According to promising scientific study, turkey tail mushrooms or Trametes versicolor have been found to help improve immune systems in patients suffering from breast cancer This was a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study and spanned several years. It involved tracking if turkey tails had any positive impact on helping the patients’ immune system bounce back after the radiation therapy was stopped.
Immunity, which is measured in terms of the activity of natural killer cell and number of lymphocyte cells, typically falls significantly after radiotherapy. The role of natural killer (NK) cells is to protect us against viruses and tumors. The Bastyr University Research Institute and University of Minnesota Medical School researchers have hypothesized that patients suffering from breast cancer could experience health improvements after completing radiation treatment if their NK cell counts are enhanced fast for attacking the balance cancerous cells.
This study was titled as “Phase I Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer” (published – ISRN Oncology Journal). It demonstrated how turkey tail mushrooms can help in augmenting conventional therapies for the treatment of breast cancer through enhancement of CD8+T and NK cell activity. According to the study it was suggested that turkey tails are effective additions to conventional radiation therapy and chemotherapeutic medicines.
The study authors came to the following conclusion:
The research has continuously indicted that Trametes versicolor signifies a novel immune therapy having promising applications in the treatment of cancer. It was found that the CD8+ T cell counts over 9-week dosage escalation study increased in the 9gm Tv dosage cohort in comparison to the 3g and 6g groups.
During the study, there was usage of one-way ANOVA for analyzing overall variation between the dosage group over the period of treatment (2, 4 and 6 weeks). There was statistically important boost in the CD8+ T cytotoxic T cells in the 9g group (against both the 3g and 6g groups) ((2, 6) = 42.04, P = 0.0003).
Because turkey tail mushrooms have been used for therapeutic purposes for a long time, there are very few chances of getting preparation and packing of it as immune therapy drug to be patented. This will not inspire big pharma in performing expensive clinical studies Usually, the long history of use of natural medicines in treatment of an ailment reduces the chances of derivative drugs from such natural products getting patented.
This is why the NIH founded the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to carry out the essential gap. This center funded and watched over this study. Besides, it doesn’t come as a surprise that NIH is interested in this study because over 70% of new drugs are expected to come from natural sources.
Turkey tail mushrooms have found application among the natives of North America, and in Asia and Europe for treating different maladies for centuries. The use of turkey tail brew as medicinal tea has been found in records dating back to the early 1600s during the period of China’s Ming Dynasty.
Our ancestors found them and used them even before written history. Researches in Japan have been going on since the 1960s to find how turkey tail could help improve human health and the way turkey tail extracts could improve our immune system.
What are Turkey Tail Mushrooms?
Turkey tail mushrooms are widely found colorful mushrooms that grow on logs, stumps, branches, and dead trees. They are also referred to as bracket fungi, which means they form thin, leaf-like, leathery concentric-circled structures. Shiitake mushrooms have gills on the bottom side, but turkey tails have tiny pores. They emit spores, which puts them in the family ‘polypore’.
The mushroom grows worldwide. In fact, it can grow anywhere there are trees. Interestingly, they are among the most commonly found mushrooms on wood.
Turkey tail mushrooms are usually referred as ‘turkey tail’, as their different colors remind of the plume in the feathers of turkeys. They have the following colors – orange, brown, blue, green and maroon.
They are called ‘yun zhi’ in China. The mushrooms are called kawaritake (cloud mushrooms) in Japan, which refers to spinning clouds. The incurving cloud formations in turkey tail mushrooms are symbols of health, longevity, infinity, and spiritual harmony in several Asian cultures.
Medicinal Properties & Uses Of Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Our ancestors used mushrooms by boiling them in water to prepare comforting tea. The boiling part helped with destroying the contaminants, extracting the potent soluble polysaccharides, and making the flesh softer.
Mycologists call these mushrooms as fruiting bodies. The construction involves densely-compacted cobwebby cells known as mycelium Thanks to modern lab techniques involving cell tissue culture, the production of mycelium on a large scale showed a new line of medicinal preparations. The current commercial production of mycelium allows preparation of more easily digestible and cleaner product compared to the traditional mushroom preparations.
It is surprising that novel compounds are always being discovered on a continuous basis. This is not possible through traditional preparations of fruiting bodies. They are however noticeable within, and removed from the fast growing mycelium.
It was found that the natural killer cells which were stimulated by the ingestion of turkey tail mushrooms to attack virally-infected cells. Besides, the turkey tail mycelium removes potent antiviral compounds, which are especially active against Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV causes hepatitis C virus (HEP-C) (it further causes liver cancer) and cervical cancer.
Oncoviruses are the kind of viruses that stimulate cancer. Medicinal mushrooms provide special opportunities for medical research in the field of virus to cancer link. According to several researchers, there is a growing thought that turkey tails and various medicinal mushrooms help in reducing the chances of getting cancer because they minimize casual co-factors like oncoviruses.
