Turkey tail isn’t just a good looking mushroom … it’s good for your dog too!
This medicinal mushroom has cancer researchers excited … in fact, it’s an anti-cancer drug in some countries. But there are a few other reasons to add turkey tail to your dog’s daily meals too.
But before we talk about the health benefits, what exactly is turkey tail?
Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Turkey tail is a mushroom that grows on dead logs all around the world. Its Latin name is Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor. Versicolor means of many colors. And that’s because turkey tail has colored rings that look a lot like the tail of a turkey. In Japan, turkey tail is called kawaratake, which means cloud mushroom.
There are quite a few strains of Trametes, but turkey tail in particular is of interest to scientists and herbalists. Turkey tail has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to reduce phlegm, clear dampness, increase energy and boost the immune system. In traditional Chinese medicine, it’s called Yun Zhi.
Today, researchers are interested in turkey tail’s health and immune boosting benefits. Let’s take a look …
Medicinal Benefits Of Beta-glucans
Turkey tail mushrooms have two main medicinal components: Polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharide-P (PSP). They form part of the mushroom’s cell wall and they give the cell its structure.
Both PSK and PSP are called beta-D-glucans. These beta-glucans can bind directly to receptors in immune cells … and trigger immune changes that can increase the activity of some immune cells, or restore a healthy immune response.
The key activities on the immune system include:
- Up-regulate immune function when the immune system is stressed by chronic illness, stress or cancer
- Restore immune function in dogs with an auto-immune disease
- Down-regulate the inflammatory immune response in over-active immune systems
This is what makes turkey tail and other beta-glucan-rich mushrooms so powerful … they can directly interact with the immune cells in your dog.
Beta-D-glucans can bind to and activate macrophages, which are the immune cells responsible for destroying bacteria, viruses, and invaders like cancer cells. Beta-glucans can also stimulate other immune cells, including natural killer (NK) cells and T-leukocytes, which are an important part of the adaptive immune system.
Overall, beta-glucans have been shown to:
- Activate immune cells
- Increase antibody production
- Reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines
- Enhance the immune response to multiple cancers
- Inhibit the spread of cancer cells (metastasis)
Let’s take a look at how turkey tail can help the immune system fight cancer …
Turkey Tail And Cancer
The trouble with cancer research is that it’s hard to find randomized controlled studies on supplements like turkey tail mushrooms. In most cases, cancer patients undergo chemotherapy, radiation or other drug-based treatments at the same time. So it’s difficult to accurately analyze how effective a natural treatment is.
But in the case of turkey tail, there’s a very solid randomized controlled study … and it was done on dogs.
A 2012 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary Medicine looked at the effectiveness of turkey tail mushrooms in treating dogs with hemangiosarcoma. Hemangiosarcoma is a vascular cancer with a high rate of metastasis (spreading to other parts of the body). It’s an aggressive cancer that’s primarily found in the spleen.
Even when the spleen is removed, the prognosis is still poor in dogs with hemangiosarcoma. The median survival rate is from 19 to 86 days with less than 10% of dogs surviving past 12 months.
In this study, they gave PSP from turkey tail mushrooms to dogs from a teaching veterinary hospital. All of the dogs were diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma. The dogs underwent a double-blind study with no concurrent treatments.
When the results were analyzed, the researchers found the dogs given the PSP had a much longer time until metastasis. And survival time increased with the size of the dose.
- Survival time with no treatment: 86 days
- Survival time with 50mg-kg/day turkey tail: 117 days
- Survival time with 100mg-kg/day turkey tail: 199 days
In fact, PSP has been approved as an anti-cancer drug in Japan and China. And PSK is the main component of an anti-cancer drug approved in Japan called Krestin.
Turkey tail mushrooms also carry another important compound called ergosterol.
This is found in all mushrooms and it acts like cholesterol in humans. But ergosterol also carries important anti-tumor and antioxidant properties.
A 2012 study in Hong Kong found turkey tail was linked to better survival times for patients with breast, gastric and colorectal cancers.
And in 2011, a seven-year NIH breast cancer clinical study was completed. The results showed that women with breast cancer had reduced tumor size and improved immune response when given turkey tail … without any adverse effects.
