AHCC has immunomodulatory and anticancer effects. But large human studies are lacking.
Active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) is an extract of mushrooms from the Basidiomycete class, including shiitake mushrooms. This product contains polysaccharides called glucans, which scientists think are responsible for its biological activity. One study showed that it could enhance the activity of natural killer cells (a type of immune cell) in the test tube. Animal studies suggest that AHCC has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and can improve the response of the immune system in mice with chemotherapy-weakened immune systems. In humans, AHCC has been shown to improve liver function in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma and cirrhosis and reduce the levels of certain tumor markers in the blood.
To prevent and treat cancer
Laboratory studies show some anti-cancer activity, but these results are not especially strong. One human study supported the use of AHCC in patients undergoing surgical resection of hepatocellular carcinoma, but this study had design flaws and much more research is needed.
Another study found AHCC to be an ineffective treatment for early stage prostate cancer.
Do Not Take If
You are taking drugs that are substrates of Cytochrome P450 2D6 (AHCC can decrease the effects of such drugs).
Diarrhea and itching have been reported in patients following administration of AHCC.
A proprietary extract prepared from co-cultured mycelia of several species of Basidiomycete mushrooms, including shiitake (Lentinus edodes), active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) is extracted using hot water following an enzyme pretreatment, but the specific mushroom source and procedural details have not been fully disclosed. Patients use AHCC to prevent and treat cancer. Animal studies suggest that AHCC has antioxidant effects and may protect against many disorders that are induced by oxidative stress (1); enhances resistance against bacterial (2)(3) and viral infections (4); and due to its anti-inflammatory effects, is effective against colitis (20). A study of healthy subjects aged 50 years and older suggests that AHCC improves T-cell immune responses via increased production of interferon-l and tumor necrosis factor-alpha for up to 30 days after treatment (5). In healthy humans, AHCC increased dendritic cell number and function (6) and short-term supplementation with AHCC was shown to improve the antibody response to influenza vaccine (21).
In vitro and animal studies show that AHCC has anticancer effects (7)(8). In cisplatin-treated mice, AHCC increased its anti-tumor activity while reducing side effects (9)(3); and showed synergistic effects with gemcitabine in pancreatic cancer cells (22). A prospective cohort study suggested that AHCC improves prognosis after curative resection of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) (10). AHCC may also reduce chemotherapy-associated adverse effects in patients with advanced cancer (23), and in those with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) (25). However, an open-label multicenter study of patients with early stage prostate cancer found that AHCC was ineffective in reducing patient prostrate-specific antigen levels by 50% or more (11). More studies are needed.
Mechanism of Action
AHCC glucans are low molecular weight (~5 KDa) polysaccharides with alpha-1,3 linkages. Both properties are unusual for this class of mushroom glucans with reported immunomodulatory properties (7). One of the proposed mechanisms includes orchestrating immune response and maintening immune homeostasis in part by priming the TLR-2 and TLR-4 (toll-like receptors) gate at the intestinal epithelium (24). AHCC has been shown to enhance natural killer (NK) cell activity in vitro, induce endogenous IL-12 in mice (8), and improve murine response to influenza infection (15). An animal study suggested that AHCC has antioxidant effects and may protect against disorders induced by oxidative stress (1). Other studies have shown that it increases resistance to bacterial infection (3) by increasing inflammatory cytokine and chemokine expression as well as lymphocytes (13). AHCC also enhanced murine resistance to West Nile virus by improving T-cell response (16).
In chemotherapy-induced granulocytopenic mice, AHCC improved immune response to Candida albicans(2), and alleviated the side effects induced by anticancer drugs in rodents, but the molecular mechanisms have yet to be determined (17)(18). In healthy adults aged 50 years or more, AHCC was shown to enhance CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cell immune responses (19), and In patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and cirrhosis, it conferred beneficial effects on liver function (10) possibly by regulating nitric oxide (NO) production (14).
In addition, AHCC was shown to enhance the antitumor effects of 5-fluorouracil by enhancing apoptosis in tumor tissue, and by upregulating the expression of BCl-2 associated X protein and downregulating B cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) (26). AHCC may be also useful in overcoming drug resistance in cancer cells. Proposed mechanisms include downregulation of Heat Shock Factor 1, which induces the heat shock protein HSP27, known to be involved in gemcitabine resistance in pancreatic cancer cells (27).
Diarrhea and itching have been reported in patients following administration of AHCC (11).
Cytochrome P450 substrates: AHCC induces CYP450 2D6, which may decrease the activity of drugs, such as doxorubicin or ondansetron, which are substrates of this enzyme (12).
Aromatase inhibitors: AHCC induces aromatase and may reduce the activity of aromatase inhibitor drugs, like letrozole (28).