While there are several options to consider when wanting to keep your immune system strong over the holidays, may I suggest a less conventional option – AHCC AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) is an oligosaccharide compound derived from the Basidomycetes mushroom family. It is often touted as a “Japanese Super food” that is helpful in a number of disease processes, including cancer.
So how does it work?
With respect to the immune system and specifically immunity, there are two parts to the body’s defense mechanism. Innate immunity is your first line defense which involves the release of a non specific attack on whatever foreign invader has just entered your body. Adaptive immunity is your second line of defense as the body organizes a specific response to that particular microbe.
The main players within the immune system responsible for these actions are as follows:
Innate Immunity – First line of defense
- Cytokines: Chemical messengers that help immune cells communicate and coordinate an immune response
- Natural killer (NK) cells: White blood cells (WBC) that recognize and destroy infected or abnormal cells by injecting granules into them, causing them to explode
- Macrophages: WBCs that are like “pac-man” and engulf and ingest bacteria and cellular debris
- Dendritic cells: WBCs that present foreign substances to B and T cells (like waving a flag), initiating an adaptive response
Adaptive immunity – Second line of defense
- B and T cells: Both B cells (which mature in bone marrow) and T cells (which mature in the thymus gland) are lymphocytes,(white blood cells) that are able to recognize previous invaders and destroy them with a specific response
Proven Benefits of AHCC
In vivo and human clinical trials have shown that AHCC modifies both the innate and adaptive immune response, by:
- Increasing the production of cytokines
- Increasing the activity of NK cells by as much as 300-800%
- Increasing populations of macrophages, in some cases doubling them
- Increasing the number of dendritic cells
- Increasing the number of T cells by as much as 200%
In terms of infection, in vivo research has shown that AHCC modulates the immune response against a variety of infectious agents including: the influenza virus (common flu), avian influenza virus ("bird flu"), Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria (which causes pneumonia), Candida albicans fungus (which causes yeast infections), Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria (which can infect any part of the body), and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA-which causes an antibiotic-resistant staph infections). Recently, AHCC was found to boost protective immune response specific to the West Nile Virus in mice. Studies have repeatedly shown that mice treated with AHCC prior to infection with these pathogens experience:
- Decreased severity of infection
- Shortened recovery times
- Increased survival rates
In addition, one study found that mice pretreated with AHCC before infection with K. pneumoniae had completely cleared the bacteria from their systems by day 6, whereas control mice had increased levels of the bacteria and became extremely sick.
Another feather in the cap of AHCC is that it is an adaptogen – helpful in dealing with stress. For many individuals, stress is high over the holiday season which can impact immune system health. Animal studies have shown that AHCC helps to keep the stress hormones (adrenalin, cortisol) in check in addition to helping to balance blood sugar.
So, if you are looking for something a little less conventional with a lot of beneficial immune enhancing qualities, may I suggest you look into the mushroom extract AHCC for a little added immune insurance over the holiday season.
Ritz BW. Supplementation with active hexose correlated compound increases survival following infectious challenge in mice. Nutr. Rev. 2008 Sep;66(9):526-31.
Wang S, et al. Oral Administration of Active Hexose Correlated Compound Enhances Host Resistance to West Nile Encephalitis in Mice. J Nutr. 2009 Jan 13
Department of Biochemistry, Dokkyo University School of Medicine. AHCC on immobilization stress in the rat: beneficial effects of active hexose correlated compound. Dokkyo Journal of Medical Sciences. 2001;28(1):559-565.