Turkey Tail: The Research & What You Need to Know Before Buying
Medicinal mushrooms have become the talk of the town when it comes to natural health supplements. And turkey tail mushrooms are at the top of the list. They've been long celebrated for their beneficial properties, including those researched for things like immunity and cancer.
When we say research, we're not talking about a few studies. We're talking about a substantial offering that covers a wide variety of investigations.
So, what does this research tell us, and how do you know which turkey tail product is best?
The Nutritional Power of Turkey Tail
Turkey tail fungi has two latin names: Coriolus versicolor or Trametes versicolor, and is in the family of fungi known as Polporaceae. It grows widely throughout the Northern hemisphere on the fallen logs and stumps of deciduous trees. It is highly distinguishable due to its fan-like shape and wide variety of colors. It has been used in Chinese and indigenous cultures as medicine for thousands of years and now science is proving how powerful it really is.
Turkey tail, grown in its natural environment, provides nutrients that are difficult to obtain in the modern Western diet. It’s a significant source of:
- Vitamin B Complex
- Vitamin D
- Essential amino acids
- Polysaccarides (beta-glucans)
The Science of Turkey Tail
Turkey tail has been used in Chinese medicine (known as Yunzhi) for centuries. Traditionally and clinically, it is one of the most researched mushrooms for immune support and cancer.
This is partly because it contains two key polysaccharides called polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP).
- PSK has been discovered to inhibit cancer onset mechanisms (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) and has been an approved concurrent treatment to chemotherapy in Japan since the 1980s. It has been shown to increase cytokine production (cell proteins involved in inflammatory, viral and cancer cell inhibition). (6) (7).
- PSP is an immune modulator, helping the immune system to inhibit tumor growth aid in reducing the decline of immune status during chemotherapy (8) (9)
More recently, and maybe one of the most promising turkey tail studies so far, is a study done at Penn State University on the longevity of dogs diagnosed with hemagiosarcoma, an aggressive cancer of the spleen that is often fatal. High dose PSP showed a significantly delay in abdominal metastasis and increase longevity. (10)
Liquid Mushroom Extracts vs. Powder
There are many different mushroom products available on the market. Usually you'll find them as power, either on its own or in capsule format, or as tinctures.
Studies show that 85-90% of nutrients from liquid forms of mushroom extracts are absorbed into the bloodstream. The National Advisory Board reports that only 8.3% of herbs are absorbed into the bloodstream in a solid or tablet form. So, to increase your ability to get the full benefits of the mushroom, you’ll want to use a liquid form.
The Benefits of Double Extracted Mushrooms
Herbology is a practice that dates back at least 5000 years but probably much longer. Traditionally the phytonutrients found in herbs were extracted either by boiling specific parts of the plant, making teas, or steeping the plant materials in jars of water heated over many days by the sun. In the early 19th century, scientists discovered new methods of chemistry that allowed them to measure the bioactive properties of different plants. It was then that new extraction methods for increasing potency started to evolve.
Double extraction is the method of using one hot water extraction followed by a second extraction using alcohol. The reason for doing this is that there are water-soluble and non-water soluble parts of each mushroom and herb.
Mushrooms, specifically, contain non-water soluble chitins. Chitins are structural polysaccharides that help the cells maintain their integrity, a bit like cell armour. In insects, chitins form the hard bodies and wings. Chitins require two extractions to be fully broken away from the fungi cell wall, to reap the full medicinal benefits, including special compounds called triterpenes.
A perfect example of this can be found in a studies with reishi mushrooms and its unique set of triterpenes called ganoderic acids. These special nutrients could only be obtained via double extraction with water followed by alcohol (11) (12). Polyphenols can be obtained from a single hot water extraction because they are water soluble.
Wild-grown Turkey Tail vs. Cultured Turkey Tail
It’s important to understand that wild fungi only develop their medicinal properties when they are grown on their native substrate. In the instance of turkey tail, it is the fallen logs and stumps on the forest floor.
The important bioactive chemicals found in turkey tail are only present when the fungus can grow in relationship to this decaying wood. Scientists have tried to culture mushrooms in a laboratory setting with little success in replicating the full medicinal power. For example, wild-grown chaga fungi (grown on birch trees) is significantly higher in many mycochemicals compared to laboratory-cultured chaga (13) (14).
What to Look for in a Trusted Turkey Tail Provider
1. Is it harvested in a sustainable way?
Some turkey tail is harvested in its entirety, which means the fungus is destroyed and cannot repopulate. Not only does this reduce the medicinal value of the product but it also disturbs the ecosystem from where it’s taken. In order to keep the turkey tail regenerating, it’s important that the majority of the fungi is left intact on the tree so it can continue to thrive.
2. Is it grown in a way that reaps medicinal value?
As mentioned before, if it’s not wild-grown turkey tail, you will be missing out on its full range of nutritive value. It’s important to ensure that your source is wild-grown on rotting logs, as nature intended. The wood provides the nutrients to the mushroom and this is almost impossible to simulate in a laboratory setting.
3. Is it minimally processed to conserve medicinal value?
There are different methods for consuming turkey tail but the most bioavailable ways are either through steeped tea or via liquid tincture. Freshly dried turkey tail can be used to make tea. Liquid tinctures can be consumed for greater medicinal potency. The double extraction method will ensure you’re getting the total value of the wild mushroom’s benefits.
4. Is it tested for polyphenols and other beneficial nutrients?
If the turkey tail you are purchasing has a nutrient analysis profile, this can give you great insight into exactly what nutrients are in the product. It can be hard to tell what you’re consuming if there’s no analysis.
Turkey tail is a wonderful rotational addition to support long term wellness for you and your family but it also can be used as a more targeted therapy along with other treatments. To learn more about turkey tail for dogs, click here.