Turkey tail is widely popular in Asia where it is seen as a source for cancer therapy. Kureha, a Japanese firm, first tested several polypore mushrooms. They discovered that turkey tail mushrooms generated a significant immune response. This discovery has been confirmed in several further studies.
Researchers at Kureha obtained a patent in 1976 to extract to extract both the mushrooms and mycelium, and derivative U.S. patents (until 1981, which have expired a long time ago). The extraction technique led to the promotion of PSK (polysaccharide Krestin) and then PSP. The two are protein-bound polysaccharides.
PSK gained popularity in Japan as a cancer drug and was approved under certain debatable set of conditions. On the other hand, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) lays down several requirements to approve a drug that has been made in a foreign country. A major condition is that the company should disclose the Active Principle Ingredient (API). And that is exactly where the problem is.
PSK is a collection of various sugars and associated proteins. It doesn’t have any special molecule that affects the immune system. Thus, It is not possible to verify between batches without having the API. This makes it an undefined drug, which prevents PSK from being imported or marketed legally within the U.S.
Turkey Tail Mushrooms Products in the U.S.
Turkey tail’s fractionated ‘drug’ version (PSK) may not be legal for selling in the U.S., but the pure turkey tail product. Because this turkey tail mushrooms mycelium is offered in its original form, it is also qualified to be approved by the FDA as a “nutraceutical” ingredient. It could be advertised in the US and Canada in this form as a supplement for supporting the immune system.
When this nutraceutical will be available on the health food stores’ shelves, it will allow patients and physicians get access to a tool for fighting cancer. Improving NK cells’ numbers and activity and of other lymphocytes and making sure the effects of antioxidant against free radicals could help in controlling damage caused to healthy cells and reducing inflammation These are the unique benefits of making use of mushrooms in cancer therapy. Nature is all about playing the numbers game right, and turkey tail mushrooms help in tilting the balance in our fight against cancer.
Turkey tail mushrooms (similar to the other varieties) could also hyper-accumulate heavy metals, specifically from soil and air pollution. When mushroom products sourced from Asia (especially Mainland China), were analyzed, they had very high levels of cadmium and various immune-compromising metals. This is not a positive thing for those who desire to strengthen their immune defenses. Therefore, it is essential that you choose only certified organic mushrooms and mushroom products.
Turkey tail mushrooms and several other mushrooms such as shiitake could also amass selenium from their environment. Mercury can combine with selenium and create a bimolecular unit which is entirely non-toxic. That is why when I take fish, I often have a soup of organic shiitake or turkey tails.
The interesting thing about wild turkey tail mushrooms is that they can live for 1-2 years. But they may still persist for many years after having died. They attract and harbor successions of various other organisms. In fact, beetles, moths and flat-footed flies are readily drawn to young turkey tails. This is why when you grow them or find them in the wild, you are likely to find a fascinating community of organisms which co-exist with the mushrooms Turkey tails have fine hair on their upper sides, but can also become host to algae communities, which gives it hues of green.
As turkey tails can be attractive to several other organisms, boiling turkey tail mushrooms in water can mean removing a wide range of different organisms. But when it comes to mycelium which you grow in strictly controlled clean room environments, you will get a pure and reliable product.
What to Consider When Buying Turkey Tail Product?
- Check whether the product is U.S. certified organic. The label should show a certifying agency. Just “organic” printed on the label or in the trademark doesn’t confirm that the mushrooms are organic and most consumers will never know it. In fact, it can be a deceptive move, which is also a subject of big controversy in the dietary supplement and organic food industry.
- Is the product supported by scientifically valid research? Don’t just trust any studies. Many companies make claims based on studies where mushrooms were used from other sources than what they are supplying. There can be significant variations in products based on the growing methods, culture and the method of production. Independent studies are expensive and take lots of time. Most of the mushroom products cite any earlier studies performed on the species. They don’t conduct any tests on the particular mushroom products they promote. As far as possible, look for products which are backed up by validated scientific research.
- The place where the mushrooms were grown. Also check who grew the turkey tail mushrooms. Keep in mind that skilled growers are the only ones who know about the various pitfalls in the cultivation process. The product should be supported by a recognized specialist who has the cultivation skills too.
Nowadays, most of the firms offering mushroom health supplements purchase from the spot-market. They switch suppliers according to availability and price, and buy from unknown sources. Unfortunately, most companies will usually hide the sources from their consumers, claiming that the information is confidential. This provides them freedom in changing suppliers This causes inconsistency in quality.
Keep in mind that when it comes to treating and preventing conditions like Cancer using these mushrooms, purity and consistency are extremely important. If you cannot find where the mushroom products which you are going to consume have been grown, you should be cautious before using them.