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Immunostimulants, also known as immunostimulators, are substances (drugs and nutrients) that stimulate the immune system usually in a non-specific manner by inducing activation or increasing activity of any of its components. One notable example is the granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor. The goal of this stimulated immune response is usually to help the body have a stronger immune system response in order to improve outcomes in the case of an infection or cancer malignancy. There is also some evidence that immunostimulants may be useful to help decrease severe acute illness related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or acute infections in the lungs.


There are two main categories of immunostimulants:[1]

  1. Specific immunostimulants provide antigenic specificity in immune response, such as vaccines or any antigen.
  2. Non-specific immunostimulants act irrespective of antigenic specificity to augment immune response of other antigen or stimulate components of the immune system without antigenic specificity, such as adjuvants and non-specific immunostimulators.


Many endogenous substances are non-specific immunostimulators. For example, female sex hormones are known to stimulate both adaptive[2] and innate immune responses.[3][4][5][6] Some autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus strike women preferentially, and their onset often coincides with puberty. Other hormones appear to regulate the immune system as well, most notably prolactin, growth hormone and vitamin D.[7][8]

Some publications point towards the effect of deoxycholic acid (DCA) as an immunostimulant[9][10][11] of the non-specific immune system, activating its main actors, the macrophages. According to these publications, a sufficient amount of DCA in the human body corresponds to a good immune reaction of the non-specific immune system.[citation needed]

Claims made by marketers of various products and alternative health providers, such as chiropractors, homeopaths, and acupuncturists to be able to stimulate or "boost" the immune system generally lack meaningful explanation and evidence of effectiveness.[12]


Immunostimulants have been recommended to help prevent acute illness related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and they are sometimes used to treat chronic bronchitis.[13] The evidence in the form of high quality clinical trials to support their use is weak, however, there is some evidence of benefit and they appear to be safe.[14] The most commonly used immunostimulant type for this purpose are bacterial-derived immunostimulants. The goal is to stimulate the person's immune system in order to prevent future infections that may result in an acute episode or exacerbation of COPD.[14]

See also[edit]


Endogenous immunostimulants[edit]

Synthetic immunostimulants[edit]


  1. ^ Kumar, S; Gupta P; Sharma S; Kumar D (2011). "A review on immunostimulatory plants". Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine. 9 (2): 117–128. doi:10.3736/jcim20110201. PMID 21288444.
  2. ^ Wira, Charles R.; Rodriguez-Garcia, Marta; Patel, Mickey V.; Biswas, Nabanita; Fahey, John V. (2015). "Endocrine Regulation of the Mucosal Immune System in the Female Reproductive Tract". In Mestecky, Jiri; Strober, Warren; Russell, Michael W.; Kelsall, Brian L.; Cheroutre, Hilde; Lambrecht, Bart N. (eds.). Mucosal Immunology (4th ed.). Academic Press. pp. 2141–2156. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-415847-4.00110-5. ISBN 978-0-12-415847-4.
  3. ^ Lang, Thomas J. (December 2004). "Estrogen as an immunomodulator". Clinical Immunology. 113 (3): 224–230. doi:10.1016/j.clim.2004.05.011. PMID 15507385.
  4. ^ Moriyama, A.; Shimoya, K; Ogata, I; Kimura, T; Nakamura, T; Wada, H; Ohashi, K; Azuma, C; Saji, F; Murata, Y (1 July 1999). "Secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor (SLPI) concentrations in cervical mucus of women with normal menstrual cycle". Molecular Human Reproduction. 5 (7): 656–661. doi:10.1093/molehr/5.7.656. PMID 10381821.
  5. ^ Cutolo, M; Sulli, A; Capellino, S; Villaggio, B; Montagna, P; Seriolo, B; Straub, R H (September 2004). "Sex hormones influence on the immune system: basic and clinical aspects in autoimmunity". Lupus. 13 (9): 635–638. doi:10.1191/0961203304lu1094oa. PMID 15485092. S2CID 23941507.
  6. ^ King, A. E.; Critchley, HO; Kelly, RW (1 February 2000). "Presence of secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor in human endometrium and first trimester decidua suggests an antibacterial protective role". Molecular Human Reproduction. 6 (2): 191–196. doi:10.1093/molehr/6.2.191. PMID 10655462.
  7. ^ Dorshkind, Kenneth; Horseman, Nelson D. (1 June 2000). "The Roles of Prolactin, Growth Hormone, Insulin-Like Growth Factor-I, and Thyroid Hormones in Lymphocyte Development and Function: Insights from Genetic Models of Hormone and Hormone Receptor Deficiency". Endocrine Reviews. 21 (3): 292–312. doi:10.1210/edrv.21.3.0397. PMID 10857555.
  8. ^ Nagpal, Sunil; Na, Songqing; Rathnachalam, Radhakrishnan (1 August 2005). "Noncalcemic Actions of Vitamin D Receptor Ligands". Endocrine Reviews. 26 (5): 662–687. doi:10.1210/er.2004-0002. PMID 15798098.
  9. ^ Vlček, B.; Reif, A.; Seidlová, B. (1 May 1971). "Evidence of the Participation of Deoxycholate in Cancer Immunity". Zeitschrift für Naturforschung B. 26 (5): 419–424. doi:10.1515/znb-1971-0509. PMID 4398280.
  10. ^ Vlček, B (1972). "Potentiation of the immune response with DCA". Praktický Lékař (in Czech). 52: 326–330.
  11. ^ Chyle, M; Chyle, P (1982). "Regulation of the immune response with DCA". Sborník Lékařský (in Czech). 84: 212–218. (English summary)
  12. ^ Hall, Harriet (July–August 2020). "How You Can Really Boost Your Immune System". Skeptical Inquirer. Amherst, New York: Center for Inquiry. Archived from the original on 21 January 2021. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  13. ^ Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease – GOLD (2023). "2023 GOLD Report". Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease - GOLD. Retrieved 27 July 2023.
  14. ^ a b Fraser, Ashley; Poole, Phillippa (2022). Cochrane Airways Group (ed.). "Immunostimulants versus placebo for preventing exacerbations in adults with chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2022 (11). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD013343.pub2. PMC 9661939. PMID 36373977.

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