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Beta Glucan and AHCC are both popular supplements meant to help boost the immune system and are often used alongside conventional medical treatment to increase the effectiveness of therapies in treating disease.
There are hundreds of published studies showing that both are effective in activating an immune response, which can help fight off viral and bacterial infections, and research is being conducted on other diseases as well. But which supplement should you choose?
There are many factors to consider when choosing between Beta Glucan or AHCC. Here just a few of them:
- Which supplement has the most evidence behind it?
- How effective is the supplement at treating your specific problem?
- The cost of the supplement and how long would you need to take it for.
- Are you taking the supplement to prevent, treat a condition, or general well-being?
Differences between Beta Glucan and AHCC
Beta glucan has been used a lot longer and is more widely used by people than AHCC. If you were to do a search on Pubmed, you will find that “AHCC” only returns 103 results vs 354 for Beta Glucan supplement (if you were to omit “supplement” you will get over 15,000 results, but many of these are not relevant).
Nevertheless, in terms of quantity of data, beta glucan has been studied more than has AHCC. But that’s not to say beta glucan is more effective than AHCC at treating disease. To understand which is better, there would have to be a direct comparison in a clinical trial conducted in humans, but this has yet to be done.
What we do have is a lot of clinical data from Asia, where patients in trials are using AHCC for various diseases and have had beneficial effects from taking it.
In Japan, AHCC is favored over regular beta glucan for treating cancer alongside traditional chemotherapy, this could be due to AHCC having a high concentration of alpha-glucans, which have a lower molecular weight and are better absorbed than beta-glucans. One particular AHCC supplement that has been clinically studied and favored by many people is this one by Quality of Life.
The evidence for other conditions such as allergies, bacterial and viral infections, asthma etc is greater for beta-glucans than it is for AHCC .
Both supplements have proven to have an immune system enhancing effect in humans, but due to the methodological differences of the available studies, it’s difficult to draw a conclusion and make a direct comparison between the two.
A more significant factor in whether you choose one or the other may come down to cost more than anything. Since many AHCC supplements can be 4-5x more expensive than many standard beta-glucan supplements unless you’re using maitake or transfer point beta-glucan supplements.
There is also some evidence to suggest that combining glucan supplements might be more powerful than taking one type by itself.
A study comparing Maitake, AHCC, and Shiitake extracts Immune System enhancing effects
One of the very few studies looking at the immune system enhancing effects of glucans was published in 2014. It looked at the effect of 14 days of oral glucans on different immune system parameters such as phagocytosis, NK activity, IL-6, IL-12, IFN-y, and C-reactive protein.
In the study different groups of mice were given the following:
- MaitakeGold 404
- Shiitake (alpha-rich glucans)
- Shiitake and MaitakeGold 404
- PBS (control)
The main findings of the study:
- Maitake + Shiitake in combination enhanced the production of IL-6, IL-12, and IFN-y compared to the other supplements used alone.
- Maitake + Shiitake followed by Maitake, Shiitake, and then AHCC increased monocytes and neutrophils compared to placebo.
- Maitake + Shiitake was more effective at increasing Natural Killer cells cytotoxicity than all other supplements alone.
- Maitake + Shiitake followed by Maitake was effective at raising IL-6.
- Maitake + Shiitake followed Maitake was effective at increasing interferon gamma.
- No supplement significantly affected CRP levels.
Does this mean Beta glucans are more effective than Alpha glucans derived from Shiitake and AHCC?
Given these findings, it appears that despite the lower molecular weight of alpha-glucans, Maitake, which is rich in beta-glucan, was more effective at enhancing immune function. Combining alpha-glucans with beta-glucans was even more powerful than any supplement alone.
AHCC, while not shown to be as effective in this study as other extracts, has been used successfully in humans to manage and treat diseases. In Japan, over 100,000 patients have been treated with AHCC with good results and have proven efficacy. So in contrast with these findings in that AHCC did not produce much of an effect compared to other glucans, outcomes for various health conditions in humans have been positive.
For example, in one study conducted in healthy human volunteers, AHCC was effective at increase interferon gamma and this effect remained for up to 30 days after discontinuing the supplement. This is in contrast with the animal data shown above that showed very little increase .
AHCC has also been shown to improve the immune response to influenza vaccination in healthy humans over 60 years of age .
In both animal and human studies, AHCC does not always show significant induction of the immune system unless also superimposed with a challenge such as a bacterial infection, viral infection, or vaccine.
Therefore the lack of response seen in the study comparing AHCC with other glucans might be due to how AHCC works and not that the supplement is not effective.
One study demonstrates this by looking at primary influenza in animals using the (H5N1) avian flu strain. They showed that AHCC significantly increased natural killer cell activity and reduced infiltration of lymphocytes and macrophages into the lungs. The supplements led to improved survival and also a decrease in the severity of the infection .
Which commercial Beta Glucan supplements are most effective?
There are many beta-glucan and AHCC supplements on the market that have a different level of effectiveness. A few studies have examined the immune system boosting effects of some of the most popular brands used in North America.
In a study published by the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association, researchers examined the effect of different beta-glucan supplements in BALB/c Mice.
The supplements the study used were:
- NOW Beta-Glucan – Insoluble glucans from yeast and soluble glucans from mushrooms.
- Krestin – Soluble mushroom-derived glucan.
- Transfer Point Glucan 300 – Insoluble yeast-derived glucans.
- Immuno Fiber – Soluble grain-derived glucan.
Main findings of the study:
The study found that there was a significant difference in the response between various commercial beta glucan supplements.
Transfer Point Beta Glucan supplement had the strongest activity in this study, and beta-glucan derived from grains (immuno-fiber) was the least effective.
Which commercial AHCC supplements are most effective?
Like beta glucan supplements there are many different doses and brands of AHCC. Some of these have been used in clinical studies and universities to conduct research, such as Quality of Life AHCC Supplement.
When choosing an AHCC supplement, it’s better to get it from a reputable supplier, especially as these supplements are quite costly when you’re taking a high dose. Quality of Life has one of the purest and highest grade AHCC supplements available and has a lot of great reviews.
AHCC and Beta glucan have been shown in animals and humans to have significant immune system enhancing effects and improvements in a variety of chronic health conditions, but there is a lot more research that needs to be conducted not only for changes in immune system parameters but also outcomes for various conditions.
The studies summarized in this article shows that a combination of alpha-glucans and beta-glucans produces the strongest immune system enhancing the effect, whereas AHCC was least effective in one study.
The evidence that beta-glucans and AHCC have significant immune system enhancing properties is there, but some studies show contradicting results.
Since the glucans themselves are thought to prime the immune system so that it is ready to take on a challenge, AHCC and Beta Glucan should not increase inflammatory cytokines in the body or chronically raise various immune cells, but allow for the immune system to act more rapidly when presented with an antigen.
Outcome studies looking at survival and disease severity in both animals and humans show that both supplements are effective for a broad number of conditions.