Turkey Tail Mushroom

Also known by these names

  • Trametes versicolor
  • Coriolus versicolor
  • Polyporus versicolor
  • Yun Zhi (in traditional Chinese medicine)
  • Kawaratake (in Japan)
  • PSK (Krestin™ drug formulation using PSK derivative)
  • PSP

Key Points

  • The turkey tail mushroom, a well-documented medicinal mushroom, grows on dead logs and can be found throughout North America as well as many other regions of the world.
  • Although turkey tail mushrooms are not poisonous, they are not typically consumed as a food.
  • BCCT considers turkey tail mushroom extracts and supplements interesting and promising because of mounting scientific evidence of their usefulness as an adjuvant treatment in several cancers, their safety when taken appropriately, their wide availability and their use by many reputable integrative oncology clinicians.
  • Side effects, typically mild and temporary, have been seen in animal studies and in an early clinical trial. A few cautions are noted.
  • Extracts of turkey tail are widely available without prescription in capsule, liquid tincture, and powdered form. Strength and purity of products can vary significantly.

The turkey tail mushroom, in use in traditional Chinese medicine for many years, is one of the most intensively studied globally. A formulation called PSK or Krestin™ has been studied and used extensively in Japan for its immune-modulating effects and also as a cancer adjuvant (supplement) treatment. Use of PSK in thousands of cancer patients in Japan since the 1970s has established this mushroom’s safety record.1

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Treating the Cancer

Working against cancer growth or spread, improving survival, or working with other treatments or therapies to improve their anticancer action

Neither the turkey tail mushroom nor its constituents have been proven to be a cure for cancer as a single agent. The evidence suggests that its greatest benefit is found when used in conjunction with evidence-based conventional treatment.

Clinical Evidence

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a few clinical trials of this mushroom combined with chemotherapy for several different cancers.3

Turkey Tail Effects

Turkey tail has shown these effects, which BCCT regards as strong:

  • Enhanced chemotherapy and radiotherapy effects on cancer cells while protecting normal cells4
  • Breast cancer:
    • Extended survival in patients with certain types of breast cancer.5 and improved the survival curve of people with operable breast cancer with vascular invasion.6
  • Gastrointestinal cancers (stomach, colorectal, esophageal, anal and other cancers):
    • Improved both the five-year disease-free rate and five-year survival after curative gastrectomy for gastric cancer7
    • Extended survival in a group of gastric cancer patients with high granulocyte and lymphocyte count ratios, perhaps through restoration of immunocompetence8

PSK Effects

PSK (a glycoprotein-bound mixture) is the best-known component of turkey tail. While its mechanism of action is not yet clearly defined, studies of PSK suggest anticancer mechanisms.

  • Improved survival by enhancing the host immune system against nasopharynx tumor cells9
  • Improved overall survival of stage 3 stomach cancer patients partly by inhibiting CD57(+) T cells, a proven poor prognostic factor in advanced stomach cancer,10 and improved both survival and disease-free survival of patients with advanced stomach and colorectal cancer or with curatively resected colorectal cancer.11 PSK adjuvant immunochemotherapy may improve survival in MHC class I-negative patients, who are in a state of antitumor immunological tolerance.12
  • Several studies showed improved survival in stomach cancer and colorectal cancer.13
  • See Cautions below.

PSP Effects

PSP is less known, but also has medicinal properties.

  • Slowing deterioration in patients with non-small cell lung cancer14

Lab and Animal Evidence

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Reducing Risk

Reducing the risk of developing cancer or the risk of recurrence

After conventional treatment is complete, turkey tail may be used (particularly in combination with other medicinal mushrooms) as part of an integrative plan to restore health and prevent recurrence.

