Turkey tail mushrooms are multicolored fungi that grow on tree trunks and fallen trees in wooded areas. They are plentiful in various parts of the world, including the United States.
These mushrooms have a disc-like shape and varying colors. Their overall appearance may resemble that of a turkey’s tail.
For centuries, people have used these mushrooms — also known as Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor — as a health supplement. In traditional Chinese medicine, people use turkey tail extract (Yun zhi) as a treatment for respiratory conditions.
Turkey tail extract appears to cause few, if any, adverse effects. However, a person should always consult a doctor before taking it and only purchase a purified version from a reputable source.
Learn more about the potential health benefits of turkey tail mushrooms in this article.
A number of studies have shown that turkey tail mushrooms have immune boosting properties.
For example, its extract may be useful in fighting certain types of cancer, according to one 2014 review.
The researchers looked at studies of five types of mushroom, including turkey tail, as complementary cancer treatments. They conclude, “The evidence base for using mushrooms in cancer treatment has greatly increased.”
However, none of these studies recommend any mushroom extract as a standalone treatment. Instead, the researchers have found that these extracts may have benefits for people who use them alongside treatments such as chemotherapy.
Some evidence suggests that PSP may also have the ability to stimulate the immune system, especially when combined with other anticancer treatments.
Researchers have isolated the PSK compound. In Japan, PSK is an approved adjuvant cancer treatment, according to the National Cancer Institute.
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved the product for this use in the U.S.
Colon cancer is common in the U.S. In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) say that more than 100,000 people will receive a diagnosis of it in 2020.
PSP from turkey tail extract may inhibit colon cancer cell growth, according to some research. PSP may also stop the colon cancer cells from migrating and invading healthy cells, the study authors report.
This was laboratory-based research, however. The team did not conduct the study in humans.
The authors of the review conclude that people who take PSK may have improved survival rates, and they recommend combining PSK with chemotherapy.
The first line of treatment for breast cancer is chemotherapy, but a limited amount of research has examined whether or not turkey tail extract may be helpful during or after this treatment.
In one very small study, nine participants with stage 1, 2, or 3 breast cancer underwent standard chemotherapy and radiation treatments. They then took 3, 6, or 9 grams of turkey tail extract in divided doses each day for 6 weeks.
After their analyses, the researchers concluded that the extract contributed to increased levels of cancer fighting cells in the immune system.
Another study looked at natural supplements that doctors recommend in conjunction with chemotherapy. The authors suggest that turkey tail extract was the natural therapy most commonly prescribed to people with breast cancer, and they describe the extract as “chemotherapy-compatible.”
The compounds in turkey tail may also offer benefits for gut health.
Like most mushrooms, turkey tail contains fiber, which is an indigestible part of plant foods that helps maintain healthy digestion.
These mushrooms may also provide other benefits, including:
Healthy gut bacteria
Research has shown that having a healthy colony of bacteria in the gut can help prevent disease and support the immune system. Turkey tail may be helpful in keeping a balance of gut bacteria, therefore improving overall health.
One study found that PSP from turkey tail has prebiotic abilities and helps the gut regulate its balance of bacteria. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that act as a food source for healthy bacteria in the gut.
In addition, other evidence indicates that PSP regulates the gut microbiome by balancing levels of healthy bacteria in the intestines.
Limited research suggests that a component of turkey tail called protein-bound beta-glucan (PBG) could help prevent obesity.
A study in mice, for example, found that PBG helped prevent weight gain in those that ate a high fat diet.
The study found that PBG may help balance certain bacteria in the gut, which can help prevent obesity. However, confirming these effects in humans will require further research.
Because turkey tail is a fungus, anyone with a mushroom or mold allergy should not use it. Taking any mushroom extract could cause a life threatening reaction in some people.
Researchers have yet to identify any severe side effects associated with turkey tail. However, some milder adverse effects may include:
Anyone with an underlying health condition should consult a doctor before trying any new supplement, including turkey tail extract.
People should not consume turkey tail mushrooms in the wild. The soil or the area around the mushroom could be contaminated with pollutants or bacteria. In addition, some types of mushroom are poisonous, and it can be difficult to know which are safe.
Turkey tail has a chewy texture and a strong flavor. Some people like to chop dried turkey tail mushrooms and steep them to make tea, while others use them in cooking.
Turkey tail extract is available in the form of a powder or tea. Always follow the dosage instructions carefully. It is important not to take more than the label recommends.
Look for a purified turkey tail supplement or turkey tail mushrooms from a reputable source.
Turkey tail mushrooms may have immune boosting properties that support cancer treatment for some people. They also appear to help maintain gut health.
However, turkey tail extract does not treat cancer on its own. Rather, it may be a useful addition to a medical treatment plan, under a doctor’s supervision and with their approval.
Always ask a doctor before taking any supplements. Some can have harmful side effects or interactions with other medications.
Turkey tail may be a promising natural treatment in conjunction with other therapies, but confirming its benefits will require further research in humans.