What is Turkey Tail?
You're probably wondering why a medicinal mushroom is named after such a random animal body part, let alone animal. But when you look at this powerful medicinal mushroom, it really does justice for its name: flat, fan-shaped, multicolored rings that, from afar, could be easily confused for an actual turkey tail feather.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor, Coriolus versicolor, or Polyporus versicolor) has been around for thousands of years, commonly growing on logs, stumps, or dead trunks of deciduous trees (i.e maple, willow, and pine trees) pretty much anywhere in the world.
Two Key Compounds
Turkey Tail stands out among medicinal mushrooms due to being one of few that’s been used in human clinical trials. There are two standout compounds that really place turkey tail on a whole other super mushroom level: polysaccharide krestin (PSK) and plysaccharide peptide (PSP). Both PSP and PSK are plysaccharide-protein complexes: chains of many sugars bound to proteins at a specific places in their molecular structures.
PSK was first isolated in Japan in the late 1960s from a strain of turkey tail known CM-101. The compound contains about 28 to 35% protein and 34 to 35% carbohydrates. PSP, isolated in China in 1983 from the COV-1 turkey tail strain, is about 31% protein and 46% carbohydrates.
Both PSP and PSK contain large amounts of alpha- and beta-glucans, as well as numerous amino acids like glutamine. Both compounds are also associated with enhanced immune activity, although PSK usually gets more attention for its use as an complimentary treatment for cancer patients.
In fact, PSK is approved in Japan for clinical use alongside traditional cancer treatments; the Chinese FDA has also approved the compound as a treatment for several conditions.
Before we delve in to the benefits of Turkey Tail, as always, we must have a disclaimer! This article is not medical advice, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. More human studies are always needed, but the research that has been conducted so far is extremely promising. If you have a question about whether Turkey Tail (or any other mushroom or supplement) is right for you, please consult with a qualified healthcare professional.
Benefits of Turkey Tail Mushroom
Finally, Western science is beginning to catch up to its Eastern counterpart by conducting both human and animal studies of Turkey Tail’s key compounds. Here are 5 ways this mushroom could benefit your health.
Packed with Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that help inhibit or reduce damage caused by oxidative stress. Oxidative stress results from an imbalance between antioxidants and unstable molecules known as free radicals. This can result in cellular damage and inflammation. This imbalance has also been linked to an increased risk of developing health conditions, such as certain cancers and heart disease.
Eating foods that are rich in antioxidants or supplementing with these powerful compounds can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Turkey tail contains an impressive range of antioxidants, including phenols and flavonoids. One study detected over 35 different phenolic compounds in a sample of turkey tail mushroom extract, along with the flavonoid antioxidants quercetin and baicalein.
Phenol and flavonoid antioxidants promote immune system health by reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of protective compounds.
Surprise, surprise, Turkey Tail possesses powerful immune boosting properties. In general, mushrooms are known for a carbohydrate called polysaccharides, specifically a type called beta glucans. Beta glucans are shown to support immune health and overall wellness, as well as normal, healthy cell growth and turnover.
As mentioned earlier, with Turkey Tail mushrooms, this goes a step higher. The high levels of two compounds, PSP and PSK, provide immune support through their high beta glucan levels. Research shows numerous ways these compounds can improve the body's natural immune response:
- PSK can activate natural killer cells, leading to more effective clearing of pathogens
- PSP can help immune cells recognize invaders and cell abnormalities, as well as activate beneficial pro-inflammatory responses to eliminate pathogens and keep cells healthy
- Turkey tail extracts can increase specific markers indicating an immune response which may help the body defend against pathogens
- Polysaccharides from turkey tail can activate antibody-producing B-cells and increase production of two specific antibodies: immunoglobulin M (IgM), which is made when fighting new infections, and immunoglobulin G1 (IgG1), which controls immune responses against viruses
Support Digestion and Gut Health
Having a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut is key in maintaining a strong immune system. Your gut bacteria interact with immune cells and directly impact your immune response.
Turkey tail contains prebiotics, which is essentially the "food" for your gut microbiome. They provide the nourishment that probiotics (the good bacteria in your gut) need to flourish and grow.
An 8-week study in 24 healthy people found that consuming 3,600 mg of PSP extracted from turkey tail mushrooms per day led to beneficial changes in gut bacteria and suppressed the growth of the possibly problematic E. coli and Shigella bacteria.
May Suppress Growth of Certain Cancers
Research has demonstrated that turkey tail mushrooms may have antitumor properties, thought to be related to its immune-boosting effects. One test-tube study found that PSK inhibited the growth and spread of human colon cancer cells. Additionally, a certain type of polysaccharide found in turkey tail mushrooms called Coriolus versicolor glucan (CVG) may suppress certain tumors.
The most impressive evidence regarding the anticancer benefits of turkey tail mushroom is when it’s used in combination with more traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Turkey Tail Mushrooms Support Liver Health
Turkey Tail has been used in China for thousands of years as a traditional method to provide support for a healthy liver.
Turkey tail’s antioxidant and immunomodulatory effects may guard against alcohol-induced liver injury. PSP may also protect liver cells by helping the body maintain its own levels of an antioxidant called glutathione. This was shown in a model of liver injury in rats where those receiving PSP had lower levels of two blood markers indicating liver cell damage: serum glutamic pyruvic transaminase (SGPT) and glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase (SGOT).
Other Turkey Tail Benefits Include:
Antibacterial and Antiviral Properties
May Combat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
May Improve Athletic Performance
May Improve Cholesterol and Prevent Obesity
How to Use Turkey Tail Mushroom Powder
You can find Turkey Tail mushrooms in many forms - capsules, powders, or tinctures. Turkey Tail has a very mild and earthy flavour, which makes it a great add on to your morning coffee or tea.
The recommended dosage for adults is ½ - 1 teaspoons per day as a dietary supplement.
Photo credits to The Sophisticated Caveman