Q. I recently heard of something amazing called “Coriolus versicolor.” It’s natural, and said to have so many health benefits that I wondered why I haven’t heard of it before. Can you give me the lowdown, explain what it is, and what it’s used for?
Coriolus versicolor, also known as “turkey tail,” is a mushroom with a long and colorful history as a healing agent. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and its properties have been familiar to many cultures. First recorded during the Ming Dynasty of China, Coriolus has traditionally been used in Chinese medicine to increase energy, reduce phlegm, and treat a wide range of conditions ranging from hepatitis and cancer to pulmonary infections. It has also been well known in Japan, where it has long been used as a remedy for cancer.
Coriolus can be found growing naturally in many parts of the world, including the United States. It typically appears in temperate forests on logs and stumps, and on the sides of tree trunks. A visually striking mushroom, its overlapping fan-shaped “fronds” grow in a distinctive radial pattern, with concentric rings of alternating bands of color that vary from dark brown and gray-green to burgundy-orange and white. (Versicolor means “variously colored.”) The mushroom’s surface has a unique, soft texture often described as velvety to the touch.
Conventional Western medicine did not “discover” the healing properties of Coriolus until relatively recently. In the 1960s, chemists working for pharmaceutical companies began to develop an extract from the mushroom for the treatment for cancer. The extract, known as Polysaccharide-K (PSK), has since become a leading anticancer and chemoprotective compound, and has significantly increased survival rates in cancer patients. PSK led to the development of another extract of the mushroom known as Polysaccharide-peptin (PSP).
There has been a wealth of research on Coriolus, and many modern studies have confirmed the powerful immunity-enhancing effects of PSK and PSP. A scientific review by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that these polysaccharides have the following properties:
- PSK may help prevent cancer because of its antioxidant and free radical scavenging abilities; PSK also demonstrates prevention of chemically-induced DNA damage and subsequent tumors due to chemicals, radiation, or other causes.
- PSK is effective at various stages of the cancer process by inhibiting the adhesion, invasion, motility, and metastatic growth of tumor cells in animal models with cancer.
- PSK induces apoptosis (cancer cell death) in cases of lymphoma and leukemia.
- PSK helps restore the immune system in animal studies during and after chemotherapy.
- PSP suppresses the growth of human cancer cell lines and bolsters immunity.
- PSP is a strong destroyer of free radicals, and can also increase apoptosis.