Turkey tail mushroom extract and cancer

Turkey tail mushroom extract and cancer

Turkey tail is a medicinal mushroom approved in Japan for cancer treatment. Used as an extract in powdered form, Turkey tail boosts the immune system (NK, dendritic cells and T-cells), even during chemotherapy, increasing survival times and reducing toxicity and side-effects. It has been shown to work integratively with chemotherapy to produce improved anti-cancer effects.

Turkey Tail benefits, dosage, side-effects 

Turkey tail mushrooms grow on dead logs worldwide and they derive their name because … they look like the concentric rings on turkey tails. Coriolus versicolor or Trametes versicolor has been used in Chinese Medicine for centuries, particularly for lung issues In China it is called Yun Zhi. In Japan, Kawaratake as it is known, has been incorporated as an approved compound into cancer treatment for the past 30 years. Turkey tail is known to increase survival and improve the immune system even during chemotherapy.  All human studies report that it is safe to use with few, if any, side-effects.

Turkey tail mushrooms also contain approximately 40 polyphenols, multiple antioxidants, and good levels of vitamin D. The mushroom also has antiviral and antimicrobial properties. 

Turkey tail is usually used in treatments as a powdered extract. The extract contains two polysaccharides PSP and PSK.

 * Polysaccharide Krestin, PSK, is possibly the more important ingredient. The extract MUST be organic and beta-glucans in many medicinal mushrooms are known to have immune boosting properties. In Japan, PSK is an approved drug used with surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy.

 * Polysaccharide Peptide, PSP, has shown more benefit in pain relief and immune system strengthening.

PSP and PSK clinical trials have involved cancers of the stomach, oesophagus, lung, cervix and ovaries. In double-blind trials, PSP significantly extended five-year survival in oesophageal cancer. There is some research suggesting PSP can slow the growth of tumors and help protect the immune system, particularly from the effects of cancer treatment.

Human studies using predominantly PSK have been conducted with breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and stomach (Gastric) cancer largely in Japan. PSK seems to enhance the effect of chemotherapy, creating greater tumour decline, maintaining higher immune system levels despite the chemotherapy, and reducing toxicity.

A meta-review of 13 clinical trials on cancer patients taking between 1 and 3.6 gm of Turkey Tail (PSP or PSK)  per day for 3 years, showed a 9 percent improved 5-year survival, with the best results for breast cancer, colorectal cancer or stomach cancer (1).

Prostate cancer - Mushroom extract PSK increases tumour regression with docetaxel

In 2012 a full scale $5.4 million research study on humans was launched focusing on turkey tail mushrooms, by Bastyr University, the University of Washington and others. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the clinical trial studied the mushroom extract on prostate cancer patients in conjunction with Docetaxel chemotherapy. This was the result of successful preliminary work.

Polysaccharide-K was first used in a prelimary trial on mice given prostate cancer (2).  The research showed that PSK enhanced docetaxel-induced prostate cancer tumor suppression, apoptosis and antitumor responses. Combining PSK with docetaxel induced significantly higher tumor suppression than either docetaxel or PSK treatment alone.  Researchers also recorded a reduction in tumor proliferation and enhanced apoptosis plus a lower decline in the number of white blood cells than usually seen from docetaxel alone.

Turkey Tail and Breast cancer

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Bastyr University completed a study in 2010 showing that the PSK mushroom extract could reduce side-effects and boost the immune system in women with various stages of breast cancer. Bastyr produced several studies, one where PSK was seen to help HER2 subjects increase survival (3).

In a small scale study, Turkey tail was shown to promote recovery in women after conventional breast cancer treatment, particularly of lymphocytes, NK cells, and T-cells and B-cells (4).

As with many medicinal mushrooms, Turkey tail extract used in breast cancer patients boosted immune cell production and reduced chemotherapy side-effects. 

Turkey Tail and Colorectal cancer

A study (5) of stage II and III colorectal cancer patients who received conventional therapy plus 3 gm of PSK per day had a lowered risk of metastases and increased levels of 5-year disease-free survival.

In a meta-analysis of 23 studies involving patients with colorectal cancer, patients who received PSK alongside their orthodox chemotherapy treatments were less likely to have recurrent cancer and lived longer than those who did not. One to five year survival levels all increased.(6)

With rectal cancer, and patients having chemotherapy or radiotherapy, PSK increased the number of cancer-killing immune cells and showed anticancer effects in tissue that received radiation therapy.

Turkey Tail and Lung cancer

A review of human lung cancer trials (7) concluded that the addition of PSK improved immune function and survival when used as an adjunctive therapy. It improved survival whether the patients were Stage 1, II, or III. It also reduced toxicity and side-effects from conventional treatment.

Turkey Tail and Pancreatic cancer

PSK upregulated the cell cycle regulatory p21(WAF/Cip1) and pro-apoptotic protein Bax levels, resulting in cell cycle arrest and induction of apoptosis.  PSK caused a significant growth inhibition. An even stronger result was observed when PSK and gemcitabine were used integratively (8).