Optimizing Your Terrain

Creating an environment within your body that does not support cancer development, growth or spread

Documented medicinal properties of turkey tail and its components:

  • Turkey tail mushrooms:
    • Antiviral, antibacterial and antioxidant activities22
  • PSK:
    • Enhanced natural killer (NK) cell and T-cell activities23
    • Inhibited activity of suppressor T-cells in the regional lymph nodes in people with gastrointestinal cancer; suppressor T-cells prevent the immune system from recognizing and responding to the cancer24
    • Increased immune parameters in patients with gastrointestinal cancer (stomach or colorectal)25
    • Increased immune parameters in patients with gastrointestinal cancer (stomach or colorectal) and non-small cell lung cancer.26
  • PSP
    • Influences (modulates) gene expression: decreases a gene master switch that turns on genes that drive cancer transformation, development and progression) and also decreases COX-2 expression. which is associated with chronic inflammation, a contributor to cancer development27
    • Significant immune and anticancer activity:28
      • Influenced (modulated) immune response by activating cancer cell-killing macrophages, helper T cells and natural killer cells29
      • Controlled the intestinal microbiome and interplay with host cells as a prebiotic30

Cautions

When used appropriately, both oral turkey tail mushroom and PSK and PSP extracts of turkey tail have appeared safe when used in daily recommended doses for extended periods. Studies of turkey tail in cancer commonly cite doses of three grams per day, though a Phase I clinical trial in breast cancer cites safety with doses up to nine grams per day for six weeks.31

Not all study results have been positive. According to the About Herbs summary on turkey tail, some “studies on breast cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, and leukemia produced mixed results. A hot water extract of Coriolus, VPS, was found to enhance development of large intestinal tumors in mice.”32

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Side Effects

A low incidence of side effects, typically mild and temporary, has been seen in an early clinical trial and in animal studies. Limited gastrointestinal upset has been reported. Some report a cough and temporary darkening of the fingernails from taking the powdered drug. Passing dark-colored stools (not due to blood in stools) has also been reported.35 Medical supervision is advised, preferably from a licensed clinician with experience in prescribing medicinal mushrooms.

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Contraindications/Do Not Use

Do not take turkey tail or its extracts if you have a known allergy/hypersensitivity to turkey tail, PSK, or any of its components. There is insufficient evidence to establish safety of use during pregnancy and lactation. Mushroom extracts are not recommended during pregnancy.

A potential for counteraction with immunosuppressants exists due to the stimulatory effects of turkey tail on immunocompetent cells. Caution or avoidance with immunosuppressants is advised.37

Turkey tail should be used cautiously in patients with known bleeding or clotting disorders and in anyone using anticoagulant or antiplatelet agents, as it been associated with thrombocytopenia.38

Preparation

Note that in traditional Chinese medicine and in many of the studies of medicinal mushrooms, hot water extracts have been used. The cell wall of the mushroom is indigestible by humans—hence, eating raw mushrooms for culinary or medicinal reasons is not recommended. Ground mushroom eaten as a powder is irritating to the liver, yet when that ground mushroom is decocted in hot water, the medicinal ingredients become available and it is safer to consume. As a result, several integrative oncology clinicians report that they prescribe hot water extracts of medicinal mushrooms.39

Integrative oncologist and BCCT advisor Keith Block, MD, advises using extracts (rather than eating whole mushrooms) that are blends of several different medicinal mushrooms, including turkey tail. (See Commentary below).

Access

Extracts of turkey tail mushrooms are widely available without prescription in capsule, liquid tincture and powdered form. Strength and purity of products can vary significantly. Read labels carefully. Consult a healthcare professional experienced in using medicinal mushrooms for guidance in product selection.

Dosing

BCCT does not recommend therapies or doses, but only provides information for patients and providers to consider as part of a complete treatment plan. Patients should discuss therapies with their physicians, as contraindications, interactions and side effects must be evaluated. Levels of active ingredients of natural products can vary widely between and even within products. See Quality and Sources of Herbs, Supplements and Other Natural Products.

Although clinical trials have not established optimal doses of turkey tail or its derivatives during or after cancer treatment, suggested dosage recommendations are available from these sources:

  • Moss Reports (purchase required): Select from the list of cancers down the left side of the page for a report describing uses of conventional, complementary, alternative and integrative therapies related to that cancer. Ralph Moss is among the most knowledgeable and balanced researchers of integrative cancer therapies. The cost of his Moss Reports is not negligible, but many patients find them of considerable value. Moss is also available for consultations.
  • Stamets P. MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms, 3rd Edition. China: MycoMedia Productions. 2002.
  • Also see the protocols below.

