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The Power of Turkey Tail

To extend Thanksgiving, my favourite food holiday, let’s talk about Trametes versicolor aka Turkey Tail. This beautiful mushroom contains two active polysaccharide-protein complexes known as polysaccharopeptide (PSP) and polysaccharide Krestin (PSK), which are types of biologically active b-glucans.

b-glucans provide several benefits for us, which include improving cholesterol levels by acting as a form of soluble dietary fibre, ensuring the proper functioning of our gastrointestinal system by acting as a prebiotic (food) for our gut microbiome, and boosting our immune system.

Our immune system is comprised of two parts: the innate immune system which contain cells and complexes that we are born with, and an adaptive immune system that is created in response to exposure to a foreign substance.

PSP can interact with Langerham cells in the mouth as well as Peyer’s patches in the small intestine, which determine the appropriate adaptive response of the immune system. These interactions result in the stimulation of activity, and proliferation of key immune cells such as T- and B-cells, macrophages, natural-killer cells, the release of cytokines and finally the increased secretion of antibodies.

PSP also has anti-tumour and anticancer effects by inhibiting enzymes and metalloproteinases required for metastatic activity. They can stimulate the expression of tumour cell surface antigens such as human leukocyte-associated antigens (HLA) which enhance the immune system’s ability to recognize and eliminate cancer cells. It is also a great adjunct to conventional cancer therapies such as surgery or chemotherapy as it is protective against the immunosuppression that accompanies the treatment.

PSK, on the other hand, has been shown to have antimicrobial effects, increasing host resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. This is accomplished by the stimulation of interferon (IFN) production, which is a group of signalling proteins released in the presence of an infection. It also has cardiovascular effects by preventing atherosclerosis by enhancing superoxide dismutase (SOD) acting as an antioxidant against reactive oxygen species which could damage the vascular wall lining resulting in the formation of foams cells and then plaques.

I’ve mentioned before the incredible powers of synergy when it comes to botanical medicine. While extracts of PSK or PSP alone might be beneficial in targeting any of the above actions, it is critical to look at the function of the mushroom as a whole. The whole fruiting body of the mushroom is also full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals as well as other constituents that exhibit other actions of the body as a package deal.

Turkey Tail is both beautiful to look at and a powerhouse of a medicine. Consider all of its wonderful benefits the next time you come across one on your hike!

Disclaimer: while herbs and plants are readily available to consume, please consult with your Naturopathic physician, Medical doctor, or licenced herbalist before taking any of the mentioned herbs medicinally as there can be interactions with medications as well as contraindications that may result in harm.

By Angeli Santos -- BA Psyc and 4th Year Student of Naturopathic Medicine, CCNM-Boucher

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