A compound derived from Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes), can eradicate human papilloma virus (HPV), a leading cause of cervical cancer, according to a new study from investigators at the University of Texas Health Science Center.
Active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) is a complex of several alpha glucans unique to the Lentinula species of mushrooms, which may have immune-enhancing effects in humans. AHCC has been the subject of more than 20 human and animal studies, and researchers have found that, among other things, the compound can increase production of tumor necrosis factor alpha, reduce side effects of conventional cancer treatments, decrease alopecia resulting from chemotherapy, and reduce the recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma (Spierings, et al. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology. Vol 53 (2007) No 6, Pg 539-539).
Judith Smith, PharmD, and colleagues at UTHSC's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, tested AHCC in ten women with persistent HPV infections of 18 months' duration or more. The subjects took 3 grams per day of AHCC in capsules, on an empty stomach, for up to five month. They were screened for presence of the HPV virus every 30 days while on the protocol.
Five out of the ten participants tested negative for HPV within weeks to months of taking AHCC, showing complete eradication of the virus. While this pilot trial did not include a placebo control group, these initial results suggest potential therapeutic applications for AHCC in stimulating immune function in HPV-infected, leading to eradication of the virus.
Acknowledging that this initial study is small and far from conclusive, Dr. Smith said she is cautiously optimistic about the potential for AHCC in the context of HPV.
“I’m a healthy skeptic and want to make sure there wasn’t a placebo effect in the pilot study. However, I’m encouraged by the initial results.” She cited nearly ten years of in vitro and animal studies prior to the current trial. “We’ve been studying the efficacy of AHCC’s integration with common chemotherapy agents for over a decade, and had previously eradicated HPV infections with AHCC in three orthotopic mouse models. This study confirms the previous results.”
To validate the results from the pilot study and continue evaluating the efficacy of AHCC to eradicate high-risk HPV infections in women, Dr. Smith and her team will be undertaking a double-blind, crossover, placebo controlled, Phase II study that will take place over 18 months.
The protocol will include monthly testing as well as a 12-month follow-up once the initial treatment is complete. While the research proposal is currently in the IRB phase and will likely not begin until sometime in 2015, those interested in tracking its progress can visit the University of Texas page.
Enhanced Immune Response
Additional studies including those conducted by Dr. Smith’s group have shown AHCC to be effective in mediating side effects of adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer patients as well as in enhancing the immune response by increasing natural killer cells (NK cells), dendritic cells and cytokines which block the proliferation of tumors and help fight off infection. The available data indicate that AHCC can be safely used for extended periods of time.
The emergence of a new, natural substance with the potential to squelch HPV should be welcome news given that HPV is a key pathogenic factor in most cervical cancer cases and is the most common sexually transmitted disease with no conventional anti-viral treatments available.
HPV has a two-fold effect on the body: when the virus enters, it attacks squamous cell tissue causing abnormal cell proliferation and simultaneously blocks the body’s immune responses by down-regulating cytokine activity. Researchers have discovered over 180 subtypes of HPV, of which 15 are considered to be high risk and lead to 95% of all cervical cancers. (Rosales and Rosales, World Journal of Clinical Oncology, Dec. 10, 2014; 5(5): 1002-1019.)
Conventional treatment options for addressing HPV include surgical removal of pre-cancerous and cancerous cells and/or chemical treatments to burn off topical warts and lesions. Though these approaches may rid the body of the irregular cells, they often fail to eradicate the virus.
New vaccines designed to stimulate the immune system and produce a cytotoxic response against HPV are currently in clinical trials but are still under evaluation.
In those with adequately functioning immune systems, the HPV virus will often clear on its own within two years of the initial infection. However, in those who are immunocompromised, the virus can linger and become carcinogenic, driving an even greater need for stimulating and strengthening the adaptive immune responses in the body. (Rosales and Rosales, 2014)
According to Dr. Smith, HPV can wax and wane in the body leading to times of dormancy. “Patients who learn that they have HPV, and their doctors, are understandably frustrated because all we can do is monitor them for the abnormal changes associated with cancer. What we need is a safe, effective treatment for HPV before the cancer occurs.”
AHCC may very well be one such option.
Clinical trials have shown few to no side effects from using AHCC for enhancing immune function. While this supplement is safe to use for a wide range of conditions, it has been found to have an effect on the CYP450 26D enzyme system in the liver, which could potentiate certain drugs cleared through this detoxification pathway. Drugs of concern include tamoxifin and doxorubicin. Other drugs using the CYP450 26D pathway should also be considered when taking AHCC. (http://holisticprimarycare.net/topics/topics-a-g/cancer-care/1121-immune-enhancement-avoidance-of-interactions-are-keys-to-chemotherapy-support-.html)
AHCC is readily available in capsule form from a wide range of manufacturers. Though she is enthusiastic about the possible benefits of this compound, Dr. Smith encourages patients to discuss the use of AHCC or any other supplements with their doctors.
To learn more about current research on AHCC, please visit the AHCC Research Association website.
Wendy Romig is an herbalist and founder of Sage Natural Wellness in the greater Philadelphia area. She is a graduate of the Maryland University of Integrative Health, and the David Winston Center for Herbal Studies.