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Reversing Immunosenescence: The Key To Anti-Aging?


Fred Pescatore, MD, MPH

International Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, Winter 2000, pp 47-49


Immunosenescence describes the deterioration of immune response that occurs with age and is the cause of increased frequency and severity of autoimmune, infectious and non infectious diseases that afflict the elderly. Evidence has accumulated from several studies suggesting an association between immune function and individual longevity. Studies on various natural and nutritional therapies show that many aspects of impaired immune response are correctable and that immunosenescence can be prevented and, in some cases, reversed. For instance, a hybridized mushroom extract called Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC) has proven extremely effective for activating vital parts of the immune system leading to both prevention and treatment of serious diseases associated with aging such as Hepatocarcinoma Carcinoma and Hepatitis C. Treatments such as these provide an essential aspect of anti-aging medicine that, not only provides improved quality of life by preventing diseases that debilitate the aging patient, but also slows or reverses the progression of cancer, hepatitis, diabetes, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.

Immunosenescence is the result of continuous exposure to a variety of potential antigens (viruses, bacteria, pollution, food, self molecules, and others). This exposure is accelerated by atrophy of the thymus in early adulthood, increased levels of cortisol and decreased levels of DHEA and other hormones after age 50. In addition, contributions to immunosenesence occur through the sedentary lifestyles and undernutrition of the elderly. Much of the decrease in immunoresponsiveness related to immunosenescence is linked to decreased functioning of Natural Killer (NK) cells, T cells and macrophages, and suppression of IL-2, and the overproduction of IL-6 and other inflammatory cytokines.

To prevent immunosenesence, Natural Killer (NK) cells play a key role, because of their dual functions as a cytotoxic destroyer and immunoregulator. As the sentinel cell in the immune system, NK cells provide the first line defense against invasive pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and emerging malignancies. The NK cell participates either directly or indirectly in multiple developmental, regulatory, and communication networks of the immune system. NK cell initiated cytokines prevent the overproliferation of precursor cell populations, thereby exerting more discriminating control over antigen specific T and B cell responses. In many chronic and degenerative diseases, level of NK cell function proves to be an important indicator of disease progression and patient prognosis.

Enhancing NK cell function, restoring lost function or preventing functional decline is a central mechanism of anti-immunosenescence. Many therapies that stimulate the immune system in general, also stimulate NK cell function, but not of the magnitude necessary to provide a therapeutic effect. Conversely, some pharmaceuticals that sufficiently stimulate NK cell function have diminishing effect over time, and/or have such severe side effects that they are not appropriate for use in the management of chronic diseases.

One natural compound, in particular, offers an effective balance between high levels of stimulation and non-toxicity. Research on an extract of hybridized medicinal mushrooms called Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC) documents its ability to increase NK cell function by three hundred fold or more, also stimulating T-cell, macrophage and cytokine activity. This level of immune stimulation can be a very effective therapy for patients whose aged-weakened immune systems have succumb to a number of catastrophic illnesses.

For instance, a study recently presented at the 1999 European Surgical Research Meeting demonstrated both treatment and preventative effects for Hepatocarcinoma patients using this compound. The goal of this five year study was to evaluate the efficacy of AHCC as a biologic response modifier and to determine a correlation between immune stimulation and time to treatment failure (disease recurrence or death). Of 151 patients to participate in this study, 70 were given AHCC after having there liver cancer surgically removed and the remaining 81 acted as the control.

The results show a definite correlation between immune stimulation and positive therapeutic outcome:

  • Patient survival was significantly longer in the treatment group (avg. 23 months)
  • Patient disease recurrence was 18% lower in the treatment group
  • Patient mortality was significantly lower in the treatment group (28%)
  • There were no side effects associated with treatment.

