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

  • Before using this therapy, consult your oncology team about interactions with other treatments and therapies. Also make sure this therapy is safe for use with any other medical conditions you may have.
  • 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.

Authors

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, BCCT Senior Researcher

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Nancy Hepp, MS, BCCT Project Manager

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Last updated April 5, 2021.

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, such as chemo/radiotherapy or surgery.

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 and HLA B40+ phenotype7
    • No improved overall survival when used as an adjunct with chemo/radiotherapy or surgery across five trials with breast cancer8
  • Colorectal cancer:
    • No improved overall survival when used as an adjunct with chemo/radiotherapy or surgery across two trials with colorectal cancer and one with rectal cancer9
  • 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 cancer10
    • Improved overall and relapse-free survival when used as an adjunct with chemo/radiotherapy or surgery across four trials with stomach cancer11
    • Extended survival in a group of stomach cancer patients with high granulocyte and lymphocyte count ratios, perhaps through restoration of immunocompetence12
  • Head, neck and oral cancers:
    • Improved overall survival when used as an adjunct with chemo/radiotherapy or surgery in a trial with nasopharyngeal cancer13
  • Liver cancer:
    • No improved overall survival when used as an adjunct with chemo/radiotherapy or surgery in a trial with hepatocellular carcinoma14
  • Lung cancer:
    • Increased treatment efficacy, control rate and stable rate, but not improved overall survival when used as an adjunct with chemo/radiotherapy or surgery across several trials with non-small cell lung cancer15

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 cells16
  • Stomach (gastric cancer):
    • Improved survival17
    • Improved overall survival of stage 3 stomach cancer patients partly by inhibiting CD57(+) T cells, a proven poor prognostic factor in advanced stomach cancer,18 and improved both survival and disease-free survival of patients with advanced stomach (gastric) cancer.19
    • PSK adjuvant immunochemotherapy may improve survival in MHC class I-negative patients with stomach (gastric) cancer who are in a state of antitumor immunological tolerance.20  
  • Colorectal cancer:
    • Improved survival21
    • Improved 5-year disease-free survival and reduced lung metastases when used with oral Tegafur/Uracil22
    • Improved both survival and disease-free survival of patients with advanced colorectal cancer or with curatively resected colorectal cancer23
    • Improved recurrence-free survival, cancer death survival, and overall survival rates when added to chemotherapy treatment for people with colon cancer, but only among patients with diffuse nuclear accumulation-type beta-catenin activation24
    • Improved 10-year survival for colorectal cancer when added to oral treatment with fluoropyrimidines25

PSP Effects

PSP is less known, but also has medicinal properties.

  • Slowing deterioration in patients with non-small cell lung cancer26

Lab and Animal Evidence

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Optimizing Your Terrain

Creating an environment within your body that does not support cancer development, growth or spread; see Body Terrain and the Tumor Microenvironment

Documented medicinal properties of turkey tail and its components:

  • Turkey tail mushrooms:
    • Antiviral, antibacterial and antioxidant activities34
    • Improved markers of inflammation in people with cancer35
  • PSK:
    • Enhanced natural killer (NK) cell and T-cell activities36
    • Inhibited processes that prevent the immune system from recognizing and responding to the cancer in people with gastrointestinal cancer37
    • Positive immune impacts in patients with gastrointestinal cancer (stomach or colorectal) and non-small cell lung cancer38
  • PSP
    • Influences (modulates) gene expression:39
      • Decreases a gene master switch that turns on genes that drive cancer transformation, development and progression)
      • Decreases COX-2 expression. which is associated with chronic inflammation, a contributor to cancer development40
    • Significant immune and anticancer activity:41
      • Influenced (modulated) immune response by activating cancer cell-killing macrophages, helper T cells and natural killer cells42
      • Controlled the intestinal microbiome and interplay with host cells as a prebiotic43

Managing Side Effects and Promoting Wellness

Managing or relieving side effects or symptoms, reducing treatment toxicity, supporting quality of life or promoting general well-being

  • Improved function with turkey tail use as an adjunct to chemo/radiotherapy or with surgery44

Reducing Risk

Reducing the risk of developing cancer or the risk of recurrence

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.46

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.”47

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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.50 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.52

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.53

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.54

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.

Turkey tail mushrooms or extracts are among the botanicals most commonly used by oncology naturopaths for colorectal cancer.60

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.”61

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).”62

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.”63

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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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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