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Can Turkey Tail Help Fight Cancer?

Can Turkey Tail Help Fight Cancer?

Much of what we know about traditional medicine is derived from the different extracts found in nature. Essentially, what modern medicine did was concentrate these extracts or synthesise them so that it would have a specific effect on different types of conditions and diseases.

Mushrooms such as Turkey Tail have been studied for their therapeutic properties, and it’s all thanks to their active compounds. These compounds are known to exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and pro-immunity effects. Although mushrooms such as turkey tail have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, their popularity is now growing in the western world too. With this, more research on the mushrooms' benefits are being developed everyday with one of the biggest focus points being turkey tail’s anti-tumor activity.

What is the Turkey Tail Mushroom?

The use of functional mushrooms to treat various ailments dates back to thousands of years in Eastern medicine, and Turkey Tail, also known as Trametes Versicolor, isn’t any different. This reddish-brown fungus has been studied for its benefits regarding fatigue, immunity, blood sugar management, healthy ageing, and its anti-tumor activity.

In fact, some of the earliest recorded use of turkey tail in Eastern Asia dates back to the 1700s when it was used for cancer treatment by people in China, Japan, and Korea.
Modern scientists began studying this unique fungus decades ago, but its benefits are only now gaining popularity in the western world.

According to the latest findings, it appears this fungus has more to offer than initially thought. Studies show that turkey tail may have therapeutic effects against various types of cancers, including lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma.

There are several mechanisms by which turkey tail can confer cancer-protective effects [1]:
  • Turkey tail has anti-inflammatory effects;

  • It can help with the body’s detoxification efforts and elimination of free radicals;

  • It’s been cited to reduce tumour cell division;

  • Turkey tail has been observed to promote antiangiogenesis or prevention of blood vessel growth toward tumours and;

  • Stimulation of immune system cells to help fight off cancer cells and direct anti-cancer activity.
How does turkey tail provide all these anti-cancer benefits? Due to its active components, Beta D Glucans, Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) and Krestin (PSK).

What are PSP and PSK?

At the core of the benefits associated with turkey tail mushroom are its two active compounds Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) and Krestin (PSK).

Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP)

The polysaccharide PSP within turkey tail mushroom has substantial effects on the production of cytokines. Cytokines are messenger molecules released by cells in the human body to regulate immune responses, inflammatory reactions, and other processes.

A test-tube study published in the Journal of Food Chemistry shows that PSP increases the body’s monocytes production. Monocytes are a type of white blood cells responsible for maintaining immunity and protecting us from infections and other foreign bodies. An increase in monocyte count can mean better “surveillance,” as the body can detect foreign bodies earlier and respond to them faster. [2]


The most highly researched turkey tail concentrate is polysaccharide-K (PSK aka Krestin). Clinical trials have shown that PSK can enhance immune function and provide antiviral and cholesterol-regulating effects, among other beneficial biological activities.

Scientists found a potential complementary benefit to using turkey tail alongside conventional treatments such as chemotherapy when it comes to cancer research. Experts cite how the mushroom not only reduces the side effects associated with chemotherapy, but it also strengthens the person’s immunity and has cytoprotective benefits against chemo toxicity.

It does all that while simultaneously helping the chemo have a more targeted route to cancer cells, improving the treatment’s efficacy. Others point out that turkey tail’s anti-tumor activity may also be attributed to how it can prevent new blood vessels from forming into tumours. [3]

Why can't I find a PSK/PSP extract?

PSK and its analogous compound PSP are both proteoglycan extracts of Turkey tail mushroom, meaning they are protein bound polysaccharides isolated from the fruiting body. If you look at their chemical makeup they consist of beta-glucan β-1,4 main chain with β-1,3 and β-1,6 side chains.

The reason these extracts aren't sold here is because these extracts are actually patented, demand a very high price and requires authorization to sell. Therefore, these products are not sold in the west.

What does that mean for our beta glucan extracts?

Our extracts are thus a proxy for the proteoglycan extracts as a proteoglycan extract is made up of around 75% beta-glucans meaning it is very similar. Below is a great picture showing the chemical makeup of the extraction. The extraction focuses on the β-1,3 and β-1,6 side chains as that is where the magic is. Therefore, these extracts both contain the correct beta d glucans however the one is bound to a protein and the other is bound to a sugar protein complex.

Turkey Tail and Specific Cancers

The Turkey tail mushroom has shown to possess anti-tumor activity. This pretty much opened the floodgates regarding more profound research into the mushroom’s potential benefits against specific cancers and their debilitating symptoms.

