Medicinal mushrooms are types of fungi that contain compounds known to benefit health.
While there is an abundance of mushrooms with medicinal properties, one of the most well-known is Trametes versicolor, also known as Coriolus versicolor.
Commonly called turkey tail due to its striking colors, Trametes versicolor has been used around the world for centuries to treat various conditions.
Perhaps the most impressive quality of the turkey tail mushroom is its ability to enhance the health of your immune system.
Here are 5 immune-boosting benefits of the turkey tail mushroom.
1. 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 chronic inflammation (1).
This imbalance has also been linked to an increased risk of developing health conditions, such as certain cancers and heart disease (2, 3).
Thankfully, eating foods rich in antioxidants or supplementing with these powerful compounds can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
Turkey tail contains an impressive array of antioxidants, including phenols and flavonoids (4).
In fact, one study detected over 35 different phenolic compounds in a sample of turkey tail mushroom extract, along with the flavonoid antioxidants quercetin and baicalein (5).
Phenol and flavonoid antioxidants promote immune system health by reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of protective compounds (6).
For example, quercetin has been shown to promote the release of immunoprotective proteins like interferon-y, while inhibiting the release of the pro-inflammatory enzymes cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX) (7).
Turkey tail contains a wide variety of phenol and flavonoid antioxidants which help promote your immune system health by reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of protective compounds.
2. Contains Immune-Boosting Polysaccharopeptides
Polysaccharopeptides are protein-bound polysaccharides (carbohydrates) that are found in, for example, turkey tail mushroom extract.
Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) are two types of polysaccharopeptides found in turkey tails (8).
Both PSK and PSP possess powerful immune-boosting properties. They promote immune response by both activating and inhibiting specific types of immune cells and by suppressing inflammation.
For instance, test-tube studies have demonstrated that PSP increases monocytes, which are types of white blood cells that fight infection and boost immunity (9).
PSK stimulates dendritic cells that promote immunity to toxins and regulate the immune response. In addition, PSK activates specialized white blood cells called macrophages, which protect your body against harmful substances like certain bacteria (10).
Due to their ability to naturally strengthen the immune system, PSP and PSK are commonly used as anticancer agents in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation in countries like Japan and China (11).
PSK and PSP are powerful polysaccharopeptides found in turkey tail mushrooms that may strengthen the health of your immune system.
3. May Improve Immune Function in People With 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, the polysaccharopeptide found in turkey tail mushrooms, inhibited the growth and spread of human colon cancer cells (12).
What’s more, a certain type of polysaccharide found in turkey tail mushrooms called Coriolus versicolor glucan (CVG) may suppress certain tumors.
A study in tumor-bearing mice found that treatment with 45.5 and 90.9 mg per pound (100 and 200 mg per kg) of body weight of CVG extracted from turkey tail mushrooms daily significantly reduced tumor size (13).
Researchers attributed this development to enhanced immune response (13).
Another study demonstrated that daily treatment with 45.5 mg per pound (100 mg per kg) of body weight of turkey tail mushroom extract significantly slowed the spread of cancer cells and improved survival times in dogs with highly aggressive cancer (hemangiosarcoma) (14).
However, 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 (15, 16, 17).
Turkey tail mushrooms contain components such as PSK and CVG that may suppress the growth of certain types of cancers.
4. May Enhance the Efficacy of Certain Cancer Treatments
Due to the many beneficial compounds it contains, turkey tail is commonly used in tandem with traditional treatments like chemotherapy as a natural way to fight certain cancers.
A review of 13 studies found that patients given 1–3.6 grams of turkey tail mushroom per day along with conventional treatment had a significant survival advantage.
The study showed that people with breast cancer, gastric cancer or colorectal cancer treated with turkey tail and chemotherapy experienced a 9% reduction in 5-year mortality compared to chemotherapy alone (15).
Another review of 8 studies in over 8,000 people with stomach cancers demonstrated that those who were given chemotherapy along with PSK lived longer after surgery than individuals given chemotherapy without PSK (16).
A study in 11 women with breast cancer found that those who were given 6–9 grams of turkey tail powder per day following radiation therapy experienced an increase in cancer-fighting cells in the immune system, such as natural killer cells and lymphocytes (17).
Several research studies have demonstrated that turkey tail mushroom enhances the efficacy of both chemotherapy and radiation in people with certain cancers.
5. May Enhance Gut Health
Keeping a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut is critical for maintaining a strong immune system.
Your gut bacteria interact with immune cells and directly impact your immune response (18).
Turkey tail contains prebiotics, which help nourish these helpful bacteria.
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 (19).
A test-tube study found that turkey tail extract modified gut bacteria composition by increasing populations of beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus while reducing potentially harmful bacteria, such as Clostridium and Staphylococcus (20).
Having healthy levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria has been linked to improved intestinal symptoms like diarrhea, enhanced immune system, reduced cholesterol levels, lower risks of certain cancers and improved digestion (21).
Turkey tail mushroom may positively impact gut bacterial balance by enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria while suppressing harmful species.
Aside from the benefits listed above, turkey tail may promote health in other ways as well:
May combat HPV: A study in 61 people with HPV found that 88% of participants treated with turkey tail experienced positive results, such as clearance of HPV, compared to just 5% of the control group (22).
May reduce inflammation: Turkey tail is loaded with antioxidants, such as flavonoids and phenols that may reduce inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to chronic diseases, such as diabetes and certain cancers (23).
Has antibacterial qualities: In a test-tube study, turkey tail extract inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella enterica, bacteria that can cause illness and infection (24).
May improve athletic performance: A mouse study showed that turkey tail extract improved exercise performance and reduced fatigue. Plus, the mice treated with turkey tail experienced lower blood sugar levels at rest and post-exercise (25).
May improve insulin resistance: A study in rats with type 2 diabetes demonstrated that turkey tail extract significantly reduced blood sugar levels and improved insulin resistance (26).
Research studies on turkey tail mushroom are ongoing and more benefits of this medicinal mushroom may be discovered in the near future.
Turkey tail mushroom may improve insulin resistance, help fight pathogenic bacteria, reduce inflammation, treat HPV and boost exercise performance.
Is Turkey Tail Mushroom Safe?
Turkey tail mushroom is considered safe, with few side effects reported in research studies.
Some people may experience digestive symptoms like gas, bloating and dark stools when taking turkey tail mushroom.
When used as a cancer treatment alongside chemotherapy, side effects including nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite have been reported (27, 28).
However, it’s unclear if those side effects were related to turkey tail mushroom or the conventional cancer treatments being used (29).
Another potential side effect of consuming turkey tail mushroom is darkening of the fingernails (30).
Even though it has a good safety profile, it’s important to speak with your doctor before supplementing with turkey tail mushroom.
Taking turkey tail mushroom may result in side effects, such as diarrhea, gas, dark fingernails and vomiting.
The Bottom Line
Turkey tail is a medicinal mushroom with an impressive range of benefits.
It contains a variety of powerful antioxidants and other compounds that may help boost your immune system and even help fight certain cancers.
Plus, turkey tail may improve gut bacteria balance, which can positively impact your immunity.
With all its immune boosting qualities, it’s no wonder turkey tail is a popular natural treatment to promote health.