Wolfberry (fruit of Lycium barbarum) has been prized for many years in China for its immunomodulatory property and its high specific antioxidant content. However, clear clinical evidence demonstrating the effect of wolfberry dietary supplementation is still lacking. After our earlier report showing that a proprietary milk-based wolfberry formulation (Lacto-Wolfberry) enhances in vivo antigen-specific adaptive immune responses in aged mice, the present study aimed at demonstrating the effect of dietary Lacto-Wolfberry supplementation on immune functions in the elderly, especially vaccine response known to decline with aging. A 3-month randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study was conducted on 150 healthy community-dwelling Chinese elderly (65-70 years old) supplemented with Lacto-Wolfberry or placebo (13.7 grams/day). Immune response to influenza vaccine was assessed in the study, along with inflammatory and physical status. No serious adverse reactions were reported during the trial, neither symptoms of influenza-like infection. No changes in body weight and blood pressure, blood chemistry or cells composition, as well as autoantibodies levels were observed. The subjects receiving Lacto-Wolfberry had significantly higher postvaccination serum influenza-specific immunoglobulin G levels and seroconversion rate, between days 30 and 90, compared with the placebo group. The postvaccination positive rate was greater in the Lacto-Wolfberry group compared to the placebo group, but did not reach statistical significance. Lacto-Wolfberry supplementation had no significant effect on delayed-type hypersensitivity response and inflammatory markers. In conclusion, long-term dietary supplementation with Lacto-Wolfberry in elderly subjects enhances their capacity to respond to antigenic challenge without overaffecting their immune system, supporting a contribution to reinforcing immune defense in this population.
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