Conventional cancer treatment helps kill cancer cells, but sadly at a cost. Cancer patients are often afflicted by chills, fever, nausea, weakness, and loss of appetite after receiving treatments specific to their cancer type. These symptoms are intense enough to harm the patient's quality of life during treatment. In fact, some patients withdraw from treatment because of the trauma brought about by the symptoms or end up with bodies that are too weak to continue.

Fortunately, evidence suggests that turkey tail’s active components PSK and PSP show promise to relieve these symptoms. These compounds can help patients focus on recovery rather than fighting the side effects often experienced during traditional cancer treatment.

Other than PSP and PSK, the other chemical components of turkey tail are essential minerals such as magnesium, manganese, and copper. The mushroom also contains beta-glucans, a type of soluble fibre cited for their stimulatory effects on white blood cells and cytokines. These two can improve overall immunity and reduce the impact of chronic inflammation. [4]

When it comes to specific cancers, turkey tail has been cited to help with prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical/uterine cancer, skin cancer, breast cancer, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, and nasopharyngeal cancer.


Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. Historical stats suggest about 1 out of 8 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, and the risk is higher for men who are 65 years or older. About 1 in 41 men die of prostate cancer.

Many treatments are available. Turkey tail too is showing promise based on recent research. For prostate cancer patients on hormonal therapy, it’s been found that adding dehydrated water extract of turkey tail significantly improved their conditions compared to the placebo group. [5]


Ovarian cancer is the fifth common cancer death in women. About 1 in 78 women are at risk of ovarian cancer, and there’s a 1 in 108 chance of dying from it. Taking dried turkey tail mycelium extract increased the anti-cancer activity of the traditional chemo drug cisplatin in ovarian cancer cells. [6]


In combination with radiotherapy, PSK (3-6 g/day) given to patients with stage III uterine and cervical cancer enhanced patient survival. It also increased the sensitivity of the cancers to radiotherapy, basically amplifying the anti-cancer effects of the therapy.

In another trial, cervical cancer patients given the same dose and radiotherapy showed clearance of cancer cells in 36% of patients versus 11% of controls and improved 5-year survival from 48% - 79%. [7]

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, primarily due to its exposure to environmental toxins and damage brought about by oxidation and other factors. One of the leading causes of skin cancer is thought to be overexposure to sunlight, with stats suggesting having more sunburns increases your risk for skin cancer.

A mixture of three hot water extracts helped reduce lung metastases in mice with initial melanoma, increasing their survival days by 29% compared to controls. [8]


Breast cancer has become one of the most treatable and survivable cancers, especially when detected early.

Deaths caused by breast cancer are due to metastasis or when the cancer has been allowed to progress to a point where it’s spread significantly. As with every type of cancer, chemotherapy is one of the most commonly prescribed treatments, but the side effects of chemotherapy are still unpleasant even if you catch the cancer early.

Water extract from turkey tail has been shown to reduce side effects and improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. [9]

Another trial showed significant benefit in patients positive for HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) B40 with 100% survival after ten years.

The HLA antigen is part of a test called HLA typing. HLA typing is a genetic test mainly used to identify matching patients for bone marrow or cord blood transplants. Scientists recently used HLA Typing to predict the outcome of breast cancer patients undergoing cancer treatments.


One of the most difficult cancers to treat and live with is stomach cancer. Its debilitating symptoms include drastic weight loss, loss of appetite, moderate to intense stomach pain, vomiting, heartburn, and nausea. Even at the first stage, patients can feel helpless and have low will to live because of how it can drastically reduce their quality of life.

Multiple Clinical trials of PSK given alongside surgery and chemotherapy at 3-6 g/day significantly extended survival times in stomach cancer at all stages. Even in patients with advanced stomach cancer with metastasis, PSK doubled 2-year and 5-year survival and extended 15-year survival. [7]


Colorectal cancer is the second most deadly cancer in the world. Statistics suggest both men and women have a 4% chance of developing colorectal cancer in their lifetime, with increased risk for those who are 50 years and older.

In different clinical trials PSK extended 5-year and 8-year survival after surgery and chemotherapy and chemotherapy and radiotherapy. [8]

Lung (Stage I - III)

A study published in the Journal of Anticancer Research found that administering PSK as part of radiotherapy extended the 5-year survival of patients up to 4x for all lung cancer stages. Notably, stage III cancer patients taking PSK had a better prognosis than stage II patients without PSK. [8]


A study published in the Journal of Japanese Surgery showed taking PSK extended 5-year survival after surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy in Oesophageal cancer patients. [6]

In double-blind trials, PSP significantly extended 5-year survival in oesophageal cancer patients and improved their quality of life through substantial pain relief. PSP also showed immunity benefits to at least 70% of patients with various types of cancers at doses of up to 3 grams per day. [7]


Nasopharyngeal cancer forms in the tissue of the nasopharynx, which is located in the upper part of the throat and behind the nose. A study showed taking PSK extended the 5-year survival of nasopharyngeal cancer patients after radiotherapy and chemotherapy from 15% to 28%. [10]

Natural anti-cancer properties of Turkey Tail

Apart from being administered as part of cancer therapy, turkey tail extract also shows potential exerting anti-cancer activity on its own.

