Turkey tail mushroom, like other medicinal mushrooms, has long been esteemed in traditional Chinese medicine. This natural mushroom is believed to have healing elements to strengthen the body against illness and disease. Here's how this alternative medicine works:
Its main effects are to strengthen the immune system, particularly by enhancing the workings of one of the most critical cells, known as T helper cells. T helper cells tell all the other cells in the immune system what to do and to what degree, and when to stop.
In cancer, the runaway cells often secrete compounds known as cytokines that give false signals to immune cells to stop working. This further enhances the ability of the cancer to survive. An unfortunate side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy is that they further damage the immune system, in part by inadvertently killing T helper cells.
Turkey tail mushroom has been the subject of a large number of controlled clinical trials in Asia showing that it can help rebuild the immune system in people with a wide range of cancers. The benefit is quite powerful, for it has been demonstrated again and again that turkey tail, taken together with mainstream cancer therapies, significantly lengthens lifespan by as much as double. Turkey tail is not a magic cure for cancer, but it can definitely extend life.
Turkey tail may also improve quality of life by reducing susceptibility to infections and other negative effects of having a suppressed immune system. More research is needed to quantify these effects, but they should not be overlooked, as living well is just as important as living.
Because of its positive effects on the immune system, it's possible that turkey tail mushroom could prevent cancer or help other conditions in which immune suppression is a major problem, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Research has yet to be done to investigate turkey tail's potential promise.