Turkey Tail and Leukaemia and Lymphoma

In a 2004 in vitro study (9)Turkey tail extract effects were studied on a B-cell lymphoma and two human promyelocytic leukemia cell lines. DNA fragmentation during apoptosis was demonstrated. The Turkey Tail extract (at 50 to 800 microg/ml) dose-dependently suppressed the proliferation of lymphoma and leukemia cells by more than 90 per cent.

In a 2013 study, PSK was shown to produce its strongest effects with Leukaemia cells. Research noted that Turkey tail was known to boost the immune system, but wanted to understand how PSK could inhibit tumours. They found that PSK activated caspase-3 and induced p38 MAPK phosphorylation causing apoptosis. In other words, PSK induced apoptosis via the mitochondrial pathway and the p38 MAPK-dependent pathway (10).

Turkey tail and gastric cancer (stomach cancer)

In a study outside Japan, researchers  studied 10,617 patients with gastric cancer over a 10-year period. All received gastrectomy and adjuvant chemotherapy. The median overall survival was 6.49 years in the PSK group and 3.59 years in the control (non-PSK) group. PSK used alongside chemotherapy almost doubled survival times (11).

Turkey Tail, beta-glucans and microbiome health

Not surprisingly, there have been several studies that show Turkey tail has a significant effect on the gut microbiome, almost certainly stemming from its beta-glucan (β-glucan). content  For example, one study showed that it could significantly increase levels of the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus families, while reducing levels of Clostridium, Staphylococcus and Enterococcus families. PSP seemed the stronger component in this (12). That would certainly have a positive effect on your immune system and on your overall health!

Turkey Tail, PSK and PSP - conclusions

When reading these studies, it is quite clear that in the Western world, money is hard to come by for human clinical trials on natural compounds, whereas there is a much stronger belief in the power of mushrooms in South East Asia, China and Japan. However the research is done - laboratory, animal studies, human clinical trials or observational studies - an organic extract of Turkey Tail or PSK or PSP used in conjunction with conventional treatment, improves survival, produces a stronger anti-cancer effect, increases your immune response despite the effects of the chemo, and reduces side-effects and toxicity.

The research all points in the same direction. Ignore this medicinal mushroom at your peril.

Go To: Which mushrooms help fight your cancer?

Thinking of buying Turkey Tail Mushroom extract? Why not see what Our Natural Selection has to offer.  CLICK HERE



1. Efficacy of Yun Zhi (Coriolus versicolor) on survival in cancer patients: systematic review and meta-analysis.  Eliza W, Fai C, Chung L.; Recent Pat Inflamm Allergy Drug Discov. 2012;6(1):78-87.

2. Polysaccharide-K augments docetaxel-induced tumor suppression and antitumor immune response in an immunocompetent murine model of human prostate cancer; Cynthia A Wenner et al; Int J Oncol; 2012 Apr;40(4):905-13.

3. Successful Treatment of HER2-neu–positive Breast Cancer With Paclitaxel and Trastuzumab Supplemented With Turkey Tail Mushrooms and Community Support; Glob Adv Health Med. 2012 Nov; 1(5): 16–17.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4890094/

4. Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer; Carolyn J. Torkelson et al; International Scholarly Research Notices/2012 

5. Beneficial effects of protein-bound polysaccharide K plus tegafur/uracil in patients with stage II or III colorectal cancer: analysis of immunological parameters; Ohwada S, Ogawa T, Makita F, et al;.Oncol Rep. 2006;15(4):861-868.

6. Can polysaccharide K improve therapeutic efficacy and safety in gastrointestinal cancer? a systematic review and network meta-analysis; Yan Ma et al; Oncotarget. 2017 Oct 24; 8(51): 89108–89118.

7. Polysaccharide K and Coriolus versicolor extracts for lung cancer: a systematic review; Fritz H, Kennedy DA, Ishii M, et al.Integr Cancer Ther. 2015;14(3):201-211.

8. Polysaccharide-K (PSK) increases p21(WAF/Cip1) and promotes apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells; Ann H. Rosendahl et al; Pancreatology, 2012 Nov-Dec;12(6):467-74.

9. Cytotoxic activities of Coriolus versicolor (Yunzhi) extract on human leukemia and lymphoma cells by induction of apoptosis; C. B. S. Lau et al; Life Sci, 2004 Jul 2;75(7):797-808.

10. Protein-bound polysaccharide-K induces apoptosis via mitochondria and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase-dependent pathways in HL-60 promyelomonocytic leukemia cells; Noriyuki Hirahara  et al; Oncol Rep, 2013 Jul;30(1):99-104.

11. Protein-bound polysaccharide K prolonged overall survival in gastric cancer patients from a non-Japanese Asian country who received gastrectomy and adjuvant chemotherapy;  Wang Ting-Yao et al; Medicine 

12. Trametes versicolor Extract Modifies Human Fecal Microbiota Composition In vitro; Yu ZT, Liu B, Mukherjee P, et al. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2013;68(2):107-112.



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