What Is AHCC?

The Mushroom Extract Is Believed to Boost Immune Health

AHCC capsules, softgels, and powder supplements

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

AHCC (active hexose correlated compound) is a natural substance that comes from certain types of mushrooms that belong to species called basidiomycetes. Shiitake mushrooms are one well-known example of a basidiomycete mushroom.

AHCC, which you take as a supplement, is known to act as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances that may prevent cells of your body from becoming damaged, which means they defend against certain types of diseases and illnesses. While research on AHCC's health effects is fairly limited, some people insist that taking AHCC can produce a variety of health benefits.

This article explains the research related to different health claims attributed to AHCC and what you should know about dosage and side effects before you take the supplement.

What Is AHCC Used For?

In alternative medicine, AHCC is said to stimulate the immune system and improve your ability to fight viral infections, including the flu and the common cold. Many people also believe that AHCC can help protect against cancer and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. In addition, AHCC is said to help prevent heart disease and treat hepatitis.

So far, few clinical trials have tested the effects of AHCC. Still, some preliminary research shows that AHCC may support good health. Here's a look at several key findings from the available research.

Immune System

AHCC may boost your immunity, according to one small clinical trial in Nutrition and Cancer. For the study, 21 healthy volunteers took either an AHCC supplement or a placebo (a "fake" medication) every day for four weeks. At the study's end, those who took AHCC seemed to have a stronger immune system. Specifically, they saw an increase in their dendritic cells, which are a type of immune cell that helps the body fight bacteria, viruses, or other organisms that cause disease.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

When AHCC was given to breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, it seemed to prevent a common side effect of the drug known as neutropenia in which your body has too few white blood cells. Neutropenia can make you very vulnerable to infections.

Additional studies on mice have shown that AHCC reduces chemotherapy side effects such as liver damage, kidney damage, and bone marrow suppression (a condition in which your bone marrow produces blood cells too slowly).

While these studies offer hope, it's too soon to tell whether AHCC is truly helpful in relieving chemo side effects and whether it's effective for all types of chemo. More research is needed.

Cancer

While AHCC may help with treatments for cancer, more importantly, there's some evidence that it may actually help prevent cancer from developing. A 2018 study published in Nutrition and Cancer found that AHCC blocks the growth of ovarian cancer cells. Researchers suggest that the compound has potential for use as a complementary cancer therapy for ovarian cancer as well. The compound may have the potential for therapeutic use in the treatment of other cancers as well.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

AHCC shows promise in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but the only research that's been published has been related to animal studies. For instance, a 2014 study found that AHCC relieved colitis, which causes inflammation in the colon. The researchers of that study suggest that their findings may point to AHCC being helpful with inflammatory bowel disease.

Flu

AHCC's power is often touted as a flu treatment or prevention. Again, though, the research has been mostly limited to tests on mice. These animal tests show that AHCC may help rev up the immune system to fight flu infection. Thus, AHCC may make your flu symptoms milder and help them go away sooner than they would if you didn't take the supplement.

There's also evidence that taking AHCC supplements after you've been vaccinated for the flu may increase antibody titers, which is a measure of how much immunity you have against a disease. Higher titers mean you have a stronger defense and are less likely to become sick with the flu.

Recap

While more evidence is needed for most of the claims made about using AHCC, there's some convincing evidence that it might boost your immune system. Taking supplements could help you fight infections and viruses, especially the flu.

Ongoing research is looking at supplements that can treat chemo side effects, defend against certain types of cancer, and relieve symptoms of IBD.

Possible Side Effects

Little is known about whether AHCC can safely be used long-term. There's some concern that AHCC may trigger mild side effects, including bloating, diarrhea, itching, foot cramps, and fatigue. Some people also report feeling feverish after taking AHCC daily.

AHCC may decrease the effectiveness of certain types of medication including two drugs given for cancer treatment doxorubicin (a chemotherapy drug) and ondansetron (an anti-nausea medication). It may also affect how you respond to other prescription medications. Before starting supplements, discuss with your doctor whether AHCC could cause possible interactions with medications you already take.

AHCC powder supplement

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage and Preparation

There is no FDA recommended dose of AHCC. However, researchers have shown that taking 3 grams per day may help with immune response. That's also the dose suggested for chemotherapy patients.

The right dose for you may depend on several factors, including your age, gender, and medical condition. It's best to get feedback from your doctor about an appropriate dose for your needs.

Recap

While you can purchase AHCC supplements over the counter, it's important to discuss their use with your doctor before adding them to your daily regimen. This is especially critical because the supplements can interact with certain prescription medications, and there's no universal standard dose.

What to Look For

You'll find AHCC supplements in many health food stores and online. The capsules or soft gels are often combinations of AHCC and other compounds or ingredients. Doses range from 300mg to 750mg or more.

Follow recommended practices when buying your supplements. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain important information, including the amount of active ingredients per serving and whether or not the product contains other added ingredients like fillers, binders, and flavorings.

Lastly, the organization suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third-party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International.

A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

Summary

Without sufficient supporting research, it's too soon to say that AHCC can help fight infections or improve your overall health. That said, some people have found benefits and some research shows that this supplement made from mushrooms can boost immunity, ease symptoms of chemotherapy, protect against cancer, and reduce IBD inflammation. 

Because there are risks of drug interactions and the amount of daily AHCC supplement that's appropriate varies by person, you should consult a doctor. 

Do not rely on AHCC to treat a chronic condition or use it in place of standard treatments for viruses or infections. Those actions could make you delay needed care and lead to further illness or complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is AHCC?

    AHCC is a supplement known as active hexose correlated compound. It is a natural substance that is extracted from a class of mushrooms known as basidiomycetes. Shiitake mushrooms contain AHCC. 

  • What is AHCC good for?

    AHCC is believed to boost the immune system and help to prevent viral infections. It may also relieve side effects from chemotherapy and ease digestive tract inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel syndrome. 

  • Should I take AHCC on a full or empty stomach?

    In studies, doctors have recommended taking AHCC supplements on an empty stomach. Taking medications two hours before or two hours after eating can allow them to be better absorbed.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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