Turkey Tail Mushroom and Its Traditional Uses
Turkey tail mushroom, Trametes versicolor, is a brightly colored bracket fungus indigenous to all seven continents. It thrives in a multitude of climates and for this reason, has been highly accessible to many cultures. The oldest account of this mushroom being used is in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where it’s known as yun zhi. In ancient practice, yun zhi was used for longevity. In modern TCM practice, it is used for treatment of respiratory and pulmonary diseases. In Japan, turkey tail has been incorporated into cancer treatments for the past few decades because of its immunomodulatory properties. The mushroom also makes an appearance in Native American herbalism. In recent years, there has been a buzz around turkey tail and functional mushrooms at large. Although the mushroom is mainly touted for its anticancer properties, recent studies are showing the incredible benefits it has on your gut health.
Understanding Gut Health and The Importance of the Gut Microbiome
The gut plays an important role in our overall health. We all know the gut is responsible for our digestion, but it plays a major role in other aspects of our health and well-being. Some refer to our gut as our second brain because it contributes to our mood and mental health. When there is an imbalance in our gut microbiome, it can leave us more prone to anxiety and in a lower mental state. It also plays a role in your weight and metabolism. Overgrowth of certain “bad” bacterias causes quicker breakdown of sugar in the gut. In turn, the body absorbs more sugar than it normally would and also leads to blood sugar spikes. In the long run, this takes a toll on your body’s metabolism. Immune health is another aspect of our health, majorly governed by our gut microbiomes. It is estimated that up to 70% of our immune system is located in our gut. Damages to our intestinal lining caused by inflammation trigger immune responses such as allergies. If food passes the intestinal barriers into the rest of the body, the immune system will attack it and this is how food allergies arise.
How Turkey Tail Mushroom Works to Support Gut Health and The Gut Microbiome
You might be familiar with lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Two strains of beneficial bacteria found in the gut. You also find these in fermented foods or probiotic supplements. Turkey tail has recently been shown to increase the quantity of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in the gut microbiome. These two strains of bacteria are important because they prevent overgrowth of harmful bacteria and fungus. So how does turkey tail mushroom increase these bacteria in your gut? It comes down to two compounds. Polysaccharide peptide (PSP) and polysaccharide krestin (PSK) are two types of beta-glucans only found in turkey tail mushrooms. Beta-glucans are naturally occurring polysaccharides, soluble fibers, found in all mushrooms and vary by species. Different forms of beta-glucans have different beneficial properties. This is why mushrooms have different health benefits.
What makes PSP and PSK superior to other beta-glucans? They are prebiotic to lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Prebiotics are like food for your probiotic gut bacteria. Prebiotics have recently been heavily advertised by the food and beverage industry, almost as if they are the new trending superfood. In reality, you can get all the prebiotics you need from a balanced diet, not an expensive prebiotic soda. Resistant starches like the ones found in certain vegetables, legumes and mushrooms, are prebiotic. The two found in turkey tail, PSP and PSK, are especially good at feeding lactobacilli and bifidobacteria strains which play a major role in your immune system.
You may be wondering at this point, “why not just take probiotics supplements with these specific strains?” The reason taking turkey tail is more effective than just ingesting probiotic supplements, is that most probiotics you ingest get flushed out of your digestive tract. You need the prebiotics to nourish the probiotics that have already colonized your gut. We’re not saying not to take probiotic supplements, but that both pre and probiotics are important in maintaining a healthy gut.
Clinical Studies and Research on The Effects of Turkey Tail Mushroom on Gut Health
One of the most notable studies on turkey tail and the gut microbiome was a 2014 clinical trial that gave turkey tail mushroom to subjects that had just completed a course of the antibiotic amoxicillin. Antibiotics, also created by a fungus, work to kill infections by killing bacteria in the body. However, antibiotics cannot differentiate between harmful bacteria and beneficial ones. In turn, most bacteria in the body are killed off, leaving the gut microbiome in disarray and gives the opportunity for harmful bacteria and fungus to grow. This is why antibiotics are not recommended unless absolutely necessary and your doctor prescribes them.
