This time of year, immune health becomes even more top of mind than usual. For many of us, showing our immune system a little extra love often involves popular supplements like vitamin C and elderberry—but there’s a lesser-known immune helper to keep on your radar this season: AHCC.
This mysterious supplement (what does AHCC even stand for, anyway?) has catapulted into the spotlight recently—and it may deserve a spot in the “get through winter” routine, alongside your favorite tea and cozy sweaters. Here, experts break down what AHCC actually is, how it supports your health, and how to give it a try.
What is AHCC?
AHCC is an acronym for active hexose correlated compound. A growing body of research suggests this mushroom extract has antioxidant and immune health benefits.
“AHCC is a functional food supplement produced from the mycelia (the root-like structure) of multiple mushrooms, primarily shiitake,” says Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N., a dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe (book a free consultation with her!). The process for transforming these ‘shrooms into the potent supplement is patented by a Japanese company.
How AHCC Works in the Body
The idea behind AHCC? It “improves your body’s natural immune response by increasing the activity of natural killer cells,” Blakely explains. (These killer cells increase or decrease the strength of the immune system as needed.)
It may also increase the total number of dendritic cells, which are the cells in your body that activate the rest of your immune response, says Dr. Dimitar Marinov, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Medical Faculty of Public Health at MU-Varna. (One Nutrition and Cancer study backs this up.)
What are AHCC’s potential benefits?
Thanks to its impact on various immune cells, AHCC is believed to be bad news for invaders and good news for your immune health. It may also offer the free radical-fighting benefits antioxidants are so famous for.
“Specifically, early research in mice published in Journal of Nutrition found that, in addition to boosting natural killer cells, AHCC also helped the body regulate levels of T-lymphocytes and cytokines,” says Marinov. Why that matters: In their efforts to fight viruses, these immune cells can ultimately damage the lungs. Believe it or not, the immune system is responsible for a notable amount of the bodily damage done when someone has a virus. It launches into overdrive in response to the virus, Marinov says, and AHCC helps by regulating that immune response.
In addition to helping balance the body’s immune response to viruses, AHCC’s antioxidant properties may also be beneficial for people with regular immune concerns.
In cases of autoimmunity, for example, the immune system attacks the body’s own cells, Marinov explains. Here, too, AHCC may help modulate the immune cells involved in the offense, like lymphocytes, according to animal research published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. Balancing these immune cells means relief for whatever part of the body they’re attacking, such as the colon in colitis.
Though these early results are intriguing, more research in humans is needed. Animal research results don’t always replicate in human research, Marinov says. So, the verdict is still out on just how potent AHCC might be for us homo sapiens.
Should you try AHCC?
While there’s still much to learn about AHCC’s true impact, the supplement is safe.
You’ll want to avoid AHCC if you’re allergic to mushrooms. In some cases, people with intolerances report mild side effects, including digestive issues, itching, headache, fatigue, and foot cramps.
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It’s also important that anyone taking medications consult with their doctor before taking AHCC. The supplement may interact with a variety of classes of drugs. A few include hydrocodone, oxycodone, tramadol, fluoxetine (Prozac), risperidone (Risperdal), and sertraline (Zoloft), says Blakely.
“This doesn’t mean someone could not take AHCC, but that effectiveness may be decreased,” she explains.
Despite promising initial research, those with autoimmune diseases may want to “proceed with caution” with AHCC or steer clear until further research is conducted. “It increases immune function and could worsen their condition,” she adds.
How To Supplement With AHCC
Cleared to try AHCC? Consider adding it to your daily routine throughout the colder months to promote a healthy immune response, Blakely says.
Dosage-wise, anywhere between 500 and 1,000 milligrams per day is common for daily support, Blakely says. (The Vitamin Shoppe brand AHCC contains 500 milligrams per capsule.)
However, you can bump up to 3,000 milligrams per day to max out immune support when you feel under the weather, she adds. “Long-term trials, like this one from 2002, seem to cap dosages at up to 3000 milligrams,” echoes Marinov.