TREATMENT OF IMMUNE DYSFUNCTION FROM POST-TRAUMATIC
STRESS DISORDER AND CHRONIC DISEASE WITH AHCC
Dan Kenner, OMD, Ph.D.
Townsend Letter For Doctors, December 2001, pp 68-72.
The recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have
created the potential for widespread post-traumatic stress disorder
in thousands of direct victims and hundreds of millions exposed
to graphic images through the media. According to the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text
Revision (DSM IV-TR) the "stressor" which initiates
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) must be an occurrence in
which an individual has experienced or witnessed a life-threatening
event which then results in feelings of "intense fear, helplessness
or horror." Acute and latent effects include a variety of
somatic complaints (generalized "aches and pains," headaches,
chest pain, alterations in sleep patterns and appetite, and lowered
immunity), emotional reactions (anxiety, anger, grief, irritability,
restlessness, nightmares, and flashbacks), and the onset or exacerbation
of substance abuse.
Over decades, research has identified the physiological basis
whereby physical and emotional injury alters neurological, endocrine
and immunological status and can set the stage for chronic illness
in previously healthy individuals. Research during the last decade
has identified Natural Killer (NK) cell function as the only reliable
immune system parameter that predicts the severity of post-traumatic
stress-related psychological and biological illness. Studies suggest
that supporting NK cell function with Active Hexose Correlated
Compound (ImmPower AHCC®), a cultured mushroom extract,
and other modalities can prevent the initiation of chronic illness
by post-traumatic stress disorder.
AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) is a biological response
modifier manufactured from a cultured extract of the mycelia of
therapeutic mushrooms by the Amino Up Chemical Company of Sapporo,
Japan.. The concept of this therapeutic agent has its roots in
the traditional Japanese lifestyle in which fermented "live
foods" were a feature of the daily diet, and fermented mushrooms
and herbs soaked in alcoholic beverages were an important part
of folk medicine. In a relatively short time AHCC has become a
prominent therapeutic agent in east Asia and is available in the
U.S. as ImmPower AHCC® Research into the effects of
AHCC on the immune system and chronic disease has been carried
out in fifteen countries since its development in 1987. The influence
of AHCC on activating NK cell function has been one of the most
conspicuous effects observed in researching its impact on the
NK Cell Activity and Stress Disorders
Several studies have shown that reduced NK cell activity correlates
strongly with the intensity and duration of the lingering mental
and physical effects of PTSD. In some cases it is the only immune
system parameter that can definitely be correlated with the psychological
damage associated with PTSD. Even more important is the fact that
PTSD can have a long-term impact on health since it is known to
suppress immunity for long periods of time. Subjects with a history
of PTSD have shown significantly lower immune competence even
years after the initial trauma.
NK cells are described as the "sentinel" cells in
the immune system, providing the first line of defense against
pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and incipient malignancies.
The NK cell participates either directly or indirectly in numerous
developmental, regulatory and communication networks within the
immune system. NK cells are large lymphocytes that, like cytotoxic
T cells, are filled with granules. They selectively target tumor
cells and other abnormal cells and a wide variety of infectious
microbes. Unlike cytotoxic T cells, they don't need to recognize
a specific antigen before they attack and destroy a target cell.
For this reason they are called "natural" killer cells.
Unlike phagocytes, they do not engulf and ingest target cells,
but attach to them and inject chemicals that erode the membranes
of the target cells until they burst. In many chronic and degenerative
diseases, the level of NK cell function proves to be an important
indicator of disease progression and patient prognosis.
A variety of "stressors" can suppress NK cell function:
physical injury caused by accidents, surgery and medical treatments,
nutritional deficiencies, emotional trauma, grief, hormone imbalances
and others. Research on victims of disasters such as hurricanes
and earthquakes show lower activity of NK cells. NK cell activity
is affected by negative psychological states such depression,
anxiety and fatigue, even if lymphocyte counts and CD4/CD8 ratio
do not change. Self-consciousness and self-criticism have also
been shown to decrease NK cell activity.
