WHAT IS TURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM?
Turkey tail mushroom goes by several names -- trametes versicolor, coriolus versicolor, polyporus versicolor, Yun Zhi in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or kawaratake in Japanese. It all refers to the same bracket fungus, aka a mushroom that grows outward like a shelf, that feeds on the fibers of dead wood.
In the wild, turkey tail mushroom looks like the fanned tail feathers of a male wild turkey that’s strutting his stuff for the ladies. You may see it growing on decaying wood in rainy areas or near creeks or streams. Foragers will look for them in high-moisture areas where there are lots of fallen trees.
Turkey Tail Benefits
Antioxidants That Combat Inflammation
You’ve probably heard that it’s beneficial to eat antioxidant-rich foods like raspberries and blueberries. You might even use a CBD skincare product full of plant-based antioxidants that combat the signs of aging.
Turkey tail mushrooms are also a wonderful source of natural antioxidants.
But what do antioxidants actually do?
Antioxidants are chemical compounds thought to combat damage caused by sun exposure, pollutants and other harmful substances.
When our cells are exposed to these environmental dangers, they can lose their electrons in a process called oxidation.
This transforms healthy cells into free radicals, which are inherently unstable cells. To retrieve their lost electrons, these cells seek to bind with others. In this binding process, free radicals spread damage.
The imbalance of free radicals, also known as oxidative stress, causes damage over time. On the surface of the skin, free radical damage can look like wrinkles, fine lines, or discoloration. Inside the body, it can manifest as inflammation. Harvard Health Publishing explains that chronic inflammation can have serious long term effects:
“Unchecked, the immune system prompts white blood cells to attack nearby healthy tissues and organs, setting up a chronic inflammatory process that plays a central role in some of the most challenging diseases of our time.”
Antioxidants combat oxidation and inflammation, and turkey tails are naturally full of them. In 2017, researchers in the Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Molecular Chemistry found that turkey tails have more than 40 naturally occurring antioxidants.
Specific antioxidants include:
Phenols – Also found in berries, these antioxidants are linked to a range of health benefits like anti-inflammatory response. Turkey tails have over 35 phenols alone.
Flavonoids – Onions, strawberries, and kale contain these heart-healthy compounds, too.
Quercetin – Also found in red wine and green tea, this antioxidant is typically taken as a supplement for a variety of conditions like arthritis and diabetes.
Baicalein – Also found in thyme, this antioxidant is being tested for a variety of clinical applications such as hematological cancer treatments.
These findings led the researchers to conclude that turkey tails are a potent way to address conditions linked to chronic inflammation. Such conditions include:
Polysaccharopeptides That Boost Immunity
Antioxidants aren’t the only powerful compound in turkey tails. Polysaccharopeptides a type of long chain of carbohydrates that are found inside some proteins, and turkey tail mushrooms contain at least two of these highly beneficial compounds:
Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP)
Like antioxidants, PSK and PSP have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. However, while antioxidants combat free radicals, these compounds seem to function by stimulating other immune system cells to kick into high gear.
PSP has been found to increase the production of Prostaglandins, lipid-based compounds that regulate inflammation.
PSP stimulates the production of cytokines, proteins that signal the endocrine system to respond to inflammation by combating it.
While Western scientists are still working to understand the specific mechanisms that make the turkey tail mushroom supplement a powerful immune system stimulant, turkey-tail derived PSP has been used clinically in Japan and China since the 1970s and 1980s, respectively.
Prebiotics That Boost Gut Health
Probiotics are helpful bacteria that boost gut health, which is vital for stable immune function. Modern science increasingly recognizes that our gut microbiome plays an important role in our overall health. A healthy gut influences:
Absorption of vitamins and minerals
Beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are therefore essential to overall health. You can support your gut microbiome by eating fermented or probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kimchi or by taking a probiotic supplement, but the bacteria may not survive if it doesn’t have adequate prebiotic nutrients.
The solution? Turkey tail mushrooms.
Turkey tails contain prebiotics, the fibers that gut bacteria feed on to survive and thrive. A 2014 study found that compounds in turkey tails “led to clear and consistent microbiome changes consistent with its activity as a prebiotic.”
While more studies are needed, turkey tails may be a way to improve your digestion, and in turn, your immunity.
Other Potential Benefits
Beyond their studied immune-boosting effects, turkey tails are currently in clinical testing to determine the efficacy of a wide range of health conditions. Recent studies suggest the following additional benefits:
Increased endurance – A 2017 study recorded increased stamina and decreased post-exercise fatigue in test subjects.
Antibiotic properties – A 2017 study found that turkey tail extract inhibited the growth of two bacterial strains, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella enterica.
Antiviral properties – Another 2014 study focused on turkey tails’ effect in controlling symptoms of a chronic virus. 88% of people in the study experienced reduced symptoms.
With U.S. scientists progressing from animal to human subjects, we will soon gain an even better understanding of this medicinal mushroom’s beneficial effects.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits for Cancer
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a clinical trial for a turkey tail extract, allowing patients with advanced prostate cancer to take it in combination with conventional chemotherapy. Another trial pending FDA approval will test the effects of taking the extract along with a vaccine treatment in women with breast cancer. These will help researchers gather safety data and continue their development of potentially transformative cancer therapy.
"We didn't discover turkey tail," says lead investigator Leanna J. Standish, PhD, ND, LAc, FABNO, medical director of the Bastyr Integrative Oncology Research Center. "It's been used in Asia for thousands and thousands of years, and it turns out to be a really potent immune therapy. The significance, I think, is that we're bringing a new medicine to cancer patients in the U.S."
Previous research by Bastyr and the University of Minnesota found a turkey tail supplement may support conventional breast cancer therapies by strengthening a patient's immune system. That study was published recently in the peer-reviewed journal ISRN Oncology.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits for Dogs
Turkey tail mushrooms can be used as an immunity booster for dogs and help the dog’s body to recognize cancer tumors and fight them directly.
University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine did a study on turkey tail mushrooms using 15 dogs with an aggressive type of cancer. The cancer was so aggressive that untreated dogs typically lived only 86 days before passing away from cancer. Results of the study shocked the Penn Vet researchers. While the longest reported median survival time of dogs with the disease who were given no treatment was 86 days, there were dogs in the Penn study who lived over a year with no treatment other than the mushroom compound.
Here at Woofers, we have two groomers that have tested the turkey tail mushroom supplement on their own dog’s tumors. One of the dog’s tumors was confirmed as cancer, the other a tumor that hadn’t been tested. Both dogs experienced shrinkage of the tumors and better health. The undiagnosed dog’s tumor disappeared so completely that the vet could not find the tumor anymore in order to check if it was benign or malignant.
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