Background: Enhancement of immune function has been claimed as a benefit of some natural health products, although few have been subjected to randomized clinical trials. We evaluated the effect of an oral dietary supplement derived from the edible microalga Chlorella pyrenoidosa on immune response after influenza vaccination.
Methods: We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled community-based clinical trial in a convenience sample of 124 healthy adults at least 50 years of age randomly assigned to receive the study product (200 or 400 mg of a Chlorella-derived dietary supplement) or placebo. Participants took the study product or placebo once daily for 28 days. On day 21, we administered a single dose of a licensed trivalent, inactivated influenza vaccine. We obtained serum specimens to measure hemagglutination inhibition titres before and 7 and 21 days after vaccination. The primary immunological outcomes were the proportion of participants with a 4-fold or greater increase in antibodies and geometric mean antibody titres after vaccination; the proportion of participants reporting adverse events during therapy was the safety outcome.
Results: A total of 117 (94%) participants completed all aspects of the study. There were no differences in the proportions of recipients of 200 or 400 mg of the Chlorella-derived dietary supplement or placebo who achieved at least a 4-fold increase in antibodies (proportions for the 3 virus strains ranged from 17.9% to 28.2% for the 200-mg group, from 11.1% to 22.2% for the 400-mg group and from 19.0% to 21.4% for the placebo group; p > 0.05 for all comparisons). Reports of adverse events were similar for recipients of the supplement and placebo, except with regard to fatigue, which was reported more frequently by recipients of 200 mg of the supplement (18/41 or 44%) than by those who received 400 mg of the supplement (8/40 or 20%; p = 0.032) or placebo (8/42 or 19%; p = 0.019). Recipients of 400 mg of the supplement who were 55 years of age or younger had significantly higher geometric mean antibody titres against influenza A/New Caledonia 21 days after vaccination (p = 0.047) and against B/Yamanashi 7 days after vaccination (p = 0.034); the trends were nonsignificant for titres against A/Panama. We also observed similar increases for the proportions of subjects with a 2-fold or greater or a 4-fold or greater increase in antibodies.
Interpretation: The Chlorella-derived dietary supplement did not have any effect in increasing the antibody response to influenza vaccine in the overall study population, although there was an increase in antibody response among participants aged 50-55 years. Adverse events were similar among those receiving the supplement and the placebo. Further studies are warranted to explore the range of clinical effects resulting from ingestion of this dietary supplement.