Among the mechanisms proposed to explain the relationship between
stress and NK cell activity, the nervous system connection is
often invoked. Substance Y, a neuropeptide that is associated
with sympathetic nervous system activation, can significantly
suppress NK cell activity. Norepinephrine has also been shown
to inhibit NK cell activity. The b-adrenergic activation associated
with stress-induced changes also appears to have an immediate
and significant negative impact on the ability of NK cells to
NK cell activity can also be positively influenced by a variety
of factors. In a Japanese study with Alzheimer's disease, cerebrovascular
disease and Parkinson's disease, music therapy not only increased
NK cell activity, but the NK cell count as well. NK cell numbers
and activity were measured in a study of 29 gay men, 20 of whom
were HIV+. Daily massage increased not only NK cell activity but
NK cell count as well compared to the control group. In a Korean
study, emitted qi from Korean ChunSoo Energy Healing on cultured
tumor cells was found to significantly increase NK cell activity
in the treated group alone. Qi projection from 3 to 5 minutes
in 30 second sets was optimum for increasing the NK cell activity.
Lifestyle is also an important factor in NK cell activity. In
a Japanese study, lifestyle evaluation was performed by means
of a questionnaire inquiring about hours of sleep, exercise time,
hours of work, mental stress, healthy diet including a daily breakfast,
and alcohol and tobacco consumption. Respondents who observe a
healthy lifestyle were found to have significantly higher NK cell
and LAK (lymphokine-activated killer) cell activity. Use of antioxidants
such as NAC (n-acetyl cysteine), thioproline, vitamin E and to
some extent vitamin C were also found to improve NK cell activity.
It is also possible that the use of biological response modifiers
can mitigate the effects of stress on the immune system. Antioxidants
can offset the damage to immunity resulting from stress. Glucocorticoid
production increases under stress suppressing immune response.
Acute stress causes secretion of epinephrine, which activates
the sympathetic nervous system and raises blood sugar levels.
Doctors at Dokkyo University Medical School in Japan pre-treated
rats with AHCC and subjected them to immobilization stress. Compared
to controls, the AHCC pre-treated rats did not show increased
levels of corticosteroids and had normal blood glucose levels.
The control group showed an immediate increase in uric acid levels
that did not appear in the AHCC pre-treated rats. The indication
is that AHCC, in addition to activating NK cell function, may
act directly against stress by restraining corticosteroid and
NK Cell Activity and Chronic Disease
NK cell activity is not only an important link in mind-body medicine,
but may be a key factor in chronic disease. The breakdown of immunity,
and in particular the scavenging function of NK cells and macrophages,
may be the origin of such diseases as cancer hepatitis, diabetes,
chronic and opportunistic infections and even autoimmune diseases.
The reason AHCC can be effective for so many types of chronic
disease is that it seems to be a nutrient for the immune system
and NK cells in particular. When health care providers do a systems
review, they interrogate and examine the classical systems, respiratory,
circulatory, digestive, etc. In examining these systems one looks
for a specific type of damage or disease name. Only recently has
medical science begun to explore the idea that some health problems
are diseases of the whole system, not just one of the parts.
The emergence of AIDS as a disease entity focused abundant resources
and attention on a systemic problem, since the immune system interpenetrates
all of the other classical body systems. The immune system's activity
intimately affects each organ and system at a fundamental level.
The awareness that many HIV+ patients did not develop AIDS, and
even some HIV- patients who did, highlighted the search for HIV
co-factors or a type of "terrain" model to explain why
some patients got sick and others did not. If the immune system
is weakened, it then becomes possible for the HIV to take hold
and do its damage to the whole system.
The inability of the body to dispose of abnormal cells may play
a role in the development of a chronic or life-threatening disease
in any of the classical anatomical systems. The NK cells have
a primary role in preventing this deposition that eventually results
in tissue destruction, congestion or neoplasm.
Abnormality of NK cell function has been associated with a broad
spectrum of afflictions including autoimmune disorders, cancer,
and susceptibility to infectious disease. The ability of the immune
system, especially macrophages╩ and killer cells, to kill microbes
is important on infectious disease, but it may be an important
deterrent to chronic disease. In recent years there have been
microbe connections identified with diseases such as arteriosclerosis,
heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, duodenal ulcers, diabetes,
SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus), rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's
thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, some forms of cancer, polycystic
ovary disease, some types of inflammatory bowel disease, cerebral
palsy and even some major psychiatric diseases. In this new "germ
theory," the ability of the immune system to control disease-causing
microbes could be a major factor in the onset and progression
of these diseases. The immune system, which spans the boundaries
of all of the body's vital systems, could be the key factor in
understanding the cause of chronic and degenerative disease. The
implication is that cancer, hepatitis C, chronic fatigue syndrome,
diabetes and other diseases are actually caused by immune dysfunction.
