Turkey Tail Mushrooms and Breast Cancer

August 07, 2022

Turkey Tail Mushrooms and Breast Cancer

You know turkey tail mushrooms. If you ever walk in the woods, you will see them as one of the more common mushrooms growing off tree trunks, like a circular shelf. If you look at the bottom of them, they look like a turkey tail, fanned out. They are found all over the world, In China and Japan, they have been used for years as immune boosting agents and in the treatment of a variety of cancers, most commonly breast cancer.

We don't have large, randomized, placebo-controlled trials in the US. That is our scientific standard of care. But I heard an anecdote of a midwestern woman with advanced breast cancer who started taking turkey tail mushroom and proceeded to get a full remission. A search of Pubmed finds that she is not alone.

Perhaps you would like to know about turkey tail. It's been around in Chinese medicine for millennia. What does it do?

To know how it works, you need to learn about the CR3 receptor in cancer. That's what turkey tail seems to modulate. In a clinical trial conducted in Washington, turkey tail appeared to show a faster rebound of immune function after radiation. Up to 9 grams a day was found to be safe and well tolerated.

The real question is whether the "home run" anecdote of a patient with advanced cancer who gets better is able to be duplicated in others. The problem arises in that medicinal plants have dozens, if not hundreds, of compounds, each of which has its own effect. In turkey-tail, only the compound PSK has been studied in isolation. In a randomized trial from Europe comparing PSK with tamoxifen versus tamoxifen and mitomycin over 5 years, survival in the PSK group was 89% while the mitomycin group came in at 94%. (P value 0.06, not quite significant). That's not a cure or an improvement. But it's only one compound out of the many hundreds, if not thousands in turkey tail.

That's the conundrum. The state of science as we now know it revolves around one, solitary compound, extracted and studied in isolation. There is no food of any kind that is one pure compound. All of our vitamins, proteins, and minerals come in mixes, and mixes are what we are designed to eat and react to. The development of complex, artificial intelligence may be able to parse out those complex interactions, but for now we are left with a shrug and a question mark.

www.What will Work for me. Traditional medicine has used foods for millennia and found them to be effective, in some circumstances. I think mushrooms have enough of a proven immuno-supportive role that they deserve further consideration. The Brits have published literature from their national nutritional survey showing improved cognitive function in those who eat more mushrooms. Good enough for me. I am a regular the "Mr Mushroom" at our farmers market.

References: Wikipedia, Global Adv Health Med, PDQ Cancer, European Jr of Cancer, British Jr Nutrition.

Pop Quiz

1. What is turkey tail mushroom?                            Answer: One of the most common mushrooms found in the woods growing on decaying tree trunks.

2. Is it safe for me to pick it and eat it in the woods?                            Answer: If you are not an experienced mushroom hunter, no! Please let someone make the stuff for you. There are many vendors.

3. What dose is safe?                          Answer: 9 grams a day has been studied and is safe

4. How does it work?                             Answer: We really don't know but we think it has something to do with boosting the immune surveillance of your body against the ability of cancers to hide from your immune system.

5. Should we all be taking some mushrooms?                                   Answer. Yes. Good for your brain, your immune system, and probably more if we got around to studying them. That is not likely to happen if you can't patent them. And when they grow freely in the woods, that won't happen.