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.

Commentary

In a 2008 article, naturopathic oncologist and BCCT advisor Leanna Standish, PhD, ND, LAc, FABNO, and her colleagues suggest that “immune therapy utilizing the polysaccharide constituents of Trametes versicolor as concurrent adjuvant cancer therapy may be warranted as part of a comprehensive cancer treatment and secondary prevention strategy.”45

In Life Over Cancer, integrative oncologist and BCCT advisor Dr. Keith Block advises: “It is difficult to obtain clinically meaningful quantities of the mushroom phytochemicals from even the healthiest diet, which is why I recommend getting them in the form of extracts. Look for those containing maitake (Grifola frondosa), agaricus (Agaricus blazei), shiitake (Lentinula or Lentinus edodes), reishi (Ganoderma lusidum), turkey tails (Trametes or Coriolus versicolor), and caterpillar fungus or cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis).”46

Paul Stamets, in MycoMedicinals, says this about using a blend of several different medicinal mushrooms: “A number of researchers have come to the conclusion that, to maximize a host-mediated response—that is, to awaken the immune system---a panoply of polysaccharides and medicinal mushroom constituents is best. These constituents increase the number and activity of macrophages, killer T and NK lymphocytes. Combining medicinal mushroom species sends the immune system multiple stimuli, awakening the body’s natural defenses.”47

Naturopathic oncologist and BCCT advisor Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, August 9, 2018: There are instances when I use specific mushrooms, for instance: Coriolus (aka Trametes) versicolor (turkey tail) for breast cancer, Agaricus blazeii for ovarian cancer and chaga mushroom for melanoma. However, it is a very valuable and reasonable strategy to use a blend that includes mushrooms, each of which is standardized to its polysaccharides and beta-glucans. The key is to use a hot water extract of the fruiting bodies or a full-spectrum extract (includes mycelium) that clearly identifies on its label the quantity of mushroom extract.

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Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on October 22, 2019. BCCT has not conducted an independent review of research of turkey tail mushroom. This summary draws from the National Cancer Institutes Medicinal Mushrooms (PDQ®) Health Professional Version and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s About Herbs: Coriolus Versicolor, as well as from other sources noted.

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Comments (5)

  1. Nancy Hepp:
    Feb 08, 2020 at 09:04 PM

    Jennifer,

    You'll see links to clinical trials in the list in the More Information section on this page. These links will take you to current trials listed at ClinicalTrials.gov. You can filter trials for those that are recruiting participants, although when I did so, I seemed to get a lot of studies that didn't involve turkey tail or PSK. You may need to try different names for turkey tail, as there are several that might be used in studies. See our box "Also known by these names" at the top of this page.

    Best wishes.
    Nancy

  2. Jennifer Lieberman:
    Feb 08, 2020 at 04:25 PM

    I'd like to know how I might find out how I can take part in a clinical trial for Turkey Tail Mushrooms. Thanks

  3. Judy Leung:
    Dec 19, 2019 at 12:16 AM

    Do you have a brand of Coriolus versicolor /PSK that manufactured in US that meet the potency in the Japan and US research? Thank you for your help!

  4. Nancy Hepp:
    Sep 16, 2019 at 10:34 AM

    Fatima,

    We hear your concern and request for a decision. However, we cannot provide medical advice. We encourage you to share this summary with your medical team and explore your questions with them. They know your full medical situation and will be able to assess whether turkey tail can provide therapeutic benefits for you. If you do not have an integrative medical team, please consult our Centers, Clinics and Clinicians page for guidance on assembling a team. Best wishes to you.

  5. Fatima:
    Sep 16, 2019 at 05:40 AM

    Pls Dr I have a fibroid I don't want to have an operation, do u think I can take turkey tail mushroom to cure it. Thank you.

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