Turkey tail is a medicinal mushroom that’s full of antioxidants and other compounds. Evidence shows it may help fortify your immune system, maintain healthy gut bacteria, and support the treatment of some cancers.
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.
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 (
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 (
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 (
Phenol and flavonoid antioxidants promote immune system health by reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of protective compounds (
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) (
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.
Turkey tail also contains polysaccharopeptides, which are protein-bound polysaccharides (carbohydrates).
Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) are two types of polysaccharopeptides found in turkey tails (
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 (
PSK stimulates dendritic cells, which promote immunity to toxins, and regulate the immune response. In addition, PSK activates natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that helps protect against pathogens and cancerous tumors (
Due to their ability to naturally strengthen the immune system, PSP and PSK are commonly used as anticancer agents in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of these treatments in countries like Japan and China (
PSPs are powerful polysaccharopeptides found in turkey tail mushrooms that may strengthen the health of your immune system.
Research has demonstrated that turkey tail 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 (
What’s more, a certain type of polysaccharide found in turkey tail called Coriolus versicolor glucan (CVG) may suppress certain tumors.
A study in tumor-bearing mice found that treatment with 45.5 and 90.9 milligrams (mg) per pound or 100 and 200 mg per kilogram (kg) of body weight of CVG extracted from turkey tail mushrooms daily significantly reduced tumor size (
Researchers attributed this development to enhanced immune response (
A systematic review and meta-analysis also found that PSK from turkey tail may improve survival rates in people with colorectal or intestinal cancer, especially when combined with chemotherapy (
Turkey tail mushrooms contain components such as PSK and CVG that may suppress the growth of certain types of cancers.
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 (
Turkey tail contains prebiotics, which help nourish these helpful bacteria. Research studies have found that treatment with turkey tail can have a similarly positive effect on the gut microbiome as treatment with prebiotic supplements (19).
For example, 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 (
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 (
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 of 91 women with a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection found that 84.9% of those treated with a turkey tail-based vaginal gel had a normal pap smear and colposcopy 6 months after treatment. This compared to 64.5% of those who didn’t use the gel. In addition, 59.6% of women treated were completely cleared of the virus compared to 41.9% of those who weren’t (22).
- 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 (
- May improve athletic performance: A mouse study showed that turkey tail extract improved exercise performance and reduced markers of fatigue. Plus, the mice treated with turkey tail experienced lower blood sugar levels at rest and post-exercise (
- 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 (
Research studies on turkey tail mushroom are ongoing and more benefits of this medicinal mushroom may be discovered in the near future.
Tail mushroom may improve insulin resistance, help fight pathogenic bacteria, reduce inflammation, treat HPV, and boost exercise performance.
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.
However, it’s unclear if those side effects were related to turkey tail mushroom or the conventional cancer treatments being used (27).
Another potential side effect of consuming turkey tail mushroom is the darkening of the fingernails (
Even though it has a good safety profile, it’s important to speak with your doctor before supplementing with turkey tail mushroom.
Turkey tail mushroom may result in side effects, such as diarrhea, gas, dark fingernails and vomiting.
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.