While cancer remains one of the unfortunate, yet perfect examples of immunosenesence, another very difficult to treat disease is emerging towards epidemic proportions as the majority population is the United States reaches its forties and fifties. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common chronic blood borne infection in the United States. It is estimated that 3.9 million (1.8%) Americans have been infected with Hepatitis C. Most of these people are chronically infected and can serve as a source of transmission to others and are at risk for chronic liver disease or other Hepatitis-C related chronic diseases during the first two or more decades following initial infection.

Chronic liver disease associated with Hepatitis-C is the tenth leading cause of death among adults in the United States and accounts for approximately 25,000 deaths annually in the United States. Because most Hepatitis-C infected persons are aged 30-49 years the number of deaths attributable to Hepatitis-C related chronic liver disease could increase substantially during the next 10-20 years as this group of infected people reaches ages at which complications from chronic liver disease typically occur. 

Currently, Interferon-Alpha is the treatment of choice by conventional medical standards even though its long-term effectiveness is only estimated at 10-20%. Also, Interferon-Alpha has been reported to create flu-like symptoms in 60% of the people taking it for Hepatitis C and anemia in 80%. Judging by its lack of effectiveness and side effects, the growing population of Hepatitis-C sufferers needs a fast improvement on their treatment options.

Immune system stimulation, particularly NK-cell, T-cell and macrophage enhancement, could be a viable treatment option for Hepatitis C given the effectiveness of immune stimulants on many viral infections.

To test the effectiveness of immune stimulation on Hepatitis C, three patients with chronic hepatitis C were chosen. Once again, AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) was used because of its ability to activate NK-cells, T-cells and macrophages and its previous research on liver disorders.

The first patient was a 64 year-old female who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, 2 -3 years before starting AHCC treatment. After four months, the patient's Hepatitis viral load decreasedÊ 89% (1,475,000 RNA down to 167,000 RNA) and only 3 months later her viral load was normal (<2000). Also, the patient reported a significant increase in energy and was able to return to a normal, pre-Hepatitis C life style.

Next, was a 35 year old women with Hepatitis C who was originally diagnosed in July of 1992. The patient started AHCC treatment in November of 1998. Within four months, the Hepatitis C viral load was reduced by 27% (2,160,900 RNA to 1,573,400 RNA). This case is particularly exciting because the patient has a history of I.V. drug abuse.

The third patient is a 47 year old man who was originally diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1974. In December of 1998, his Hepatitis C viral load was 2,498,200. After six months of AHCC treatment, the patient's viral load was reduced by 80% (down to 499,600).

Obviously, these cases show how a stimulated immune system has the ability to lower viral loads and decrease symptoms of Hepatitis C, such as lack of energy and jaundice. Also, by keeping Hepatitis C viral loads reduced, you are lowering the possibility of future complications such as cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. However, what could be most important about this research is what the treatment didn't do...AHCC did not cause any side effects. Remember, the leading conventional treatment for Hepatitis C causes flu like symptoms and anemia and it is only effective in 10-20% of the cases it treats.

This is very significant for people diagnosed with Hepatitis C and for people exhibiting the symptoms of Hepatitis C, that are unable to confirm their diagnosis through laboratory testing. There are thousands of people who fit this description. Unfortunately, while they wait to confirm their illness, their liver is already deteriorating.

We cannot ignore our immune systems simply because we do not feel sick or don't anticipate getting sick. We need to follow the old adage, "by the time you feel it... it may be too late." By keeping your immune system strong, you may be able to deter cancer or heart disease or any other illness that seems to strike as we age.

Besides AHCC, a complete protocol includes additional natural and nutritional therapies that support and enhance other aspects of the immune system. Research and my own clinical experience shows the benefits of N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, thymic peptides, and specific antioxidants and minerals. The anti-immunosenescence approach to anti-aging medicine is the core of preventative medicine, strengthening the body's own defenses. The effects can be measured quantitatively through the standard biometric criteria of aging, and in improved quality of life for patients.

For additional information, please contact:

Fred Pescatore, MD, MPH

264 Madison Ave, Ste 402

New York, New York 10016

Ph: 212-779-2944



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