We buy security systems to protect our homes, click a button to lock our car doors, and store valuables in padlocked safes, but how can we keep invaders away from and out of our bodies? Unwanted intruders, including viruses, bacteria, and rapidly dividing cancer cells, pose a perpetual, constant threat and at some point, we are bound to be fighting something. Whether its unrelenting colds, persistent HPV plaguing 70 million people worldwide, or even the threat of cancer, passively “watching and waiting” for something to happen is an unsettling course of action. Fortunately, there is a way to boost our body’s own security system and enhance our immunity.
Allow me to present the concept of medicinal mushrooms. No, these are not hallucinogenic and will not get you high (in case you’re wondering), but they may play a role in supporting human health and well-being.
Mushrooms are also known as “functional foods” or biological response modifiers (BRMs). A food is considered functional if it beneficially affects one or more target functions in the body, in a way beyond adequate nutritional effects and is relevant to either the state of well-being and health or the reduction of a disease risk.(1) Test tube studies on mushroom species including shitake, maitake, and reishi all point to the potential of these fungi to positively impact immune system function. The problem thus far has been absorption: the biologically active constituents of these mushrooms (their polysaccharides- specifically, b-glucans) are too large for the human body to absorb efficiently. But in 1987, Japanese scientists rose to the challenge and created AHCC.
What is AHCC?
AHCC stands for Active Hexose Correlated Compound and is a fermented mushroom extract obtained from several subspecies of hybridized medicinal mushroom mycelia (aka mushroom parts). AHCC’s immunogenicity is supported by approximately 30 positive studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals recognized by the National Institutes of Health. Japan’s #1 specialty immune supplement is gaining popularity in the United States, and for good reason. With a patented fermentation process (using giant beer vats in Sapporo, Japan), AHCC’s polysaccharides are a mere size of 5,000 Daltons (compared to a polysaccharide molecular of 200,000 Daltons in other de novo medicinal mushrooms. In short, AHCC is an immunoceutical: a substance with immunotherapeutic efficacy when eaten or taken orally.
What does it do?
Published human clinical studies demonstrate that AHCC regulates the activity of several types of white blood cells.
· Natural killer cells: identify and destroy viruses, bacteria, and abnormal cells. AHCC can increase NK cell activity by 200-300 percent.(2)
· Dendritic cells: WBC’s that present foreign subs to B and T cells, which then destroy them. In a double-blind placebo controlled study of 30 healthy adults, AHCC increased the number and activity of dendritic cells.
· Macrophages: engulf and destroy bacteria. AHCC increases macrophage populations by 100%
· Cytokines and T-helper cell activation: Cytokines chemical messengers activating the immune system to fight infections or threats to the body, such as cancer. A study conducted at Yale Medical School showed that AHCC increased the activity of two specific immune-modulating cytokines— IL-17 and IFN-γ –from autologous CD4+ T cells (T-helper cells).(3)
In viruses: Mouse and other animal studies confirmed AHCC improves immune response to viruses (including influenza A and West Nile), bacteria (K. pneumonia, P. aeruginosa, and MRSA, and fungal infections (including Candida albicans).
In cancer: Widely used a complementary immunotherapy in Japan, AHCC has been found in multiple clinical studies to prolong survival time in cancer patients, while reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.
· Liver cancer: In one landmark study of 269 post-surgical liver cancer patients, the group taking AHCC (113 patients) presented a14% higher rate of survival than those in the placebo group (156 patients), with an 18% reduced risk of tumor recurrence in the AHCC group compared to the control (statistically significant). (1) Another clinical study of late-stage liver cancer patients found subjects taking AHCC survived an average of 3.5 months compared to the control group of 1.5 months. In fact, after 3.5 months, the entire control group had passed away, while 61.5% of the AHCC group was still alive.(4)
· Pre-cervical cancer: Currently, a phase 2, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial is investigating AHCC in treating premalignant cervical cancer lesions due to HPV in UTHealth, Houston, Texas. AHCC has been shown to lower IFN-B levels and raise IFN-gamma levels, which help the immune system fight invaders.
· Stomach and colon cancer. In conjunction with chemotherapy, AHCC improved 5-year survival rates of early-stage gastric cancer patients and late-stage colon cancer patients.
· Prostate cancer: One human clinical trial found 39/62 prostate cancer patients treated with AHCC for six months either had stable or falling PSA levels. Moreover, when the data was further analyzed, it was found that older patients and those whose cancer had metastasized had the most stable PSA levels (although this was not found to be statistically significant).
How does it work?
By revving up the number and activity of disease-fighting white blood cells, AHCC builds to body’s own arsenal of immune-fighting machinery.
AHCC appears to be very safe. No toxicity was observed in animal studies at even extremely high doses. In a phase I clinical trial, a mega-dose of 9g of AHCC a day was well tolerate by the majority of subjects failed to cause any abnormalities in blood values. Mild and transient nausea, diarrhea, bloating, headache and fatigue occurred in 15% of subjects – but this dose is much higher than the typical 1-3 g dose averages/day. However, it should not be used in people with autoimmune conditions, as its increased immunogenicity might have a theoretical negative effect, although this has not been shown. In fact, one study with AHCC demonstrated it can prevent the onset of streptozocin-induced diabetes in mice by protecting B-cells from degeneration and by diminishing oxidative injuries of cells in various organs, suggesting an antioxidant role for AHCC, as well.(5)
While results are promising, AHCC is not a “magic pill” (although my mom, who no longer suffers from chronic colds on the supplement, will argue otherwise). AHCC is, however, a complementary therapy to be used alongside pharmaceuticals as part of a holistic approach to patient care. Large-scale, randomized double-blind studies are needed to ultimately reach decisive conclusions. Thus far, however, AHCC appears to be a safe, natural compound with no known side effects.
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1. Matsui Y, Uhara J, Satoi S, Kaibori M, Yamada H, Kitade H, et al. Improved prognosis of postoperative hepatocellular carcinoma patients when treated with functional foods: a prospective cohort study. J Hepatol. 2002;37(1):78-86.
2. Gao Y, Zhang D, Sun B, Fujii H, Kosuna K, Yin Z. Active hexose correlated compound enhances tumor surveillance through regulating both innate and adaptive immune responses. Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2006;55(10):1258-66.
3. Lee WW, Lee N, Fujii H, Kang I. Active Hexose Correlated Compound promotes T helper (Th) 17 and 1 cell responses via inducing IL-1beta production from monocytes in humans. Cell Immunol. 2012;275(1-2):19-23.
4. Cowawintaweewat S, Manoromana S, Sriplung H, Khuhaprema T, Tongtawe P, Tapchaisri P, et al. Prognostic improvement of patients with advanced liver cancer after active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) treatment. Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol. 2006;24(1):33-45.
5. Wakame, K. Protective Effects of AHCC on the Onset of Diabetes Induced by Streptozocin in the Rat. Biomedical Research. 1999;20(3):145-152.