In this study, the participants’ fecal samples were analyzed over a two month period to assess their gut microbiome make-up and overall gut health. The participants who took the antibiotics and did not supplement with any form of prebiotic had an increase in E. Coli bacteria in their stool. This was not the case with the group that supplemented with turkey tail mushrooms. They also saw a greater diversity of probiotic bacteria species within the gut. This suggests that supplementation with turkey tail is beneficial in returning the gut microbiome back to normal after disruption from antibiotics.
The Connection Between Gut Health and Immunity
The connection between the gut microbiome and immunity is complex. In short, the beneficial gut bacteria help to regulate immune function by interacting with immune cells and producing metabolites that affect the activity of immune cells. These bacteria help to maintain a balance between pro and anti-inflammatory responses in the gut, which is important for overall immune health. In Addition, the gut is responsible for absorbing nutrients and other compounds that are important for immune function, such as vitamins and minerals. A healthy gut can therefore help to ensure that the body has the resources it needs to maintain a strong immune system. On the other hand, an imbalanced gut microbiome can lead to dysregulation of the immune system and may increase the risk of immune-related diseases, such as autoimmune disorders and infections. Numerous studies have proven that disruptions in gut microbiome, such as those antibiotic use and poor diet, can have long-term negative effects on the immune system.
Tips For Incorporating Turkey Tail Mushroom Into Your Wellness Routine For Gut Health
The good news is that turkey tail mushrooms, or turkey tail extract, is easily accessible and easy to incorporate into your diet. Since it grows all over North America, and the world, there’s a good chance you can find it out in the wild where you live. There also aren’t any toxic lookalikes for this mushroom, but we still recommend verifying your find with someone who has expertise in mycology, the study of fungi. If you can’t find wild turkey tail near you, there are hundreds of mushroom extracts on the market. These generally come in powders, tinctures or capsules. The main thing is you choose a brand that harvests 100% fruiting body. The fruiting body of a fungi is what we know to be a mushroom. It’s the reproductive structure that grows from mycelium, fungal “roots,” out of a substrate. Many brands only process mycelium and the substrate it grows on, generally oats or grains. Because of this, their product is getting filler. In addition, fruiting bodies have higher beta-glucan contents, meaning higher PSP and PSK levels. Mālama Mushrooms only use 100% fruiting bodies in their extracts, so you’re not paying for any filler. These extracts go great in coffee, tea and even baked goods. Long story short, they are easy to incorporate into your everyday routine.
Combining Turkey Tail Mushroom With Other Natural Remedies For Enhanced Gut Health Benefits
Unfortunately, balancing the gut doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. Incorporating turkey tail mushroom into your diet is a great first step, but there are other natural remedies you can do along with it to maintain optimal gut health. Other mushrooms like reishi and chaga are also known for their immune-boosting properties. Taking a blend of these mushrooms together only enhance the benefits of each other. Fermented foods are also great to incorporate with turkey tail because the prebiotics, PSP and PSK, will feed the probiotics created from the fermentation process in foods. Lastly, lifestyle habits are also key to maintaining your gut health. Getting a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep a night is crucial for healthy immune function. Limiting certain food products like artificial sweeteners, alcohol and just overly processed foods also help. If you can incorporate these foods and habits into your daily life, you are on the right track to building and maintaining your gut health.
Safety Precautions and Potential Interactions to be Aware of
Taking a daily turkey tail supplement has proven to be safe, but there are some things to consider before you incorporate it into your daily routine. Some studies show turkey tail might lower blood sugar, which can be dangerous if you are taking diabetes medication or are prone to hypoglycemia. It can also interact with certain cancer treatment medications so consult your doctor if you are taking any of these medications. Aside from this, there is little to no evidence of toxicity from taking high levels of turkey tail mushroom.
Conclusion and Recommendations For Using Turkey Tail Mushroom
New studies on turkey tail and functional mushrooms have been rapidly unveiling these past few decades and the buzz around them is hotter than ever with publications from famous mycologists like Paul Stamets and notable figures in the health and wellness community. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of what functional mushrooms are capable of doing. Aside from gut health, turkey tail is showing promise as a cancer treatment and a powerful anti-inflammatory. Thankfully, this mushroom is so accessible and easy to incorporate into your routine unlike other expensive drugs and health treatments. Something as simple as a scoop of turkey tail powder in your morning coffee can make a world of difference in your health.