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

Documented medicinal properties of turkey tail include immune enhancement and antitumor, antiviral, antibacterial and antioxidant activities.3

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. 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.

Clinical Studies

Phase I, II and III randomized clinical trials of turkey tail mushroom have been conducted in the following cancers:4

  • Breast
  • Colorectal
  • Esophageal
  • Stomach

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a few clinical trials of this mushroom combined with chemotherapy for several different cancers, although to date only one study has been completed.5

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

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Lab and Animal Studies

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Cautions

When used appropriately, both oral turkey tail mushroom and PSK and PSP extracts of turkey tail have appeared safe when used in daily 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.24

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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 with taking the powdered drug. Passing dark-colored stools (not due to blood in stools) has also been reported.27 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.

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.29

Integrative oncologist 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 are widely available without prescription in capsule, liquid tincture and powdered form. Strength and purity of products can vary significantly. Read labels carefully. Consult with 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 Plans, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about plans and protocols, see our Integrative Plans and Protocols page.
  • Plans, protocols and programs
    • Abrams & Weil integrative medicine approaches30
      • Breast cancer
      • Decrease cisplatin toxicity
      • Secondary prevention
    • Alschuler & Gazella complementary approaches (for medicinal mushroom extracts, not always specifying turkey tail):31
      • Breast cancer
      • Cervical cancer
      • Colon cancer
      • Gastric cancer
      • Hormone balancing
      • Immune enhancing supplements
      • Insulin resistance, reversing
      • Liver cancer
      • Ovarian cancer
      • Radiation and mushroom interactions
      • Uterine cancer
    • Bastyr University Integrative Oncology Research Center protocol for stage 4 breast and ovarian cancers32
    • Block program33
    • McKinney protocols34
      • Breast cancer
      • Colon cancer
      • Gastric cancer
      • Immune modulation
  • Traditional systems

Commentary

In a 2008 article, Standish et al. suggest that “immune therapy utilizing the polysaccharide constituents of Trametes versicolor (Tv) as concurrent adjuvant cancer therapy may be warranted as part of a comprehensive cancer treatment and secondary prevention strategy.”35

In Life Over Cancer, 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).”36

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.”37

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 January 15, 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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