Turkey Tail Mushroom

This mushroom (Coriolus versicolor, also known as Trametes versicolor)—whose unique shape and coloring resemble a wild turkey’s tail—is promoted by Dr. Weil and others for its capacity to stimulate the immune system, which is almost always in a weakened state in those diagnosed with cancer. The immune system is even further depressed by common conventional treatments such as chemo and radiation therapy.

Three substances found in the mushroom, PSK, PSP, and VPS, seem to be most responsible for its immune-boosting properties. You can purchase these extracts in pill form or you can purchase the whole mushroom freeze-dried in pill form. Turkey tail mushroom can also be taken as a tea or tincture. The literature is not clear as to which form is most effective.

The immune system, when functioning properly, is a complex system designed to keep us healthy. One of the key players in the immune system is Natural Killer (NK) cells. It’s the job of the NK cells to kill cancer, as well as other disease-carrying cells or invaders. The theory is that turkey tail mushroom improves the function of these NK cells.

Traditional Asian medicine has used turkey tail mushroom for centuries. In the 1980s, the Japanese government approved the use of PSK as a cancer treatment (to be used along with surgery, chemo, and radiation therapy). Interest in turkey tail mushroom is also growing in the U.S. In 2008, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Bastyr University began a seven-year study in women with stages I–III breast cancer who had completed radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Phase 1 results have shown enhanced immune function in women who took daily doses of turkey tail in pill form.

You can find turkey tail in most health food stores and herbal medicine shops, or via the internet.

Note that, just like grape harvests that vary from year to year, turkey tail mushrooms vary in their potency and toxicity (mushrooms grown in contaminated soil absorb those contaminants—e.g., heavy metals, pesticides). This is not meant to alarm but rather to inform. It may be helpful to check with the manufacturer of any turkey tail product you may be considering to see how this issue is addressed.

For Further Exploration:

FDA Approves Clinical Trial of Turkey Tail Mushroom for Cancer Patients (2013)

Dr. Andrew Weil discusses the Anti-Cancer Effects of Various Mushroom Species, including a Clinical Trial of Turkey Tail Mushroom for Breast Cancer Patients

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