A promising clinical study shows that the turkey tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) improves the immune systems of breast cancer patients. The multiyear study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tracked whether or not turkey tails could positively affect the immune system of patients rebound after they ended their radiation therapy.
Immunity -- as measured by the number of lymphocyte cells and natural killer cell activity -- usually declines dramatically after radiotherapy. Natural killer (NK) cells protect us from tumors and viruses. Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Bastyr University Research Institute hypothesized that breast cancer patients' health can be improved after radiation treatment if NK cell counts increased quickly to attack remaining cancerous cells.
The study titled "Phase I Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer," recently published month in the ISRN Oncology Journal, shows that turkey tail mushrooms can augment conventional therapies for treating breast cancer by increasing NK cell activity. This study suggests that turkey tail mushrooms are an effective adjunct to conventional chemotherapeutic medicines and radiation therapy. The authors concluded "research by our center continues to indicate that Trametes versicolor represents a novel immune therapy with significant applications in cancer treatment."
Due to its long history of therapeutic use, however, turkey tail prepared and packaged as an immune therapy drug is unlikely to be patentable, deterring big pharmas from conducting costly clinical studies. Typically, the longer the historical use of natural medicines for treating an ailment, the less likely derivatized drugs from these natural products will be patentable. To fill this research gap, the NIH established The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (www.nccam.nih.gov), which funded and oversaw this study. NIH's interest is not surprising -- more than 70 percent of new drugs are estimated to originate from natural sources.
Turkey tail mushrooms have been used to treat various maladies for hundreds of years in Asia, Europe, and by indigenous peoples in North America. Records of turkey tail brewed as medicinal tea date from the early 15th century, during the Ming Dynasty in China. Our ancestors certainly encountered them and most likely explored their uses long before written history. Since the late 1960s, researchers in Japan have focused on how turkey tail benefits human health and how extracts of turkey tail can boost the immune system.
What are turkey tail mushrooms?
This super-abundant colorful mushroom grows on dead trees, logs, branches, and stumps. Turkey tail mushrooms are called bracket fungi, meaning that they form thin, leather-like and leaf-like structures in concentric circles. Rather than gills underneath, as in shiitake mushrooms, their undersides have tiny pores, which emit spores, placing them in the polypore family. These mushrooms grow throughout the world, practically wherever trees can be found. In fact, turkey tails are some of most common mushrooms found on wood on the planet.