If you need a boost to keep you healthy and strong, you might be impressed with how you feel by taking turkey tail—a wild mushroom with proven benefits for immune support.
What Is Turkey Tail?
Turkey tail mushrooms are a multicolored fungus grown in many parts of the world, including North America. Rich in antioxidants, these fungi grow on tree trunks in dense, wooded areas. The most significant and well-researched benefit of turkey tail is for immune support.
With its striking colors that resemble a turkey bird strutting its tail feathers, turkey tail mushrooms have medicinal properties that offer a wide variety of health benefits. Turkey tail mushroom benefits your immune system, complements cancer treatments, improves gut health and more.
Turkey tail mushrooms can be eaten, but the fungus must be appropriately identified by a mycologist before consuming. Most people take turkey tail in a cup of tea, or as a powder in a capsule.
Turkey Tail Immune System Benefits
Turkey tail mushroom immune system benefits range from an increased supply of antioxidants and immune cells to providing support for anti-cancer treatments and more.
Provides Antioxidant Support
Turkey tail mushrooms are often used to support your immune system because the fungus contains high concentrations of antioxidant compounds. Antioxidants serve a vital purpose in the immune system’s defense against chronic illness.
Your body’s immune cells continually combat threats from antigens, like viruses and bacteria. Another threat your body faces is from a free-radical overload. Free radicals are naturally occurring chemicals your body produces from turning food into energy, or from being exposed to cigarette smoke, air pollution or excessive sunlight. An accumulation of free radicals can lead to oxidative stress—a precursor to chronic diseases. A diet high in antioxidant-rich foods, such as turkey tail mushrooms, helps to neutralize excessive free radicals.
Not everyone receives sufficient antioxidants through common foods they eat, particularly if they are exposed to environmental risks like excessive pollutants and UV light. They may need to supplement with antioxidant-rich foods or supplements.
Turkey tail supplements are rich in antioxidants, including flavonoids—compounds that help fight inflammation and ward off everyday toxins and stressors. Studies have shown that quercetin, a type of flavonoid found in turkey tail, boosts the release of immunoprotective proteins in the body while also blocking inflammatory compounds. This means turkey tail extract can help keep your immune system strong while alleviating harmful inflammation.
Stimulates Immune Cells
The unique properties of turkey tail also make it a useful nutrient for immune cell proliferation. Turkey tail fungus contains two protein-bound carbohydrates—polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharopeptide (PSP). These two molecules have strong immune-boosting properties that activate healthy cells and inhibit infected cells. They also appear to suppress inflammation.
Turkey tail offers three major benefits for the immune system:
- Helps reduce the number of infected cells
- Stimulates the growth of healthy immune cells
- Stabilizes the immune system by easing inflammation
Studies have shown that PSP increases the number of white blood cells that fight against infections and promote immunity. When you’re fighting a viral infection, turkey tail can help improve your immune system’s efficiency.
PSK vitalizes several immune cell types. It activates natural killer (NK) cells, which are immune cells that attack cancer and virally-infected cells. PSK also stimulates cells that defend against toxins, helping to balance your immune system against multiple threats. It also triggers macrophages, which are white blood cells that engulf bacteria(5). PSK is particularly helpful for people who have been diagnosed with blood cancer or who are undergoing cancer treatments.
PSP and PSK can also be used to help treat chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis, herpes, pulmonary disorders and urinary and digestive tract infections. It also appears to help prolong survival and improve quality of life in cancer patients.
May Provide Anti-Cancer Support
People with cancer often have suppressed immune systems, either due to the cancer itself or because of standard cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, that weaken the immune system. Cancers like lymphomas and leukemia, in particular, are diseases of the immune system, meaning immune support becomes even more crucial for survival.
Turkey tail’s properties appear to be uniquely suited for anti-cancer immune support. The PSK and PSP compounds found in turkey tail mushroom have been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth and stimulate the immune system, especially when administered in conjunction with standard cancer treatments.
In Japan, PSK is an approved cancer treatment, and is given primarily to patients with colon and gastric cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers. Studies suggest that patients with resected colon cancer had a notably improved survival rate when treated with PSK from turkey tail mushrooms.
Additional research(8) shows that turkey tail administered with adjuvant chemotherapy (chemo after surgery) also displayed positive effects and improved results in patients with lung cancer.
Turkey Tail Uses
Turkey tail mushrooms are particularly beneficial for supporting suppressed immune systems. You can also consume turkey tail supplements to strengthen your immune system if you have a cold or flu.
Cold and Flu
During cold and flu season, you might benefit from turkey tail supplements. This fungus is often used to treat and prevent common colds and flu viruses, thanks to its effect on immune cell activity.
Research has shown that the PSK content of turkey tail is what provides this medicinal mushroom with such potent antiviral properties. Scientists have long known that PSK activates the immune system’s natural killer cells by improving their effectiveness at destroying cells infected by viruses. PSK is considered to have a role in increasing interferons—immune cell agents that prevent viruses from replicating.
Boosting the immune system during a viral infection, like influenza, is crucial since viruses learn to evade the body’s natural defenses. The addition of immune-stimulating substances, like turkey tail mushroom, optimizes the immune system’s natural response, giving your body a better chance of combating viral infections. Given how turkey tail increases the body’s antiviral response, taking turkey tail as soon as you first develop cold or flu symptoms may help shorten the duration of infection.
Support for Suppressed Immune Systems
People with compromised immunity need an ongoing boost to their body’s natural defense system. Suppressed immune systems occur for several reasons, including receiving cancer treatments, taking certain medications, poor nutrition, smoking and alcohol, as well as from viral infections like HIV and hepatitis. Additionally, many secondary immunodeficiency disorders can be caused by severe burns, diabetes and malnutrition. People recovering from illnesses, surgery and other procedures may also have a weakened immune system.
Because of turkey tail’s immuno-modulating effects, it can help stabilize your immune system, even when it’s been weakened. Additionally, because turkey tail has adaptogenic qualities, it helps to stabilize the body’s natural reaction to stress or an overloaded immune system. People with autoimmune disorders may benefit from turkey tail to help augment their natural defenses.
Turkey Tail in Summary
Whether you’re looking to give your immune system a boost, improve your gut health or fight off a nasty cold or flu, you can benefit from turkey tail mushroom. Enjoy a warm cup of turkey tail tea at night or add a turkey tail supplement to your vitamin routine. Treat your body to extra immune support for improved health and well-being.