by Serena Ma, ND, MS, LAc
Many of my patients have heard me go on about turkey tail, not an actual turkey's tail but turkey tail mushroom (or Trametes/Coriolus versicolor). In fact, I make every single one of my cancer patients watch Paul Stamets' (THE mushroom guru's) powerful TED Talk about mushrooms. You should too!
In the talk, Stamets speaks about different mushrooms (and honestly you can get lost when he speaks about the science of it), but at the end (where the video is cued to) he shares his 84-year old mother's stage IV breast cancer story. She is too old for radiation and surgery, so she is given:
- 3 months to live,
- and turkey tail.
Two years later, she has no detectable tumors.
Radiation and chemotherapy obliterate the immune system. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that are part of the immune system. One type of lymphocyte is the NK or natural killer cell, which recognizes and kills tumor cells! You see, a strong immune system is necessary. So far, research has shown that taking turkey tail results in faster recovery of the immune system (higher lymphocytes, higher NK cells) after radiation in breast cancer patients. This could mean greater tumor regression. Current research is underway using turkey tail during chemotherapy in patients with advanced prostate cancer. I bet they find similar results - turkey tail enhances the body's immune response which could potentiate conventional cancer treatments and lower its side effects.
According to Chinese Medicine it's important to protect Zheng Qi (vital Qi or energy). In fact, cancer occurs and progresses when there is a deficiency of Zheng Qi. Then, conventional treatments further destroy Zheng Qi. This doesn't make any sense! We need strong Zheng Qi to fight cancer cells! The good news is that cancer research is shifting to support the immune system (Qi) to destroy the cancer cells, as we see with these turkey tail trials and the emergence of field of immunotherapy (using your own immune system to fight cancer).
But it's not just about cancer! Turkey tail:
- is an all-round immune tonic so might be helpful this time of year to prevent colds/flu,
- is a prebiotic which means it promotes the growth of probiotics in the intestines,
- helps clear HPV which is important for so many women with cervical dysplasia. I encourage all patients with HPV+ abnormal PAPs to supplement with turkey tail.
Carolyn J. Torkelson, Erin Sweet, Mark R. Martzen, et al., "Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer," ISRN Oncology, vol. 2012, Article ID 251632, 7 pages, 2012. doi:10.5402/2012/251632