The Effects of AHCC on the Immune System
Research on the effects of AHCC on the immune system reveal a
consistent and powerful stimulating effect on natural killer (NK)
cells, the activity and number of lymphocytes and modulation of
various cytokines that are critical to Th1 (cellular) immunity,
including gamma-interferon, interleukins 2 and 12 (IL-2 and IL-12)
and tumor necrosis factor (TNF-a). As a result of this research,
AHCC is used in over 600 hospitals and clinics in Japan as a main
treatment or more often an adjunctive treatment for cancer, hepatitis
C and other chronic diseases. Because of the effect of AHCC on
stimulating NK cells, which selectively destroy cancer and other
abnormal cells, AHCC is one of the few biological response modifiers
that has actually reversed the cancer process. Laboratory and
clinical research have demonstrated its value in the treatment
of cancer, hepatitis, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory
diseases and infections. AIDS trials using AHCC were begun in
Bangkok in early 2001.
The effect of AHCC in activating NK cell activity is of particular
interest with respect to diseases of modern civilization, not
only the chronic and degenerative diseases, but stress-related
disorders. NK cells destroy abnormal cells, cancer cells, foreign
microbes or virus-infected cells, but NK cell activity is also
used as an index of the effects of stress on the immune system.
This places the activity of NK cells squarely at the nexus of
AHCC is widely considered to be the strongest known immune system
strengthening biological response modifier in Japan. Since AHCC
strengthens immune system function, it could be recommended for
any type of cancer. Data from the treatment of over 100,000 cancer
patients with various types of cancer has shown that 60 percent
of patients have benefitted to some degree and many have found
it effective enough to induce remission. AHCC has shown itself
to be particularly effective for liver, lung, stomach, colon,
breast, thyroid, ovarian, testicular, tongue, kidney and pancreatic
cancers. Results range from actual reduction of tumor mass, arresting
tumor growth, stopping the spread of the tumor throughout the
body (metastasis), increased survival time, and very significantly,
improvement of the quality of life.
AHCC and Cancer
One important Japanese study showed that the rate of survival
after five years was 14 percent higher in liver cancer patients
following surgery in a group given AHCC compare to the control
group. When the study had ended, 79 percent of the group taking
AHCC was alive compared to 51 percent of the control group. The
post-operative occurrence of hepatitis and cirrhosis was reduced
as shown by laboratory test evidence even five years later. And
best of all, fewer patients had recurrence of cancer: 49 percent
in the AHCC group compared to 67 percent in the control group.
The survival rate among the participants who took AHCC was an
average of twenty-three months longer.
AHCC administered to cancer patients also prevents hair loss
and myelosuppression from cytotoxic chemotherapy. The bone marrow
is an important part of the immune system and the site for red
blood cell production. The result of bone marrow damage is low
white blood cell counts, which is a cardinal sign of impaired
immunity, leaving the patient hypersensitive to infections. Another
result is anemia, which contributes to the patient's fatigue and
overall loss of resistance. Research in Korea showed that oral
treatment with AHCC raised the white blood cell count remarkably
in cancer patients who had received chemotherapy. In seven months
white blood cell counts averaging below 6,000 were elevated almost
to 8,000. AHCC has also been helpful in improving appetite in
cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and helping them to gain
weight. Clinical studies in Korea and Japan have indicated that
AHCC remarkably improves quality of life of late stage cancer
patients, not only in terms of nausea and vomiting, but also in
Other Clinical Applications of AHCC
AHCC protects the liver from the effects of cytotoxic chemotherapy
in cancer, but it can also protect the liver from damage resulting
from alcohol intake. AHCC also prevents liver deterioration in
chronic viral hepatitis and low blood platelet count, which can
deteriorate into cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Fred
Pescatore, M.D. of Dallas, Texas has reported marked reductions
in liver enzymes in hepatitis patients, and has seen the viral
loads in hepatitis C patients drop from 200,000 down to 20,000
in as little as two months at a daily dose of three grams.
