut health and general metabolism. One study found that PSP in combination with a prebiotic helped increase the levels of beneficial bacteria in samples taken from the gut.
Improves metabolism. Turkey tail mushrooms seem to help regulate various factors associated with metabolism. One study found that diabetic rats that ate turkey tail mushrooms showed reduced glucose and cholesterol levels in the blood.
Enhances athletic performance. Finally, there's some evidence that turkey tail mushrooms can help with athletic performance. Mice who took a turkey tail mushroom supplement were able to perform better during physical exercise and were able to exercise for longer without becoming tired. But more research on humans is needed.
Some beneficial effects of turkey tail mushrooms and turkey tail mushroom extracts have been studied more extensively than others. But overall, these fantastic fungi have a wide range of positive health effects.
Side effects of turkey tail mushroom
Turkey tail mushrooms themselves are safe to eat, although there are a few mild potential side effects, like darkened stools and potential darkening of nail beds.
Turkey tail mushroom extracts and supplements tend to come in much higher doses than you would get with eating a full mushroom. But these too seem to be generally safe to consume.
Some studies have shown that patients in chemotherapy may experience adverse reactions like mild gastrointestinal distress. But it’s unclear if these side effects are due to the mushrooms or due to the chemotherapy itself.
Be sure to consult with a medical professional before starting any supplements to make sure that the supplement and the dose are right for you.
Turkey tail mushrooms provide many health benefits
In sum, turkey tail mushrooms and turkey tail mushroom extracts are powerful tools with numerous documented beneficial effects.
They're especially effective against several types of cancer and at boosting the immune system. There is some evidence that these mushrooms and their extracts also help protect the liver from damage, enhance nervous system functioning, and increase beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Turkey tail mushrooms are safe to eat for most people and have very few side effects, though it’s important to note the dosage before taking turkey tail mushroom extracts and supplements. This powerhouse fungus has a long history of use in traditional medicine, and modern research is confirming its beneficial effects.
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Biotechnology Advances: "Polysaccharopeptides of Coriolus versicolor: physiological activity, uses, and production."
Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "The Synergistic Beneficial Effects of Ginkgo Flavonoid and Coriolus versicolor Polysaccharide for Memory Improvements in a Mouse Model of Dementia."
General Pharmacology: The Vascular System: "A review of research on the protein-bound polysaccharide (polysaccharopeptide, PSP) from the mushroom Coriolus versicolor (basidiomycetes: Polyporaceae)."
International Journal of Biological Macromolecules: "Structural characterization and anti-alcoholic liver injury activity of a polysaccharide from Coriolus versicolor mycelia."
International Journal of Medical Sciences: "Effect of Coriolus versicolor Mycelia Extract on Exercise Performance and Physical Fatigue in Mice."
International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms: "Control of Oral Human Papillomavirus (HPV) by Medicinal Mushrooms, Trametes versicolor and Ganoderma lucidum: A Preliminary Clinical Trial."
Journal of Functional Foods: "Polysaccharide peptides from Coriolus versicolor: A multi-targeted approach for the protection or prevention of alcoholic liver disease."
Journal of Neurology and Neuromedicine: "Neuroinflammation and Mitochondrial Dysfunction in the Pathogenesis of Alzheimer's Disease: Modulation by Coriolus Versicolor (Yun-Zhi) Nutritional Mushroom."
Life Sciences: "Polysaccharopeptide from Coriolus versicolor has potential for use against human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection."
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Coriolus versicolor."
Missouri Department of Conservation: "Turkey Tail."
Mycobiology: "Hypoglycemic Effects of Exo-biopolymers Produced by Five Different Medicinal Mushrooms in STZ-induced Diabetic Rats."
National Cancer Institute: "Medicinal Mushrooms (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version."
Plant Foods for Human Nutrition: "Trametes versicolor Extract Modifies Human Fecal Microbiota Composition In vitro."
Recent Patents on Inflammation & Allergy Drug Discovery: "Efficacy of Yun Zhi (Coriolus versicolor) on Survival in Cancer Patients: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."
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