Since the FDA approved human trials for turkey tail as an anti-cancer agent in 2012, studies into its immune-boosting benefits have shown a lot of promise.
Turkey Tail And Chemotherapy
An in-vitro study compared the beta-glucans from turkey tail to the chemotherapy drug Cyclophosphamide. They found that the anti-tumor activities of the turkey tail were close but not quite as good as the chemotherapy. But the turkey tail is much safer and doesn’t carry the same nasty side effects as chemotherapy.
Speaking of nasty side effects, chemotherapy destroys immune function and immune cells such as leukocytes.
But the beta-glucans in turkey tail increased the function of immune cells. Since the growth of cancer is closely related to the health of the immune system, it’s critical to improve the immune status of cancer patients.
So turkey tail mushrooms can also be an important addition for dogs undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
Other Turkey Tail Benefits
Turkey tail mushrooms carry other health benefits …
Because they regulate the immune system, beta-glucans help protect dogs from fungi, bacteria, viruses … and parasites. The immune system and IgE antibodies are well equipped to deal with worms and internal parasites … and beta-glucans help improve that response.
Turkey tail mushrooms may also help protect against kennel cough, canine flu and other infectious diseases.
Turkey tail mushroom is also being used to treat yeast infections.
Digestive And Urinary Health
Turkey tail mushrooms can also regulate the immune cells that control inflammation.
Turkey tail in particular, works especially hard to reduce inflammation in the digestive, urinary and respiratory tract.
While we’re talking about digestive health, turkey tail is also a healthy prebiotic.
Prebiotics help with the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. These beneficial bacteria reduce digestive inflammation, produce important vitamins and fatty acids, and form another important part of your dog’s immune system.
Turkey tail mushrooms may also help protect the liver.
Finally, turkey tail mushrooms also contain health-boosting phytochemicals including the antioxidant phenolic compounds gallic acid, protocatechuic acid and catechin.
Beta-glucans aren’t just found in mushrooms. They’re also found in the cell walls of cereals and grains … but the structure of plant-based beta-glucans is different and less complex than those found in mushrooms.
The complex triple helix structure of the mushroom beta-glucans is what gives turkey tail and other medicinal mushrooms their immune-boosting properties, while cereals have very little of it.
If you’re buying turkey tail mushrooms for your dog, be sure your mushroom has a certificate of analysis with a beta-glucan content of at least 30%. Especially if your dog has cancer.
And make sure the mushroom product doesn’t have a high starch content so you know the beta-glucans are derived from mushrooms, not cereals and grains.
Buying Turkey Tail Mushrooms
There are several types of mushroom supplements you can buy for your dog:
This means the entire mushroom, usually dried and powdered. Raw, ground mushrooms can irritate the liver and dogs should never eat raw mushrooms.
Mycelium is the “root” of the mushroom and not the entire fruiting body. It’s typically grown in grains and can also be called “full spectrum” mushrooms.
But it’s important to note that mycelium is usually lower in beta-D-glucans … and any beta-glucans found in the product might be plant-derived and not from the actual mushroom.
On average, mycelium grown on grain contains about 5 to 7% beta-glucans.
Hot Water Extract
Most turkey tail studies are done with a hot water extract. In fact, this is how mushrooms have always been prepared in traditional Chinese medicine.
The cell wall of the mushroom is indigestible to dogs (and humans), so extracting the mushrooms in hot water makes the medicinal ingredients more available … and safer to eat.
On average, hot water extracted mushrooms contain 30% to 40% beta-glucans.
Giving Your Dog Turkey Tail Mushrooms
You should ideally give mushrooms between meals … but if you’re giving real mushrooms, they can have a bitter taste, so you might need to mix them with some kefir or bone broth.
If your dog doesn’t love the taste, you can add them to his meals and he’ll still get the benefits, so don’t worry.
Turkey tail mushrooms are a multi-faceted food that can be a great addition to your dog’s daily supplements!
Hemangiosarcoma study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3440946/
In vitro study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5298263/
Hong Kong study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22185453
Beta-glucan content of mushrooms and mycelium: https://www.nammex.com/redefining-medicinal-mushrooms/
Anti-inflammatory properties of turkey tail: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29521529