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Flu shot works better with AHCC

Supplementation with mushroom-derived AHCC improves the immune response to the influenza vaccination, suggests a small human study that will soon be published by researchers at Michigan State University in Nutrition Research. So does this mean that AHCC actually reduces your chance of getting flu? The researchers don't know.

A bout of flu can be dangerous for people whose immune system is weak, such as the elderly or those undergoing treatment for cancer. That's why these groups are offered flu vaccinations, but the immune system of about half of the people with reduced health doesn't react to vaccines. The researchers wondered whether AHCC supplements might help.

AHCC supplements contain alpha-1,4-glucans [structural formula shown above]. These are carbohydrate chains that, according to manufacturers, boost the immune system. The claim is supported by some animal studies, including an experiment that Barry Ritz [PubMed] at Drexel University published in Nutrition Research in 2009. [Nutr Res. 2009 Feb; 29(2): 139-43.]

In this study a dose of 0.1 mg AHCC per kg bodyweight per day improved the survival rate of mice that had been infected with a flu virus. AHCC also boosted the speed with which the immune system tackled and got rid of the virus. The dose at which the researchers achieved this was, in human terms, low. An adult man weighing 80 kg would need about 800 mg AHCC per day.

So could AHCC supplementation help flu vaccines to be more effective? To answer this question the researchers at Michigan State gave 14 test subjects 3 g AHCC every day for three weeks. A similar-sized group were given a placebo. The average age of the subjects was sixty. On the first day of the experiment all subjects were given a flu shot.

The number of Natural Killer T-cells increased by a larger amount in the blood of the subjects that had taken AHCC. The number of CD8+ Cytotoxic T Cells also increased. AHCC had no effect on the number of B cells, T cells, CD4+ T cells and NK cells.

Flu shot works better with AHCC

Natural Killer T cells resemble Natural Killer cells, but are controlled by other immune cells. Some animal studies have shown that immobilising Natural Killer T cells can result in autoimmune diseases and cancer. Cytotoxic CD8+ T Cells are immune cells that recognise tumour cells or cells infected with a virus and destroy these.

The subjects were given an injection that was intended to protect them against influenza A and B. The AHCC supplementation resulted in an extra increase in the number of antibodies that protect against influenza B.

Flu shot works better with AHCC

The researchers do not know whether the effects they observed would actually reduce the likelihood of contracting flu. "Studies aiming to show a preventive role of AHCC against common colds and influenza infections would require very large numbers of participants, and would need to record the occurrence and severity of infections", they write. "Future studies are critical to determine the potential immune-enhancing potential of AHCC, especially with influenza vaccination in immunocompromised or aging individuals."

The study was financed by the Amino Up Chemical Company [] in Japan, a manufacturer of AHCC.

Nutr Res. 2012. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2012.11.001.

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