Several clinicians and researchers have reported that AHCC reduces
the blood glucose levels in diabetics. Diabetes was induced in
rats by injecting STZ (streptozotocin), which destroys the insulin-secreting
B cells of the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. In one group
oral AHCC was administered. In the STZ group without AHCC, the
body weight decreased and even by the second day after STZ administration
their general appearance deteriorated. In the group that received
STZ plus AHCC, the weight remained steady and the appearance was
not affected. Insulin levels decreased in the STZ-only group,
but increased with the STZ-plus-AHCC group. Damage to the B cells
of the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas was also minimized
in the AHCC group. In humans 13 diabetic patients were given AHCC
over a six month period. Glycohemoglobin levels, which change
much more gradually than blood glucose levels, as well as blood
glucose levels, decreased significantly in all 13 subjects. This
indicates a potential therapeutic use for AHCC in diabetes.
AHCC was originally developed for the treatment for hypertension
before its powerful immune enhancing effects were observed. Patients
taking AHCC often experience normalization of their blood pressure.
Dr. M. Iwamoto of the En-Zan-Kai Medical Corporation reported
a beneficial influence of AHCC on ventricular arrhythmias, a type
of heart disorder in which the heart rhythm is disrupted.
The problem of resistance to antibiotics by disease-causing
microbes has been a great cause of concern by the medical profession
in recent years. AHCC can work synergistically with conventional
antibiotics and can be used alone at early stages of infection.
Since AHCC helps control infections by protecting the immune system's
resources rather than killing microbes, there can be no acquired
antibiotic resistance to AHCC.
AHCC has been shown to be effective in protecting patients from
opportunistic infections. Opportunistic infections occur in patients
with suppressed immune systems. Cancer patients are susceptible
to pseudomonas infections. Diabetic patients are susceptible to
pseudomonas and staphylococcus infections. AIDS patients are susceptible
to infections with candida, herpes, pneumocystis and others. According
to reports, AHCC gives protection to candida, aspergillus, pseudomonas
and a type of Staphylococcus aureus, that is especially difficult
to control (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, sometimes
If the root cause of chronic degenerative diseases like cancer
hepatitis C and diabetes is immune dysfunction, it is also possible
that poor immunity is the root cause of infectious disease. Microbes
have long been thought to be causative agents, but if the cause
of infections is high susceptibility caused by poor resistance,
as it appears to be in the case of opportunistic infections, then
AHCC can address the original cause of infection by bolstering
There are numerous other applications for AHCC according to research
and clinical experience. AHCC has been tested for its efficacy
for inflammation at Teikyo University where they found that rats
with peritonitis were protected by AHCC taken orally. AHCC may
be useful as an anti-inflammatory agent, but it also has the potential
to protect the immune system from the effects of anti-inflammatory
drugs, possibly to work with them synergistically, and even possibly
to improve the underlying cause of the disease by activating cellular
Clinical trials being carried out in Bangkok will confirm or
deny anecdotal reports of the efficacy of AHCC for treating AIDS
patients. In almost all HIV cases reported, T cell counts can
be maintained and even increased. An increase in T cell counts
has been observed in as little as one month along with a significant
increase in the activity of NK cells, which are weakened by the
presence of HIV.
Improved stamina and remissions have been reported in patients
with chronic fatigue syndrome. Decreases in intraocular pressure
have been reported in cases of glaucoma. Healing of wounds has
been accelerated in slow-healing wounds and bedsores. Patients
have recovered from stomach and duodenal ulcers. Women with a
questionable PAP smear, indicating cervical dysplasia or atypia,
have taken AHCC with no other form of treatment, and returned
to normal, even with PAP readings indicating stage II and stage
III dysplasia. The reports of improvement of a wide variety of
complaints continues to accumulate from clinicians using AHCC.
The therapeutic limitations of AHCC are not yet known and may
be limited only by what can be accomplished by optimizing macrophage
and NK cell activity. The range of application of AHCC extends
from treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder to chronic and
degenerative disease. Future research trials will help to define
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