Induces cancer cell death and inhibits cancer cell growth

A study published in the International Journal of Phytotherapy Research concluded that the hot water extract from turkey tail could exert direct anti-cancer activity in vitro and in vivo. It was suggested that the extract can fight cancer cells on its own without having to couple with chemotherapy or other therapies that kill cancer cells. It works by inducing apoptosis (cell death) and reducing the growth of cancer cells.

Has pro-liver benefits

Many studies have shown turkey tail's ability to help with liver health, which is a vital component when helping cancer patients through chemotherapy or other therapies that negatively affect the liver. [11]

The research uncovering Turkey Tail mushroom’s therapeutic benefits is ever growing. Notably, the mushroom’s potential as part of conventional cancer treatment looks promising. Traditional cancer treatments may very well soon regularly add the mushroom as a means of reducing side effects and increasing efficacy.


If you have a mushroom allergy, you should not use these mushroom extracts. Caution is advised if using mushrooms along with blood thinning medication.

What to look out for when choosing a mushroom supplement?

Choosing a good quality mushroom supplement can be a daunting task, as there are many options available in the market. However, there are a few key things to consider when selecting a high-quality mushroom supplement.

Learn More
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2. Sekhon BK, Sze DM, Chan WK, Fan K, Li GQ, Moore DE, Roubin RH. PSP activates monocytes in resting human peripheral blood mononuclear cells: immunomodulatory implications for cancer treatment. Food Chem. 2013 Jun 15;138(4):2201-9. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2012.11.009. Epub 2012 Nov 15. PMID: 23497877.

3. Patel S, Goyal A. Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review. 3 Biotech. 2012;2(1):1-15. doi:10.1007/s13205-011-0036-2

4. Stamets P. Trametes versicolor (Turkey Tail Mushrooms) and the Treatment of Breast Cancer. Glob Adv Health Med. 2012;1(5):20. doi:10.7453/gahmj.2012.1.5.007

5. Luk SU, Lee TK, Liu J, et al. Chemopreventive effect of PSP through targeting of prostate cancer stem cell-like population [published correction appears in PLoS One. 2011;6(6). doi:10.1371/annotation/0f6309be-936c-4974-97bf-ed3a98289cd9] [published correction appears in PLoS One. 2011;6(6). doi:10.1371/annotation/b0312c4c-e06a-47ef-9e9c-b044dbfa3d6a]. PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e19804. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019804

6. Habtemariam S. Trametes versicolor (Synn. Coriolus versicolor) Polysaccharides in Cancer Therapy: Targets and Efficacy. Biomedicines. 2020;8(5):135. Published 2020 May 25. doi:10.3390/biomedicines8050135

7. Saleh MH, Rashedi I, Keating A. Immunomodulatory Properties of Coriolus versicolor: The Role of Polysaccharopeptide. Front Immunol. 2017;8:1087. Published 2017 Sep 6. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.01087

8. Blagodatski A, Yatsunskaya M, Mikhailova V, Tiasto V, Kagansky A, Katanaev VL. Medicinal mushrooms as an attractive new source of natural compounds for future cancer therapy. Oncotarget. 2018;9(49):29259-29274. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.25660

9. Stamets P. Trametes versicolor (Turkey Tail Mushrooms) and the Treatment of Breast Cancer. Glob Adv Health Med. 2012;1(5):20. doi:10.7453/gahmj.2012.1.5.007

10. Bao YX, Wong CK, Leung SF, Chan AT, Li PW, Wong EL, Leung PC, Fung KP, Yin YB, Lam CW. Clinical studies of immunomodulatory activities of Yunzhi-Danshen in patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma. J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Oct;12(8):771-6. doi: 10.1089/acm.2006.12.771. PMID: 17034283.

11. Soares AA, de Sá-Nakanishi AB, Bracht A, et al. Hepatoprotective effects of mushrooms. Molecules. 2013;18(7):7609-7630. Published 2013 Jul 1. doi:10.3390/molecules18077609
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog post is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare treatment plan.
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